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Is 'Tiger King' Star Carole Baskin's Missing Husband Actually Alive? Florida Sheriff's Office Say They've Heard Nothing
In a recently resurfaced 2021 interview, Carole Baskin references a purported Homeland Security document indicating Don Lewis was alive and well in Costa Rica, but the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating Lewis' 1997 disappearance, say they've heard nothing to that effect.
If "Tiger King" star Carole Baskin's missing husband is alive and well in Costa Rica, it's news to the Florida sheriff's office that's been investigating his disappearance.
The surprising claim about Don Lewis' whereabouts, which has sent social media into a tizzy, stems from a resurfaced November 2021 interview that Baskin, 61, did with British broadcaster ITV's "This Morning," during which she references purported documents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that made their way into season two of the Netflix show. The documents reference Lewis, who disappeared in 1997, being alive in Costa Rica.
“And yet all of this hay has been made about me having something to do with his disappearance, when Homeland Security has known where he is at least since back then,” Baskin told ITV. “So, I don’t know how it is that Homeland Security says he’s alive and well in Costa Rica, but I’m glad to hear of it.”
The documents, and Baskin's interview, somehow avoided widespread attention until this week.
However, the Department of Homeland Security hasn't publicly confirmed the documents, or its contents, as authentic. And the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which has an open missing persons case on Lewis, say they've heard nothing on the matter.
“We have not received any communication from our federal partners that confirms the location of missing person Mr. Don Lewis,” a representative from the sheriff's office told Oxygen.com. “The investigation into Don Lewis’ disappearance remains a priority for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, as do all missing person cases.”
Baskin shot to national prominence in 2020 with the release of Netflix's wildly popular "Tiger King," which followed the life of Oklahoma zookeeper Joe Exotic. Exotic, whose legal name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was tried and convicted of hiring a hitman to kill Baskin, who runs the Tampa-based Big Cat Rescue and was a frequent foe of Exotic and his zoo over their treatment and breeding of big cats, particularly tigers. In the show, Exotic alleged Baskin killed her former husband, and even made a country music video of a Baskin lookalike feeding Lewis’ remains to her tigers. The popularity of the show prompted the Hillsborough County sheriff to ask for new leads on the cold case.
Baskin has steadfastly denied allegations that she had anything to do with Lewis’ disappearance.
Lewis was a self-made millionaire who disappeared on Aug. 18, 1997, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The next day, authorities found his van at a private Pasco County airport with the keys on the floor. In the days before his disappearance, Lewis bought a plane ticket to Costa Rica, where he owns a 200-acre park. The Tampa Bay Times reports at the time, authorities flew to Costa Rica looking for leads, but never found him.
In her “Big Cat Rescue” blog, Baskin theorized Lewis was flying planes without a license and could have gone to Costa Rica without anyone knowing. On Nov. 18, 2021, she posted about a moment in the second season of the show that showed screenshots of a document allegedly from the Department of Homeland Security saying it had “learned that Don Lewis is currently alive and well in Costa Rica” and that agents contacted Hillsborough Detective Jorge Fernandez and advised him of Lewis’ whereabouts. Oxygen.com followed up with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office about this specific claim and has not yet received a response.
Baskin told Oxygen.com she “was not aware of the Homeland Security document saying Don was alive and well in Costa Rica until TK2 aired in Nov. 2021,” but declined to comment further.
John Phillips, the attorney for Joe Exotic, posted a statement on Facebook Wednesday reacting to the claims.
“During the filming of Tiger King, detailed efforts were made to find Don Lewis. They all failed. He is not alive. The 2021 report by Carole Baskin was further unsupported allegation. It’s being republished as if it has veracity. It doesn’t.”
Oxygen.com has reached out to the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Netflix for an update on the missing persons case, and to find out if the document shown in the second season of “Tiger King” is authentic, but did not immediately hear back.
Anyone with information on Don Lewis’ whereabouts is urged to contact the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at (813) 247-8200.