Update: There is new info in the search for Carole Baskin’s husband
If you’re in Tampa FL right now, you can’t miss the new giant billboard asking where Don Lewis is. The billboard offers an enticing $100,000 reward for any information and a hotline to call. Interest in the local real estate tycoon’s disappearance in 1997 has been reignited again because of a little Netflix show you definitely watched last spring.
Don Lewis is Carole Baskin’s former husband. The Netflix docuseries Tiger King covered a feud between Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, and Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka Joe Exotic, former owner of the GW Zoo. The feud was over tiger ownership. Baskin is trying to ban it in the U.S.
When Carole Baskin started going after Joe Exotic for running a tiger cub petting business, Exotic fired back, exposing a theory that Carole Baskin killed her missing husband and fed him to her tigers. The theory is back. Whoever put up the billboard in Tampa wants to know who killed Carole Baskin’s husband.
Don Lewis’ disappearance in 1997
Carole Baskin’s former husband, Don Lewis, was last seen on August 18, 1997. He was known in the community as a real estate developer reportedly worth $5 million at the time of his disappearance. He wasn’t found, and Carole Baskin declared him dead in 2002.
Don Lewis was supposed to go to Costa Rica. According to Carole Baskin, her former husband was showing early signs of dementia right before he went missing. At first, a theory was floated that Lewis ran into trouble with a drug cartel. However, a few fishy details around his disappearance raised suspicion.
Did Carole Baskin murder her husband?
Before Don Lewis’ disappearance, he changed his will so Carole Baskin would inherit nearly all of his net worth. He also put a clause in there that included his disappearance as a factor in when Carole Baskin would receive his money.
The inclusion of Don Lewis’ disappearance set off alarm bells. This very specific clause is rare in wills. Plus, since Don Lewis disappeared right after the change in the will, it seems to implicate Carole Baskin in her husband’s disappearance.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff presiding over Don Lewis’ disappearance, Chad Chronister, believes Carole Baskin’s husband was murdered. Neither he nor his team has sufficient evidence to name a suspect.
Someone in Oklahoma paid for the billboard
A source in Oklahoma, where Joe Exotic’s GW Zoo is located, crowdfunded the reward on Gofundme. The donor, named Jack “Ripper” Smith, claims to be the spokesperson for Don Lewis’ surviving relatives. He also has a YouTube channel, Ripper Jack Media, where he seeks justice in high-profile cases, including for Carole Baskin’s husband.
Smith conducts interviews with witnesses in the Don Lewis disappearance which are featured on his channel. He also says he’s in Tampa working on a follow-up to Tiger King.
A Tiger King follow-up?
Given the enormous popularity of Netflix’s docuseries Tiger King, rumors of a sequel are in the works. It’s not clear who else is involved. However, Carole Baskin will most likely not work with the filmmakers again. Baskin claims she believed they were making a documentary about tiger abuse and was led astray.
According to Tiger King directors, they set out to explore the issue of private tiger ownership in the U.S. However, when they discovered the big egos in the industry, plus the conspiracy around Carole Baskin’s husband, the focus shifted to cover the unbelievable happenings in the world of tiger ownership.
Carole Baskin’s defense
In response to Tiger King, Carole Baskin wrote a long blog page on Big Cat Rescue’s site explaining her actions surrounding her husband’s disappearance. Baskin explains that she suspected that Don Lewis was involved with drug traffickers, which is why she included disappearance in his will before her husband went missing.
In the blog post, Carole Baskin goes into lengthy detail about conspiracies hurled at her throughout the docuseries. She addresses a life insurance policy, her husband’s cars and planes, and the leat grinder which is where Joe Exotic alleged she ground up Don Lewis’ body and fed it to the tigers.
Carole Baskin also accused her husband’s family of starting the rumor and circulating it through the media. She adds that they misrepresented how big the meat grinder was. Rather than being industrial size, Baskin describes it as small, “like you’d have in your kitchen at home.”
Will the case ever be solved?
Tiger King reignited interest in Carole Baskin’s husband Don Lewis’ disappearance. The case was reopened by Tampa police. So far, no leads have come through. We’ll have to see if anything comes up in the possible Tiger King sequel.