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A Florida sheriff who has been working a missing person case central to Netflix’s “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” remarked that he thinks it could have been a murder, though his office hasn't officially classified it as such.
Following the wild success of the docuseries, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister began asking the public for leads in the disappearance of millionaire Jack Donald Lewis, known more commonly as Don Lewis.
Lewis vanished without a trace in August 1997. At the time, he and his wife Carole Baskin were running Wildlife on Easy Street, a sanctuary for exotic cats in Tampa. Two days after he disappeared, his van was found at an airport about 40 miles from Tampa, People reported in 1998.
While “Tiger King” focuses primarily on eccentric Oklahoma zookeeper Joe Exotic and his downfall for plotting to kill Baskin, who had become a rival, it also devotes a lot of time to a theory that Baskin may have killed her husband. Exotic had even made a country music video featuring a Baskin lookalike feeding what is meant to be Lewis' remains to tigers. Baskin — founder of the Tampa, Florida-based Big Cat Rescue — has vehemently denied such allegations.
In an interview with People, published Wednesday, Chronister hinted that he too believes that Lewis may have been killed. However, he noted that Baskin is not a suspect or even a person of interest.
“I believe it was a homicide,” he said. “Now how and who’s responsible for it? That’s the unknown part right now. I wish I had more answers. I only hope, with the popularity of this Netflix series, that I’ll get those answers.”
He added that he doubts that someone with Lewis’ wealth would have run away, leaving his assets behind.
Amanda Granit, the public relations coordinator for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office told Oxygen.com that despite Chronister remarks, the case is not considered a homicide. She said that the quote was taken out of context and said that Chronister was merely theorizing. She said the case remains a missing persons investigation.
Chronister was unable to speak to Oxygen.com. He did offer hope for a resolution to the case during his interview with People.
“We’re getting about six tips a day," he said. "So far, nothing viable. More theory-driven. But I’m going to be honest with you: I remain optimistic. Somebody’s going to watch this show and it’s going to prompt them to call us.”
A representative for Baskin said she is not doing interviews at this time. However, Baskin has maintained she had nothing to do with Lewis' disappearance.
"Don was not easy to live with and like most couples we had our moments," she wrote in a blog post following the docuseries' release. "But I never threatened him and I certainly had nothing to do with his disappearance."
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