March 13, 1977
Los Angeles, California
John Otis LaMay (17) is killed, raped, and dismembered by Patrick Wayne Kearney

LaMay’s death was one of several “trash bag murders,” so named for the killer’s penchant for placing the victims’ dismembered remains in industrial trash bags and scattering them along roads or other locations. LaMay was last seen on March 13, 1977 and was soon reported missing by his mother. Five days later, the dismembered remains of a teenage male were found in five industrial trash bags contained within an empty 80-gallon (303-liter) oil drum. While the teen’s hands, feet, and head were never recovered, his mother was contacted due to the missing person’s report she had filed. She was able to identify her son from a distinctive scar on his leg.

Investigators learned LaMay occasionally associated with two men known as Dave and Pat, and traced the lead to David Hill (34) and Patrick Wayne Kearney (37). (While Hill and Kearney were in a relationship, they were sometimes described in newspapers as “roommates.”) Detectives paid the pair a visit at their home where they obtained hair samples from the men and their dog, and collected carpet fibers as well. The samples were matched to evidence found on LaMay’s body and a search warrant was served, but not before Hill and Kearney fled to Texas. They surrendered on July 1, 1977.

Patrick Wayne Kearney
via The Daily Breeze

Both men were held on suspicion of murder, though Hill was cleared of charges after the grand jury ruled there was little evidence against him. Kearney was charged with the murders of LaMay and another victim, Arturo Ramos Marquez (24), whose dismembered body was found on March 3, 1977. He then surprised investigators by confessing to 33 more murders.

Of the 35 murders Kearney confessed to across 5 California counties, 21 could be confirmed. Most of the victims had been raped after death, dismembered, or both. The details of some of the killings had been obscured over time, but others Kearney remembered vividly. When asked why he had killed his victims he explained “it excited him and gave him a feeling of dominance,” though this was not the only reason he killed — Kearney also claimed to have killed out of fear of being discovered, and sometimes killed when he was angry at Hill.

According to Kearney, he began killing in 1962 when he took an unidentified, 19-year-old for a ride on his motorcycle. Kearney shot the young man between the eyes, dismembered his body, and skinned him. He then used a hacksaw to retrieve the fatal bullet from the skull to prevent ballistic identification in the future. Kearney directed law enforcement to the location of the body, which was found beneath the garage of a home he had previously owned in Culver City, California. A large hole in the front of the victim’s skull corroborated Kearney’s confession.

The discovery of Kearney’s first victim’s remains
Progress Bulletin. July 8, 1977 via Newspapers.com

Kearney also told officials about 13-year-old Michael McGhee who went missing on June 16, 1976. He had intended to take the teen camping but stopped by his house for supplies first. McGhee had already mentioned how he had recently stolen a man’s truck when the pair entered Kearney’s home, and McGhee “kept asking me, he said, ‘Oh, you have all these things around,’ you know, had all my radios and stuff and he kept talking about, you know, ‘You don’t have any burglar alarms, do you? If you do, where are they?’ You know, he kept asking very pertinent questions. I thought, ‘Yeah, I made a mistake in befriending this kid. Letting him know where I live. And I shot him before we ever went anywhere. … I disposed of the body. … You aren’t going to find him.”

Kearney initially pleaded guilty to 3 murders — LaMay and Marquez’s as well as that of Alberto Rivera (21) — and was sentenced to life in prison on December 21, 1977. In January 1978, he was charged with 18 additional murders which he also pleaded guilty to, and was given a total of 21 life sentences to be served concurrently. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Kearney has been eligible for parole since 1984. As of March 2021, the 81-year-old is still incarcerated.

The mother of Ronnie Dean Smith, Kearney’s youngest victim, pleads for her son’s safe return.
Los Angeles Times. August 31, 1974 via Newspapers.com

Kearney’s known victims are:
* A 19-year-old unidentified male, killed in Spring of 1962.
* A 16-year-old unidentified male, killed in 1962. This victim was the cousin of the first, and had witnessed the first victim accepting a ride with Kearney.
* An 18-year-old known only as Mike, killed in 1962.
* A man known only as George. Killed in December 1967.
* 13-year-old John Demchik, who was killed in 1971.
* 17-year-old James Fletcher Barwick, who was killed in 1972. His remains were found on September 22, 1973, near the body of a man later identified as Charles Lee Savage. Barwick had been shot multiple times in the head while Savage — who was not one of Kearney’s victims — had been stabbed.
* 5-year-old Ronald “Ronnie” Dean Smith, who was killed on August 24, 1974. Smith was Kearney’s youngest victim.
* 21-year-old Albert Rivera, killed on April 13, 1975.
* 20-year-old Larry Gene Walters, killed in October 1975.
* 17-year-old Kenneth Eugene Buchanan, whose body was found on April 7, 1976.
* 13-year-old Oliver Peter Molitor, killed between March and September of 1976.
* 15-year-old Larry Armendariz, killed on April 19, 1976.
* 13-year-old Michael Craig McGhee, killed in June of 1976.
* 23-year-old John Woods, killed in his apartment on June 20, 1976.
* 17-year-old Larry Epsy, killed in 1976.
* 20-year-old Wilfred L. Faherty, killed between April and August of 1976.
* 16-year-old Randal Lawrence Moore, killed on October 10, 1976.
* 19-year-old Timothy Brian Ingram, killed in September 1976.
* 17-year-old Robert Benniefiel, killed between September 16 and October 6, 1976.
* 27-year-old David Allen, killed in October 1976.
* 20-year-old Mark Andrew Orach, killed October 6, 1976.
* 28-year-old Nicholas Hernandez-Jimenez, whose dismembered remains wrapped tightly in plastic bags were found on January 24, 1977.
* 24-year-old Arturo Ramos Marquez, whose body was found on March 3, 1977.
* 17-year-old John Otis LaMay, killed on March 13, 1977. LaMay’s murder led to Kearney’s arrest.
* 8-year-old Merle Chance, who disappeared in April of 1977 and whose remains were found that June.

Sources:
Odell, Robin and Donnelley, Paul. The Mammoth Book of More Bizarre Crimes. London: Robinson, 2016
Gnerre, Sam. “Patrick Wayne Kearney, the “trash bag murderer”.” South Bay Daily Breeze. November 22, 2014. Accessed: March 13, 2021. http://blogs.dailybreeze.com/history/2014/11/22/patrick-wayne-kearney-the-trash-bag-murderer/
Woodhull, Tim. “Anguish and Anger.” The Daily Breeze [Torrance, California]. October 27, 1996
Woodhull, Tim. “Fighting A Killer.” The Daily Breeze. July 7, 1996
“Killer Admits 18 More Murders.” The Sacramento Bee. February 21, 1978
“Murder Charge No. 21.” The Desert Sun [Palm Springs, California]. February 18, 1978
“LA Killer Quizzed In Boy’s Death.” The Fresno Bee. January 8, 1978
“Similarities in dozens of murders investigated.” The Brazosport Facts [Clute, Texas]. July 20, 1977
Oliver, Myrna and Hazlett, Bill. “1 Man Indicted in Trash-Bag Murder Case.” Los Angeles Times. July 15, 1977
“3 More ‘Trashbag’ IDs Made.” The Times [San Mateo, California]. July 11, 1977
“Find skeleton in ‘trash bag murders’ probe.” Progress Bulletin [Pomona, California]. July 8, 1977
“Eight Bodies Found So Far.” Chico Enterprise-Record. July 6, 1977
“Police led to 2 grave sites.” Fort Worth Star-Telegram. July 5, 1977
Himmel, Nieson. “Two Suspects May Be Connected to 43 Murders.” Los Angeles Times. July 3, 1977
“Body identified as high school student.” The San Bernardino County Sun. April 22, 1977
Kistler, Robert. “Mother Pleads for Return of Son: ‘He’s All I’ve Got’.” Los Angeles Times. August 31, 1974
“Police report two homicides.” Daily Times-Advocate [Escondido, California]. September 24, 1973
Cook, Courtney; Cordova, Katie; and Kipp, Kristin. Patrick Kearney: “The Trash Bag Killer.” Department of Psychology, Radford University. http://maamodt.asp.radford.edu/Psyc%20405/serial%20killers/Kearney,%20Patrick%20_2012_.pdf
Kearney, Patrick Wayne. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Inmate Locator. CDCR Number: B88913. Accessed: March 13, 2021. https://inmatelocator.cdcr.ca.gov/Details.aspx?ID=B88913

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