Lion Eats Woman At National Zoo

Lion at the National Zoo (
Lion at the National Zoo (

Here is a recent crazy story … very crazy. This one is from March of 1995, so I’m guessing there are a few of you who remember this.

In the spring of that year, Margaret Davis King, 36, had arrived in Washington from Arkansas to get back custody of her children.

She was a homeless and mentally ill mother of three, in town to speak to a government clerk about her children. The Washington Post reported that Margaret had religious delusions that she was related to Jesus and that she claimed to receive messages directly from God.

Her mauled and unrecognizable body was discovered early one Saturday morning by a zoo worker. Margaret had climbed into the lion’s habitat after the zoo closed and that was the end of her.

The mutilated remains of the woman, Margaret Davis King, 36, a transient from Arkansas with a history of mental illness and religious delusions, were discovered by a zoo worker about 7 a.m. Saturday in the lions’ well-protected outdoor habitat, according to authorities. At a news conference yesterday, D.C. Medical Examiner Joye M. Carter and other officials said they have concluded that King intentionally climbed over a 3 1/2-foot barrier, crossed a four-foot-wide dirt buffer, dropped down a nine-foot wall into a water-filled moat, swam 26 feet across the moat and emerged in the lions’ landscaped, terraced habitat.

Once across the moat, King encountered two healthy African lions, a young adult male and a middle-aged female. The male, Tana, weighs 450 pounds and the female, Asha, weighs about 300 pounds. “We can’t say exactly what happened, as none of us was there at that scene,” Carter said. But King’s injuries left little to the imagination. Police said she was battered and shredded so violently that her fingerprints were gone and her face was almost unrecognizable.

“The cause of death has been ruled as sharp force and blunt force injuries, associated with {massive blood loss} and soft tissue loss,” Carter said, adding that “certainly this was not an instantaneous death. . . . This was certainly a death that occurred over several minutes.”

Although the death was ruled a suicide, Carter and other officials were unable to say for certain that King entered the lions’ enclosure with the intent of ending her life; they only could say that it was a suicidal act.

Police speculated that King’s decision to enter the lions’ den may have been tied to her religious ideas. In ancient Rome, for example, Christians were thrown to lions as punishment for practicing their faith, and in the Old Testament, the Judean exile Daniel is condemned to a lion pit by the Babylonian king but survives unscathed because of his belief in God. However, police said, they may never learn for sure what motivated King.

This sounds like an awful way to go, even worse than the poor woman that drank acid.

National Zoo lions
National Zoo lions

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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  • I do remember this! I’m rying to remember when the gates were put at the Zoo, I think they’re (relatively) recent additions and I’m wondering if it is related to this incident.

    • Popeye D. Saylorman

      Yep…I think before the gates all the animals were free roaming and you entered the zoo at your own risk.

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  • A. John

    I remember her.We called her Mary. She and I were residents at the same halfway house in Little Rock, I was a federal bootcamp graduate and she was a homeless mental patient. She use to talk to me about how she was Jesus sister and how Pres. Bill Clinton was going to help her get her kids back. Her kids came and visited her once while she was there.I was very hurt tie hear this after she left there. Came in from work and everyone was sad and the mood was depressing. We cried and prayed for her. We missed her.

  • Bill Reeves

    I remember when this happened. It would not be the way I would want to go.
    Very sad.

  • Jessica Ferrer

    While her passing may have been a merciless way to go, I’m sure her God bestowed mercy in her after-life!