Tiger King docuseries features real-life Tampa Bay people, wild theories about missing millionaire cold case

Hillsborough County

HCSO

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – As America stays at home during the coronavirus pandemic, many seem fixated on a Netflix series called Tiger King.

The series features a central character with died blonde hair and a mullet who calls himself Joe Exotic. In real life, Joe Maldanado has been convicted of animal abuse and a murder-for-hire plot involving Carole Baskin.

Baskin owns Big Cat Rescue in Hillsborough County and has fought with Maldanado for years over the care and treatment of large animals.

But Baskin has also been involved in her own controversy. In 1997, her husband Don Lewis vanished.

The Tiger King series devotes a lot of time and attention to Lewis.

As a result of the show’s popularity, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister has assigned a detective to handle tips coming in from the public about Lewis.

“We’ve got an increased number of leads. Over the last four or five days, we’ve had six on average,” said Chronister.

The new hit Netflix show plays up rivalries between people in the series. Chronister hopes that will lead to new evidence in Lewis’s disappearance.

“What we are hoping is that maybe someone has had a change of heart, maybe a relationship status has changed. Anything that will prompt someone to call with a legitimate lead, a piece of evidence, anything that will help us solve this case,” said Chronister.

Carole Baskin says she was misled by producers to get involved in the show.

In a statement on Tuesday, Baskin said:

“When the directors of the Netflix documentary ‘Tiger King’ came to us five years ago, they said they wanted to make the big cat version of ‘Blackfish,’ the acclaimed documentary that exposed the horrible abuse taking place at SeaWorld and other similar parks around the world. A lifelong animal lover, I was immediately drawn to the possibility of exposing the misery caused by the rampant breeding of big cat cubs for exploitation and the awful lives these majestic creatures are forced to endure in roadside zoos and back yards if they survive their time used for petting.

There are no words for how disappointing it is to see that the series not only does not do any of that, but has instead chosen to be as salacious and sensational as possible to draw in viewers. As part of that, they devoted an entire segment to 23-year-old lies and innuendos suggesting I was involved in my husband Don’s 1997 disappearance.”

Sheriff Chronister says no credible tips have come in yet as a result of the show, but he is hopeful.

“Everyone surrounding his disappearance had their own theory. Some people believe it was in a meat grinder fed to the tigers, some people said he disappeared or was kidnapped,” said Chronister.

So far, the sheriff says there is no real evidence to support any of the theories.

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