While Roy remains in critical condition, the USDA launches an official inquiry into the tiger attack. An investigator for the agency pursues an elusive videotape of the incident.

It’s April 3rd, 2002 and families are lining up outside a big carnival like attraction at the Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso, TX. From what I remember, it was out in the parking lot. They’ve all bought tickets to do something special. You had to go inside of the cage. I was sitting in a chair, I believe from my recollection that the cat was in a cage right to the side of where you sit down and got your picture taken. But this one was he wasn’t a cook. Well, that sucker probably weighed about. Maybe £400 handlers lead the tiger towards the man and he has handed a baby bottle filled with milk. I would say that was the largest thing that ever sat in my lap. Let me pull up, see if I’ve got a copy of that picture. In this snapshot, a tiger completely dwarfs the man his name is David Neal. In the photograph, David emails me. He looks like an average 50 something wearing khakis and a blue Oxford shirt. But nobody at this traveling exhibit knows his true identity. They had no idea that I was working undercover as an investigator for USDA. You gotta do what you gotta do for the job at the time. Ladies and gentlemen, the superstars of magic demystifying the Most Outstanding Act in show business, Big Frieda, Siegfried and Roy Siegfried and Roy, Siegfried and Roy for 30 years did 12 to 14. Shows a week, 48 weeks a year and filled the showroom every single night. They were entertainers. They became big business and they were responsible for an awful lot of people. To make it in show business, you don’t have to be only good, you have to be different. This is wild things Siegfried and Roy. Days after Roy is attacked by his tiger in front of a live audience, his condition is still uncertain. While Roy remains in the hospital with Siegfried by his side, the investigation into the attack launches. So would you call yourself an animal person? Yes, I would consider myself an animal person. Just care for the white animals are treated. In the 1970s, David Neal joins the United States Department of Agriculture, which not only puts stickers on the beef you buy in the supermarket, but also regulates the use of all exotic animals in public settings across America. Most of us are unaware that the USDA has its own investigative unit, which is where David spends nearly 30 years working cases and going undercover. During my career I worked a lot on bird smuggling at the border and animal and horses being smuggled in from Mexico. We had one individual that came across that had the birds kind of like the drug dealers he had to purge, stuck all over his body. Listening to David discuss his job, I couldn’t help but think of the 1994 movie Ace Ventura Pet Detective. Funny, it didn’t seem that painful when you were doing it to the horse. The Jim Carrey character Ace Ventura is the only other detective I’ve ever heard of who specializes in animals, so I was surprised to learn that David has never seen the movie. But as I get to know David, I sense he is not someone who pays much attention to pop culture. He grew up on a farm in Louisiana. When I got my first horse, I guess I was 10 or 12. We started getting horses and and few cans to be outside to be with animals and I dislike that lifestyle. One of the places I worked was a horse kill being some of these good horses that they were bringing in to slaughter and they would euthanize it and then hang it up. And you know, and skin it up and then we would have to inspect it. They would ship the meat to to France. Just come to work and do your job and go home with some you know you’d go home and sometimes just think about like that horse. You’d go home and think about him and that really tore me up. Two decades later, on October 3rd, 2003, David Lanz, the biggest case of his career I was at home and it got on the news with more than 1000 spectators watching in horror, illusionist Roy Horn of Siegfried and Roy attacked by a white tiger during a performance in Las Vegas today. I’ll call the office and they said, we’ve got an investigation. I said, I know it. I was basically packed and out the door within 45 minutes. When David’s flight lands, he goes directly to the hotel where he always stays in Las Vegas. Even though he’s now retired, he still won’t tell me the name of the hotel, but he says it’s the one place where the staff always helps him keep a low profile. No one can know who David is or what he’s doing in Vegas, especially not the media. This case can more publicity on it than any other case that I have worked. I realized that it was wasn’t going to be a open and shut case. I needed to collect some information just to get the basics of what. Actually happened, but I figured they had filmed video of each performance of Siegfried and Roy. So I asked for a copy to take instead of getting some warnings. Eyewitness report of what happened. Because their eyes play tricks on us, you think? I guess aren’t really trained to see what actually happened. It’s what they think they want to see. What questions were you hoping that the video would help you answer? Those animal provoked? Did something happen to ‘cause that animal? To attack? Roy, you’ve gotta rule everything out. Turn over every stone to make sure that you got the right information and don’t leave any question unanswered. It’s December 1996 and a Snow White Tiger has gone into labor at the Guadalajara Zoo in Mexico. The first two Cubs arrived just fine, but the third, a male, is struggling. The exhausted mother doesn’t notice, so Roy, who was there to purchase the Cubs, Springs into action. At least that’s how he will describe this moment years later. What follows is a beat by beat account based entirely on Roy’s own words. Rushing to the Mama Tiger side, Roy steps in and cradles the newborn. The cub stabilizes briefly, but soon his little pink nose becomes cold and his lips turn blue. Roy leans down and performs mouth to mouth resuscitation. Miraculously, the cub survives. Roy names him monocor. Soon Siegfried and Roy welcome all three baby tigers to the Jungle Palace in Las Vegas. Well yeah yeah nice give me nice man wow every time that a female gave birth to a cop I mean makes me feel very happy and makes me feel that I was part of of life. Johan Sheeran montecore. Yeah, Johan was the the snow one. Montecore was the white striped and Shira was the the Orange One. I was kind of the father of the three babies. When these Cubs are born, Francisco Rodriguez Heron is the director of the Guadalajara Zoo. It’s the largest zoo in Mexico with 360 species and 5000 animals. For years, circuses had been approaching Francisco, asking if they could buy the zoo surplus animals. He never entertains these offers, though, because he is skeptical of how circuses care for animals. Francisco’s reasonable skepticism also extends to a random phone call. He picks up one day. I was in my office one time when I got a call from from person who identified himself as Bernie Human. He presented himself as the manager of Seeking Roy. I guess you’re familiar with Bernie human very much. So when I got that call. That I was having a bad joke. You thought it was a prank phone call? Yeah, and he asked me if we have some white tigers available in surplus because they they were interested in adding them to their collection to the famous White Tiger collection. So I told Mr Union to send me the the proposal by fax in official stationary. And I was surprised that 5 minutes later. I got that document in in my fax machine and it has the logo of the secret Roy and I confirmed that it was coming from from the right people. I got him in contact with Bernie again and told them we were expecting this female to give birth pretty soon and he told me that that there were definitely interested in one complete litter. And what did you learn about the facility they had and the details of how they cared for the Tigers that made you feel comfortable? We sent a veterinarian to Las Vegas. She was. Very well impressed about the facilities. I’m a veterinarian. That’s my main background. I was convinced that the way that they were dealing with with animal care was the the proper one. Our self sustained institution and we had to rely on our own funds at the end of the conversation he was kind enough to tell me that they will contribute economically with our zoo. These tigers are each worth thousands of dollars. All of the Cubs, even the Orange one, carry the gene, which can cause a genetic mutation that makes fur turn white. But the main reason Bernie has arranged for the purchase of these Cubs is so that Siegfried and Roy can begin raising, training and breeding their next generation of feline performers. They had in mind to to tame these animals and and to incorporate them in their show in order to to have new animals in their show. They have to have tame young ones, and that’s how we decided to to pull them away from their mother for hand raising. They have to be hand raised. Their first album as the Mother together and they get their mothers milk. Then we will take over and we will feed him a just to make formula like you would have little babies and then you introduce him to me until the becoming strong. I can eat totally buy them send Roy claims he Co sleeps with the Cubs until their one year old. By then each has grown to weigh about £200. Like bottle feeding. Cosleeping is part of what Roy calls affection training. That connection runs deep be conditioned them that they can live and devote like ours today, together with us in harmony. Not every tiger has the right temperament for performing onstage. See, like with all our animals, we meditate with them. We condition them for the show we always perform or create an illusion around animals. See, you never can do this with someone. Voice not happy and content. All three of the Cubs in Roy’s newest litter eventually wind up on stage. Roy spends more than six years building strong bonds with them. But as Francisco tells me that bond can bend and sometimes even break. Wild animals keep their instincts and their behavior, no matter if you can’t raise them and you tame them, they can be dangerous at all time. Do you know where the name moniker comes from? Mr. Roy at that time told me that it was a mythical animal from from the Persian culture. Yeah, it has a head of a human. It has the body of a lion. Sometimes it has the tail of a scorpion, but the word if you breakdown the word manta core from Middle Persian, it means Man Eater. To monitor the wave and it seems amazing. I mean amazing in the in the bad sense. I mean she was the one that that attacked him and caused him fatal damaged. Yeah, I’m kind of shocked at this time. I mean, that’s a bizarre name I’ve never knew about it until now. Was attacked in the throat by one of those tigers montecore. What was montecore’s mindset at the time that particular night something was different in Montecore’s brain and Troy. He said no to montecore no, no, no, no, don’t hurt the tiger. Don’t shoot montico. There’s no blame on Montecore, Siegfried and Roy have never been confused about the fact that a tiger is a tiger. I did nothing wrong. He is still a part of the family, and the family will still be together for the rest of our life. I walked into the trauma Bay and they’re like Roy’s coming. My name is Jay Coates at the time of Roy’s injury. I was vice chairman of the apartment of trauma at UMC Trauma Center. The wielder men and he was so combative because he was in the process of losing his airway, so it was kind of like drowning, and this guy was in the active process of dying. He can’t breathe, and so about 2 minutes into it, he actually did flatline. We lost vitals. I mean he had massive injuries in his neck where the tiger had bitten him. We immediately went in. We opened his neck. Put in an airway. Got a line? Started an Ivy started same time. Gave him a round of epinephrine. All this technically while he’s you know dead he’s got no heartbeat he’s got no blood pressure and I’ve got about 5 minutes and if I could get stuff rolling in five minutes get your heart pumping your blood flowing I can at least preserve brain function things like that. So you know, within a couple compressions on his chest. In his heart started right back up you could just feel the whole room go. No. Bringing Roy back from the dead sounds miraculous because it is, but the next and even bigger challenge proves to be just keeping him alive. We had two big puncture wounds right below his hairline and then the one in his neck that bit through that bone through the 3rd cervical vertebrae severed the fatigable artery. That injury by itself has a huge mortality rate, and when the tiger bit him. It crushes carotid artery, so now you’ve literally cut off the blood flow to the right side of his brain. His brain is being deprived of blood, and it is also swelling. The problem with your brain swelling is this got no place to go so it starts pushing it down. Then the base of the skull and you know the risk was he was going to herney die. So we decided to decompress his brain. Doctor Coates performs what’s called a decompressive craniectomy The details are pretty gnarly, but the short of it is that a piece of Roy’s skull is removed temporarily. Who would have thought something like this was gonna happen? But I mean, it was absolutely obviously catastrophic. I mean he was dying as soon as I got done with the surgery. I went up and I talked with both Siegfried and Bernie. I told him what was going on and just said I would keep them updated. The morning after surgery he was under so many bandages and blankets. All you could really see were his eyes, you know he had tubes coming out of his mouth. That’s Alan Feldman, a spokesperson for The Mirage. But I saw his hand, which was out because he had Ivs in it. And I kind of slid mine under his and. All I can remember saying is. You know we’re all praying for you Roy. We all are praying for your recovery. And he just squeezed my hand. And just the fact that he could squeeze my hand was it was somewhat amazing as Roy remains in critical condition. Very little information is made public. But Siegfried and Roy have never been once to Overshare, let alone OfferUp personal information. Siegfried and Roy are very, very private people. While working on their autobiography in 1991, Annette Tapert sees their pension for privacy become an obstacle. No one knew anything about their personal life. Even people that worked for them when I went to interview them, they were protective. They work very careful about allowing me into their innermost thoughts, and they weren’t giving me what I felt was a kind of resonant authenticity. About themselves, but as Annette slowly builds a rapport with Siegfried and Roy, she comes to learn more about them, and understands their reticence. They definitely had a great deal in common in terms of these dysfunctional backgrounds. And of course, when you grow up like that in a family like that, it does make you really guarded going forward in the world. Roy was, you know, he was a real wartime baby. His mother on the day she went into labor. It was a real bloody skirmish of bombings and lighting up all the neighboring cities, and she went into labor and she didn’t know what to do and she climbed on her bicycle and desperately pedaled across the city. Bombs burst around her, but she reached the safety of her sisters home unharmed. 15 minutes later Roy was born. Decades later, Roy’s mother, Johanna, will live at the Jungle Palace until passing away in the year 2000. I can’t imagine what it was like raising children in Nazi Germany. In broad daylight, mighty squadrons roar across the North Sea over Hamburg. Tons of bombs rained from the sky. Zigfried first time I interviewed him first thing he said, you know when you when your birthdate says 1939 Germany, you can imagine that someone has had a difficult life. When Siegfried is just a toddler, his father, Martin, becomes a prisoner of war by the time Martin returns home, he is an alcoholic, prone to fits of rage. Eventually, an escape presents itself to young Siegfried. Siegfried came into magic by there was a show he saw in a town square, and the person you know eating razorbladez. He was so fascinated by that somebody could do something like that and draw a crowd, and he found a magic shop and he would ride his bicycle into Munich, and he bought magic books. And with allowances and things he couldn’t even afford sometimes, and he learned how to do some magic, and he disappeared a coin. And I worked very hard. And the magic trick I showed it to my father, and the first time my father talked to me, he said, how did you do that? The first time I got attention, and I think these two these few words was the opening line to my life. His father never paid any attention to him, so that gave him a great impetus to keep doing it. And magic became my life. Zigfried he was always upfront about the struggles within his, his family and his father’s drinking always. But Roy was guarded about his. Roy was clearly the pain was so deep. I said you’re not going to have a great book unless you really tell me what happened and some very unpleasant things in your childhood, and I’ll never forget this. We were in this in behind the Jungle Palace. They had a little cottage so we were interviewing for hours and. And finally, this moment happened and I started to cry and I said, you know, this is very hard for me too. I said you’re scared, I’m scared it was a project of such magnitude for me. On a scale that I had never worked and I said you need to tell me what went on there. Up in northern Germany and Siegfried, who knew everything looked at the both of us and said I think I leave the two of you now. And Zigfried walked out and Roy and I sat there for three hours, and he unspooled the story of his childhood and the whole time holding my hand like. I, I mean, it was almost like I, you know, I was bruised. He held my hands so tightly while he was getting this story out and the tears and the pain that came out of him. I’ll never get over it as long as I live. Roy’s entry into love of animals was basically based on fear of his father. When his father, when he came back he he had been, you know, sort of damaged from the war. Of course there was drinking. And violence and the father was physically violent to Roy’s mother and of course tried to be physically violent to Roy. Roy actually finds an escape within his family when they adopt A dog that supposedly comes from the German army. But it’s not your average canine. I’m guessing that’s why someone decides to name this dog hexa a German word that means which. And that dog protected him against the father, so that’s where the story starts. The abuse seemed to escalate at night with the alcohol, so Roy and his mother would lock themselves in Roy’s bedroom at night and Hexa a jet black dog who Roy always said was half wolf. You know, large mixture was a ferocious looking dog, really acted as their guard dog, and Roy was ashamed of his home life and alienated from friends. And Roy was always the 1st to tell anyone that any. Sense of security he developed as a child came from Hexa. I had a voice hexa which actually is my closest friend. He was like Roy’s playmate. They would explore and roam the fields that surrounded his childhood village of Nordenham in northern Germany, and it was really Roys for Semanal relationship with an animal. At one point Roy was screaming for help to no avail. When he found himself sinking in a muddy marsh wetland. And Hexa ran away and found some farmers working in the nearby field. The dog started barking and jumping around these farmers and they followed him to the spot where Roy was hanging on for dear life, and the farmers pulled him out with a ladder. When Roy thanked the farmers for pulling him out of the sinkhole, they told him that he should really thank his dog. And if it hadn’t been for him, he would have died. For Roy unconditional trusts, unconditional emotion and unconditional strength started with Hexa and eventually he derived that from all of his animals. Roy’s bond with exotic animals helps catapult, Siegfried and Roy to stardom. It’s 1966 and Siegfried and Roy have been invited to the French Riviera. The big sensation in Monte Carlo was the annual Red Cross Gala that raised money and Princess Grace was the chair of this and they were asked to perform. Siegfried is 27 years old. Roy is just 21. This is a turning point in their career, which they recall years later on. Larry King live well for one of a better term was your big break Monte Carlo. You could say Carlo was the big break. And of course it was always littered or populated by masses of celebrities because of, you know Princess Grace being Grace Kelly, she would get everybody to come to this, you know, from Cary Grant to Frank Sinatra. So it was a major event. This is a huge opportunity for Siegfried and Roy, who recently left the cruise ship. Their newfound fame is due in large part to Chico, the Cheetah. And the the Cheetah we’re supposed to do the final finale jump on top. He didn’t jump on the top of the illusion. He jumped into the audience and he walked it through all the tables right past Princess Grace. I went into the kitchen, you know everybody went like this and and I well, what can you do? I just jumped off stage two and not so long and it wowed everybody. This made your act. This was a big standing ovation. You know, that’s that was the act. The duo is Lucky Chico didn’t injure, let alone kill someone. Instead, he unplanned moment generates more press than the duo has ever had one headline crowns them. The new Kings of Monte Carlo. Soon after the magicians changed their name from Siegfried and partner to Siegfried and Roy. According to their autobiography, a mix up with two talent bookers leads to an opportunity at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. It was Roy who was just itching to get to Las Vegas. He thought this was the greatest idea that he had ever heard of. If you want to become the Pope, you go to Rome. If you want to begin become an entertainer who go to America, you go to Las Vegas. That’s Roy. Always loved an adventure. Zig Free was always the warrior. But Siegfried agreed to go, and you know it. It didn’t live quite up to their expectations at the Tropicana. The circumstances weren’t ideal. The owners weren’t so nice. He introduced himself. My name is so and so who are you? And I was, of course, very surprised mean you hired us. You don’t know who I am. You say, don’t tell me you’re a magician because magic doesn’t work in this town. That was actually the welcome. In Las Vegas. Opening night is a disaster. Siegfried and Roy have never worked with a live orchestra before, and neither has Chico. In the middle of a routine Chico suddenly leaps up the stage right towards the orchestra pit. When their contract at the Tropicana is up, Siegfried and Roy go to Paris. Coconut. 6th grade and boy. The Booker at the Lido in Paris is looking to fill a spot at the club show in Vegas, so he asked Siegfried and Roy to audition. They nailed their performance and for the second time in their career, they head to America, determined to prove themselves they refused to believe that magic is not going to work. Not with the way they do it, because for them, magic always works. Las Vegas here is a breathtaking city built in the middle of deserted, arid nowhere. It’s 1970 and the curtains are opening on Siegfried and Roy’s new show at the Stardust Resort and Casino. Vegas Entertainment is on the rise, but gambling is still the main attraction in Sin City. Money, power, sex. That’s what it’s all about. On the street of streets in Las Vegas. But mostly, it’s about money. When Siegfried and Roy landed in Las Vegas, the Tropicana, the Stardust. All of that was still somewhat mob influenced. They do things in a big way here. Of course you can afford to. When you have a revenue of more than $100 million a year, yes, bring it in the color, the vulgarity, the scope, and the whole incredible spectacle. I think Las Vegas is for everybody and it seems in Las Vegas imagination has no borders. Yeah, the sky is still limits right? Most of the night life revolves around Hollywood royalty like Elvis Presley and provocative productions with topless showgirls. But from the moment they arrive, Siegfried and Roy captivate everyone with a campy brand of glitz and glamour that is completely over the top. Now, ladies and gentlemen, behold. It was really about their involvement with these exotic animals. These exotic cats that really made the difference because it was the wow factor. You know, they weren’t just trying to levitate a girl that was old hat. What made it different and made people respond is that there was a little fear. Oh my gosh, can this can this animal get away? The feds say that the sink freedom Roy shows being investigated for possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act. In 2003, USDA investigator David Neal spends weeks tracking down eyewitnesses, interviewing the security and staff at The Mirage and combing through records with Clark County Animal Control. But despite all his efforts to determine what really happened that night, he still can’t get his hands on one crucial piece of evidence, the videotape, which purportedly captures the moment where moniker attacks Roy. I think I was told it does not exist. I never stopped believing that a tape existed. I knew in my heart that a tape existed and it was only a matter of time before we either got the tape or we either told us to shut up and go home. David isn’t sure who tells him the tape doesn’t exist, but either way it’s strange since just days earlier another investigator has already seen the tape. If I remember correctly, the CEO of Mirage at the time actually had physical possession of that tape. Very, very nice gentleman, took us to his office from the showroom and sat us down in his office in front of some televisions where we could watch the video. Randy McLaughlin, who overseas crime scene investigations for the police tells me that on the night of the attack, a copy of the tape is in the possession of The Mirage. He doesn’t know why a USDA investigator showing up just days later would have any issues seeing what the police have already seen. I’m kind of surprised that they would not show the tape, but I just remember the CEO, put it in a vault in his office and indicated that nobody was ever going to see this tape. Besides, the people that were in that room. Oh, he told you that at the time he made some indication when he put that away that it was going to stay in that safe and you saw him actually put it into the safe. Yes, it was just a small fire safe in his office. The video. It was very graphic and I can completely understand why they don’t want anybody in the in the public viewing that we reached out to MGM, the parent company of The Mirage, but they declined to comment. For what it’s worth, I can totally understand why they wouldn’t want the general public, seeing what is presumably a horrible and graphic video, but David Neal isn’t the general public. He’s a federal investigator, and Las Vegas falls within his jurisdiction. David tells me he soon feels like he’s getting the runaround from the people surrounding Siegfried and Roy. I won’t understand why until later on. I realize that it was going to take a lot of legwork to complete this investigation properly. One of the old investigators I work with years ago, he said Dave don’t leave a stone unturned turn over. All of if the person you’re investigating tells you no, you still go after what you need, maybe in a different way. And that’s what I tried to do. Next time on wild things Siegfried and Roy. They came of age in an era in which were they to perform. Being openly queer was just not viable. Lovers I love Roy like my brother you know they were as much performing animals as the animals they deployed. They knew the tricks they did, the tricks they stimulate the fantasy of the audience because without fantasy there is nothing. While things Siegfried and Roy is an ample original podcast produced by Outwell Media, our producer is Alexanders Aslo story editors are Matt Hickey and Mandy Gorenstein. Our editor is Rachel Litner with help from Andrew Holzberger and Margaret Warner is our associate producer. Adele Sparks is our archival producer, and Ashley Taylor is our line producer. Fact checking by Sona Avakian our original music in main title are by Robert Kiesewetter, Anjana Bechtolt audio post production by 1000 birds. While things Siegfried and Roy is executive produced and written by me, Steven Lagarde, our executive producer for Matt. Well, media is will malnati the Attwell media team also includes Dominica, Beckwith and Ruby be legal. Services provided by Samuel Bayard and Sean Gordon with representation by Oren Rosenbaum at UTA. Listen and follow on Apple Podcasts.