There will always be stories that are simply too strange to be false, so wild they can’t be made up. When Tiger King premiered on Netflix in March, it epitomized this phrase and blew every other ‘crazy story’ out of the water. After rabidly binging the series, many viewers were left with unanswered questions. Others never wanted the saga to end. And now, thanks to the Ghost Adventures team, more chapters will be added to the epic that is Joe Exotic and The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.
It’s not unexpected for the team to go bigger and bolder for their annual Halloween special, but their investigation of this park will leave viewers with chills that may never settle. It turns the light away from the bright insanity of Tiger King, and shows us that the most terrifying installment of this story may not feature the living.
Ghost Adventures: Horror at Joe Exotic Zoo follows the Ghost Adventures team; Zak Bagans, Aaron Goodwin, Billy Tolley, and Jay Wasley, as they conduct some of the biggest experiments they’ve ever undertaken and search for evidence of suspected foul play, as well as the spirit of Joe Exotic’s late husband, Travis Maldonado. The special itself is about as predictable as the original series— in short, not at all. Fans of the show will easily marvel at the unassailable evidence collected here, but also find comfort in the tried and true humanity that the hosts bring to every investigation. Even calculated skeptics with a percentage of belief should be fully convinced of a paranormal world by the end of it.
All in all, Ghost Adventures: Horror at Joe Exotic Zoo perpetuates why this team is the shining pinnacle when it comes to paranormal investigations. TV Guide talked to Zak Bagans and Jay Wasley about the investigation, the evidence that temporarily put it on pause, and whether or not the spirit world adheres to social distancing guidelines.
How did this opportunity come about to investigate Joe Exotic’s park?
Zak Bagans: I, like many others when this whole pandemic started, got hooked on watching [Tiger King]. I couldn’t believe how many crazy things were just happening at this place with all of these people nonstop. So I got hooked to it. And I always wondered if there was an energy on these grounds that was affecting all these people. And then I saw this article come out on TMZ about how Jeff [Lowe] had to turn over the zoo to Carole Baskin. And the headline said that she can have the zoo and all the ghosts that go with it. And I immediately was like— did he really mean literal ghosts? Because I had this thought before I even saw this article… is this place haunted? And I ended up talking to Jeff… and after I talked to him, I was like, this is meant to be because I saw myself going to this place and investigating it. It was meant to happen.
And he said, yes, him, others that you may have recognized—Eric Cowie and Allen [Glover]— all these people have had paranormal experiences at the property. And they’ve also seen the apparition of Travis Maldonado at great length. And it was very shocking to hear these stories when we were there. It’s a whole new kind of chapter for this zoo.
Wynnewood Park is not a small location, how did the team prepare to take on such an investigation?
Jay Wasley: We had a lot of ground cover and a lot of parts we wanted to focus on. So we kind of narrowed down a few hotspots that we would focus a little more on. Honestly, just moving anywhere through that zoo at night— especially at night— there literally were tigers there looking at you, which was terrifying enough, but you could feel the energy around. It’s not just in single spots. We’d go out in different areas just to make sure we cover all our bases, but I mean, the hotspots did not disappoint. Some of the evidence we even got during the investigations with some of the people that were actually making the claims. That was pretty impressive…when it happens right on the spot and we’re not even trying.
Bagans: There’s an area of the park a lot of people don’t know about called the Back 40. And Jeff said that even [he] and his dad don’t like to go back there at night. And we’ve been to some haunted forests. I mean, I’ve been in the most haunted forest in the world, the Hoia-Baciu forest in Romania. I was more fearful in this Back 40 than I was in Hoia-Baciu.
I know you can’t spoil a whole bunch, but can you give us a teaser of some of the evidence you might’ve picked up at this location?
Wasley: Zak and I, when we were investigating the gift shop— and I don’t want to say what it is— but there was a certain piece of evidence we got there that was pretty impressive to me. It was just nonstop. One of the things I remember… we were interviewing Allen and he saw somebody while we were filming with him. And I think, I believe you saw him too… an apparition.
Bagans: [We brought in] Bill Chapell, who’s a highly regarded electrical engineer, and he’s also known for being a full-blown skeptic. He invents a lot of incredible equipment. He’s, I would say, the leading electrical engineer in the world when it comes to paranormal equipment. And he built the deep echo experiment, which was basically a containment chamber to record EVP in an exterior environment. And there were several different tubes where he inserted different types of microphones. And then in another tube, he filled it with water and put an underwater microphone in there. So he tried all these different experimentations with these microphones and he captured a male voice in this contraption that was absolutely impossible to explain. And I think it was one of the most incredible pieces of audio evidence that he’s ever heard. I didn’t know what to expect, going to a zoo and getting evidence like this.
Wasley: And I think too, It’s great to get a single piece of evidence, but there was a moment when Zak, Aaron, and myself were investigating and there was a series of events that happened. I wish I could tell you, it was incredible. But this entire series of events led us through this mini journey of this evidence that just painted us in different directions. And what we captured at the end there, we were literally jumping up and down. We were so excited about it.
Zak Bagans, Ghost Adventures: Horror at Joe Exotic Zoo
During the investigation, a cadaver dog found remains that were at one point believed to be human. Can you explain how that situation unfolded?
Bagans: So we heard unproven claims that there may be bodies buried on the property, but, these were just claims that were told to us. As investigators we’ve brought in ground-penetrating radar before, we’ve used metal detection devices, we’ve done all kinds of things. So I just thought, you know what, let’s bring in cadaver dogs and see if they pick up anything. These cadaver dogs are highly trained. And when we brought them in, two of these dogs gave an alert and the cadaver dog trainers firmly believed that they were picking up the scent of human remains. That’s when our whole investigation came to a halt.
And the police came in, the [Oklahoma] FBI came in and they began digging. They did not uncover any human remains. But after they left, the cadaver dog people firmly believed that their dogs were still picking up the scent of human remains. And they came back, I think twice? And then they brought in four dogs and apparently all four dogs picked up the scent. So, going onto that property we really left with some great evidence, but we also left with a lot of questions that still have yet to be answered.
Some of the items from the park are now at your museum in Las Vegas. Was there a rhyme and a reason behind which items would be in the exhibit?
Bagans: So, they were given to me by Jeff Lowe. Every investigation that I do if it’s really iconic— or if we get evidence that’s like level 10— I always try to take something if it’s given to me or if I can buy it, to really let me remember the investigation and the interaction that I had with the spirits. And Jeff Lowe just started donating all of these things to my museum. And some of them were gross. Some of them were connected with spiritual activity. And then just recently he gave me both of the signs from the park… the sign that was on the gift shop where Travis accidentally committed suicide and then also the exotic animal park sign. So I ended up making an exhibit to remember such an iconic investigation.
With the pandemic, how is the team still carrying on investigations? Do you believe this has affected the paranormal world?
Bagans: The measures that we’re taking on the investigations are just like anybody else. I mean, wearing masks and social distancing. But it has also allowed us to investigate some locations that we never would have had access to because they’re shut down. So, there is that side of it. We’re still going strong and we’re investigating and seeing how the spirit world reacts to a global pandemic. I think it’s hard for us to stop, honestly. It’s not just a show, we truly love what we do.
Wasley: When we get home, there’s a few days where it’s nice to be home, but then we’re ready to get back out there. And when the pandemic first hit and we didn’t know if we were getting shut down, Zak talked about the idea of just the four of us quarantining at the museum. I was like, yes. It’s just something that we’d just love to do. And when you can’t do that, it hurts. We’ve been fortunate enough and we’re taking all the precautions necessary to keep everyone safe and we’re still doing it. I’m so thankful and so happy we’re able to keep going.
Bagans: But we’ve learned that the spirits do not abide by social distance and they still touch us and attack us and things like that.
Wasley: It’s just such an interesting time in the world where there’s so much fear and stress and anxiety amongst people in society that I think that’s playing into the paranormal world and almost strengthening it on the negative side. Some of the dark energies, some of the hauntings, are becoming more intense. This whole year, it’s kind of an experiment in itself with the effect on that world.
What do you both hope the audience takes away from this special?
Wasley: I was so excited to go there. You know, I was a big fan of the series and it did just grasp you, and I think it grasped everybody that watched it. So I think this is a new chapter. It’s kind of exploring more that the series didn’t explore. And just the evidence we got and the experiences we had, I think fans of our show will obviously love it because they enjoy what we do. But I think even fans of [Tiger King] will enjoy it too. Because it just asks more questions. It’s this crazy story that just keeps going and you can’t look away. I’m excited to watch it again. I can’t wait to see it myself.
Bagans: Beyond anything, fans of our show, any other show, any skeptics at all, they’re really going to be blown away by evidence we captured there. Because like Jay said, I don’t know how many times we have all just started jumping up and down and hugging each other. I don’t think we’ve ever done that. So I think that can speak to some of the unexpected moments that we captured and it’s pretty mind-blowing, it really is.
Ghost Adventures: Horror at Joe Exotic Zoo premieres Thursday, October 29 at 9/8c.