- Jack Donald Lewis disappeared in August of 1997.
- At the time, many people thought the eccentric big cat owner left on his own or that his wife killed him.
- Now that the disappearance has been featured in the wildly popular Netflix docuseries ‘Tiger King,’ a local sheriff is seeking new leads in the cold case.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
“Tiger King,” a seven episode true crime docuseries exposing the eccentricities of big cat breeder culture in the US, is occupying the screens and minds of social distancers everywhere.
The show follows, among other things, Joe Exotic – a mulleted, gun-toting polygamist – and his obsessive hatred of the owner of Big Cat Animal Rescue, Carole Baskin.
Baskin’s former husband Jack Donald Lewis mysteriously disappeared in 1997 and now, citing the popularity of the series, the sheriff of the Florida County where the couple lived is seeking new leads in the cold case.
“Since Netflix and Covid19 quarantine has made ‘Tiger King’ all the rage, I figured it was a good time to ask for new leads, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a hashtag riddled tweet Monday.
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 pic.twitter.com/LHoJcBZVOI
— Chad Chronister (@ChadChronister) March 30, 2020
In addition to running an animal sanctuary for tigers and other large cats, Carole Baskin is also an advocate for banning the trade and ownership of exotic cats.
Joe Exotic, who owned an Oklahoma zoo and was found guilty of trying to pay a hitman to kill Baskin, had made it a hobby to shed light on Lewis’ disappearance.
His daily videos and broadcasts gave voice to the longstanding rumours that Baskin had killed Lewis, including claims that she had run his body through a meat grinder on the sanctuary property and fed him to the tigers.
Baskin recently refuted those allegations and said that the Netflix series was full of lies.
“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 documentary that exposed abuse at SeaWorld) that would expose the misery caused by the rampant breeding of big cat cubs for cub petting exploitation and the awful life the cats lead in roadside zoos and back yards if they survive,” she wrote on Facebook. “There are not words for how disappointing it is to see that the series not only does not do any of that, but has had the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers.”
The series wasn’t the first time that Baskin had been eyed in the disappearance, though.
At first, many believed that Jack Don Lewis, a known eccentric and pilot, likely left on his own, according to a 1998 Tampa Bay Times story.
Then, with the surfacing of a restraining order that Lewis had taken out against his wife, that theory started to look less likely.
Lewis’ grown children told the Tampa Bay Times at the time they thought their dad had been killed.
Lynda Sanchez, Lewis’ daughter, told the Times that it was unusual for her father not to call to check-in after leaving on a trip.
“Every one of us . . . have volunteered to take a lie detector test,” Sanchez told the Times. “Carole is the only one that will not take one.”
In her Facebook comments, Baskin said that Lewis’ ex-wife and daughters had selfish motivations to lie in the documentary.
“Don was not easy to live with and like most couples, we had our moments. But I never threatened him and I certainly had nothing to do with his disappearance,” she wrote. “When he disappeared, I did everything I could to assist the police.”