Animals involved in murder plots: From Tiger King to the shark that solved a homicide

A photo of a tiger
Photo by Mike Marrah | Unsplash Images

As - apparently - the most evolved and intelligent creatures around, us humans have something of a responsibility to look out for the rest of life on the planet. ‘With great power comes great responsibility,’ as Peter Parker (a lad with his own connection to the animal kingdom) was once famously told.

Of course, many people across the world are committed to caring for animals and work tirelessly in conservation. While most of us have pets that we love as much as our ‘real’ family. But, as we all know, there’s no accounting for bad apples.

Mankind has enslaved animals for millennia and continues to do so. We’ll involve other species in anything if we think it’ll save us a job. Often completely without regard for the poor things’ welfare. This even extends to crime. Even murder.

Here are five ways that violent folk have plotted to kill and some poor ol’ critters have got caught up in the murderous scheme...

Tiger blood: Joe Exotic & Carole Baskin

We can’t talk about this subject and not mention the now-worldwide phenomenon of the ‘Tiger King’ and his rivalry with an animal rights activist that led to the infamous big cat breeder and collector going to jail. The tale is familiar due to a certain documentary miniseries exploding during the global Covid lockdowns.

‘Joe Exotic’ is now in jail, serving a 22-year federal sentence for hiring a hitman to kill his rival, Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin. He’s also been convicted of violations of the Endangered Species Act. Joe snapped after years of battles with the woman who believed him to be mistreating animals and putting his staff in mortal danger. This latter point was proven fairly conclusively when a volunteer at Joe’s Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park unwittingly donated an arm to a tiger’s lunch one afternoon.

Shots fired in the lion’s den

It's the evening of July the 4th, 1970 in Portland, Oregon. Three teenagers - Roger Adams, Ken Bower and Michael Gaskell, fancied partying to celebrate Independence Day. No house parties were happening that any of the trio knew about, so they decided to improvise and throw their own party. At the Oregon Zoo.

Presumably, they managed to get their hands on some pretty high strength booze, only they soon found themselves messing about at the fence of the lion pit. Roger, being the bravest/stupidest, decided to fully climb the small fence and dangle his legs over the edge. It was a good 15ft or so down, so while daring, it felt safe. Trouble is, lions - it turns out - are pretty good at jumping. And have long reaches. Soon, Roger was clipped at the foot by 11-year-old Sis, dragged to the floor, mauled and ripped to death.

The story blew up, as you can imagine. Shellshocked, the two boys reported the incident to security and the police and gave interviews to local news reporters. It was a tragedy. And the tragedies kept coming...

Next day both lions were shot dead by a mysterious assassin. That mystery wasn’t a mystery for long, though. It soon transpired the shooter was Roger’s friend Ken, who would get a lenient three years of probation and a $1,200 fine.

The shark that vomited an arm and solved a murder

It’s not every day that a fisherman catches a 13ft long tiger shark. Even if they are operating off the Australian coast. So when one was landed by an excitable chap back in April of 1935, the fisherman knew he had to do something with his catch. So he donated it to the Sydney Aquarium.

A week later, as the giant shark was starting to settle into his new life behind glass, it began to act oddly. Thrashing about and convulsing, the poor thing regurgitated - wait for it - an almost entirely intact human arm. Complete with a rope tied around the wrist. Suggesting murder.

Police investigating discovered a distinctive tattoo on the flesh and tracked down their victim. The arm belonged to a local hood called Jim Smith. After unravelling the mystery, a local counterfeiter called Patrick Brady was found to be responsible. Brady got off, though. The only eyewitness testifying against the forger was shot dead on the very day he was supposed to stand up and incriminate Brady. What a coincidence, eh?

Murder by rattlesnakes (and bathwater)

In the same year as the shark arm case - 1935 - but over in the US, animals were involved in murder once again.

It's not known if Robert “Rattlesnake” James got his unusual nickname before or after he killed his wife with the help of a couple of rattlesnakes. Either way, the man bought two of the noisy critters from a local exotic pet dealer. 'Lethal' and 'Lightning' were part of James' plan to cash in on a $5,000 insurance policy he’d recently taken out on his wife Mary.

With the assistance of an accomplice that would later spill the beans and see James caught, the greedy snake lover held Mary down, tied her up and forced her foot into a box containing the snakes. The venomous creatures, of course, bit and poisoned the poor woman. She clung on, though. Robert James ended up drowning his pregnant spouse in the bath.

Thankfully, the scheming killer didn't get away with it. James was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death in the summer of 1936. Six years later he became the last person to be executed by hanging in California.

Beware of Willy Pickton’s sausages

The story of Robert ‘Willy’ Pickton is enough to make even the most carnivorous type consider an immediate conversion to vegetarianism. A pig farmer with long, lank hair, Pickton was a known figure in Vancouver for decades. An oddball that, nonetheless, ran a successful business and made delicious sausages, few people paid him much mind. Despite his associations with local biker gangs and his known frequenting of the red light district of the Canadian city.

In February 2002, Willy Pickton was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder. He would later be convicted of the second-degree murder of six women and be sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 25 years. The longest sentence he could legally receive, even though Pickton would admit to a further 43 sex worker killings.

Extensive, exhaustive and complex searches of the farm Pickton owned found the remains of more than 30 women in the mud and pig excrement of the farm. And it gets worse.

It’s believed that Robert Pickton’s true kill count could be scarily high. British Colombia had a shameful grasp of missing sex workers in the 1980s and ‘90s and some senior investigators think Pickton may have claimed more than 100 victims. His MO for body disposal doesn’t rule that kind of figure out, either. Pickton would often feed his victims to his pigs.

With incredibly strong jaws and teeth, the pigs would chew through bone and erase the evidence. Those pigs would later be slaughtered and turned into meat. Local people now recoil at the thought that they used to enjoy barbecuing and eating the sausages from pigs fed on the corpses of murdered women. And understandably so.

Human beings. Easily the most savage of all the killer beasts in the animal kingdom.