Florida sheriff reports no ‘credible’ tips in disappearance of ‘Tiger King’ millionaire

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Even with an influx of tips about the disappearance of Jack “Don” Lewis, a main subject in “Tiger King,” the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Florida says it still has no credible information.

Lewis, the 81-year-old husband of Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin, was last seen in August 1997.

His disappearance is a major subplot in the Netflix hit documentary series “Tiger King,” leading HCSO Sheriff Chad Chronister to revisit the case and call for new leads into the missing millionaire.

Chronister said during a news conference Tuesday that his department has received an average of six new tips a day since the series was released, but nothing credible has come from them yet.

“Most are more theories of who individuals believe committed the homicide or that it even was a homicide,” the sheriff told the New York Daily News.

The cold case was never closed, but Chronister said HCSO has now assigned a detective to deal with the tips.

“If you’ve seen the series, because of the competition between the people that had the different cat rescues, there were a lot of questions about who was loyal,” Chronister said.

“What we’re hoping is maybe someone has had a change of heart, maybe a relationship status has changed.”

Chronister said everyone involved in Lewis’ disappearance was interviewed through a polygraph test except for Baskin, who refused to under orders from her attorney.

The sheriff’s office said nothing has come from “Tiger King” that detectives had not already investigated, but Chronister still asked for people to continue sending in tips.

Joe Exotic has fueled speculation that Baskin is behind her husband’s disappearance, accusing her of killing him to gain control of Big Cat Rescue and his wealth.

In a blog post after “Tiger King” was released, Baskin denied the allegations.

“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. I encouraged them to check out the rumors from Costa Rica, and separately I hired a private investigator.”

Baskin also called speculation that she fed Lewis’ body through the Big Cat Rescue meat grinder “the most ludicrous of all the lies” and claimed that her husband was suffering from Alzheimer’s before his disappearance.

Chronister said Tuesday that both meat grinders on the property had been removed “several weeks before” Lewis disappeared and detectives had “no reason” to test them.

He also said the septic tank at Big Cat Rescue, which people in “Tiger King” speculated was where Lewis’ body was kept, wasn’t installed until years after he disappeared.

Baskin’s brother, who worked with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at the time of Lewis’ disappearance, retired more than five years ago, Chronister said Tuesday. Her brother had been in the same area as Baskin’s broken-down car the night before her husband went missing, when she ran out at 3 a.m., supposedly to pick up milk at the grocery store. Some have doubted the coincidence.

“I can refute the fact that he was even part of it that night,” Chronister said.

The seven-episode true-crime series has been one of Netflix’s most popular titles since it was released earlier in March.

“Tiger King” follows a group of intermingled “big cat people,” including Baskin and Joe Exotic, in a convoluted tale of animal rights activists, zoos and polygamy.

Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was found guilty in April 2019 of 19 federal counts, including twice hiring hitmen to have Baskin killed. Neither attempt was successful.


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