TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — “Tiger King 2” premiered on Netflix Thursday morning, sparking a renewed interest in the disappearance of Carole Baskin’s former husband Jack “Don” Lewis.
As viewers may recall, Baskin’s second marriage was a prominent storyline in the first season of the true-crime docuseries, which chronicled her bitter feud with rival zookeeper Joe Exotic. Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in prison for plotting to kill Baskin.
Baskin met Don Lewis in 1981. Together, the couple ran Wildlife on Easy Street, a rescue for bobcats on Easy Street in Tampa. In 2003, Wildlife on Easy Street, Inc. was dissolved and became Big Cat Rescue Corp. Baskin still owns the sanctuary, which is home to over 50 exotic cats including lions, bobcats and servals.
Officials said Lewis had disappeared without a trace in 1997. His van was found at a remote airport in Pasco County. The keys to the vehicle were on the floorboard.
According to those close to him, Lewis was an amateur pilot and had owned a number of small aircraft. His lawyer Joe Fritz claims he was lured to the airport with a business opportunity, and thrown from a plane mid-flight.
“What I had heard was that he was strangled from the backseat of an airplane over the Gulf [of Mexico] at 50 feet and dropped out over the Gulf,” Fritz told Fox Nation.
Though he was never found, Lewis was declared dead around five years after his disappearance. There is no evidence he was murdered, although investigators suspect foul play.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office was flooded with tips after Tiger King debuted in March 2020, and reopened the case last year.
“We contacted and followed up on well over 200 leads, a large amount of those were virtually useless,” Corporal Moises Garcia, the lead detective on the case told reporters this Thursday.
Over the past year, detectives were able to obtain Lewis’ flight records and other federal documents and reports related to him, Garcia said. They collected his daughters’ DNA to send to a lab in Texas, and they now have an age progression photo that shows what he might look like now.
Detectives spoke to a number of people involved in the Tiger King series, but Baskin and Kenny Farr, the couple’s former handyman, are the only ones who’ve refused to be interviewed, Garcia said. He said detectives have tried to talk to Baskin at least three times, but her attorney said no.
Garcia also addressed allegations Baskins buried her husband under a septic tank at the sanctuary.
“We spent an extensive amount of time trying to track down where that information was coming from, looking at the property, seeing how many septic tanks were actually on the property by permit,” Garcia recalled.
But they were denied access, he said.
“It is frustrating. I would like to get on that property and look around,” Garcia said. “Most missing persons, their family members, wives, spouses, they cooperate with law enforcement. They want to know what happened to their loved one, and they cooperate however possible.”
Although Baskins has repeatedly denied any involvement in her ex-husband’s disappearance, Garcia says he’s not ruling anything out.
“The only person in this case who is not considered a suspect and a person of interest is myself. Everyone else is a possibility, with Carole being a high possibility,” Garcia said.
Earlier this week, a new billboard went up on Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood appealing for more information on the case. A $100,000 reward is being offered.
Anyone with information is asked to call 646-450-6530 or the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at (813) 247-8200.