As the Netflix docu-series Tiger King continues its viral dominance in the age of social distancing, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister has latched onto the social media heat generated from the show. Chronister is looking for any information that could solve the 1997 cold case surrounding Jack “Don” Lewis, whose disappearance was featured prominently in the Netflix show.
Lewis was the multi-millionaire owner of the Big Cat Rescue animal sanctuary before he went missing in August 1997. His then-wife Carole Baskin, who now owns the sanctuary, is a central character in Tiger King where she’s targeted by eccentric animal trainer Joe Exotic in a murder-for-hire plot. Exotic also “wrote” a country song where he accuses Baskin of feeding her missing husband to the tigers at her sanctuary.
The mysterious circumstances surrounding Lewis’ disappearance are the perfect fodder for a true crime series. The millionaire vanished without a trace, and two days after he was reported missing, police found his van at an airport 40 miles away. Several theories implicating Baskin sprang up at the time, but she has maintained her innocence, according to Oxygen. The activist has maintained that she had not planned to divorce Lewis despite rumors to the contrary, but they were having trouble with their marriage due to her belief that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s:
She said he was having trouble with short-term memory, had taken to hoarding vehicles and “junk” and had “deteriorated into dumpster diving” to feed those impulses. In one instance, she said, he “even got stuck in a dumpster and called me crying because he did not know where he was.”
Lewis’ former attorney Joe Fritz painted a different picture in the docuseries, however, saying his former client knew exactly what was going on. Wendell Williams, Lewis’ former business associate, likewise told producers the claims of mental deterioration were “all bull,” and accused Baskin of “setting the stage for the dementia and Alzheimer’s” so it would make more sense if he just up and vanished.
However, one fact that has worked in Baskin’s favor is that she claims he took off to Costa Rica, which the Tiger King filmmakers revealed was something Lewis often did for “sexual dalliances.” In a blog post defending her innocence, Baskin wrote that Lewis would fly there whenever she was menstruating. She also claims that a caretaker saw Lewis alive in Costa Rica after his disappearance.
However, judging by the Sheriff’s recent tweet, it doesn’t seem like he’s sold on Baskin’s story.