New Idea



- By Jacqui Lang

Looking into the innocent eyes of her newborn son, Cruz, Mikhailla Fitzgerald is transporte­d back in time. “His eyes are brown, like Foxx’s,” the doting mum says softly, in an exclusive interview with New Idea.

Foxx was Mikhailla’s much-loved first son – her precious rainbow baby who was born in March 2017 after two miscarriag­es.

But in a cruel twist of fate, Foxx died at just 3 days old after contractin­g a common infection called Group B Strep.

One in four women carry it in their vagina, but it can be deadly to babies if passed on during pregnancy or birth.

Mikhailla and her fiancé Teddy – who proposed when she was 26 weeks pregnant with Foxx – were blindsided.

“I don’t know how we picked up the pieces. There were days

I would get in the shower and just cry.”

Two months after losing Foxx, there was a chink of light through the darkness when Mikhailla and Teddy discovered they were expecting again.

Their 2-year-old daughter Elle – whose birth we celebrated in a previous edition of New Idea – was born two weeks before Foxx would have turned 1.

“I’m grateful she arrived before his first birthday because it made it more bearable. Although every time I looked at her, she reminded me of him.

“I remember bathing her one night in the early weeks and I just cried as I watched her kick and turn her head because she looked like Foxx.”

When Cruz was born on January 2 this year, Mikhailla was stunned to be holding another son.

“Because he didn’t immediatel­y look like Foxx, I found it easier to process.

“Cruz was truly his own person and I felt extremely connected to him,” she says.

However, now Cruz is 14 weeks old, Mikhailla sees glimpses of Foxx in him more and more.

“In recent weeks when I look into his eyes, I wonder if he’s telling me stories about the son I had before him.

“If he holds a stare at me long enough I feel the worlds of love and loss collide.”

Though managing a newborn and a toddler can be challengin­g, Mikhailla is taking it all in her stride – and she thanks Foxx for that.

“He made us grateful. I am always so thankful for the children I have been able to have since him. I don’t think we would’ve been so patient in parenting the way we are now.”

However, the aftershock­s of Foxx’s death do still linger. When Cruz was hospitalis­ed with respirator­y syncytial virus (RSV) at 4 weeks old, all the pain and trauma came flooding back for Mikhailla, 25, and Teddy, 33. “Seeing a son of ours struggling again really broke our hearts.”

The loving couple keep Foxx’s memory alive with daily reminders around their home.

As well as a photo album and a box of keepsakes, there are the onesie sleepsuits – featuring foxes – which Cruz wore when he was in hospital to keep him safe, a beautiful fox artwork hangs on the wall, and Elle has a plush fox toy which Mikhailla and Teddy bought when they discovered they were expecting.

When the couple got married in May 2019, they made several special tributes to Foxx. “We entwined Foxx into our day a lot. The celebrant asked our guests to take a moment of silence to acknowledg­e him because he was such an important part of our lives.

“He was also remembered in our own speeches in the ceremony and at the reception.

“Not everyone would survive a relationsh­ip encompasse­d by so much loss, but we are who we are because of these downfalls too.”

Foxx is never far from Mikhailla’s thoughts and she takes comfort in the belief they will be reunited one day.

“As time goes on, I am further from that first cuddle. It brings tears to my eyes, but I also think about the kind of boy I will meet again one day when I cross to the other side. I hope he is ready for a big hug when that time comes and he has lots of stories to tell me. My heart will feel complete again.”

Mikhailla is determined to create a lasting legacy for Foxx by helping others. As well as raising awareness of Group B Strep, she is encouragin­g people to donate blood in his honour.

“I feel like he was meant to be for this earth and what happened wasn’t meant to happen. It makes me wonder about the type of little boy he would’ve been and how he would’ve impacted the world.

“He can’t do that himself, so I’m going to do it for him.”

To the outside world, charismati­c Keith Raniere was a successful self-help guru who ran the popular personal developmen­t group NXIVM.

Handsome and charming, Raniere appeared on magazine covers and was even endorsed by the Dalai Lama.

Thousands of people signed up to his expensive courses, making him extremely wealthy.

But in secret, Raniere was coercing female followers into becoming his sex slaves. Some were held down, naked, as their skin was burnt and scarred with his initials in ‘initiation ceremonies’.

Chillingly, four of his former lovers from the cult have died.

The spectacula­r downfall of Raniere, 59 – now behind bars for racketeeri­ng, sex traffickin­g and possession of child porn – began two years ago when a former lover went to police.

“Keith Raniere is a horrible man, but with the help of a group of very supportive women who idolised him and helped him recruit more followers, he got away with all kinds of terrible criminal behaviour for 30 years,” says investigat­ive journalist Frank Parlato. “He was a sex addict who had an incredible hold over a lot of people. He’d recruit followers, keep them half starved and sleep deprived, and have sex with them at will. They all obeyed his every wish. He also trafficked in women from other countries and kept them captive.”

Frank, who helped expose the cult, met Raniere in 2007 when he worked for him for several months. “I came to realise something sinister was going on, and have been looking into this group for years.”

After the ex-lover spilled the beans, and The New York Times began publishing Frank’s findings, Raniere was finally arrested and charged.

“My focus now is the deaths of the four women who were all intimately involved with this man. There are so many unanswered questions,” Frank tells New Idea.

Although two of the women’s deaths were officially recorded as suicide, and the other two as a result of cancer, Frank is now delving into Raniere’s mysterious past.

“There’s a lot about Keith Raniere we still don’t know. I think he’s one of the great criminals of our time,” he tells New Idea.

Frank’s disturbing findings are the subject of a new Foxtel documentar­y, The Lost Women of NXIVM. It tells how thousands of people paid a small fortune to attend Raniere’s self-help sessions at centres around America.

One of them was Kristin Snyder, 35, who vanished without a trace on February 6, 2003.

Kristin had last been seen at a NXIVM seminar in Alaska, where witnesses recall she had begun yelling during sessions, and was removed.

Two days later, her truck was found in a remote part of Alaska. In it was a suicide note saying, “no need to search for my body”.

Despite a huge search, Kristin’s body has never been found. Police were quick to rule


her death a suicide, but friends maintain Kristin, a lesbian, was an active, happy person.

Astonishin­gly, Kristin’s grieving wife, Heidi Clifford, told Frank that just before vanishing, Kristin had revealed she was pregnant to Keith.

Heidi admits she didn’t tell this to police at the time. “I’ve


never talked about it at all. I’ve spent the past 15, 16 years of my life being scared,” she said.

“If it got out that Keith was trying to convert a lesbian into having sex with him, this would have imploded his entire operation,” ponders Frank.

He has also looked into the apparent suicide of Gina Hutchinson, another young woman who had been sexually involved with Raniere.

In 2002, Gina began telling Raniere’s people that he’d had sex with her in 1984, when she was under-age.

Months after her revelation­s, the 33-year-old was found dead from a shotgun wound to the head. Her death was ruled suicide but Frank doubts this.

“I think there’s a real chance Gina Hutchinson was murdered,” he says.

Frank has also been looking into the deaths of two women who were once part of Raniere’s inner circle: Barbara Jeske, 63, and Pamela Cafritz, 57. Both lived with Keith and were sexually involved with him; both died of cancer.

“Two other women who’d also been living with them also got cancer – why so many?” Frank questions.

Frank obtained a lock of hair from one of the women who had lived with Raniere, and had it analysed by a forensic scientist. The results revealed chronic exposure to potentiall­y poisonous heavy metals.

“Is it possible that Keith poisoned these women over a number of years?” asks Frank.

He also uncovered a secretly recorded tape in which Keith says to another cult member, “I’ve actually had people killed because of my beliefs”.

Frank finds this extraordin­ary. “Was he serious? Who says that kind of thing?”

Frank’s investigat­ions into Raniere have led US detectives to re-open their investigat­ions into the death of Kristin Snyder.

“Also, the body of one of the women who died from cancer is probably going to be exhumed and examined,” says Frank

He’s pleased that Raniere, who will be sentenced in April, faces 15 years in jail.

“But I won’t rest until we know what really happened to these four women.”

• If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

It’s not every day a zookeeper goes to prison for murder-for-hire. You’d imagine the biggest danger a tiger owner would face was being eaten or mauled to death in a cage.

But for Florida businesswo­man and big cat owner Carole Baskin, it was attempted murder. The bizarre and unlikely tale of Carole’s narrow escape from death is the subject of Netflix’s twisted series, Tiger King. The wildly popular docuseries started out as an exposé of the sleazy underbelly of America’s exotic animal trade.

It focuses on eccentric zookeeper Joe Exotic – real name Joseph Maldonadop­assage – who owned Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma in the US.

He didn’t just own tigers – Joe ran the 6.5-hectare zoo with lions, bears and alligators and hosted ‘cub petting’ with up-close tiger experience­s at his compound.

His rivalry with fellow tiger enthusiast Carole, who owns Big Cat Rescue in Florida, is what sparked the absurd twist the documentar­y took.

“The feud between Carole and Joe and their obsession with each other was quite comedic at first – it had a very Best in Show feeling to it,” said co-director Rebecca Chaiklin.

Over five years, the filmmakers went down a rabbit-hole following Joe’s long-running feud with Carole. It culminated in a murder-forhire plot that saw Maldonadop­assage sentenced to 22 years behind bars at the start of 2020.

In the middle of filming Tiger King, which was bizarre enough due to Joe Exotic’s antics and the seedy world of the tiger trade, he was arrested on 17 charges of animal abuse and two charges of contract killing.

The pair’s grudge began when Carole started campaignin­g against big cat breeding, making it her life’s work to shut down her rival’s animal trade. She fought to de-legalise exotic animal ownership in America and was determined to run him out of business. She managed to convince shopping malls to cut ties with Joe Exotic and stop hosting his ‘cub petting shows’, which eliminated a huge chunk of his revenue.

In retaliatio­n, Maldonadop­assage stole the trademarks of Carole’s Big Cat Rescue, which resulted in her suing him in a $US1 million lawsuit.

“There are crazy people out there who want to see me dead,” Carole predicted while filming the series.

In 2017, Carole’s targeted activism proved too much for Maldonadop­assage, and in one final act of retaliatio­n, he attempted to hire a hitman to kill Carole.

But little did he know, he had in fact contracted an undercover FBI agent in his bungled murder-for-hire plot. He paid the agent $3000 to get rid of his rival.

In September 2018, the notorious big cat breeder was arrested, and later sentenced to 22 years at a federal prison.

Most of his conviction­s were related to animal abuse, including traffickin­g endangered animals and killing tigers to make more room in the cages. One employee even had her arm torn off while tending to a tiger at the Wynnewood roadside zoo.

But while Maldonadop­assage remains behind bars, Carole has unwittingl­y become the focus of a fascinatin­g subplot – also involving a murder conspiracy.

Tiger King resurfaced claims that Carole Baskin killed her first husband, millionair­e Don Lewis. Don, then 60, vanished without a trace in August 1997. He was declared dead in 2002, with Carole inheriting much of his estate.

But many people, including Don’s children, think Carole was in some way responsibl­e for his disappeara­nce.

Some conspirato­rs believe Carole killed her husband and fed him to her tigers.

“[The animal sanctuary] is a perfect scenario to dispose of someone. We were upset that the cops didn’t test the

DNA on the meat grinder,” Don’s daughter Donna said in 1998.

But Carole has staunchly denied these claims.

“My tigers eat meat; they don’t eat people,” she told People magazine. “There would be bones and remains of my husband out there. I’m amazed that people would even think such a thing.”

Meanwhile, Joe Maldonado-passage continues to protest his innocence from behind the bars of his cell at Grady County Jail in Oklahoma.

He’s desperate to return to his zoo, which is still in operation, and reunite with his big cats.

“I’m in a cage. Do you know why animals die in cages?” Maldonado-passage said via an inmate phone call. “Their soul dies.”

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 ??  ?? The loving couple are now parents to daughter Elle, 2, and infant son Cruz, 14 weeks.
The loving couple are now parents to daughter Elle, 2, and infant son Cruz, 14 weeks.
 ??  ?? Mikhailla and Teddy lost their first son Foxx (pictured) to a common infection when he was only 3 days old.
Mikhailla and Teddy lost their first son Foxx (pictured) to a common infection when he was only 3 days old.
 ??  ?? Charismati­c sex cult leader Keith Raniere faces 15 years in jail for a number of federal crimes, including sex traffickin­g and conspiracy.
Charismati­c sex cult leader Keith Raniere faces 15 years in jail for a number of federal crimes, including sex traffickin­g and conspiracy.
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 ??  ?? The Lost Women of NXIVM airs at 8.30pm on Investigat­ion Discovery on April 14.
The Lost Women of NXIVM airs at 8.30pm on Investigat­ion Discovery on April 14.
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 ??  ?? Joe Exotic, pictured, was sentenced to 22 years jail for animal abuse and a murder-forhire plot.
Joe Exotic, pictured, was sentenced to 22 years jail for animal abuse and a murder-forhire plot.
 ??  ?? Carole Baskin, right, owns rival tiger park Big Cat Rescue in Florida. Joe Exotic’s park is still operating.
Carole Baskin, right, owns rival tiger park Big Cat Rescue in Florida. Joe Exotic’s park is still operating.
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