Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joyce McKinney and the Manacled Mormon

Tabloid

Erroll Morris
Erroll Morris

A gentle pit bull more formally referred to as Hamburger, Booger had always been Joyce McKinney's baby. She was devastated when Booger died of cancer in 2006. She remembers that she wanted to die too — and then she heard about cloning.

In 2008, five pit bull puppies made the news. They were the first dogs to be commercially cloned. Dr. Jin Han Hong and his South Korean team had initially asked $150,000 for their services. But they settled for $50,000 and the assurance that their perky blond customer would help them promote their company. 

A round of press ensued. The puppy owner in the news called herself Bernann McKinney, but some of the older British tabloid reporters soon recognized her as Joyce McKinney.

She denied it at first, but the discovery didn't dampen her spirits. She had five new pitbull puppies grown from cells taken from old Booger's ear. Like him, the dogs knew how to open doors and to fetch soda for her.

It was finally a happy ending of sorts in McKinney's lonely life. Her fantasy of a fairy-tale marriage never came true, but at least she had her beloved pet again, times five.

"I never got married, because I loved him," she would say long after Kirk Anderson broke her heart. "I was afraid to love. I was afraid to have a love affair, afraid to kiss a guy. Dogs and children love me. They sense in me an innocence, a gentleness."

But things never do seem to end simply for Joyce McKinney.

At her family home in North Carolina, Joyce McKinney kept working, still trying to write her memoirs. It was a setback when someone broke into her pick-up truck and stole three suitcases full of information she'd collected on her trial, the nearly forgotten case of the manacled Mormon.

But then someone came along to help her tell her story.

McKinney
claims that Errol Morris told her that he was making a Showtime movie about the paparazzi, not that his documentary would be a feature film focusing on the heartbreak and scandal that defined her life. She's further alleged that Morris and producer Mark Lipson encouraged her to participate by promising to provide a lawyer to help save her service dog, Jazz, who was to be executed at the dog pound. No lawyer appeared; Jazz was put down.

Morris interviewed McKinney at length — and she talked at length. As Morris told the New York Times, "We used to joke that if there was an Academy Award for best performance in a documentary, she'd win."

And McKinney seems to have initially been happy enough with her performance in the 2011 film. She attended the premier and other screenings of Tabloid with Morris. She's even suggested that she's appeared at more screenings of the film than its director. Sometimes she brought her cloned dogs; sometimes she went in disguise. At a screening at New York's Museum of Modern art, she even jumped up to announce herself and let the audience know that the film's star was there in person.

But now she's filed a suit against Morris, Lipson, Sundance Select, IFC Films and several other companies with the Los Angeles Superior Court. She thinks that Morris depicted her as "crazy, a sex offender, an S&M prostitute and/or a rapist." She's seeking compensation for misappropriation of likeness, defamation, misrepresentation, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract. Despite numerous attempts, Joyce McKinney could not be reached for comment on this story.

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