In March of 2020, COVID had pierced the earth with its claws. The world was in chaos, the conspiracy theories soared high, mixed messages spewed like word vomit from the TV, and for the first time in a long time, America lost herself in madness. Helpless against the storm brewing outside, 64 million people immersed themselves in Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, reveling in the distraction from the COVID chaos.
The docuseries held us captive at the height of the lockdown to relieve our bouts of cabin fever. The world loves drama and true drama - even better. America is notorious for rewarding oddity and eccentricity to dizzying heights of fame and fandom. Tiger King benefited from being in the right place at the right time and enjoyed a viral whirlwind on social media; the memes were inescapable.
What Was Tiger King About?
It is nearly impossible for people not to know what Tiger King is about, even if you didn’t watch it. But for the sake of being thorough, Tiger King is a 7 part docu-series on Netflix. Joe Exotic (Joseph Maldonado-Passage) is a self-proclaimed ‘most prolific breeder of tigers.’ Joe has the personality of a cult leader: charismatic, energized, flamboyant, and fun to watch. If you think about it, he kind of was our COVID cult leader - we all drank the kool-aid eagerly.
The series dived into the seedy underbelly of big cat breeding introducing us to wild, colorful characters. The series had all the ingredients to entice the public from cocaine drug lords to black widow murder plots - all connected in their obsession to be the King, or Queen, of the Tigers. I mean, you just can’t make this stuff up.
The show captures your attention from the very first episode where you learn that Joe is in prison surrounding a murder-for-hire plot to kill the competition, Carol Baskin. It then seizes your imagination as you discover she has a shady past of disappearing husbands. If that’s not enough, the wildlife preserve owner lives on compounds with girlfriends and exotic animals. A cult isn’t seeming so far-fetched now, is it?
Carole owned Big Cat Rescue and openly criticized Joe’s zoo. She felt his practices and conditions were below parr. Joe, being the eccentric guy that he is, responded by writing a country song, “Kitty Kitty” in mocking retaliation. What we didn’t know at the time is that Joe had tried to hire a hitman to kill Carole.
As stories unfolded, public opinions swayed both for and against the series, and for Joe. Social media was on fire with Team Joe and Team Carol debates and theories. When the show ended, and we woke up from our 7-week haze, the smoke cleared with Joe serving 22 years in prison for plotting to murder Baskin and Baskin being awarded control of Joe Exotic’s zoo and practicing for ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ Gasp!!
What About Carole Baskin?
For many, justice just didn’t seem served, with Baskin being awarded the zoo and still missing a husband (most believed she fed her prior husband to the tigers). Carole’s previous husband was Don Lewis, who happened to be a millionaire, which eased any funding needs for her Big Cat Rescue. They had been married in 1991 and opened the Rescue in 1992.
Ironically, Don and Carole had a 22-year age difference between them (the same amount of years of Joe’s sentence). In 1997, Don vanished. His van had been discovered at a private airport, and Carole indicated he was going on a Costa Rica trip. Since his body was never found and police investigations turned up nothing, he was declared legally dead in 2002.
Don’s family was furious when Carole received control of most of his estate and believed Carole was involved in his disappearance and it was Don’s daughter that told People magazine:
"It [the animal sanctuary] is a perfect scenario to dispose of someone. We were upset that the cops didn’t test the DNA on the meat grinder."
The family also reported that Don had confided in them that he was planning to leave Carole. The police did find court documents Don filed a few months before his disappearance seeking a domestic-violence injunction against Carole. He said in the papers that she was threatening to shoot him.
Carole continues to sing innocence to this day and swears that Don is alive and living in Costa Rica. She does point an accusing finger at Don’s private secretary, Anne McQueen, for his disappearance. During her episode on Dancing With the Stars, Don’s family took a tv ad out pleading to help find Don. Bravo!
What Was Joe Convicted Of?
On January 22, 2020, Joe received 264 months in federal prison, broken down as:
108 months on each of the two murder-for-hire counts
12 months on each of the Endangered Species Act violations
48 months on each of the Lacey Act violations
3 years of supervised release upon release from prison
The US Fish and Wildlife Service indicated at the trial that wildlife crime is often connected with other criminal activity such as fraud, narcotics, money-laundering, and smuggling. Joe went above the standard and added murder-for-hire. In one of his endeavors to hire someone to murder Carole, he hired an undercover FBI agent for $3,000 and the promise of more after the job was done. The recording was played for the jury.
His other charges were for falsifying forms involving the sale of wildlife in interstate commerce. Selling tiger cubs on interstate commerce, and killed 5 tigers without a vet present.
The Pardon Is On Trump’s Desk
December 22, 2020, TMZ reported, and Trump confirmed that he ‘will take a look’ at Joe’s pardon. Trump had granted 15 pardons and commuted 5 sentences so far during the giving season, so there is still time for Joe. Joe’s lawyers have indicated they feel close to a pardon and are happy with the progress. Donald, Jr., Trump’s son, reportedly loves the idea by saying:
“I can generally be for this just for the meme,” Don Jr. said. “And just for frankly watching the media reaction to this thing.”
He’s not wrong. The infamous fame for Carole and Joe still lingers in the air as 2020 takes its place in the rearview mirror. Pardoning Joe would certainly throw Tiger King back in the spotlight and glory of social media. Maybe Joe could lead the charge to find Carole Baskin’s prior husband Don in Costa Rica featured in a new Netflix series.