The Strange Saga of "Bernann" McKinney

Posted by Jesse Reynolds August 14, 2008
Biopolitical Times
"Bernann" McKinney and one of her little Boogers (AP)

The story of  the first happy customer of RNL Bio's new pet dog cloning service is almost too outlandish to mock. When we first encountered her last week, Bernann McKinney appeared overjoyed that the spirit of her deceased yet beloved pit bull, Booger, had been recaptured in the five clones. Then we learned that the former beauty pageant queen was on the lam from the British authorities. In the 1970s, she became obsessed with a young man while in college in Utah. She later said, "I loved him so much that I would ski naked down Mount Everest in the nude with a carnation up my nose if he asked me to."

McKinney, then known as Joyce McKinney, followed him to the UK, where he was serving as a door-to-door Mormon missionary. In 1977, she and a friend kidnapped  him and held him at a remote cottage as her sex slave for days. Although she was arrested, McKinney fled to Canada disguised as a mime, and then went into hiding in the US disguised as a nun. Years later, the missionary saw McKinney watching him, and police subsequently found handcuffs and a rope in her car.

To top it off, she obtained Booger, the dead cl­oned dog, by breaking into an animal shelter, where he was scheduled to be euthanized after he had attacked some joggers.

Simply put, you can't make this stuff up.

Couple McKinney's saga with an alien love cult, a nation's scientist hero revealed to be a fraud (1, 2), and an eccentric billionaire who spent $10 million trying to clone his dog, and one could dismiss the cloning endeavor as nothing but a freak show. While the practice certainly seems to attract more than its share of eccentrics, a dismissal is inappropriate. Despite a broad consensus that human reproductive cloning  should be banned (as it already is in about sixty countries), there's no shortage of bioethicists and pundits who fail to see anything wrong in the practice, and supposed cloning opponents who limit their concern to matters of safety.

Update (Aug. 15): McKinney is also wanted in Tennessee, where she is accused of convincing a 15-year-old to break into a house so that she could buy a prosthetic leg for her three-legged horse.

Update (Aug. 19): McKinney has now left South Korea, but without her clones of Booger.

Update (Aug 20): The head of RNL Bio, Ra Jeong Chan, said that "criminal records would not disqualify future customers, adding that the cloned animals could even help them find stability and thus prevent crimes" (a paraphrase from the International Herald Tribune).

Previously on Biopolitical Times: