The passing of longtime Las Vegas magician Dirk Arthur on Oct. 13, 2023, came and went as the insatiable news cycle moved on to other things.
Following the sad news, we started digging into the circumstances of his death. We knew Dirk Arthur, and have heard from friends and colleagues about questions we think need to be asked.
We have questions not only about Dirk Arthur’s death, but also about some business dealings prior to his death, and even more questions about his big cats.
Note: This story won’t have as much snark as others on our blog, you’ll manage.
After Dirk Arthur died, we dug into his life and found things we’d never known during our brief interactions. (He was a performer at O’Sheas when we did digital marketing for Caesars Entertainment.)
First, we learned Dirk Arthur’s real name: Dirk A. Gingell.
Arthur performed at a string of Las Vegas casinos, but then big cat shows fell out of favor, and he struggled with the changing culture (and ongoing attacks by animal rights groups) during the last several years of his life. Things got so bad, he reportedly worked as an usher at the theater at Westgate, where his show once appeared.
Dirk Arthur died at age 63.
A friend of Arthur said, “Dirk was absolutely at the end of his rope with Vegas, he loved the city more than anything, the energy, the chance at stardom, he lived for it all. Unfortunately, he had so few friends there, he was isolated and alone with his cats.”
Dirk Arthur’s body was found at his home, and it’s been reported he died of a “heart attack” in his sleep.
It’s also been reported his body was discovered by another big cat magician, Jay Owenhouse. Interestingly, Owenhouse told the Las Vegas Review-Journal a “housemate” found Arthur’s body, two days after Dirk Arthur died.
Our “paper of record” also shared this word salad, “Owenhouse was working on landscaping at the property on Friday and Saturday. He last saw Arthur on Friday. The magician Sunday, when Arthur was discovered in his bedroom.” If anyone ever read the Las Vegas Review-Journal, they might have mentioned the typo. People definitely point out ours. Anyway, back to the serious business at hand.
The bottom line is Owenhouse was one of the last people to see Dirk Arthur alive, perhaps even the last.
Are we the only one who watches “Unsolved Mysteries”?
Owenhouse has been trying to bring an exotic cat show to The Strip for some time, but his attempts were thwarted by Clark Country. His current plan is to open a show without animals in a tent across from Mandalay Bay.
We mention Jay Owenhouse because until Dirk Arthur’s passing, we didn’t know about their complicated relationship.
The more you know, the more complicated it gets.
Beyond Owenhouse presumably being the one to find Dirk Arthur’s body, it seems Jay Owenhouse has now moved into Arthur’s Las Vegas compound, and did so almost immediately following Arthur’s death, according to our sources.
Arthur’s property technically sold in 2021, according to a Grant, Bargain and Sale Deed filed with Assessor’s Office, but the deal only closed on Oct. 2, 2023, less than two weeks before Arthur’s sudden death.
We’ll just share the whole document. That’s why Al Gore invented the Internet.
Some additional details here, including the purchase price. It’s worth mentioning there are currently smaller parcels than this, occupied solely by FEMA trailers from 1996, selling for $655,000 in Las Vegas.
Arthur’s property sold for $655,000, or about a quarter million less than the asking price.
The deed for the sale was filed October 12, 2023. The day before Dirk Arthur died.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal made a passing mention that Owenhouse was buying Dirk Arthur’s home, but there was no mention of the timing or circumstances.
Arthur’s compound was sold to Clair W. Daines, trustee of the Daines Family Living Trust.
From what we’ve turned up, Clair Daines is Jay Owenhouse’s father-in-law.
Owenhouse was married to Clair Daines’ daughter, Susan Daines, who died in 2009. Susan Daines was the sister of Montana Senator Steve Daines.
Our layperson’s question about all this? Did Jay Owenhouse buy Dirk Arthur’s property (equipped with enclosures for big cats and an estimated half-million dollars in magic props, including his prop helicopter which Arthur kept in his living room) under the name of a family trust as a financial move or to keep the transaction off the radar and avoid ownership being under his name?
Why did it take so long between the purchase of the property in 2021 for the deal to be completed, and does anyone think it odd the transaction was finalized the day before Dirk Arthur died from an alleged heart attack?
Who paid what, if anything, and when? And how? Did Jay Owenhouse just magically make $655,000 appear from thin air?
Making the situation even more intriguing is the fact a local big cat sanctuary operator was contacted by Dirk Arthur a few days before his death (Oct. 9, 2023) and Arthur told him, “Owenhouse was paying him in cash and had not paid him.”
The funds from the sale were to be used by Dirk Arthur to buy or lease a theater in Branson, Missouri. Where, presumably, people are less prickly about the use of exotic animals in stage shows.
We inquired with the Clark Co. Coroner’s office about whether a cause of death has been determined for Dirk Arthur. The response: “We are currently pending cause and manner at this time. You will need to contact law enforcement for any suspicions.”
Why is it being reported Dirk Arthur died of a heart attack when no such determination has been made?
We asked Las Vegas Metro via e-mail whether Dirk Arthur’s death is being investigated, but have yet to receive a response.
We aren’t even sure we have “suspicions,” but we definitely have lots of questions.
There are still more questions related to the Dirk Arthur’s animals.
Shortly after Arthur’s death, 10 cats were taken from Arthur’s property by Clark County Animal Protection Services. The seizure included six tigers, a snow leopard, two clouded leopards and one bobcat.
A Clark Country representative told local news, “The animals are in the process of being relocated to an appropriate animal sanctuary.”
We’ve heard they’re already there.
If you’ve had any exposure to the big cat realm, you know it’s full of drama and conflict and also drama. And conflict. Animal people are often more animal people than people-people.
Were you living under a rock during the whole “Tiger King” phenomenon?
Our source says arrangements had been made to send Arthur’s cats to another sanctuary, so it’s unclear why they needed to be “seized” as they would be if they were neglected or harmed in some way.
Arthur employed keepers to take care of the cats, so they were in no danger.
There have been no updates from Clark County about the status of the cats, or where they will (or already have been) transported. Our source says she spoke with Jim Anderson, director of Clark County Animal Control, and he said the cats are “already spoken for and en route to accredited sanctuaries.”
So many questions. Some of them are really heavy, so let’s look at an A.I. tiger cub for a moment.
Why were cats rescued when Dirk Arthur had a contingency plan in place for his animals? Is PETA involved, we asked, rhetorically?
Have Dirk Arthur’s cats been moved to a refuge in Indiana, Exotic Feline Rescue, as our source claims? Is anyone concerned about the issues that sanctuary has, or the dramatic change in climate involved in such a move?
Is anyone asking about the recent $69,000 fine against Exotic Feline Rescue after a mauling of an employee? Is anyone thinking we only shared that story because the fine was $69,000? We didn’t say there would be no snark, just not as much. Mauling is nothing to make jokes about, and hopefully the rescue has a good insurance contract with a personal injury clause. Then again, given it was a tiger attack, maybe “clause” isn’t the right word. (We’ll wait.)
We’ve heard the bobcat ended up in a sanctuary in Pahrump.
Our sources say Dirk Arthur’s sister is handling his affairs at the moment. We have been unable to contact her or even find out her name. They were apparently not close. [See below for update.]
We’ve gotten a number of requests about a memorial, but no announcement has been made.
There’s a lot more behind-the-scenes drama related to this saga, but many involve hearsay and passionate opinions of animal advocates. We love a good rumor, but untangling this ball of WTF is beyond us. We are not a news organization, we are a humble blog, stirring the pot as only we can before hitting the casino.
Our hope is the authorities and other media outlets will look into these matters further, and make any discoveries public, for Dirk Arthur’s memory, as well as his friends and admirers who deserve to know more than a fleeting headline about a good-hearted guy whose passions and life’s work were derailed by fate and a greater awareness of the fact wild animals shouldn’t be used as props for our entertainment.
Update (10/27/23): Following the publication of our story, we were sent a copy of an “Ex Parte Petition to Appoint Special Administrator,” filed Oct. 26, 2023, asking the court to appoint Dirk Arthur’s sister as the one to handle his estate. Her name is Judy D. Vaccaro, a resident of Hawaii. The document says Dirk Arthur died “intestate,” or without a Will. The petition also lists Dirk Arthur’s brother, Thomas Gingell, as an heir. The petition has not yet been heard by the court.
On page three of the petition, in all caps, it says, “The authority requested is limited to that of a special administrator and does not authorize the liquidation of any accounts.”