The “gay, gun-toting cowboy with a mullet,” as he liked to call himself, stood on the front porch of his Oklahoma zoo around midnight, speaking to the man he’d decided would kill his arch-rival. He proposed $5,000 upfront and a few thousand more after the deed, to be financed by selling off a rare lion-tiger hybrid—not a difficult task for North America’s most notorious big-cat breeder.
It was October 2017 and Joe was desperate. The animal kingdom he’d created over two decades, home to one of the world’s largest collections of big cats, now belonged to a belligerent former business partner. His White House run ended in comic failure. Critics and animal welfare groups claimed Joe ran a shabby “roadside zoo” of daily abuse, cruelty, and illegal trafficking.
Carole Baskin, a big cat sanctuary-owner from Tampa, Florida, had won a million-dollar lawsuit against him. She hunted his wealth ever since, and hounded him online. With her dead, Joe might focus on rebuilding the zoo, and his life.