A woman who made news around the world when she had five pups cloned from her beloved pit bull Booger looked very familiar to some who saw her picture: She’s the same woman who 31 years earlier was accused of abducting a Mormon missionary in England, handcuffing him to a bed and making him her sex slave.
Dog lover Bernann McKinney acknowledged in a telephone call to The Associated Press on Saturday that she is indeed Joyce McKinney, who in 1977 became a British tabloid sensation when she faced charges of unlawful imprisonment in the missionary case. She jumped bail and was never brought to justice.
Through tears, she explained that she went public with her efforts to replicate Booger, who died two years ago, hoping people would be able to focus on that story rather than the “garbage” of the past.
“I thought people would be honest enough to see me as a person who was trying to do something good and not as a celebrity,” McKinney told the AP. “My mother always taught me, ’Say something good or say nothing at all.”’
“I think I gave people too much credit,” she said.
Denial, then acknowledgement
British tabloids first recognized the blond woman’s smiling face when she appeared in news photographs this past week with the five pit bull pups she paid South Korean scientists $53,000 to clone.
McKinney, who initially denied a connection between the two women, acknowledged that she was one and the same after the AP ran a story noting the striking similarities in arrest records and court documents for the names Bernann McKinney and Joyce McKinney. They had the same birth date and Social Security numbers, the same hometown of Newland, N.C., and Joyce McKinney’s middle name is Bernann.
But the now-57-year-old McKinney said that, as far as she’s concerned, the Joyce McKinney of 31 years ago doesn’t exist. She maintains her innocence and says the woman of all those years ago is a “figment of the tabloid press. ... I don’t want that garbage in with the puppy story.”
The story of Joyce McKinney is the stuff of pulp fiction: a North Carolina-born beauty queen who moved west, won the title Miss Wyoming USA and went on to college at Brigham Young University, where she became obsessed with a Mormon fellow student.
When that young Mormon took a missionary trip to England, authorities say McKinney hired a private detective so she could locate and follow him.
Sensational case in England
She and a male accomplice were accused of abducting the 21-year-old missionary as he went door to door, taking him to a rented 17th-century “honeymoon cottage” in Devon and chaining him spread-eagle to a bed with several pairs of mink-lined handcuffs.
There, investigators say, he was repeatedly forced to have sex with McKinney before he was able to escape and notify police.
In a 1977 court hearing mobbed by the British press, Joyce McKinney said she’d fallen head-over-heels in love with the Mormon man and acknowledged tracking him to England. “I loved him so much,” she told a judge, “that I would ski naked down Mount Everest in the nude with a carnation up my nose if he asked me to.”
But she denied a sexual assault, saying the young man was a willing partner.
In her call to the AP on Saturday, McKinney repeated the same argument her lawyer made all those years ago: There’s no way she could have overpowered the young Mormon because he was much bigger and stronger.
“I didn’t rape no 300-pound man,” she said. “He was built like a Green Bay Packer.”
Trail goes cold in Cleveland
McKinney and her accomplice spent three months in a London jail before being released on bail.
Press reports at the time that said the pair then jumped bail, posing as deaf-mute actors in Ireland to board an Air Canada flight to Toronto and eventually a bus to Cleveland, where investigators lost their trail.
Joyce McKinney surfaced again in Utah in May 1984 and was arrested for allegedly stalking the workplace of the same Mormon man she was accused of imprisoning in England. News reports say that police found a length of rope and handcuffs in the trunk of McKinney’s car, along with notebooks detailing the man’s daily activities.
Set to stand trial for lying to police and harassment in 1986, McKinney again disappeared just before proceedings and the case was dismissed.
It now appears Joyce McKinney may have escaped justice in the long-ago British case also. London police told the AP they’ve consigned the case to the history books because of its age and won’t seek McKinney’s extradition.
“They don’t have a case,” she told the AP. “It’s been 31 years. They don’t care.”
“It’s taken years of therapy to get past this,” she said. “We go to church and serve the Lord and try to lead good lives and do good things.”
McKinney refused to say where she was when she called. While in South Korea, she told reporters she was a screenwriter and handed out business cards with a Hollywood, Calif., address. The AP found that address did not exist.
At the Avery County courthouse in McKinney’s hometown of Newland in the western North Carolina mountains, a clerk said she instantly recognized the woman snuggling puppies as the Joyce Bernann McKinney who has been a frequent defendant in court cases there.
“She is a person of note in our little community,” said clerk Julia Henson.
'That's our Joy'
Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frey said there are several charges on file against Joyce McKinney, including an active warrant seeking her arrest on a 2003 charge of communicating a threat against another woman.
Other charges include passing bad checks, an assault on a public officials and an 2004 animal cruelty charge alleging she failed to take proper care of a horse. That charge was dismissed.
James Stamey, the husband of the woman McKinney was charged with threatening, said that McKinney left Newland about two years ago and that no one had really seen or heard from her.
Until she showed up in the news about the cloned puppies.
“That’s our Joy,” Stamey said from his home in Newland.
Years ago, Stamey said, McKinney was a beautiful girl worthy of the Miss Wyoming USA crown.
“She’s ugly as sin now,” he said. “But, sure enough, that’s her.”