The way the world and the internet operate in the 21st century has led to countless individuals finding virality and fame, whether they want it or not. Influencers, content creators and social media stars, the world watches as they share their lives, from the highs to the mundane. Some of them have secrets to hide and we continue to watch even when things take a darker turn.
Murder, scams and assault, these are some of the internet personalities who have been involved in crimes.
1. Kai Lawrence
A clip from an American news report went viral online in February 2013, after internet users became enamoured with a young homeless hitchhiker, Caleb Lawrence McGillvary, who called himself Kai. In the video, Kai explained how he came to the aid of a woman on the street when she was attacked by a man from behind. Kai used the blunt side of his hatchet to strike the man three times on the back of his head.
Kai became a well-known face around the world as millions saw the original video and its subsequent remixes. People fell in love with his personality, his heroic actions and the positivity he spread. 'No matter what you've done, you deserve respect. Even if you make mistakes, you are loveable. You're worthwhile. No one can ever take that away from you', he famously proclaimed in the interview.
However, just a few months later, Kai, whose real name is Caleb Lawrence McGillvary, was arrested on a murder charge relating to the death of 73-year-old Joseph Galfry. The prosecutors argued that he murdered Joseph after the pair had engaged in a sexual encounter, but McGillvary claimed he had been spiked and lashed out at the lawyer in self-defence. The victim’s three skull fractures and four broken ribs indicated that the incident was far more aggressive.
McGillvary’s behaviour in court didn’t help his argument, with the judge describing it as 'hostile, aggressive, noncompliant' and repeatedly referencing his violent temper and history of substance abuse.
After a four-week trial, McGillvary was sentenced to 57 years in prison. Upon his initial arrest, some of his fans had started fundraising to help pay for his legal costs, but when the full details came to light, they were left wondering what really happened in the lead-up to the viral video they once loved.
2. Brian Laundrie
22-year-old Gabby Petito was a travel influencer who, in 2021, embarked on a four-month road trip across America, from New York to Oregon, with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie. Less than two months after they set off, on 1st September, Laundrie returned home alone, but Gabby was missing.
A few weeks later, on 19th September, a body was found in Wyoming. It was identified as that of Gabby Petito. She had been strangled.
In the wake of her disappearance, her death became a focus for web sleuths who tried to find out what had happened. In the weeks before Laundrie’s return, Gabby’s social media presence had become infrequent. Then bodycam footage from police who had stopped the couple in Utah in August emerged. Someone had called 911 after they had seen the couple arguing. They had been separated for the night before they were allowed to continue, but arrests weren’t made.
Laundrie became a person of interest in the case, but a couple of weeks after his return, he too disappeared.
Then, a month after Gabby’s body was found, on 20th October, Laundrie’s body was also discovered. He had died of a self-inflicted gunshot. Near his body was a notebook, which held a confession to Petito’s murder.
#FindGabby chronicles the twists and turns of the tragic road trip through the lens of Gabby Petito's social media presence. This one-hour special is available to stream on Crime + Investigation Play.
3. Courtney Tailor
Instagram influencer and OnlyFans model Courtney Clenney (or Tailor, as she goes by on social media) was arrested for the murder of her boyfriend, Christian Obumseli, after he was fatally stabbed in the heart.
Two days before the stabbing, police had been called to the couple’s apartment building after a domestic incident. Clenney told them that they had broken up, Christian had been stalking her and she wanted a restraining order. Her lawyer later claimed the couple had a ‘clearly toxic’ and ‘complicated’ relationship.
She was later charged with second-degree murder.
4. Cameron Dallas
Cameron Dallas, who became famous on YouTube before starring in films and television shows, was arrested in 2018 after he was accused of assaulting another man and breaking his nose and jaw. He eventually pled guilty to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to six months of probation and 20 hours of community service.
5. Kevin Acorto
33-year-old Janae Gagnier, AKA Mercedes Morr, was an entrepreneur/Instagram model with millions of followers.
In August 2021, friends became worried about her when they hadn’t heard from her and she hadn’t posted on Instagram for a few days. Her father, Mark Gagnier, went to check on her. He found her body at the bottom of the stairs of her home. She had been strangled and suffered a concussion.
Upstairs, was 34-year-old Kevin Acorto, who had stabbed himself in the neck. Before he died, he had written rambling confessions, in lipstick, over Janae’s walls, apologising and confessing his love, while claiming she had led him on (though investigators don’t believe he knew her personally). Her sister, London, claimed that Acorto had been stalking Janae.
Hushpuppi was an influencer and internet personality who was known for displaying his wealth to his millions of followers. There were private jets, separate Rolls-Royces just for his luggage and jewellery worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then in June 2020, he was arrested in Dubai.
He claimed he had made his money in real estate. It turned out Hushpuppi was also a fraudster who actually got rich working as part of a gang of con artists, who swindled multiple victims out of millions, and laundered in banks across the world. Acting director of the FBI’s LA office, Kristi Johnson called Hushpuppi, one of the ‘most high-profile money launderers in the world’.
7. Thomas Sharkey
The day after Thanksgiving 2020, the body of 26-year-old influencer Alexis Sharkey was found on the side of a road in Houston. She had been strangled.
On 29th September 2021, an arrest warrant was issued for her husband, 50-year-old Thomas Sharkey. Investigators had concluded he was the only one with the ‘means, motive and opportunity’. According to police, the couple had been having marital problems, there was a history of domestic violence and they were going through a separation at the time of Alexis’ death.
After his wife’s murder, Sharkey left Texas. He was located in Florida, in an apartment belonging to his daughter, but when authorities went to arrest him, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot.
8. Keianna and Ronnell Burns
Keianna and Ronnell Burns had just moved to Atlanta from St Louis with their eight children. They were known as a power couple and entrepreneurs who ran their own businesses, Kritique Designs Beauty & Barber Salon and Primerica Insurance. Keianna had thousands of followers on Instagram.
But posts from Keianna after they moved showed that she was struggling. In a Facebook live video, she asked for prayer, strength and love. She also posted on Facebook that she was unhappy.
Six months after they had moved, the couple died in an apparent murder-suicide. It is thought Keianna shot and killed Ronnell. Keianna had posted a video of herself singing and dancing with one of her children just hours before the shootings.