As the rumors about what really happened to "Tiger King" star Carole Baskin’s missing husband continue to swirl, a Florida county sheriff has spoken out to deny any law enforcement cover-up in the case.
Intrigue into the disappearance of Baskin’s former husband Jack "Don" Lewis reignited after Baskin was featured in the recent Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.”
The docu-series primarily focused on the wild antics of Oklahoma zoo owner Joe Exotic, but the series also devoted an episode to the varying theories around Lewis’ mysterious 1997 disappearance.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister directly addressed one theory in an interview with Fox Nation host Nancy Grace that Baskin, the founder of Big Cat Rescue animal sanctuary in Tampa, enlisted the help of her brother, a deputy sheriff on the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office on the night Lewis disappeared.
“If you dare to Google yourself, you’re going to find out that there’s a conspiracy theory going on and a suggestion of a cover-up,” Grace said. “She had a brother on your force, on the sheriff department force. … What do you say to claims that he helped her cover up a murder and that he helped her that night?”
Chronister replied, “I would say those claims are false.”
He went on to say that Baskin’s brother had actually been on another call that night and had someone under arrest in his car and later booked the individual into the jail.
“Any type of theory of cover-up is dispelled when you can track back and see that his actions that night were accounted for,” Chronister said in the episode.
Baskin, who has repeatedly denied having any involvement in Lewis' disappearance, has said that on the night he disappeared, she'd gone to the grocery store at around 3 a.m. to get milk for her tiger cubs.
While she was out, her vehicle broke down and she reached out to her brother.
“[Baskin’s brother] had asked for one of his other friends, another deputy to please take her home,” Chronister told Grace. “Another deputy sheriff did pick her up from the Albertson’s and give her a ride back to the animal sanctuary.”
Baskin has said that before Lewis disappeared, he told her that he was planning to wake up early to transport cars to Costa Rica. Lewis regularly traveled to Costa Rica and had been considering moving the couple’s cub-breeding operation to the country.
His van was later found at an airport about 40 miles away from Tampa, sparking speculation by some that Lewis had willingly left the country.
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department patrol sergeant Greg Thomas, who worked on homicide and cold cases for the department, told Oxygen.com in an earlier interview that there was some speculation his disappearance could have been part of an “insurance scam type of thing” and said there was reports that he was “supposedly sighted” in Costa Rica a few years after he vanished. Detectives went to the country to investigate, but were unable to verify the claims.
In his interview with Grace, Chronister said he believes Lewis met with foul play and never left the country at all.
"This individual was murdered and this individual never left the country," he said. "I think it was staged and meant to appear like someone had just pulled up, parked, and I think they wanted us to believe that he would never [have] intended on returning and that he had left.”
Chronister said he is not naming Baskin as a person of interest in the case and said there were others who could have “benefited” from Lewis’ death.
"Since @netflix and #Covid19 #Quarantine has made #TigerKing all the rage, I figured it was a good time to ask for new leads," he wrote, along with a image saying “Only YOU can help solve the Jack ‘Don’ Lewis case.”
The case has generated numerous rumors, including one that Lewis may have been shoved off an airplane over the Gulf of Mexico, or had been experiencing marital problems with Baskin, which she has denied.
“We were not heading for divorce,” she previously told Oxygen.com. “Don was suffering mentally and I was desperately trying to get him help.”
She has claimed that before he disappeared, Lewis had begun exhibiting signs of mental deterioration.
One of the more outlandish theories – that Baskin killed Lewis and fed him to their tigers – was promoted by Joe Exotic, who made a country music video featuring a Baskin lookalike feeding her spouse’s remains to big cats.
Baskin addressed some of the rumors brought up in the docuseries on her blog.
“It has a segment devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don 21 years ago,” she wrote. “The series presents this without any regard for the truth or in most cases even giving me an opportunity before publication to rebut the absurd claims.”
The investigation into Lewis’ disappearance continues and is officially listed as a missing persons case, Thomas said.
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