New questions emerged Tuesday surrounding the validity of a will allegedly signed by Don Lewis, the wealthy Florida man declared dead in 2002 after disappearing in 1997. Lewis’s presumed death was a cause of mystery and speculation in the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King.”
The will in question contains the signature of notary Sandra Wittkopp. However, she’s struggling to remember how her signature ended up on the document.
“I don’t remember a will at all,” Wittkopp told the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting. “I was the housekeeper.”
Florida law does not require notaries to keep journals to record their official acts on paper. Journals are only required for electronic notarizations. Many other states do require such journals or “recordbooks,” and the American Society of Notaries states that they are considered a “best practice that is strongly recommended.” The Center’s reporting does not probe into whether Wittkopp kept a journal or recordbook.
The Center previously interviewed two handwriting experts who concluded that Lewis’s own signatures on both his will and his power of attorney were “traced from his 1991 marriage record.”
“They’re all virtually identical,” said handwriting expert Thomas Vastrick of Florida. “They’re all from a model signature.”
The Center points out that the statute of limitations on forgery has passed, so even if someone forged the documents, that person could not be prosecuted solely for forgery. (The Florida attorney general’s office didn’t pursue the case previously for this reason; it simply couldn’t be prosecuted on its own merits.) However, evidence that the document might be forged could be relevant should prosecutors ever bring some other type of case against Lewis’s former wife, Carole Baskin, the animal rights activist who is one of the central characters in “Tiger King.” The buzz surrounding the never-solved case inspired one Florida sheriff to take another look at the case.
The notary’s statements and the signatures of Lewis are not the only issues with the will. “Susan Aronoff Bradshaw said that after Lewis disappeared, Carole Baskin asked her to testify that she was there for the will signing when she was not,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Also at issue regarding the notarization is the timing of the stamp used. Anne McQueen, a Lewis assistant who is also a notary, said notary seals generally take two weeks to arrive once ordered. Wittkopp’s application to renew her license was dated Nov. 16, 1996, and the stamp on the documents is dated Nov. 21, 1996. McQueen told the Center that that there was “no way on God’s earth” the stamp would have been delivered that quickly. Records reviewed by the Center indicate that Wittkopp’s stamp was delivered to Baskin’s home.
Law&Crime has previously discussed Baskin’s criticism of “Tiger King.” An associate previously pointed Law&Crime to a generic video statement about the series and has not addressed questions about the writing on the document.
[Image via the Hillsborough County, Fla. Sheriff’s Office]
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