Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joyce McKinney and the Manacled Mormon

Joy to the World

McKinney in 1978
McKinney in 1978

"I loved him so much that I would ski naked down Mount Everest with a carnation up my nose if he asked me to." 

That's how Joyce McKinney describes the relationship that would make her the star of the tawdry British press in the 1970s. She may not have done any clothes-free, carnation-snorting slaloming (nude modeling and escort work, sure) but she took even more drastic steps to get and keep her man. The Queen's courts accused the American beauty queen of kidnapping and raping her unlikely object of obsession, Mormon missionary Kirk Anderson.

Now also the star of Errol Morris's Tabloid, McKinney remains a wild romantic. The 2011 documentary opens with her reading an excerpt from the memoir that she's been working on for years. She portrays herself as a beautiful blond, brown-eyed princess, lonely in her castle and hoping to meet her prince.

But there was no happy-ever-after for Joyce McKinney. Just a broken heart, a scandalous trial littered with sadomasochistic allegations, followed by a dramatic escape, a dog-mauling, a role in cloning history, a lawsuit against Morris — through it all, she's maintained that she's done nothing wrong. And she's kept doing her best to live up to her chosen nickname, Joy, for "Joy to the World."

The little information that the obsessed press gathered about McKinney's childhood doesn't explain the crazy turns her life would take. She was born in Avery County, North Carolina, in 1949. Her father, David, would soon become an elementary school principal. Her mother, Marilyn, was a school teacher. Their little Joy was a bundle of energy and her vibrant ways often seemed like a little too much for their sleepy backwoods town, but they kept her busy.

Her 168 IQ put her in an accelerated academic program in their local schools. She graduated near the top of Cranberry High School's class of 1967, then went on earn a BA from East Tennessee University and a Master's degree from the University of North Carolina. It was while studying at East Tennessee and living with a Mormon family that she joined the Church of Latter Day Saints; a professor had told her that Mormonism would help her meet good, decent, marriage-oriented young men. She was already wildly committed to the idea of lasting love.

Joyce McKinney's flair for the dramatic had led her to become a cheerleader and a drum major, and it had also lured her into the world of beauty pageants even before her teen years. In 1972, determined to take her pageantry career to the national level, she picked a state with sparse formal competition and became Miss Wyoming in order to enter the Miss USA pageant. She'd never been to Wyoming. Nor did she ever pay the Miss USA entrance fee; instead she left an IOU for $250.

Defeat didn't get this tough cookie down. Joyce McKinney loaded her wardrobe and her English sheepdog Millie into the Corvette her father had bought her and she drove to Provo, Utah, to study drama at Brigham Young University.

There, as she hoped, she really did meet a young man who would change her life.

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