When twisted tiger collector Joe Exotic needed to make room for some new animals, he calmly loaded a shotgun and blasted five of his beautiful big cats through the head.
So when the cruel keeper came under fire from an animal rights activist, he decided to dispense with her in the same way – and tried to hire a hitman to kill her.
As Carole Baskin gathered evidence against him, Joe made his murderous intentions known by making a video and posting it online for all the world to see.
In it the self-proclaimed “gay gun-toting cowboy with a mullet” uses a blow up sex doll to depict his intended target.
He asks his audience: “You wanna know why Carole Baskin better never, ever, ever see me face-to-face ever, ever, ever again?”
The he fires a handgun into the head of the doll, deflating it instantly, and declares: “That is how sick and tired of this s**t I am.”
Frightened Carole – who runs the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Tampa, Florida, and is a leading light in the fight to stop people keeping the animals as pets – added the sinister clip to a growing list of death, rape and torture threats she has received over the years.
But six years after he made the sex doll video, Joe is just months into a 22-year jail sentence after being found guilty of a murder-for-hire plot and several wildlife crimes.
Joe, 57, real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage, may be familiar to British TV viewers.
The self-promoter, who sold condoms adorned with his own image in his zoo gift shop and even launched a bid to be president in 2016, was in the 2011 Louis Theroux documentary Dangerous Pets.
It focused on Americans who had private collections of wild animals.
The numbers are so great, there are more tigers kept as pets in the States than actually live in the wild.
But Joe, now features in a much darker film. The story of his feud with Carole has been made into a Netflix documentary.
Tiger King – the title came from the grandiose name Joe bestowed upon himself – aired on Friday.
Carole, 58, gave her first UK interview and spoke about the trauma she endured as she fought to close down Joe’s cruel and controversial shows.
She said: “Due to Joe’s constant threats to kill me, my life changed beyond recognition.
There was nowhere that I felt safe.
“But more worrying was the threat he could pose to those around me.
I was suspicious of everyone and carried a gun everywhere.
One time, I nearly doused an innocent supporter of my work in gas [petrol] as I filled my car up because I thought he’d been sent by Joe to kill me.
So many of his threats involved blowing me up so he could thrill over seeing me burn to death.”
Joe first came to Carole’s attention when he began to attract more scrutiny from animal rights groups.
He was raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars as he made his way around the United States with his travelling petting cubs.
But in July 2004, an article about his exotic animal park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, highlighted a crippled lion cub named Angel.
Carole, was asked to comment about the baby lion and said: “No legitimate animal sanctuary would allow that to happen.”
It was a statement that infuriated Joe, and from that moment the Tiger King’s claws were out for her.
As Carole continued to take in abandoned and abused lions, tigers, jaguars and cougars, she learned more and more about the criminal activities of Joe and other animal keepers.
She and husband Howard, 69, set up a website containing detailed reports about private zoos and sanctuaries.
They called it 911AnimalAbuse.com and told visitors to the site: “Find out who the bad guys really are.
Carole said: “We were inundated with calls and emails about people who were keeping big cats as pets. There was one name that kept coming up over and over – Joe Exotic.
“It wasn’t like we targeted him. We didn’t. He was the one who was overwhelmingly on the road with his travelling petting cubs, so he attracted a lot of attention. He was holding his circus in the parking lots of malls.”
It wasn’t just Joe who was angered by the Baskins. Scores of exotic animal owners and private zoos detested them.
Many made threats. But Joe took things too far.
He started using the Big Cat Rescue name and logo to advertise his shows so the Baskins sued him for trademark infringement.
As the federal court battle dragged on, the Tiger King began targeting Carole more and more.
But he lost the case and was ordered to pay the Baskins $1million in damages.
Joe thought he had found a way out of paying when he met an animal breeder called Geoff Lowe. He offered to put Joe’s zoo in his name so it could not be sold to pay Carole.
Soon after, he met a former Dallas strip club owner called James Garretson, who wanted to open an exotic animal–themed B&B and bought several tigers from Joe’s zoo.
As the three men became close, Joe did not hide his desire to have Carole killed and even asked Garretson if he knew any hitmen.In February 2017 he asked one of his own employees, Ashley Webster, to travel to Carole’s sanctuary in Tampa to murder her.
Webster quit, but left a voicemail for Carole, telling her all about Joe’s twisted plan. She said: “I just wanted to apologise to you because I have believed the bulls**t that Joe Exotic has said… I am currently here at his place right now, and I’m leaving.
“He was actually talking about paying someone to kill you.
He tried to get me to do it. I’m not going to f***ing do that. He was offering, like, a couple of thousand dollars. I feel like your life is in danger.”
The voicemail was passed to the FBI, who launched an investigation into Joe.
The Tiger King had started to fall out with Garretson and Lowe so special agent Matthew Bryant, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, asked Garretson to become an informant.
Garretson agreed and wore a secret wire to record Joe discussing plans to kill Carole.
In his first recording in September 2017, he asks: “When is she ever gonna f***ing stop?”
Joe replies: “She won’t until somebody shoots her. Her day is coming, man.”
The Tiger King, now under surveillance, had his eye on another possible hitman – another new recruit at the zoo called Allen Glover.
Joe asked the tattooed ex-con to catch a bus to Tampa and murder Carole for $5,000.
Glover agreed – but never made it to Tampa. He later testified he had no intention of killing Carole and only wanted to rip off Joe. He described his boss as “an asshole,” who would “treat his employees like dirt.”
He added: “He’d downgrade me to the point where it was coming close to blows, that’s how bad it got. He’s really a cruel, cruel person.”
Joe still wanted Carole killed. So when Garretson introduced him to another character called Mark, he quickly instructed him: “Just follow her into a mall parking lot, cap her, and drive off.”
But Mark was not a contract killer. He was an FBI agent. So, once again, the hit did not happen.
He abandoned his animals and fled to Florida with his then fourth husband. But one day, as he drove to a job interview, he was stopped and arrested.
During his trial, the jury repeatedly heard Joe say he wanted Baskin dead. They found him guilty of two counts of murder-for-hire and eight counts of falsifying wildlife records.
Joe was also convicted of nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act after the jury heard how he shot the five tigers, Delilah, Lauren, Samson, Trinity and Cuddles.
After executing the magnificent beasts, the Tiger King crowed: “If I knew it was this easy, I’d just blast them all.”