Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Pulitzer-worthy journalist answers the internet's burning Tiger King questions

Illustration for article titled Pulitzer-worthy journalist answers the internets burning iTiger King/i questions
Photo: Netflix

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem And Madness is Netflix’s latest true-crime documentary phenomenon. Exploring the bizarre and surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly) seedy world of big-cat fanatics, the seven-episode series has captivated viewers—but also left them with a lot of questions. Luckily, journalist Robert Moor is here to answer many of those queries.

Moor is the man behind the podcast Joe Exotic: Tiger King and the author of a New York Magazine article on the subject. On Saturday, he started dropping little gold nuggets of info and fun facts about Mr. Exotic and his pals on Twitter. Here are just a few of the highlights:

What is up with Joe Exotic’s music videos?

“Joe did not write or sing those country songs. It was an outfit called the Clinton Johnson Band. Joe just sang softly over the top of the vocal track,” Moor tweeted. That makes a lot of sense if you’ve compared his singing voice with his talking voice—which we definitely have.


What happened to Joe Exotic’s animals?
“When Joe’s cats died, a lot of them got sold to this strange bone museum in OKC. (Whether they then got sold somewhere else is anybody’s guess.),” he says, linking out to SKELETONS: Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City. It’s currently closed, but that’s just because of the coronavirus pandemic.

What happened to Joe Exotic’s husbands?

Tiger King covers the tragic death of Travis Maldonado, but “I see a lot of people asking about John, Joe’s ex-husband. He texted me a few months back to let me know he got a new job as a welder. And a whole new set of pearly whites!” Moore says, sharing a photo of John Finley smiling. Oxygen reports that Finlay is now engaged to a woman different from the woman he had a child with after leaving Joe Exotic.

What’s the story behind the documentarian we see on camera throughout the series?

Tiger King was directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, and the former appears frequently in the series. “Eric Goode, the documentarian, is a quirky character in his own right,” writes Moor, linking out to a New Yorker article that chronicles Goode’s transformation from a New York nightlife fixture who partied with Madonna into a respected documentary filmmaker.


How many husbands has Joe Exotic had over the years?

“Before Joe married John or Travis, he married another young (straight) guy named JC Hartpence. Hartpence later served time in prison for molesting a young girl, and is now serving life in prison for first degree murder,” says Moor. Hartpence is not discussed in Tiger King—nor is Joe Exotic’s first husband, Brian Rhyne, who died of complications from HIV—but Hartpence’s crimes are discussed in a June 2019 Texas Monthly article about Joe Exotic.

Who set Joe Exotic’s zoo on fire?

Moor doesn’t give a definitive answer here, but he does reveal an interesting detail: “At one point I was investigating the fire at the zoo, and I interviewed the case officer at the Wynnewood police dept, Brion Gordon, over the phone. The next day, I got a call from Joe, furious, saying he’d gotten a call from Brion that I was asking about him,” he writes. “I said, ‘Joe, why is the case officer—on the case in which YOU are a suspect—calling you to tell you a reporter is asking questions about you?’ Joe said, ‘Well, he’s also my limo driver.’ (Which was true.)” Moor writes. He also links out to a local Oklahoma news story from April 2018 stating that Gordon was found guilty of sexually assaulting an intellectually disabled man multiple times.


Why would Josh Diall ever want to be Joe Exotic’s campaign manager?

“One night in 2015 Joe & I were walking through Walmart when a portly, bespectacled young gay guy walked up, shook Joe’s hand, & thanked Joe for being the only out-and-proud gay man for many miles when he was growing up,” writes Moor. “That kid was Josh Diall, who later ran Joe’s campaign.”

What else should know about Saff?

One of Joe Exotic’s zoo employees lost part of their left arm while on the job. They are identified in Tiger King as Kelci “Saff” Saffery, but Moor says Saff “told me repeatedly that he is trans, prefers to be called Saff (not ‘Kelci’), and uses he/him pronouns. So please do likewise.”


Should we believe anything Joe Exotic says?

“For a long time, Joe told everyone he was dying from prostate & bone marrow cancer. He raised $$$ from his Facebook fans for his expenses. He showed me this horrifying photo as proof. I later learned he just had an infected prostate, dehydration, & a bad outbreak of herpes,” writes Moor, who shares a photo of Joe Exotic that appears to have been taken from a hospital bed.

Why was James Garretson doing his interviews from some strange building?

“Some people are asking what that weird warehouse James Garretson was sitting in. That was a place he owned (owns?) called—wait for it—Tiger Liquidation,” says Moor, who even goes as far as to share the Google Maps link where you can see the storefront.

What’s the deal with Rick Kirkham?

“Before meeting Joe, he made a film about his addiction to crack cocaine,” Moor writes of the man who had been producing Joe Exotic’s daily broadcasts and had been working on a reality show until the footage burned up in an arson attack. “After the zoo fire, Rick moved to Dallas. Then HIS house mysteriously burned down, almost killing him. He fled to Norway, where he now lives.”

What really happened to Carole Baskin’s previous husband, Don Lewis?

Tiger King provides us no definitive answers about Carole Baskins role in Don Lewis’ mysterious disappearance, but “after Don Lewis vanished, but before Carole married Howard, she dated a guy named Jay Baykal,” writes Moor. “In 2002, Jay filed a restraining order against Carole, which includes some bizarre and suspicious-sounding details regarding Don’s disappearance.”

We’ve read your article, listened to your podcast, and watched all of Tiger King. How else can we get our Joe Exotic fix?

There’s no network attached, but “It was announced back in November that the Joe Exotic: Tiger King podcast (from @WonderyMedia) will be made into a miniseries for Universal, starring Kate McKinnon as Carole Baskin,” writes Moor. “No announcement yet on who will play Joe.”

May we suggest Denis O’Hare?

Illustration for article titled Pulitzer-worthy journalist answers the internets burning iTiger King/i questions
Photo: Netflix, Kevin Winter (Getty)

A.V. Club Editor in Chief...but really just a She-Ra, Schitt’s Creek, Grey’s Anatomy, Survivor, Big Brother, Top Chef, The Good Place superfan.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter