Netflix’s Tiger King True Story: What the Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin Documentary Didn’t Tell You

He once spray-painted a sheep orange and black to try to pass it off as a tiger… Here’s what Netflix’ The Tiger King didn’t reveal.

Joe Exotic in Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness
Photo: Netflix

The latest binge-watch documentary series to land on Netflix is Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, a weird, wild story about eccentric big cat enthusiast Joe Exotic and his feud with animal activist Carole Baskin. It’s a seven part series which gets stranger and more outrageous as each episode unfolds. If you’ve not seen it – go watch, then check out our review. Then here’s our round-up of what happened next to Carole, Joe, John Finlay, Jeff, Doc and the zoo.

The documentary contains lots of footage of Joe, Carole, and all the supporting players with the main protagonists in the story giving interviews. But there are details the series chose to leave out and updates that have occurred since it completed production. 

Here are some tasty tidbits and fun facts about Joe Exotic, the others involved in the series and the whole crazy case that Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness didn’t tell you…

Joe was once on the other side of the law

Before he got immersed in the tiger game, and then the contract killing game, Joe was actually a police chief for a spell in the small Texas town of Eastvale (population 503). He was living with a girlfriend at the time and starting to explore the gay nightclub scene. It was his police cruiser that he crashed over the bridge when he broke his back.

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Joe had been married before he met John Finlay and Travis Maldonado

Joe Schreibvogel, before he went full ‘Exotic’ was married for ten years to a man named Brian Rhyne who by all accounts was a very positive and calming influence on Joe. But in 2001 Brian unfortunately died due to complications related to HIV – according to Joe he passed away in Joe’s truck as he was trying to take Brian home to die. Some people have said that Brian’s passing marked the start of the transition from Joe Schreibvogel to Joe Exotic.

After Brian, Joe’s next husband was J.C. Hartpence, a 24 year-old from Oklahoma with experience producing events who helped Joe with his magic acts. But the two wanted different things for the wildlife park. Joe left J.C. a threatening image of a tiger baring his teeth over a piece of meat with the words ‘J.C.’s remains’ written underneath, according to Texas Monthly.  Later J.C. pointed a loaded gun at Joe before saying he wanted out. J.C. is now serving a life sentence for a murder committed some years later

Joe once used a sheep painted orange and black to replicate a tiger in a magic act

Joe used to dabble in magic shows with his animals, as is mentioned in Tiger King, sometimes using stage names Cody Ryan or Aarron Alex. According to Aaron Stone, Joe’s one time assistant, talking on the Wondery podcast Joe Exotic: Tiger King, one particular show took a slightly bizarre turn. The centrepiece illusion involved a loud explosion and pyrotechnic display clearing to reveal a tiger in a cage which had appeared on stage. But the loud noise made the animal deeply stressed, leaving the tiger cowering in the back of the cage every time. Not a good look for Joe. 

Instead he had a plan. His solution was to get some orange and black spray from a fancy dress shop and basically paint a sheep orange, then add rough black stripes. The sheep was also freaked out by the noise so Aaron had to hide in the cage with the sheep-tiger to keep it calm. The pyrotechnics went off, the audience gasped and there…. was a bloke in a cage cuddling an orange and black sheep. According to Stone, when audience members asked Joe later what creature that was he just said “Tiger.”

Joe once claimed he wrote “Say Something,” the A Great Big World song which Christina Aguilera sang on

According to Carole Baskin, and also Rick Kirkham the journalist who was recording Joe’s antics for a proposed reality TV show (talking on Joe Exotic: Tiger King), Joe didn’t actually write or record most of his songs, he got them from country and western duo Vince Johnson and Danny Clinton, and lip-synced along to the tracks. Kirkham also recalls hearing Joe singing the Grammy winning ballad “Say Something” and being deeply impressed when Joe told him he’d written it. Kirkham says his cameraman had to discreetly point out it was a very famous Christina Aguilera track.

Rick Kirkham has his own documentary

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Rick Kirkham is an interesting bloke with a long career in journalism (he berates himself for selling out by working with Joe). As part of his job he found himself on the road and travelling all over the world for great swathes of time. He also found himself addicted to crack. Kirkham recorded over 3000 hours of video diary footage which was cut together in the candid documentary TV Junkie which you can watch for free here.

Rick Kirkham’s house burned down

In Tiger King we learn that someone (probably Joe) burned down Kirkham’s studio along with the hundreds of hours of footage of Joe it contained, with who-knows-what incriminating evidence on it. The fire also destroyed the alligator enclosure killing many of the gators. Joe initially accuses Kirkham himself of the arson but it’s clear Kirkham wasn’t responsible, having no motive whatsoever to do so. Joe on the other hand had recently learned that Kirkham owned all of the footage he had shot and was afraid it was something Carole Baskin might get her hands on.

This arson and altercation ended the relationship between Joe and Kirkham. What the doc doesn’t tell you is that six months after Kirkham moved away his Dallas apartment was set on fire. He was rescued by firefighters but sadly his dog didn’t make it. No one was ever arrested for either incident. Kirkham now lives in a small fishing town in Norway.

Lowest of the Lowe

Want to hate Jeff Lowe a little bit more? Check out this detail from an excellent in depth long read on Joe Exotic from Intelligencer:

“He was once arrested for assaulting his wife. Another time, he was arrested for, and later pleaded guilty to, falsely posing as an employee of Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse so he could receive donated goods, which he then resold.”

Classy, Jeff. Classy.

Bhagavan ‘Doc’ Antel’s Myrtle Beach safari was raided in December 2019

But Doc hasn’t been charged with anything. According to Antle, talking to ABC News, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division were there to ask him about the provenance of some of Doc’s lions – the lions are apparently related to some cats which were held in another zoo that was closed down for animal cruelty in August 2019. 

Not all animals are equal

It wasn’t just spoiled Walmart meat Joe was feeding to his cats. Joe Exotic: Tiger King describes a time when Joe took in a horse with an injured leg who he named Miracle the Wonder Horse. Joe claimed a vet said Miracle could recover and asked for donations to help. But Joe went very quiet very quickly about Miracle the Wonder Horse. Two days later he shot the horse in the head and had his staff cut it into bits and feed it to the tigers. 

Jeff and James were more involved in the plot against Carole than you think

Not only did Jeff introduce Joe to Allen Glover and help him to execute a plan to kill Carole, he was also going to be part of Allen’s alibi. Allen gave his mobile phone to Jeff who planned to send text messages from it from Las Vegas to make it look like Allen was there. 

Meanwhile, before his involvement with the FBI, sleazy ‘businessman’ James Garretson had been asked by Jeff Lowe to potentially broker a deal to sell what was formerly Joe’s park to none other than Carole Baskin – Lowe had offered Garretson $100k to broker the deal. Both Lowe and Garretson therefore would stand to gain from Joe’s incarceration.

Joe thought he could create a sabre-tooth tiger

Inspired by animals at another park, Joe became fascinated by hybrids. Ligers (offspring of a lion and a tiger) don’t naturally exist in the wild and can grow to be larger than lions or tigers. Joe housed the liger with a lion and his first liliger was born. He also bred a tiliger and a titiliger. He reportedly thought he could eventually make a sabre-tooth tiger this way (he couldn’t).

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is available to stream on Netflix now.