Carole Baskin, who is featured in the Netflix docuseries Tiger King, denies having had anything to do with her husband's 1997 disappearance

By Chris Harris
March 30, 2020 02:43 PM
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Authorities in Florida are trying to take advantage of the popularity of the Netflix docuseries Tiger King by announcing they are seeking tips about a lingering mystery: What happened to Jack “Don” Lewis?

Lewis was the husband of Carole Baskin, the rival of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, or “Joe Exotic,” whom the self-styled “Tiger King” tried to have murdered. Lewis was 60 and married to Baskin when he vanished without a trace in August of 1997.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister asked on Twitter Monday morning that anyone with any information on Lewis’ disappearance come forward.

“Since @netflix and #Covid19 #Quarantine has made #TigerKing all the rage, I figured it was a good time to ask for new leads,” Chronister posted to his Twitter account.

The post included a fresh poster seeking tips, which reads, “Only you can help solve the Jack ‘Don’ Lewis cold case.”

The self-made millionaire who helped Baskin transform their 40 acres of Florida land into an animal sanctuary was never seen again, though his car was found at a nearby airport. Some of his relatives speculated that Baskin may have been connected to his disappearance, though she has denied involvement and never been charged.

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. We were upset that the cops didn’t test the DNA on the meat grinder.”

Carole Baskin
Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay Times/ZUMA Wire/Alamy

Lewis was last seen on August 18, 1997. He would be 81 today. The poster describes him as standing 5 feet 10 inches and weighing around 170 lbs.

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

He was found guilty in 2019 for paying a hitman $3,000 to kill Baskin, an animal activist who runs a sanctuary called the Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. (The hit did not occur.) He is now serving 22 years in prison for the plot as well as other crimes.

Don Lewis
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

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In Tiger King, Maldonado-Passage 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.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage
Uncredited/AP/REX/Shutterstock

In the series, Baskin refutes any claims or suggestions she had anything to do with her husband’s disappearance, and over the weekend, repeated her position in a statement posted to her organization’s website, calling the claim “absurd.”

“I never threatened him and I certainly had nothing to do with his disappearance. When he disappeared, I did everything I could to assist the police,” the statement says.

The statement further indicates she feels the show’s directors misled her about their project, and attacked the credibility of several of the people interviewed for the series.

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