’So much blood, it was hell’: Was that Siegfried and Roy tiger attack actually murder?

Roy Horn and Siegfried Fischbacher Return

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On October 3, 2003, a sold-out crowd of 15,000 people witnessed the horrifying end of a showbusiness phenomenon that had dominated the Las Vegas Strip (and the entire city) for decades. A huge white tiger sank its teeth into the throat of Roy Horn, severing his carotid artery and slicing his vertebrae before dragging him off the blood-soaked stage. Staff eventually had to hit seven-year-old Mantecore with a fire extinguisher before he would let go. Doctors reported that Siegfried was clinically dead and the illusionist said he saw “flashing bright lights and my mother. My beloved animals were lying at her feet.” The showman later tried to spin his near-death into another semi-mythical episode in his overblown life, but what really happened and who was to blame? A new Apple podcast, Wild Things: Siegfried and Roy, report blows the lid off the underbelly of Sin City.

Siegfried and Roy had been performing exactly the same act for ten years, word for word and move after move, night after night. They had entertained everyone from Michael Jackson (who wrote music for them) and The Rolling Stones to President Clinton (who brought extra marksmen along). In a show full of bombast and spectacular set-pieces, there was one notable quiet and intimate moment called The Rapport. Roy would tenderly interact with one of the big cats, in this case, seven-foot and 400-pound Mantecore, putting its front paws on his shoulders so they could “dance” together.

Normally, the show would play on speakers in all the changing rooms, so everyone knew exactly where they were in the running order. Usually the huge cast took a quick break during The Rapport, but suddenly the audio was cut and one performer recalled: “We heard one of the stagehands yell, ‘Cat loose.’” Another said he heard on a headset, “He’s got Roy!”

The “terrified” dancers were locked into their changing rooms but told to put their shoes on in case they needed to run. One ignored the advice and went to the stage to investigate: “I saw Montecore dragging Roy across the stage… There was so much blood.”

For some, it seemed unbelievable that the man who had hand-raised all of his animals should be attacked like this. Others insisted it was inevitable. An investigation immediately suspected foul play.

Roy’s connection with his animals was world-renowned. And not only on-stage. The German entertainers were the highest-paid act in Vegas history and owned a lavish spread of interconnected mansions set in acres of land. Their “Jungle Palace” was officially called Little Bavaria and was also home to a vast menagerie of creatures, including their signature white lions and tigers, as well as elephants, pythons, panthers and other big cats.

Part of the grounds was designed like the Himalayas, the native home of the white tigers. There were also snow leopards. Asked how all these animals, used to snowy temperatures, coped with the Vegas heat, Roy said, “We go with them into the pool to cool off.” 


The police investigation involved the Las Vegas Metro Police Department the United States Department of Agriculture, and Homeland Security. They pursued suggestions that a woman with a very high beehive hairstyle had distracted the cat. It was even suggested she had smuggled animal pheromones into the theatre inside her hair to deliberately disrupt the show. There were similar suspicions of laser pens being shone at the animals.

Who might be responsible? Animal rights activists angry about the exploitation and living conditions of the big cats were considered. Likewise, a homophobic agenda (Siegfried and Roy were rumoured but never confirmed to be in a homosexual relationship), or even local crime syndicates trying to destroy a rival show were all investigated. 

The Mirage received an email which read: “If there is audio & video of the tiger attack it should be analysed for far-UV and or high ultra-sonics, as well as other triggers that might be the work of a terrorist aiming at a high profile GAY target.”

When Matecore grabbed Roy’s sleeve with his jaws, the performer batted him on the nose with his microphone. The tiger’s hackles were raised and Lawrence slowly walked on and crouched beside the animal, discretely trying to tempt him with meat. With no response, Lawrence grabbed the leash and then Roy backed up. In response, Mantecore launched himself at Roy. 

As the tiger savaged Mantecore, Lawrence tried to pull him off and was knocked to the floor. He says he grabbed Mantecore by the tail while another handler inserted his fingers into the tiger’s mouth, prompting a well-trained bite and release response. Once Roy was taken away, the animal calmly returned to his usual behaviour.

Many of the details were hidden for years, Lawrence says because the show had always maintained the fiction that Roy alone trained and controlled the animals. And after the attack, it was decided to let the performer believe his own version of events, rather than that he had lost control of the situation and then been attacked by one of his beloved creatures. 

Lawrence also told the Hollywood Reporter there had been a growing concern that Roy had begun to lose his close connection with his animals.

He said: “Many of the handlers thought that Roy was treating the animals more like props than he was respecting them for who they were. That can only work as long as there are no variables, which is impossible considering that you’re dealing with a living, thinking animal. I am positive that Roy’s diminishing relationship with Mantecore was a key factor in the attack.”

The curtain came down that night on one of Las Vegas’s most famous and then infamous shows. Roy was left in permanent pain, struggling to walk or to speak. Mantecore died in 2014 , followed by Roy in 2020 due to complications related to Covid-19. Siegfried Fischbacher passed away in January last year from pancreatic cancer.


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