Tiger King: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, the seven part Netflix docuseries, explores the life and crimes of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, a former country musician, Oklahoma zookeeper and big cat lover.
Maldonado-Passage owned an exotic animal park and boasted of having the largest number of big cats in America.
He was found guilty in 2019 for paying a hitman $3,000 to kill his rival, Carole Baskin, an animal activist who runs a sanctuary called the Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Fla. (The hit did not occur.) He is now serving 22 years in prison for the attempted murder plot.
This week, Maldonado-Passage filed a $94 million federal lawsuit from the Grady County Jail in Oklahoma against various government entities and his former business partner, accusing them of violating his civil rights, false arrest and causing the death of his mother.
Here are five shocking things to know about the case.
1. The Murder for Hire Plot
For years, Carole Baskin was an outspoken critic of Maldonado-Passage.
Baskin was particularly peeved that although Maldonado-Passage publicly proclaimed to love big cats, he killed five of his tigers, bred them, sold baby lemurs and more in hopes of turning a profit.
Prosecutors alleged that Maldonado-Passage didn’t appreciate her public criticism and tried to silence her by hiring a hitman for $3,000 to kill her. However, his plan backfired and he landed in jail instead.
2. Maldonado-Passage Killed 5 of His Tigers
Among the charges filed against Maldonado-Passage was that he unlawfully killed five tigers in October of 2017. Because tigers are an endangered species, the shooting death of the aging big cats violated the Endangered Species Act, and he was convicted on nine counts of that.
In Maldonado-Passage’s federal complaint, he claims he “humanely euthanized” the tigers, who were shot in the skull, because they had suffered “14 years of painful walking on declawed paws to the point that they were crippled.”
3. Tigers Were Buried Behind His Zoo
According to the Texas Monthly, during Maldonado-Passage’s trial, prosecutors showed pictures of dead tigers that were discovered in graves in the back of the zoo by federal officers. One agent testified that the big cats were jammed together like “hot dogs in a pack.”
During the trial, Maldonado-Passage addressed the deaths of his tigers and seemed surprised that their killing was an issue. “In 20 years, I’ve had 50-plus tigers buried in that back pasture, and nobody gives a damn. Nobody,” the Monthly reports.
4. The Mysterious Disappearance of Carole Baskin’s Husband
Baskin’s 50-year-old husband, Don Lewis, vanished without a trace in August of 1997. The self-made millionaire who helped Baskin transform their 40 acres of Florida land into an animal sanctuary was never seen again, though his car was found at a nearby airport. Some of his relatives speculated that Baskin may have been connected to his disappearance, though she has denied involvement and never been charged. In a 1998 interview with PEOPLE, the oldest of Lewis’ four children, Donna Pettis, then 42, claimed that Baskin feeding his body to big cats would be “a perfect scenario to dispose of someone. We were upset that the cops didn’t test the DNA on the meat grinder.”
5. Maldonado-Passage Hopes for a Presidential Pardon
On Wednesday, Maldonado-Passage posted a public plea on his Facebook page asking President Donald Trump to pardon him or grant a special investigation into his conviction in the murder-for-hire plot.
“My trial was not about the truth, it was about the win for the prosecutors,” Maldonado-Passage wrote. “Why do I say this? Because I can prove every lie and the U.S Attorneys office had that proof.”
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“I know by seeing your passion and conviction regarding our rights as American Citizens that this isn’t what you meant by your belief to ‘Let’s Make America Great Again,’” he said. “Mr. President, I am pleading with you to please have this looked into.”
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