With lurid relationships, exotic animals, murder allegations and a feuding pair of animal enthusiasts, Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness really does have it all. The seven-episode documentary series, which explores the exploits of zookeeper Joe Exotic, a man embroiled in a bitter dispute with animal rights activist Carole Baskin, offers a shocking new twist with every episode.
Still, as intense as the show itself is, it turns out there’s even more to the story than the documentary admits. Join us as we delve into the truth behind Joe Exotic’s marriages, Michael Jackson’s alligators and that pesky Carole Baskin.
Bear in mind we’ll be getting into heavy spoilers, so consider this your warning if you haven’t actually finished Tiger King yet.
20. Joe Exotic didn’t actually write or sing on any of his songs
Throughout the documentary series, we are blessed with the sweet tones of Joe Exotic performing in his expertly produced music videos.
One such video, Here Kitty Kitty, shows a woman who looks remarkably like Carole Baskin feeding chunks of what is strongly implied to be her husband to the tigers.
Then there’s the unforgettable I Saw a Tiger, in which Joe sings the praises of his beloved animals whilst standing on top of a pick-up truck, with lightning crashing behind him.
What might surprise you is that the voice behind these iconic tracks does not actually belong to Joe Exotic himself, nor did Exotic compose any of them.
Although it’s never mentioned in Tiger King, Joe is actually lip-syncing in all those videos to the voice of Danny Clinton.
Clinton was also the composer of all the songs, along with the members of his group, the Clinton Johnson Band.
19. The alligators killed in the studio blaze once belonged to Michael Jackson
At one point in the show it is revealed that, in 2015, a fire mysteriously broke out in the studio at Joe Exotic’s zoo.
The blaze wreaked havoc and, on top of the property damage, it killed seven alligators and one crocodile in what Joe described as a “towering inferno.”
The incident is all the more sinister given that many of those close to Exotic believe he was responsible for the fire, which also destroyed around 60,000 hours of video footage shot at the zoo over the years.
As devastating as this act is in itself, it becomes somewhat more tragic upon learning that two of the slain alligators were in fact living history.
Prior to coming to the GW Exotic Animal Park, the alligators had previously resided at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.
The luxury estate and private amusement park in California was home to the late pop legend until 2005, at which point the alligators were relocated to GW Exotic Animals Park.
18. Joe Exotic had two other husbands
In the show, we are introduced to three of Joe Exotic’s husbands: John Finlay, Travis Maldonado and Dillon Passage.
However, what Tiger King failed to mention is that Joe had actually been married twice prior to embarking on these relationships.
In the late 80s, Joe met 19-year-old Brian Rhyne whilst working as a security guard in a gay cowboy bar. The couple opened the zoo together before Rhyne sadly passed away due to HIV complications in 2001.
Then, following Rhyne’s death, Joe embarked on a tumultuous relationship with J.C Hartpence. However, the romance was not to last and there were reportedly numerous violent altercations between the pair.
After their split, Hartpence was arrested for child molestation charges and is currently serving time in prison for the murder of Tennessee man Curtis Shelton.
As shown on Tiger King, Joe has since re-married again, wedding Dillon Passage, to whom Exotic remains wed despite the likelihood that he’ll spend the rest of his life in jail.
17. Joe Exotic once convinced everyone he was dying of cancer
According to podcast maker Robert Moor, after the infamous zoo fire, Joe Exotic actually went one worse.
The flamboyant zoo owner managed to convince everyone that he was dying of prostate and bone marrow cancer.
Joe even posted horrific images of himself laying in a hospital bed in order to raise money from his Facebook fans.
Joe also announced to friends that he had been given just two months to live and that he had purchased a rifle which he would use to kill Carole Baskin.
It was later revealed that Joe had in fact never had cancer, although the photos of his hospitalisation were genuine.
Joe had simply lied about why he was in hospital: it was actually due to dehydration and infections related to his contracting an STD.
16. Carole Baskin’s ex-boyfriend filed a restraining order against her
Regardless of whether you’re Team Carole or Team Joe, it’s undeniable that both parties have been involved in their fair share of dubious exploits.
Tiger King’s most eye-opening allegation – the suggestion that Carole fed her ex-husband to the tigers – is probably entirely unfounded (we think/hope).
Even so, according to one ex-boyfriend at least, Carole Baskin does have a history of unhinged behaviour.
After her ex-husband disappeared, and before she began her relationship with Howard, Baskin was involved in a relationship with a man named Jay Baykal.
Baykal reported that he tried to file a restraining order against his former partner after she made threats against his life.
However, the order was ultimately denied because Baykal had no evidence to back up his claims of being threatened.
15. Rick Kirkham’s house was burned to the ground in an arson attack six months after the zoo fire
Rick Kirkham, producer of Joe Exotic TV as well as a would-be reality show about the zoo and its bizarre owner, lost all his footage in the fire at Joe’s zoo.
This incident brought Kirkham’s professional relationship with Joe to an acrimonious end, and the producer says that the loss of years of work sent him into a nervous breakdown.
You might have thought that would be the end of any arson-based troubles for the seasoned TV journalist.
However, just six months after the zoo fire, Kirkham’s house was burned to the ground while he slept inside.
Thankfully, Kirkham himself managed to escape the burning house unscathed, but his dog was sadly killed in the fire.
Much as with the fire at the GW Exotic Animal Park, no one was ever caught or convicted of setting Kirkham’s home on fire.
14. Joe Exotic worked as a police officer in the 80s
As Tiger King shows, Joe Exotic has spent much of his life firmly on the wrong side of the law.
However, prior to embarking on his criminal career, Joe actually worked in law enforcement for a time.
The future zoo owner actually spent several years as a police officer after graduating from high school.
Joe once policed a small Texan town of just 500 people, and was even promoted to the role of Chief of Police at the tender age of 19.
His other occupations before finding his way into zoo keeping included serving as an emergency medical technician.
This was reportedly a source of great pride for Joe, and it explains why we often see him wearing an EMT jacket in the documentary series.
13. John Finlay was once arrested for assault and battery against Joe
John Finlay caused much controversy with his appearance in Tiger King, culminating in the revelation that despite his 11-year-long marriage to Joe, he is not actually gay.
As has since been established in the recent catch-up episode, John is now happily married to a woman (and has even got some new teeth).
However, what the Netflix documentary failed to mention was that John and Joe’s relationship ended in a bitter feud (bit of a recurring theme in Joe’s life).
Things got so bad between Finlay and Joe that a violent altercation once ensued in the zoo’s car park.
Finlay was subsequently arrested for assault and battery, but the charges were later dropped.
On a side note, it bears mentioning that Joe’s marriage to John and Travis was never legal (not that this should be too unexpected, as polygamy is against the law in the US).
12. Joe wanted to breed a sabre-toothed tiger
As we see in Tiger King, Joe Exotic had great success in breeding big cat hybrids.
The zookeeper bred lions and tigers, resulting in the controversial ligers, hybrids which tend to grow much larger than their pure-bred counterparts.
Joe’s successful breeding practices led to him developing quite an ego (naturally), so much so that at one point he dreamed of re-creating the sabre-toothed tiger.
The fact that this particular species of big cat has been extinct for more than 10,000 years didn’t seem to have dampened Joe’s spirits there.
While this sabre-toothed dream was never mentioned in the Tiger King series, it did come up in the earlier 2011 Louis Theroux documentary America’s Most Dangerous Pets.
It might also be worth pointing out that, despite being popularly known as sabre-toothed tigers, the actual animal the Smiliodon is only very distantly related to the modern-day tiger.
11. Joe fed donated horses to his tigers
In the documentary series, Joe explains that it takes over $3 million per year to feed just one tiger.
However, as the show often demonstrates, Joe was never averse to some underhand problem-solving while running things at the GW Zoo.
While the series sees the tigers being fed expired Walmart meat (after the staff took their pick), we aren’t shown a more shocking way Joe would deal with the food issue.
Patrons of the zoo would occasionally donate animals to Joe on the condition that he take good care of them.
In the catch-up episode, Rick Kirkham recalls being present when Joe swore to do just that to a woman donating horses.
However, as soon as the donor left, Joe shot the horses dead and had them cut up for tiger meat. This was by all accounts a routine practice.
10. Saff is actually a transgender man
One of the few people to come out of Tiger King looking like a decent human being is GW Exotic Animals Park employee Saff Saffery.
As viewers of the show will recall, Saff lost an arm in a lion attack at the park – then returned to work the very next week.
Saff is referred to as a woman throughout the series, and addressed by birth name Kelci.
However, it has since been confirmed that Saff is a transgender man who prefers to be addressed as he/him.
This was addressed in the recent Tiger King catch-up episode, and the fact that Saff was knowingly misgendered by the documentary makers has sparked controversy.
Saffery seems unfazed by this, recently telling Esquire, “I don’t care if they’re calling me she; I don’t care if they’re calling me he. On a daily basis, I am called 17 different things. I never really took it to heart.”
9. Joe was once married to a woman, and has children
Rick Kirkham has revealed that Brandon Chappell, who we briefly see in a few scenes in Tiger King, is actually Joe’s son.
While the series shows him to be an out-and-proud gay man, in his younger years Joe was once married to a woman.
Kirkham has not confirmed that Brandon’s mother, Kim, is the woman Joe was married to, but he has indicated that Joe fathered multiple children in his younger years.
Kirkham recently revealed in an online Q&A that Joe had been “married to a woman years before… He had children and his son came to work at the zoo the summer that I was there, the very first summer.”
Expressing surprise that the documentary did not reveal that Brandon was his son, Kirkham went on to say that “Joe treated his son worse than he treated the other employees. He expected more out of him, he expected him to take more leadership and do harder work.”
“He had his son sweeping the park instead of giving him a decent job, feeding the animals or something like that. It was almost as though he regretted having a child, that he regretted having been married.”
8. Allen Glover told the court that he DID go to Florida
One of the big plot holes (if we can call it that) in Tiger King is the question of whether or not Allen Glover went to Florida.
Glover is, of course, the man Joe is believed to have hired to assassinate his arch-nemesis Carole Baskin.
Florida is where Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue park is based, and as such Glover was meant to go there to shoot her.
In the series, Glover denies on camera that he ever went to Florida at the time in question – but he told a different story in court.
16. Joe's lawyers argued that Alan had made this up bc it's a "better story." But…is it? Or was Glover just covering his ass in case some new evidence emerged showing he had in fact been to FL. Did he go there intending to kill Carole & then just (in his words) "chicken out"? pic.twitter.com/7lADS8yMh4
— ?????? ???? (@robertmoor_) March 26, 2020
At the trial of Joe Exotic, Glover said on the stand that he did indeed go to Florida, whilst drunk, apparently with the intention of warning Carole Baskin.
However, Glover testified that he ultimately didn’t make it to Big Cat Rescue after passing out on a beach, then simply drove home.
7. Joe was caught on tape explaining his plan to kill Carole Baskin
Another sticking point many viewers have had after watching Tiger King is the feeling that Joe Exotic was set up.
Despite the many instances of Joe publicly making threats of violence against Carole Baskin, some feel the murder-for-hire charges were a stretch and that he was the victim of entrapment.
However, the documentary series did not mention that the court was played a secretly recorded conversation between Joe and James Garretson.
Passages of this, which have been shared by journalist Robert Moor, highlight Joe discussing the plan for Glover to purchase a pay-as-you-go phone to communicate with them.
In the recording, Joe tells Garretson, “as long as he don’t get caught red-handed, I think we got this.”
Joe also says that he and Jeff Lowe “got our story down to where we fired the motherf***er and he just went off the deep end.”
6. Joe and Jeff Lowe considered opening a bisexual strip club/petting zoo
One of the more controversial figures in the Tiger King saga is Jeff Lowe, the supposedly rich huckster who became Joe’s business partner but ultimately took the zoo from him.
Both men are – to put it mildly – somewhat larger than life, so it stands to reason they had some outlandish ideas for their business.
One such plan from their early collaboration, which doesn’t get a mention in the series, was to mix animals and strippers.
Yes, Joe and Jeff had an idea of creating a new establishment that was part petting zoo and part bisexual strip club, with both male and female dancers, which they planned to call Tigers and Dreams.
However, it would seem this idea didn’t go very far, and their plans were ultimately downgraded to opening a drive-in movie theatre – but this too failed to get off the ground.
Things did get far enough with the drive-in for Joe and Jeff to borrow construction equipment from a man named Joe Barth, only for them to then sell the equipment. Barth then took legal action – and he too fell victim to a mysterious house fire.
5. The filmmakers say Joe is “categorically” a racist who complained about not being allowed to say the N-word
One aspect of Joe Exotic’s personality which the Tiger King documentary makers have since admitted they chose to omit from the series is his outspoken racism.
Never one for keeping his feelings a secret, Joe is by all accounts open in his racist attitudes in real life.
He even shot a segment on his Joe Exotic TV webseries in which he complained about society deeming it unacceptable for him to use the N-word.
Tiger King documentary maker Rebecca Chaikin addressed this in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Chaikin admits, “Joe is a racist, I would say categorically. He said things when we were filming that were very unsettling.” However, these didn’t make the final cut, says Chaikin, as “they didn’t have a context in the story.”
The director suggests “most of it was ignorance and not having a lot of exposure, and I think he even evolved over the course of the time that we filmed.”
4. The cop who investigated the zoo fire was also Joe’s limo driver
While Joe Exotic was jailed on counts of attempted murder for hire and animal abuse, no charges were ever filed regarding arson.
Many of those who were close to Joe believe that he orchestrated the fire that killed the alligators and destroyed the reality show footage.
However, the police investigation never found an arsonist – but alarmingly, it turns out the officer in charge had a personal connection to Joe.
Reporter Robert Moor has revealed on Twitter that, after interviewing local police chief Brion Gordon, he then received a furious call from Joe Exotic who wanted to know why Moor was asking the police about him.
Moor was baffled as to why Gordon, the investigating officer, would inform Joe about their conversation – but it turned out that, as well as being the local chief of police, Gordon was also Joe’s personal chauffeur.
In a chilling postscript to this chapter of the Tiger King story, Gordon was later convicted of sexually assaulting an intellectually disabled man.
3. Joe sold the dead tigers to a skeleton museum
One thing Tiger King makes crystal clear is that Joe Exotic was determined to leave no stone unturned when it came to sources of commercial revenue related to his tigers.
It shouldn’t come as a great surprise, then, that he also found ways to make money off the tigers once they were dead.
Another fact revealed by Robert Moor is that Joe Exotic sold many dead tigers to Skeletons: Museum of Osteology.
Based in Oklahoma City, the museum – said to be the only one of its kind in America – showcases the skeletal structures of many different animals.
The museum’s website says it houses upwards of 800 animal skeletons, with many big cats included in that number.
While the Museum of Osteology’s website notes that it is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown, reports indicate that it has in fact now closed down permanently.
2. Joe made all zoo employees sign non-disclosure agreements
Perhaps the most burning question Tiger King leaves us with is that, with all the horrendous things Joe Exotic is known to have done at the zoo, why did none of his employees speak out?
The answer for this is simple: Joe took lengths to make sure they were legally bound from doing so.
Rick Moor has revealed that Joe informed him all employees at GW Exotic Animal Park had signed a $1 million non-disclosure agreement.
Joe has claimed that Carole Baskin was being sued for persuading a former employee of the zoo to break this NDA.
Of course, given Joe Exotic’s nature, it’s not too surprising to learn that in truth these supposed NDAs were not legally valid.
This only goes to further illustrate how Joe Exotic exploited his employees, most of whom he lured into the job when they were at their most desperate.
1. Don Lewis’ signature on his power of attorney may be a forgery
Regardless of whether or not we swallow the idea that Carole Baskin fed her previous husband to the tigers, there’s still grounds on which to suspect some wrong-doing.
One potentially significant piece of evidence which didn’t appear in Tiger King is the legal document in which Don Lewis grants power of attorney to his wife Carole.
Robert Moor has shared this document side-by-side with the restraining order Lewis took out against Carole – and points out that the signatures barely match.
Moor says that when he asked Carole about this, she replied, “he could barely read or write anyway.”
It was on the strength of this document (above) that Carole Baskin was granted control of Don Lewis’ estate and fortune.
Carole Baskin has strongly denied playing any part in her former husband’s disappearance, and has recently claimed he was showing signs of early on-set Alzheimer’s when he was last seen alive.