It’s September 1977 in Surrey, England, and missionary Kirk Anderson is seen standing outside a Mormon meeting house. Then he disappears, kickstarting a scandal that will entrance the tabloids for years to come. And when Anderson reemerges three days later and almost 200 miles away, he has a shocking tale to tell.
This unsettling story begins in the mid-1970s at Brigham Young University in Provo – a city on the shores of Utah Lake, Utah. Subsidized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – or Mormons – the institution was known as a place where young men and women of the faith could meet and make matches. And it was here that a 19-year-old Anderson first encountered Joyce McKinney – a woman six years his senior.
Having entered the world in August 1949 in Avery County, North Carolina, McKinney grew up in a small town in the picturesque Appalachian Mountains. Apparently, she exhibited an unusually high IQ as a child and was moved ahead in her classes at school. In McKinney’s spare time, meanwhile, she indulged her passions for cheerleading and marching band.
Eventually, McKinney graduated from East Tennessee University before moving on to the University of North Carolina, where she earned her master’s degree. And at some point during her studies, she began living with a Mormon family. Under their influence, McKinney came to believe that becoming involved in the faith was her best chance of securing a good marriage.
But even though McKinney ultimately converted to Mormonism, she also fostered another passion: a love of beauty pageants. The young woman even relocated to Wyoming in order to pursue her dream. Apparently, she reasoned that the sparser population in the state would improve her chances of winning a coveted crown.
Amazingly, it was a tactic that worked, as in 1974 McKinney won the title of Miss Wyoming World. Yet while she went on to compete in the Miss USA pageant, she failed to win the national competition and decided to return to education instead. So, McKinney moved to Provo, UT, where she began studying drama – and cruising for guys in her spare time.
Reportedly, Anderson wasn’t the first man to catch McKinney’s eye, either. It’s said, for instance, that she initially became enamored with a member of the famous Osmonds singing group. As successful, wealthy Mormons, the boys were real catches for many a young Utah woman. And the former beauty queen soon set her sights on the second-eldest sibling: Wayne.
According to some, McKinney initially enjoyed some success in her attempts to court Wayne, too. But his mother, Olive, apparently disapproved, ultimately encouraging her son to set his sights elsewhere. And soon after this failed romance, the keen young woman met the devout Mormon Anderson at Brigham Young University.
According to McKinney, she was driving her orange Corvette when she first encountered Anderson, who was behind the wheel of a matching white vehicle. The pair then apparently challenged each other to a race – and the rest was history. In fact, the ex-beauty queen would later claim that she fell in love as soon as she laid eyes on Anderson.
At the time, the shy, slightly overweight Anderson was just 19 years old, while McKinney was 25. But despite the age gap, they were soon embroiled in a romantic affair. The exact nature of their relationship is still a matter of some debate, though. In one interview, for example, the young woman claimed that the pair had merely engaged in a rather innocent courtship.
“We went on picnics and made out – nothing more,” McKinney said, according to the Daily Express newspaper. Other outlets, though, have suggested that she and Anderson had been selecting names for their future offspring after just a few dates. And on occasion, McKinney also alleged that she had lost her virginity to the young Mormon – something that may have resulted in a crisis of faith for Anderson.
According to some reports, you see, Anderson became consumed with guilt over the apparent sexual affair. In the Mormon faith, adherents are required to wait until they are married before having intercourse. But it’s debatable whether or not he and McKinney were even engaged. In any case, the young man is said to have confessed his transgression to higher-up members of his church.
Apparently, the Mormon elders reacted dramatically to Anderson’s confession, arranging for him to be sent away from Utah – and so far from McKinney’s grasp. Initially, then, he was sent to other locations across the United States before being relocated to England. And while in the U.K., he undertook missionary work in the towns of East Grinstead and Reading, eventually winding up in Epsom, Surrey.
Meanwhile, McKinney was apparently left heartbroken. She even claimed that her affair with Anderson had left her pregnant – and that she’d she later lost the baby. But whatever the truth, the woman seemed determined to track down her lost lover, following his movements across California and Oregon.
And while Anderson’s move to England may have seen him leaving McKinney behind for good, the determined young woman still didn’t give up. Amazingly, she enlisted the help of a private investigator to find him – although it came at great expense.
Rumors would later emerge that McKinney had engaged in all manner of illicit activities in order to fund her search for Anderson. She allegedly began working as a glamor model, for instance, as well as posing for nude photographs and engaging in sex work. Then, after two years, McKinney finally managed to track down her lost lover in Epsom.
And this is when things got really out of hand. Allegedly, McKinney – accompanied by a man named Keith May – made her way across the pond in order to confront Anderson. It’s said that she believed her former lover had been brainwashed by the Mormon church and it was her duty to save him from its clutches.
Then, on September 14, 1977, Anderson disappeared from the steps of a Mormon meeting house in Ewell – a suburb of Epsom. He had apparently been approached by May, who had pretended to have an interest in the religion. But once McKinney’s accomplice had persuaded the young man to follow him to his car, he had allegedly produced a fake gun.
The story goes that May then used the fake weapon and some chloroform to incapacitate and kidnap Anderson. However, McKinney would later claim that her former lover had entered the vehicle willingly. She would also argue that he had contrived the abduction story because he was afraid of being excommunicated by the Mormon church.
But whatever really took place, Anderson was soon plunged into a story so bizarre that it would captivate the public for many years. Apparently, McKinney and May drove the young Mormon to a rented cottage in Okehampton – a picturesque Devon town some 200 miles away from his base in Epsom. And from there, a strange sequence of events supposedly began to unfold.
It’s been reported that McKinney prepared a feast for Anderson of his favorite dishes, including chocolate cake and fried chicken. Then, after dinner, May allegedly used a 10-foot chain to manacle the Mormon to the bed. With this ominous task achieved, he apparently left the two former lovers alone.
Yet from this point onward, McKinney and Anderson’s versions of events differ wildly. According to her, the sex was consensual – and the restraints merely served to help her former partner to overcome his inhibitions. The Mormon, by contrast, would later claim to have been raped while held in captivity.
Moreover, Anderson argued that he was only able to escape McKinney’s clutches by pretending to agree to wed her. He also allegedly told her that he was going to the Mormon church in order to explain his absence. Instead, though, he fled, arriving at a Devon police station on September 17 – three days after his disappearance.
Then, on September 20, McKinney and May turned up for what they believed was a rendezvous with Anderson. In reality, however, police were lying in wait to arrest the two suspects. Facing charges of assault and abduction, the pair were subsequently brought to Epsom for trial. And there, McKinney continued to maintain her innocence, insisting that she and Anderson had been in love. She told the court, “I would have skied down Mount Everest in the nude with a carnation up my nose if he had asked me to.”
In an otherwise quiet news period, the combination of McKinney’s good looks and the novelty of a woman-on-man sex crime made for compelling headlines. Kent Gavin, who’s a former photographer, told the Daily Mirror in 2018, “There was great competition to get the story. It just had everything: a beauty queen, the kidnap of a Mormon missionary and kinky sex. It was the perfect tabloid story.”
As the media covered the trial obsessively, then, McKinney took the opportunity to share her version of events with the world. And on one occasion, she held up a sign reading, “[Anderson] left with me willingly,” in front of tabloid photographers. Her defense attorney also highlighted the size difference between McKinney and Anderson, suggesting that it would have been impossible for her to have overpowered him.
What’s more, the tabloids delighted in inventing sensational nicknames for the trial. These included the “Manacled Mormon Case” and the “Kidnap Mormon Sex-In-Chains Case.” And all the while, McKinney was busy delivering catchy soundbites of her own. She reportedly told the court, “I don’t have to beg for boys’ services. I am 38-24-36, so I don’t beg. I was Miss Wyoming.”
Bizarrely, the case was made even more complicated owing to the legal situation at the time. There was apparently no British law that dealt specifically with cases of male rape, leaving McKinney to face the lesser charge of indecent assault. And while the suspect was eventually sent to London’s Holloway Prison, she was let out on bail after just a few months.
Still the darling of the tabloid press, McKinney began living a glamorous lifestyle – despite the fact that the case was still ongoing. In fact, she was even snapped rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous at the Saturday Night Fever premiere. Eventually, however, she decided to leave England behind.
Indeed, before the case could be concluded, McKinney and May abandoned England for the United States. Armed with false passports, the pair concocted a scheme to pass themselves off as mime artists who were both mute and deaf. Incredibly, the plan worked, and the young woman began living as a fugitive on the other side of the Atlantic.
Yet McKinney’s life out of the public eye would not last, as the British tabloid press subsequently caught up with her in Atlanta, Georgia. Meanwhile, an ex-partner came forward with nude photographs of the young woman, claiming that she had been a sex worker in the past. In fact, the Daily Mirror reported that she had earned tens of thousands of dollars from sleeping with men.
Now flaunting her freedom, McKinney appeared in topless photoshoots for a number of U.S. publications. Still, she couldn’t evade the law forever, and in July 1979 both she and May were arrested for falsely obtaining passports. But even though the duo were both given suspended sentences for this transgression, the United Kingdom failed to initiate extradition procedures for their roles in Anderson’s disappearance.
Eventually, McKinney was sentenced in absentia to 12 months behind bars – although her punishment remains unfulfilled. Then, after her stint in the headlines, she disappeared from public view. Yet McKinney seemed unable to stay out of trouble, as a 1984 arrest suggests.
By then, Anderson was living in Salt Lake City, UT, where he had settled down with a wife and children. Even so, McKinney was apparently still obsessed with her former flame and was caught stalking his place of work. Allegedly, she had been carrying rope and handcuffs in her vehicle as well as a book containing a record of Anderson’s movements.
Despite the seemingly damning evidence against McKinney, though, she claimed that her presence in the area had merely been a coincidence. In the end, then, the charges against her were dropped, and she disappeared into obscurity once more. At the end of the 1990s she is believed to have moved to North Carolina, where she struggled with poor health.
Then, in 2008, there came another strange twist in an already bizarre tale. That year, a story emerged about a woman named Bernann McKinney who had paid a South Korean laboratory to clone her pet pit bull terrier, Booger. And journalists realized that, astonishingly, the two McKinney women were one and the same.
With interest in McKinney renewed, her story caught the eye of Errol Morris – a filmmaker specializing in documentaries. And according to McKinney, Morris claimed that he wanted to help her tell her side of the story. A deal was subsequently struck, and in 2010 Tabloid, which featured interviews with the former beauty queen, was released.
In the movie, McKinney raised eyebrows by claiming that it was not possible for a man to be raped by a woman. She said, “It’s like trying to put a marshmallow in a parking meter.” And, initially, Morris seemed pleased with how his subject had engaged with the camera. He told the Daily Express in 2016, “Joyce was amazing. We used to joke: if there was an Academy Award for best performance in a documentary, she’d win.”
However, McKinney soon turned against Morris, claiming that Tabloid had not presented her story in an accurate light. In 2016, in fact, she alleged that the team behind the movie had broken into her home and threatened to kill her service dog unless she agreed to let them use the footage of her. But even though McKinney attempted to sue, the case was eventually dismissed.
Today, McKinney is confined to a wheelchair, living a life of relative obscurity in the mountains of North Carolina. Anderson, meanwhile, is thought to be working in real estate and keeping out of the spotlight as much as he can. But many who were alive in the U.K. during the 1970s will still remember the case of the “Manacled Mormon” – and the bizarre aftermath of one of the tabloids’ strangest stories.