“Tiger King”: Where Is Animal Activist Carole Baskin’s Missing Husband?
Big cat sanctuary owner Don Lewis mysteriously vanished over 20 years ago.
Notice posted on the Twitter account of Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister on Monday, March 30, 2020 [Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister via AP]
On Aug. 18, 1997, exotic cat sanctuary owner Don Lewis left the Tampa home he shared with his wife, Carole Baskin. It was the last time he was ever seen.
The 59-year-old self-made millionaire’s van turned up at a private airport the day after he vanished. Authorities speculated he could have flown to a park he also owned in Costa Rica. He was never located however, and the case went cold.
Over the years, Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, has lobbed accusations at animal activist Baskin, including the claim she murdered her husband and fed his body to their tigers.
Maldonado-Passage reportedly saw Baskin as a threat to his livelihood of breeding tigers and charging visitors to get up close to the cats at his Oklahoma roadside zoo, Exotic Animal Memorial Park.
Baskin, who currently runs the animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, won a million-dollar trademark infringement civil suit against Maldonado-Passage in 2013, allegedly further enraging her arch-nemesis.
Maldonado-Passage’s animosity toward Baskin, 59, allegedly grew so toxic he was convicted in 2019 of two counts of murder-for-hire, among other crimes. In January, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison and is currently behind bars in Fort Worth, Texas.
The new docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness covers 57-year-old Maldonado-Passage’s wild life — and his claims Baskin murdered her husband. Baskin has always denied she killed Lewis or had any involvement in his disappearance.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister watched the seven-part series and held a Facebook Live news conference on Tuesday to discuss Lewis’ case, the New York Times reported.
“The series was entertaining and intriguing and interesting,” he said. “It prompted me to want to take a more in-depth look.”
The Lewis case remains open and detectives are combing through new tips, but there have been no significant developments in years. In 2011, investigators requested Baskin submit to a polygraph, but she refused, according to the New York Times.
“We still have it labeled a missing persons case,” Sheriff Chronister said. “We don’t have any type of evidence, not one piece, that suggests that he was killed.”
However, he added: “We are hoping we can bring some justice and closure to the Lewis family.”
Read more: CrimeFeed