The Untold Truth Of Joe Exotic's Deceased Husband Travis Maldonado

The Netflix docuseries, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, focuses on Joe "Exotic" Maldonado-Passage, the former owner of Oklahoma's Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. Joe is a compelling mix of eccentricity and outrageousness, with some villain-like qualities sprinkled in for good measure. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison for wildlife violations and a murder-for-hire plot against animal activist Carole Baskin, after all. 

Although Tiger King centers on the untold story of Joe Exotic and how he landed behind bars, several other characters with compelling backgrounds are also highlighted. These personalities might not be as outrageous as Joe (he's in a league of his own), but they're worth exploring. One such character is Travis Maldonado, who died in 2017 while married to the controversial zookeeper. Maldonado was 23 at the time of his death and was the first husband Joe legally married, as reported by Oxygen.

Although authorities in Oklahoma believe Maldonado's death was an accident, some aren't convinced, as reported by the Daily Beast.

Travis Maldonado was in a polygamous marriage

Travis Maldonado showed up at Joe Exotic's zoo in December 2013. Maldonado, a California native, had allegedly struggled with a meth addiction, and one of the employees at GW Zoo suggested working with animals might help him recover, Texas Monthly reported. Joe was already romantically involved with John Finlay at the time, but he still took a liking to Maldonado, and just a month after the young man began working at the zoo, Joe, Finlay, and Maldonado celebrated a three-way marriage in a dance hall across the street from the zoo, per Texas Monthly. All three men wore pink, button-down shirts at the unofficial ceremony, and some of the "flower girls" were monkeys.

Both Finlay and Maldonado reportedly identified as straight and had rough backgrounds, according to New York Magazine, with Joe offering something of a sanctuary for his partners. But trouble was never far away, and Finlay soon began complaining that the zookeeper was "manipulative and controlling," per Texas Monthly. The tension escalated in August 2014, when Finlay allegedly attacked Joe in the parking lot behind GW Zoo.

With Finlay out of their relationship, Joe Exotic and Travis Maldonado officially tied the knot in June 2015 when gay marriage was legalized, followed by a honeymoon in Colorado, according to Texas Monthly. Although things might have been chaotic at the zoo, Joe's marriage appeared stable up until Maldonado's unexpected death.

Travis Maldonado's death was devastating to his family

On Oct. 6, 2017, when Travis Maldonado was 23 years old, he shot himself in the gift shop of the GW Zoo. Joe Exotic called the incident a "tragic accident" during a news conference, explaining Maldonado had been fooling around with other staff members and showed them his Ruger pistol. Maldonado incorrectly believed that if he took the magazine out of the gun, it wouldn't fire, even though there was a bullet in the chamber. He held the gun up to his head to demonstrate this and ended up killing himself, as Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes explained to The Oklahoman.

Joe took Maldonado's death hard and became "untethered," per New York Magazine, while Texas Monthly reported Joe said his  "entire soul died" after the tragedy. 

Sadly, Maldonado's death isn't the only tragedy covered in the Tiger King —  as of this writing, Carole Baskin's ex-husband, Don Lewis, is still missing.