Sheriff Believes Someone Paid to Have Carole Baskin's Husband Killed: 'Extremely Planned Out'

Carole Baskin's husband Don Lewis disappeared in 1997

After recently saying he believes the long-missing husband of Carole Baskin was murdered, the Florida sheriff investigating the case says he believes more than one person was involved — and that an accomplice was paid.

Late last month, amid the popularity of the Netflix series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister solicited tips on Twitter related to the disappearance of Jack “Don” Lewis, a 60-year-old millionaire who mysteriously vanished on August 18, 1997.

Lewis was the husband of Carole Baskin, a big cat sanctuary owner and rival of Tiger King protagonist Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as “Joe Exotic.” Exotic is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence for trying to have Baskin killed and other crimes.

On Monday, on a TMZ special on Tiger King, Chronister said he’s “extremely suspicious” of Baskin, as well as others connected to her and her Florida sanctuary.

“This had to be extremely planned out,” the sheriff told TMZ. “This had to be well thought out. There’s someone else involved in this.”

He continued: “There’s someone who was paid to do it. There’s someone who helped do it. I’m hoping that person wants to come and get this off their chest and help law enforcement do the right thing.”

Carole Baskin and Don Lewis
Don Lewis and Carole Baskin. Carole Lewis/Tampa Bay Times/ZUMA; MEGA

If Lewis were alive today, he’d be 81.

Lewis stood 5 feet 10 inches and weighed around 170 lbs.

Tiger King is a seven-part Netflix docuseries that explores the life and crimes of Exotic, a former country musician, Oklahoma zookeeper and big cat keeper. Exotic owned an exotic animal park and boasted of having the largest number of big cats in America.

In a 1998 interview with PEOPLE, the oldest of Lewis’ four children, Donna Pettis, then 42, claimed that Baskin feeding his body to big cats would be “a perfect scenario to dispose of someone.”

Don Lewis
A newly released poster seeking leads in the disappeatance of Jack “Don” Lewis. Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

In Tiger King, Exotic implicitly accuses Baskin of murdering her husband and disposing of his body by feeding it to the big cats at her sanctuary. Long before the series debuted, he produced a song and music video, making the very same claims while also suggesting other potential sites where the body may have been buried.

Baskin has long denied the rumors, and on her organization’s website slammed Tiger King as “salacious and sensational,” saying it “has a segment devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don in 1997.”

Baskin recently told the Tampa Bay Times she has received death threats since the show.

“I’ve had to turn my phone off,” she told the paper, referencing the calls she says she receives around the clock from strangers. “I can’t tell the real ones from the fake ones because they’re always out of state numbers anyway.”

Chronister told PEOPLE Baskin is “not a suspect at this time.” He adds, “We don’t have any evidence to even call her a person of interest.”

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Speaking to TMZ Monday, Sheriff Chronister said that “Every deal’s on the table right now.” He asked people with information to “help us out [with] this case.”

Anyone with any information regarding this case is urged to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at (813) 247-8200.

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