The man who released more than 50 exotic animals before killing himself was deeply in debt from unpaid taxes, though authorities would not say that was the reason for his actions.
On Oct. 18 Terry Thompson set 49 animals free before shooting himself, leading sheriff’s deputies to shoot the animals – including lions, rare Bengal tigers, bears and monkeys – with high-powered rifles.
If you haven’t seen anything about this story, well, welcome to planet Earth. To catch you up, here’s an Associated Press story.
Thompson and his estranged wife Marian owed at least $68,000 in property and income taxes to the IRS and the county, and he had two federal tax liens filed against him last year. Thompson had just been released after a year in federal prison in September for possessing unregistered weapons.
The Thompsons own 73 acres at 270 Kopchak Road in Zanesville. It was commonly called the Muskingum County Animal Farm, though no public visitors were allowed at the facility. It’s actually considered two different parcels of land with a total taxable value of $97,830 in the most recent assessment notice. It’s located about 500 yards off the main road.
Just how the Thompsons became so in debt isn’t known, though Terry Thompson did not have steady employment. He had previously worked at a Harley-Davidson dealership and found some work as a private pilot. The Thompsons also sold firearms out of their home and gave horse riding lessons. Marian Thompson worked as a sixth-grade teacher for 30 years.
The Thompsons, who were married in 1977, had 56 exotic animals on their property, many in cages but some who lived in the house (primarily monkeys). Many were raised from when they were newborns, including being bottle fed. Ohio has some of the least stringent exotic-animal-ownership laws in the country.
Feeding tigers, lions, bears, wolves, giraffes, cougars and monkeys, believe it or not, can be pretty expensive. So is providing medical care to them. Indications are that most of the Thompsons’ money went toward food and care for the animals. So you can probably get a pretty good idea of why they owe so much in taxes.
The 62-year-old Thompson had a lengthy history of run-ins with the law as well as neighbors, who for some reason didn’t feel comfortable living next to potentially dangerous and large animals.
Finally he released 49 of the animals before killing himself (and then getting bit in the head by one of the large cats). Forty-eight of the animals were killed by sheriff’s deputies and a monkey is presumed dead, likely eaten by one of the other animals. Among those dead were 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions and eight bears.
The remaining animals, who were not released, were relocated to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, though Marian Thompson said she would like to have the animals back. Those taken to the zoo were a young grizzly bear, three leopards and two monkeys.
How Marian Thompson would continue to afford the care of the animals and catch up with her owed taxes isn’t known.