Investigation launched into disappearance of ex-husband of ‘Tiger King’ star

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Netflix’s ‘Tiger King’ may help in solving 1997 cold case

An independent investigation has been launched into the 1997 disappearance of Don Lewis, a big cat animal sanctuary owner from Florida whose unsolved cold case was recently chronicled in the wildly popular Netflix true-crime series “Tiger King.”

A $100,000 reward is also being offered for information that could help solve the mystery in which Lewis, a self-made millionaire, was declared legally dead in 2002.

No one has ever been arrested or charged.

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At the time of his disappearance, Lewis was married to Carole Baskin, an animal rights activist and central figure on the “Tiger King” series. The couple met in 1981 and co-owned the sanctuary Wildlife on Easy Street in Tampa, Florida, which was later renamed Big Cat Rescue, which Baskin still runs today.

Lewis family attorney John Phillips announced the probe during a Monday news conference that was also attended by Lewis’ family members. During his statement, Phillips revealed that his legal team had filed a lawsuit to compel Baskin to speak about the matter on the record.

“Justice is spelled one way, but defined in many different ways,” Phillips said in a statement. “After meeting with the family, justice to them is primarily defined by answers to what happened to Lewis, but also includes a full and open criminal investigation and the taking of statements under oath and subpoenas.”

Phillips urged Baskin or anyone else with information to come forward.

“Resolving this case is in everyone’s best interest,” Phillips said at the Riverhills Church of God in Tampa.

Baskin continues to deny that she had any involvement.

In an email to local news outlet WFLA, Baskin addressed Lewis’ family’s investigation.

“I believe it is a publicity stunt orchestrated by (family spokesman) Jack Smith to bolster his YouTube views but do hope that all of the attention from Tiger King and the aftermath will result in us finding Don,” she wrote.

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Lewis disappeared on the morning of Aug. 18, 1997, after leaving his house in Tampa. Two days later, his van was found 40 miles away. Police found no signs of foul play.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office investigated and even flew to Costa Rica where Lewis owned property, but there was no sign of him.

Years later, most of his estate was left to Baskin.

“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” debuted on March 20 — a documentary rife with dysfunction and corruption among a cast of unsavory characters.

The series explores the esoteric world of big cat collectors and their rivalry with animal conservationists. One such feud developed between Baskin and an Oklahoma zookeeper by the name of Joe Exotic.

Years of retaliatory barbs between the two eventually led to a failed murder-for-hire plot and a lengthy federal prison sentence for Exotic.

The series was viewed by more than 34 million people during its first 10 days of release, according to Nielsen ratings.

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