Carole Baskin has claimed she’d be dead if Tiger King star Joe Exotic hadn’t posted a lurid clip of him shooting a blow-up doll dressed to look like her in the head on YouTube because it made a hitman he’d hired to murder her back out of the plan.
Speaking to FEMAIL, the Big Cat Rescue founder, 59, from Texas, said she was ‘really surprised’ Joe received ‘only 22 years’ in prison for animal abuse and plotting to have her killed – admitting she expected him to receive the maximum 80-plus year sentence.
Carole and Howard are keen to set the record straight, which is why they agreed to appear in Louis Theroux’s new documentary Shooting Joe Exotic, on BBC Two tonight.
Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin, 59, from Texas, pictured with husband Howard, says she was ‘really surprised’ Joe received ‘only 22 years’ in prison for animal abuse and plotting to have her killed. Also pictured: Louis Theroux, who interviews the couple in his new documentary Louis Theroux: Shooting Joe Exotic, on BBC Two tonight
Carole claims she’d be dead if Tiger King star Joe Exotic hadn’t posted a lurid clip of him shooting a blow-up doll dressed to look like her in the head (pictured) on YouTube because it made a hitman he’d hired to murder her back out of the plan
Carole said Joe, 58, had been threatening her for 15 years, after she began campaigning to end his practice of rearing cubs and charging people to have their picture taken petting them at his zoo or in shopping malls.
In 2013 she won a $1million civil suit against him over a trademark infringement issue – by which point Joe was well and truly out for revenge.
Carole claimed he would implore his fans to ‘rape and kill’ her by convincing them she wanted to ‘take their pets away’, and twice tried to hire hitmen to murder her.
She added that him filming himself shooting a blow-up doll with a sex toy in its mouth designed to look like her and posting it on his YouTube channel actually saved her life because it made one of the men he’d hired to shoot her back out.
‘I thought that his sentence could bring 80 plus years and I felt like there was good enough evidence for him to have gotten the 80 years. I was really surprised that it was only 22,’ Carole said.
‘The threat [to my life] was so much more than what people saw in Tiger King. Joe had been threatening me for 15 years and the way he started was by trying to whip up these people who follow him into believing that I was going to come and take all of the exotic animals away from him.
‘He’d say I was going to take their pets from them, their dogs and their cats and their goldfish, and that they needed to stop me and the only way they were going to stop me would be to rape me, to break my legs, to kick me. Then he started saying to kill me, put a bullet through my head. He had this YouTube channel, every night he’s on there just railing, trying to get somebody to kill me.’
Carole claimed Joe would implore his fans to ‘rape and kill’ her by convincing them she wanted to ‘take their pets away’, and twice tried to hire hitmen to murder her
In 2015, Carole said she received a phone call from a woman whose husband – a sharp shooter from the military – had been offered money to kill her by Joe. Not long after she received another call from a woman whom Joe had also approached about her murder.
Joe, whose full name is Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, was arrested in 2018 and convicted the following year on 17 federal charges of animal abuse and two counts of attempted murder-for-hire for a plot to kill Carole.
He had banked on being released by former President Trump before he left the White House in January, with his legal representative so ‘confident’ he would be pardoned they had a limousine outside FMC Fort Worth waiting to take him home, but claimed he was ‘too innocent and too gay’ when he wasn’t granted clemency.
‘It wasn’t because Joe was talking online and saying things online that I felt like my life in danger, it was because all of the actions he was taking behind the scenes to actually kill me,’ Carole explained.
Carole and Howard have spoken openly about feeling ‘tricked’ by Tiger King’s producers, who reportedly gave them the impression the documentary series would focus on the plight of the animals – a ‘Blackfish for big cats’. She said they hope Louis Theroux, pictured, will have ‘more integrity’
Carole’s husband Howard, who joined her for the interview, added: ‘That sharp shooter was apparently willing to [kill Carole] and then the report we got from someone who was close to him was that once Joe shot the doll in the head on his YouTube channel, that guy backed away and said “no, now they’re going to suspect us”.’
Carole and Howard have spoken openly about feeling ‘tricked’ by Tiger King’s producers, who reportedly gave them the impression the documentary series would focus on the plight of the animals – a ‘Blackfish for big cats’.
Instead, the show placed a large emphasis on ‘hero’ Joe’s long-running feud with ‘villain’ Carole, whom he repeatedly accused of killing her second husband Don Lewis – who mysteriously disappeared in 1997, six years after they married in 1991, and was legally declared dead in 2002 as he is yet to be found.
Carole vehemently denies having anything to do with Don going missing, but acknowledged ‘these allegations have been made for 23 years’.
A decade on from when he first met Joe Exotic for the documentary America’s Most Dangerous Pets, Louis returns to Oklahoma in response to a direct call from Joe to tell the ‘real story’
‘There was nothing new for those allegations to be on there, it’s just nobody had ever given someone a megaphone like Tiger King gave to Joe,’ she said.
‘The only reason that people like Joe bring up the tragedy of my husband’s disappearance is because there’s no argument for what they do, and so they have to deflect away from the issue of animals being abused at their hands, and the best way they’ve found to do that is to say “You can’t listen to her, she killed her husband”.’
Speaking about her portrayal as an interfering, eccentric cat-lady in Tiger King, she added: ‘I don’t think [Howard and I] came out of it initially thinking Joe was the hero and I was the villain because we knew that people have always said these lies, but nobody has ever believed them because there’s so much evidence out there to the contrary.
‘Then when the calls started coming in it was like, it’s clear people are not looking at the information, the facts, they’re just going based on this surface level lie that they’ve been told, so it’s been shocking.’
Carole vehemently denies having anything to do with her second husband Don Lewis (pictured together during their marriage) going missing, but acknowledged ‘these allegations have been made for 23 years’
After Tiger King, Carole previously said her phone rang every two minutes for three months straight, telling the Guardian: ‘Every time I answered the phone, it was somebody screaming threats and saying they wanted to kill me, they wanted to kill my family, they wanted to kill the cats. Our lives were just a living hell for the first three months.’
While ‘the tide is now receding’, Carole said she still gets woken up in the middle of the night by abuse from people who are only just catching up on the documentary series.
‘Probably three or four times a week I still get awakened in the middle of the night, because I have to leave my phone on in case a bob cat gets hit by a car, I’m the person in the state that people call.
‘I get awakened by people that just now have seen Tiger King for the first time and come away with the same misconception that so many did at once, and railing in hatefulness from that, so it still happens – but nearly with the intensity that it did in the first three months.’
A decade on from when he first met Joe Exotic for the documentary America’s Most Dangerous Pets, Louis returns to Oklahoma in response to a direct call from Joe to tell the ‘real story’.
During tonight’s documentary Louis meets with the Baskins at Big Cat Rescue and on the site of Joe’s old park (pictured) – now owned by Carole and Howard and up for sale, with covenants in the deed that state it can’t be used to house exotic animals
During the programme he meets with the Baskins at Big Cat Rescue and on the site of Joe’s old park – now owned by Carole and Howard and up for sale, with covenants in the deed that state it can’t be used to house exotic animals.
Carole said: ‘We can only hope that Louis Theroux will have the level of integrity that we believe that he has; we believed that the [Tiger King] producers were good people and that they were actually working to expose the abuses that these animals suffer and we were fooled.’
Netflix producers Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin have previously insisted Carole spoke freely to them about her personal life, her childhood, her alleged abuse by her first husband and the disappearance of her second, Don.
‘With any project that goes on for five years, things evolve and change, and we followed it as any good storyteller does,’ said Chaiklin.
For now Big Cat Rescue remains closed to the public due to Covid-19 – with Carole doing everything from Cameo videos to Dancing on the Stars to earn enough money to keep it going.
‘We’ve had no visitors for a year, so we’ve lost over $1million,’ she said, adding that they had to lay off half their staff and have only managed to stay in the black thanks to donations.
‘Regardless of what happens with the economy, we’ve got 51 big cats who still need to eat every day.’
Louis Theroux: Shooting Joe Exotic is on BBC Two tonight (Monday 5 April) at 9pm.