McKINLEY, James

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McKINLEY, James (1865 -1926), 60, died at sea of starvation off Santa Catalina Island. His fishing companion, Eli Kelly, resorted to cannibalism and ate parts of McKinley to survive.


James McKinley = [1890] Isadora Fortner (1872-1947)

  • Thurman McKinley (1891-1940)



In the News~

December 20, 1926 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon… A grim tragedy of sea in which one man died of starvation and another gave up hope of rescue and life after reaching the beach on Catalina Island was related last night in the island branch of the Golden State Hospital by Ely B. Kelly, 69 years of age, a Redondo fisherman, who had been adrift on the sea since the 8th inst., in an open boat. James McKinley, 63, also a fisherman and companion of Kelly, was found dead in the bottom of the Grey Boat, their fishing yawl, drifting off the west end of Catalina Island. Captain George Michaelis, skipper of the boat Leona, recovered the craft and the body, which were removed to Avalon. Kelly, suffering from hunger and exposure, told the thrilling tale of the sea to Constable Moricich at the hospital…”


December 20, 1926 [Tacoma Daily News]: “Fisherman picked up on Catalina Island coast tells terrible story of suffering after his companion dies. Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, Cal., Dec. 20.—The startling admission that he had eaten the flesh of a dead companion whom he survived when the two were cast adrift at sea in an open boat, was made here last night by Eli B. Kelly, 69, Redondo fisherman. Kelly was picked up on the beach near here yesterday and brought to a hospital where he told of his grim sea tragedy. The mutilated body of his companion, James McKinley, 63, was found in the bottom of a small fishing yawl drifting off the end of the island. Constable Moricich, after an examination of the body, reported that strips of flesh had been sliced from the dead man's right leg and hip. Kelley, he said, later confessed to having carved the flesh away with a bait knife after his companion had died in the open boat and he himself was facing starvation. After finally reaching land, Kelly said, his last effort to sustain life was to eat cactus. Kelley said he had been adrift for 11 days and had been without food or water for eight days. His shipmate, crazed by hunger and thirst when supplies ran out, died from exhaustion after three attempts to drown himself. Kelly said he rescued his companion three times. According to Kelly's story, the two men set out on a fishing cruise from Redondo, December 8, in a 20-foot yawl.On the second night out they ran into a storm which stripped their mainsail and swamped their auxiliary engine. Manning their oars the two castaways struggled against the storm which carried them far out to sea. With provisions only for 24 hours, they nibbled sparingly at the dwindling rations. After being tossed about on the waves for days, McKinley became insane. Pointing to imaginary headlands, he demanded that they pull oars for shore. A quarrel sprang up when Kelly persisted in following his compass. On the third night, McKinley, crazed by hunger and thirst, again took up the quarrel and suddenly lurched at his companion with a bait knife in his hands. Kelly overpowered his mad companion and bound him with the stern sheets. Even in this position McKinley could not be subdued and three times he rolled himself over the gunwale and plunged into the sea. Three times Kelly rescued him. Finally McKinley dies from sheer exhaustion. With his dead companion at his back, Kelly returned to his oars. On the fifth day the last crumb of food had been eaten. It was then that he attempted to appease his gnawing hunger with human flesh. He sighted land yesterday and reaching the island, crawled on the beach. Dragging tarpaulins after him he used these and a few sacks as a covering from scavengers and lay down to die. He was found, near exhaustion and half starved by fishermen. The boat, with its dead cargo, was found a mile away, where it had drifted.”


December 21, 1926 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon… The surviving member of the fishing party, who managed with threadbare sails to guide this boat to Catalina Island Sunday morning, has been a patient in the hospital at Avalon. As he slowly recovered his strength yesterday, he told details of the terrible voyage to Constable Moricich — a story that made its hearers shrink from its very gruesomeness…”