Joseph Maldonado-Passage, popularly known as “Joe Exotic,” has been linked to another famous animal enthusiast that is not Carole “cool cats and kittens” Baskin.
Netflix’s popular binge-worthy docuseries Tiger King has enthralled audiences in many ways, including its dramatic business rivalry and full-blown murder mystery, but for right now, we’re focusing on fire and alligators.
As seen in the seven-part Netflix docuseries, which was released March 20 on the streaming service, the former country musician, Oklahoma zookeeper, gun enthusiast and big-cat keeper’s TV studio burned down in what is suspected to be an arson fire in late March 2015. In addition to video equipment and recordings being set ablaze, the previous Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park owner lost multiple gators, which were housed next door to the studio.
“As most of you know, an arsonist hit our facility a day before yesterday in the sometime wee hours and set fire to not only my recording studio, but the studio that houses our alligators, which caused them all to burn up and perish, boiling alive in a towering inferno of nothing but flames and fire,” Maldonado-Passage, 57, said in a JoeExoticTV YouTube video, published on March 28, 2015.
Because Tiger King wouldn’t be Tiger King without an array of bizarre events, it turns out the late Michael Jackson was possibly linked to this arson incident. Well, not directly—it actually has something to do with his own famous creature-filled sanctuary known as Neverland Ranch. According to the LA Times, Joe confirmed seven alligators and a crocodile died in the fire and that they were taken from the King of Pop’s ranch after it closed in 2006.
“The building can be replaced, the equipment can be replaced but Michael Jackson’s alligators cannot be replaced,” Joe, who was identified as Joe Schreibvogel in a 2015 article by Fox affiliate KXII, said in response to the incident. As KXII reported at the time, the arson-related incident cost about a quarter of a million dollars to rectify, which proved to be difficult for the zoo entertainment director since he had already filed bankruptcy.
Joe is currently serving a 22-year sentence in prison after he was convicted in a murder-for-hire plot and for violating both The Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act. “Michael Jackson’s estate cannot confirm if said alligators had belonged to the late singer,” Jackson’s estate told People in a statement on Tuesday.
Word is still out on whether or not Joe had wrestled with referring to Jackson as the N-Word during the reptilian transaction.