Tiger King‘s Carole Baskin is many things: big cat lover, catchphrase coiner, leonine print wearer, the subject of a debunked conspiracy theory featuring Britney Spears and the 2002 VMAs. She was also, as the series explores at length, a person of interest in the disappearance of her former husband, Jack Donald “Don” Lewis, a Florida millionaire who vanished in 1996.
Baskin has vigorously denied playing any role in her former husband’s disappearance, which she reiterated today in a blog post on the website for Big Cat Rescue, referring to the filmmakers’ focus on such rumors as “unsavory lies.” Yet following the enormous success of the Netflix series, with many viewers (probably you!) obsessively Googling everything Tiger King-related, a Florida sheriff is capitalizing on the renewed interest in Lewis’s disappearance by requesting tips associated with the case.
“Since Netflix and #Covid19 #quarantine has made #TigerKing all the rage, I figured it was a good time to ask for new leads,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister tweeted on March 30th.
According to a press conference held by Chronister, the department has gotten about six tips a day regarding the case, though few of them have been substantive. “There’s just no real charges or evidence leading to probable cause,” Chronister said during a Zoom conference. “That still holds true, [but] we are hoping that changes the more people watch this show.”
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
As those who watch the show know, Lewis and Baskin ran a wildlife sanctuary in Tampa when he disappeared in August 1997. After Baskin reported his disappearance, Lewis’s van was found at a nearby airport, and Baskin told authorities that he had planned to transport cars to Costa Rica the evening before his disappearance.
During the press conference, Chronister said that Baskin had directly declined a polygraph during the investigation, saying her attorney had instructed her not to take it because it wouldn’t exonerate her or prevent her from being charged. She has never faced any charges related to Lewis’s disappearance, and the case is still open to this day.
Tiger King focuses on the speculation over whether Baskin was behind Lewis’s disappearance, most notably voiced by members of Lewis’s family (including his first wife and daughters) and Joe Exotic, the flamboyant owner of a big cat park in Oklahoma.
Exotic has long been embroiled in a rivalry with Baskin over her claims that his zoo exploited tigers and tiger cubs by, among other things, allowing guests to pet and pose for photos with them. Joe Exotic is currently serving 22 years in prison for allegedly hiring a hitman to kill Baskin. (Exotic maintains he was set up, and has filed a $94 million lawsuit to this effect.)
Although Chronister said his office has not yet received any valuable tips related to Lewis’s disappearance, he is soliciting any new information. “I can’t even begin to describe how complicated this case is,” Chronister said. “Everyone had their own theory.”
Additional reporting by Andrea Marks.