The Mysterious Disappearance of Joe Exotic’s Third Husband, Travis Maldonado
The true crime genre has been intriguing audiences for decades. The urge to know about the dark and mysterious world of crime is undeniable in many people. A current true crime sensation is the bizarre case of Joe Exotic’s third husband, Travis Maldonado.
Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was a zoo owner and self-proclaimed “Tiger King.” The Netflix documentary series of the same name in 2020 catapulted him into international fame, portraying the bizarre and secretive world of big cat ownership in Oklahoma. The documentary also depicted Exotic’s feud with animal rights activist Carole Baskin, his failed political campaigns, and his eventual imprisonment for attempted murder-for-hire.
While the series created a public stir and garnered massive viewership, it lacked many answers, primarily about what happened to Travis Maldonado, who happened to be Exotic’s final husband.
Native to California, Travis Maldonado was born in 1995 and grew up in Texas. At the age of 22, he found a job working as a zookeeper at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma, where he met Joe Exotic, and their romantic journey began in just a few short months. Soon after, John Finlay, Exotic’s other husband, became romantically involved with Exotic, resulting in the trio entering into a polyamorous marriage.
However, things became bleak quickly. The zoo encountered financial challenges, and Exotic was reportedly struggling with drug addiction and mental health issues. Infidelity rumors and domestic abuse were rampant, and tensions were high between Exotic and his husbands.
What happened next continues to raise eyebrows to this day. On October 6, 2017, Travis Maldonado was found dead at the young age of 23. Exotic claimed that Maldonado accidentally shot himself while playing with a gun, but this explanation has not stood the test of time.
Maldonado’s family and friends were skeptical of Exotic’s version of events. In 2020, Maldonado’s mother, Cheryl Maldonado, told People Magazine that she “never believed” Exotic’s story about her son’s death. “I just can’t see him messing with guns knowing that [Travis] was paranoid about everything,” she explains. “It just doesn’t add up.”
The investigation into Maldonado’s death continued to raise more questions than answers, with inconsistencies and conflicts of interest derailing it. The local sheriff’s department, which had an acquaintanceship with Exotic, conducted the initial investigation and quickly closed the case as an accident.
As more facts surfaced, it became apparent that several loose ends existed that needed tying. The Netflix series featured former employees of the zoo, who claimed that the gun in question was a “magic gun” that Exotic used to scare and intimidate his employees. Some reports even suggested that Exotic would flaunt the gun to visitors, joking about using it to kill himself or others.
Several allegations of drug use and abuse at the zoo also exists, with some former employees claiming that Exotic gave them drugs, alcohol, and engaged in sexual relationships with them. Additionally, numerous employees reported witnessing Exotic’s erratic and violent behavior, including one former employee who claimed that Exotic would shoot at mannequins that he had dressed up to resemble his enemies.
These allegations have led to lingering suspicions about whether Maldonado’s death was indeed an accident or whether there was something more sinister at play. There is even speculation that Joe Exotic might have played a role in the death of Travis Maldonado, either intentionally or otherwise.
The big question that remains unanswered is what actually happened to Travis Maldonado that day? Was his death genuinely an accident, or was something darker taking place at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park?
Unfortunately, we might never know the absolute truth. Joe Exotic is presently serving a 22-year prison sentence for his involvement in a murder-for-hire plot against Carole Baskin, and he remains insistent that he is innocent when it comes to the death of Travis Maldonado. The case is closed, and without new evidence or witness testimony, it is doubtful that it will ever reopen.
On that note, the enigma trailing Travis Maldonado’s death continues, haunting the people who knew him and the ones who followed the story. His story serves as a reminder that even in the light of true crime entertainment, there are unfortunate and painful stories that deserve to be explored and preserved for posterity.
The world of big cats and human behavior is indeed a strange one, and the Travis Maldonado story is one that will continue to leave people speculating for years to come.