The Mormon Kidnapping

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
Banstead Road, Ewell
Image courtesy of Clive Gilbert © 2013

If you asked long-time residents to name the most bizarre event that has happened during their time in Ewell they might well mention the kidnapping of Mormon missionary Kirk Anderson back in 1977. Unfortunately, much of the background to this very strange tale has emanated from one of the kidnappers and sensationalist tabloid journalism, so cannot necessarily be considered reliable, but the fact of the kidnapping itself is not in dispute. Much of the information used below originates from The Times newspaper, which chronicled the affair as straight reporting.

Examples of the sensational coverage of the kidnapping
Examples of the sensational coverage of the kidnapping.

The kidnapping

Kirk Anderson
Kirk Anderson

Kirk Anderson, 21, had been sent to England as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church, and by September 1977 he was operating in Epsom and Ewell. On 14 September he was confronted outside the Mormon meeting house in Banstead Road, East Ewell by a man with a gun, forced into a car, chloroformed and driven to a rented cottage in Okehampton, Devon. On his release or escape a few days later he went to the police, saying that his kidnappers were Keith May and Joyce McKinney and that he had been affixed to a bed by means of handcuffs and leg irons and forced to have relations with McKinney. We will not dwell on that part of the story, but suffice it to say that no one denied relations had occurred. (On a legal note, a woman could not be charged with the rape of a male, but she could be convicted of indecent assault.)

Anderson must have been in a considerable dilemma. On the one hand he considered himself the victim of a serious crime and wanted the perpetrators brought to book: on the other he must have dreaded the publicity that would inevitably follow. He could not have foreseen just how sensational and protracted the publicity would be and he has never really been free of the 1977 events, since McKinney resurfaces intermittently, still talking about what happened.

Court appearances

Joyce McKinney
Joyce McKinney

McKinney and May were arrested and taken to Epsom, where they were charged with kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment, and possessing an imitation firearm with intent to commit an offence; an assault charge was subsequently added. Both parties were remanded in custody by Epsom magistrates. At one weekly court appearance McKinney held up notes protesting her innocence, written on pages of a Bible, and struggled with a prison officer. The following week a Chief Superintendent of Police told the magistrates that McKinney had entered Britain on a false passport and had in her possession documents in eight false names; she had confessed to intending to use leg shackles, handcuffs, an imitation firearm and an ether-chloroform mixture. Her defence lawyer said on this occasion that 'passion was the motive'. At the next court appearance McKinney's solicitor claimed that she feared retribution from the Mormons because she had associated with a missionary (Anderson) who was forbidden contact with women. You will gather from this that Anderson and McKinney had known each other previously and we shall return to that aspect shortly. The police opposed bail in the belief that McKinney might attempt to interfere with Anderson.

As the Epsom hearings went on two distinct versions emerged of the happenings in Okehampton, the gist of which was that Anderson claimed they were forcible and McKinney said they were consensual, the restraints being part of the 'games'. Finally, on 6 December 1977, Epsom magistrates committed McKinney and May for trial and granted them bail. The trial was set for 2 May 1978 and in the meantime McKinney was required to stay with her mother, who had come over from America, and she was also subject to a curfew. On 13 March 1978 an application was made for the curfew to be lifted and for the requirement to report at a police station twice daily to be reduced to once daily. The Crown was opposed to the changes on the grounds that flight was likely, but the application was granted.

Flight

In April 1978 McKinney and May absconded to Canada, via Ireland, on false passports, heavily disguised as members of a deaf mute acting troupe (no, I did not make this up - everything about this saga is weird); they subsequently re-entered the United States. McKinney also signed a deal with Penthouse magazine to publish her life story. On 3 May an Old Bailey judge issued arrest warrants for the pair after they failed to appear for trial.

The legal position was that McKinney and May, when located, could not be extradited to Britain for jumping bail, but kidnapping was an extraditable offence. The British authorities never did attempt to extradite the couple: the court forfeited their bail, McKinney was sentenced in her absence to one year's imprisonment for non-payment and the matter was laid to rest, judicially at least.

McKinney actively courted the tabloids in an attempt to sell her story and journalists discovered that her recent past was less than squeaky clean. Her contact with British reporters continued after she had returned to the States, but eventually (and thankfully) she dropped off the newspaper radar - her few months of fame were effectively over for the time being. I remember that hardly a day went by without a McKinney appearance in the papers and I suppose we should all be grateful that there was never an Old Bailey trial to prolong our agony.

Prequel

As mentioned, McKinney and Anderson were already acquainted before the kidnapping. McKinney was born in about 1949 in Minneapolis, North Carolina (not to be confused with the city in Minnesota). She was a bright college student, converted to Mormonism and competed in beauty pageants, winning the Miss Wyoming World title in 1974. She then moved to Utah to study at the Mormon Brigham Young University. It seems that she hung around the Osmond family and was very keen on Wayne, but the boys' mother did not approve of McKinney and Wayne later married Miss Utah 1974. McKinney then set her sights on the 19 year old, 6ft 4in Anderson who, in photographs at least, had that similar clean-cut Osmond look, although he was described as 'pudgy' at the time. There is no doubt that they had a relationship - McKinney claimed that she became pregnant and miscarried. Pre-marital sex is banned in the Mormon religion and the guilt-stricken Anderson went to his Church superiors for advice: he was sent to England on missionary work, which is how he ended up in Ewell. McKinney simply had him traced and followed him (how she persuaded May, who was allegedly besotted with her, to participate in the kidnapping and what followed is a total mystery).

Sequel

In 1984 McKinney tracked down Anderson's whereabouts and was arrested in Salt Lake City for stalking him. Apparently her car contained chains and handcuffs. She was charged but never turned up for the hearing and the matter was dropped (there has been a noticeable reluctance to pursue prosecutions against this woman). She has also received police attention for alleged soliciting and burglary (apparently she once told a teenager to break into a house because she needed money to provide a false leg for a horse) and has received treatment for drug usage.

An American Pit Bull Terrier
An American Pit Bull Terrier
Image by IvánPit via Wikimedia Commons

In 2007 she went to South Korea to have the frozen DNA of her dead pit bull terrier cloned as five new dogs in the image of the deceased at a reputed cost of £25,000 (or it may have been dollars, according to which newspaper you believe). As of 2011 she lived in California (with an elderly male friend, according to The Daily Mail in August 2011), having no visible means of support, and she was not in good health. A documentary film in which she participated prominently was released in 2010, although she subsequently began a defamation lawsuit against the producers - she had shown up at screenings of the film in the States and identified herself, protesting about the way she had been portrayed. The details of this continuing lawsuit are as strange and contradictory as one would expect of anything involving McKinney.

Anderson married someone else and became either a real estate or travel agent in Utah. May died in 2004.

Reports say that McKinney still has a passion for Anderson - apparently she regards it as one of the great love stories of our times - and still thinks the charges brought against her in England were trumped up by the Mormon Church, an accusation that has been strongly denied. She once famously said of Anderson, in all seriousness, 'I loved him so much that I would ski down Mount Everest in the nude with a carnation up my nose for love of that man' (or similar words to that effect). This has been one of those tales that truly is much stranger than fiction and you cannot help thinking that the British authorities made the right choice back in 1978 when they decided not to seek McKinney's return.

Note: When the Chicago Reader newspaper published a review of the documentary film on 14 July 2011 there were three online comments by the general public (one was a very long but reasonably restrained criticism of the film from someone who had never previously heard of McKinney). The first comment was an uncontrolled rant, virtually accusing everyone who had ever been involved with her of lying, cheating, exploitation and making the woman's life a misery. The writer went on to say that McKinney 'was considering a musical version of her love story, which will be called "Lovenap" (we can only hope that it never comes to a cinema or theatre near us). In response to this rant another reader just wrote, 'Try decaf, it'll do wonders'.



Linda Jackson
February 2013




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