TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Family members of Don Lewis, the millionaire who went missing in Tampa more than two decades ago, spoke publicly alongside lawyers on Monday, offering a $100,000 reward for information on his disappearance.
“We really need someone to come forward in the case with information,” family spokesperson Jack Smith said. “And there’s a lot of people out there that have information but they’re scared to come forward. There’s people with animals – exotic animals – that are scared if they come forward, they’re gonna lose their animals somehow.”
Next week marks 23 years since Aug. 18, 1997 – the day Lewis vanished without a trace after leaving his home in Tampa.
In addition to the $100,000 reward being offered for information, a lawyer is also offering to help anyone who may have information but fears being charged by representing them pro-bono.
“You’re looking at a criminal defense attorney over here who’s ready to make someone a deal if you have information,” Smith said.
Three of Lewis’ daughters were at Monday’s news conference, asking for answers about what happened to their father. His oldest daughter, Donna Pettis, said the family recently started working with Tampa attorney John Phillips of Phillips and Hunt Law Firm.
“After weeks of interviewing attorneys, we finally found someone that we believe can handle this case,” she said.
Gale Rathbone, Lewis’ youngest daughter, also spoke Monday and said she’s grateful for the coverage and interest in their father’s case.
“Amazingly, our little family tragedy has become your tragedy. Our search for closure and truth has become your mission also,” she said.
Rathbone remembered her father as quirky, intelligent and unique.
“We all know by now that he was not a perfect man. But do only the perfect among us deserve justice?” she said. “We’re asking that anyone with vital information please come forward so that progress can be made on his case.”
“I still to this day miss my dad, I love my dad,” Rathbone added. “For 23 years, I’ve gone to bed every night knowing the only chance I have of seeing him again is in my dreams. For 23 years, I’ve woken every morning to the heartbreak of his strange disappearance.”
What exactly happened to Lewis remains unclear, but there has been much public speculation about his disappearance over the past year after it became one of the main plotlines in “Tiger King,” Netflix’s true crime docuseries about eccentric tiger trader Joe Exotic and his rival Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. Baskin is Lewis’ ex-wife.
In the show, Exotic accuses Baskin of being responsible for Lewis’ disappearance and feeding her husband to the tigers after murdering him.
Since the show aired, an army of truthseekers has taken over the internet to uncover what had happened.
The family has erected four billboards across Tampa asking “Who murdered Don Lewis?”
Baskin had previously responded to Monday’s press conference in an e-mail to 8 On Your Side, saying “I believe it is a publicity stunt orchestrated by Jack Smith to bolster his YouTube views but do hope that all of the attention from Tiger King and the aftermath will result in us finding Don.”