One of the most intriguing stories examined in Netflix’s ‘Tiger King’ was the mysterious disappearance of Don Lewis. Don’s wife at the time, Carole Baskin, lived under a cloud of suspicion ever since the incident. Now, the show’s second season delves deeper into the case, providing information regarding Don’s trips to Costa Rica and his dealings there. So, if you’re wondering what happened to Don and about the circumstances leading to his disappearance, we’ve got you covered.
What Happened to Don Lewis?
Jack Donald Lewis was from Dade City, Florida. His early jobs included selling washing machines and cars after repairing them. In 1981, Don met a 19-year-old Carole on a street in Tampa, Florida. Then in his 40s, the two began an affair that lasted about a decade before Don divorced his wife. They married in 1991 and eventually started a wildlife sanctuary for big cats. Don, an eccentric millionaire, was known to make frequent trips to Costa Rica.
On August 18, 1997, the 60-year-old made deliveries at around 6 AM at his lawyer’s office. He was never seen alive again. Carole filed a missing person report the very next day, but a search for him turned up nothing. On August 20, Don’s abandoned van was located at a private airport in Pasco County, Florida. The keys were found on the floorboard, but no clues regarding his whereabouts were. While Don did know how to fly, his license had been suspended. Over the years, multiple theories have been floated regarding Don’s disappearance, but none were concrete enough to act on.
Is Don Lewis Dead or Alive?
Initially, Carole told the authorities that Don was supposed to fly to Costa Rica to move some of his vehicles there. Officers learned that the signs he was supposed to drop off at his lawyer’s office were there when the office opened. However, nobody saw him deliver them. While the van was found about 40 miles from Don and Carole’s sanctuary, there were no further leads. His credit cards were never used after he vanished. The sanctuary was searched as well, but there was no evidence of foul play.
Authorities learned that there were indications of Don having extramarital affairs in Costa Rica. Plus, there were questions regarding his business dealings there. Furthermore, about two months before he vanished, Don filed for a domestic violence injunction against Carole, claiming that she threatened to kill him. However, the judge denied it, and Don continued to live with Carole. When questioned, she denied having ever threatened her husband.
But Carole refused to cooperate with the investigators. At her lawyer’s advice, she didn’t take a polygraph test either. She said, “I would rather be cooperative, but all the legal advice is against it.” Carole also claimed that in the time leading up to Don’s disappearance, he had short-term memory loss, and at one point, he “even got stuck in a dumpster and called me crying because he did not know where he was.”
Don also had contemplated moving the sanctuary to Costa Rica, where he owned a lot of property. In 1997, he transferred ownership of some of his properties to a Costa Rican company he owned. There were unconfirmed reports of him possibly being in Costa Rica, but Don was not found there. About five years after his disappearance, Don was declared dead.
The first season of ‘Tiger King’ alluded to Carole’s involvement in Don vanishing, with Joe Exotic claiming that she fed Don to the tigers. However, Carole has always maintained her innocence. In a recent AMA on Reddit, Carole stated that she believed Don crashed a plane into the Gulf. She said that despite a suspended license, Don still flew, but under the radar to avoid detection.
The show, though, brought renewed interest to the case, with the investigation into his disappearance taking off all of a sudden. The police have said that the initial inquiry garnered no physical evidence, and there was nothing to point to Carole or anyone else as the suspect. Also, Chad Chronister, the Sheriff of Hillsborough County, Florida, believed that Don may have been murdered “in a sophisticated plan that involved staging Lewis’ van at an airport.”
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