The Hillsborough County Sheriff in Florida, clearly aware that Netflix docuseries Tiger King is a smash hit, is using the show’s success as an opportunity to get new leads on the disappearance of Don Lewis.
Lewis, who was the husband of Joe Maldonado-Passage’s (Joe Exotic) rival Carole Baskin, was last seen on August 18, 1997.
Sheriff Chad Chronister is asking anyone with a solid tip to submit it.
“Since @netflix and #Covid19 #Quarantine has made #TigerKing all the rage, I figured it was a good time to ask for new leads. #CaroleBaskin #DonLewis #Netflix #Tiger #BigCatRescue #JoeExotic #TigerKingNetflix #HCSO,” Chronister said.
Oh, man, where do we begin in describing the backstory to this? You might have first learned about the disappearance from Tiger King, but as the show depicted, it was an element in news coverage back in the 1990s.
In the series, Baskin claimed that Lewis “really damaged himself” in a previous plane crash, and began to show severe short term memory problems. She claimed a volunteer said his behavior looked like Alzheimer’s. At the time of the disappearance, she suggested to Hard Copy that he maybe didn’t know who he was, or where to call home.
“That’s all bull,” Lewis business associate Wendell Williams told the docuseries. Don said he was going to tell Carole he wanted a divorce, Williams also said.
“No, no, no,” said Lewis attorney Joseph Fritz. “He knew exactly what was going on. Who, what, where, when, how, why, he knew all of that. That’s not a problem.”
The show also detailed the friction between Baskin and her missing former husband’s daughters and ex-wife. Lewis was eventually declared dead under Florida law.
So what does Joe Exotic have to do with this? Technically speaking: absolutely, positively nothing. But he had a field day with it. Maldonado-Passage harbored a grudge against Baskin for trying to run him out of business, and successfully suing him for trademark infringement. The infamous zookeeper habitually railed against her in his online show, and argued that she killed her husband. He highlighted theories that she might have fed Lewis to her tigers, or hid his body in a septic tank.
But that’s what he’s trying to get the general public to believe. What people think is different from what authorities are ready to move on. Bottom line: Authorities haven’t charged anyone in Lewis’s disappearance.
Hillsborough County Detective John Marsicano declined to say if authorities “zeroed in” on a suspect.
“I’d be remiss if I said that,” he said. “There is absolutely no physical evidence at this point in time that would point at one particular individual.
Baskin has emphatically denied playing a role in her husband’s disappearance. (Also, she isn’t a fan of the series.)
Joe Exotic was sentenced in Jan. 2020 to 22 years behind bars in the murder-for-hire plot against Baskin, and for illegal animal trafficking, and animal abuse.
Matt Naham contributed to this report.
[Image via Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]