Netflix series “Tiger King” launches flood of police reports on Don Lewis cold case

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It has been 23 years since the owner of multimillionaire big cat sanctuary Don Lewis disappeared into the air. But now advice is flocking to a Florida sheriff’s department following a successful Netflix documentary series.

“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” became a huge television hit during the coronavirus pandemic, attracting an obsessive audience, including celebrities like Kim Kardashian.

Among those who watched the seven-part series was Chad Chronister, the sheriff of Hillsborough County, Florida, where ring binders from the original missing persons case were gathering dust.

Lewis was declared legally dead in 2002. But in recent days, the sheriff’s office has been inundated with calls. Sheriff Chronister, speaking by videoconference from Florida, said, “We are trying to catch up because of the popularity of this series. Because of the phenomenon that happened on Netflix. I assigned a detective supervisor to manage all the leads. from.

“I can’t even begin to describe the complexity of this case to you. Everyone around her [Mr Lewis’s] the disappearance had its own theory. Some people believe that it was in a meat grinder, fed on tigers, others said that he had been kidnapped or killed in Costa Rica. “

The Netflix series features Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic”, a former Oklahoma zoo keeper who loves big cats and guns.

Earlier this year, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in a conspiracy to murder murder.

He was found guilty of trying to hire someone to kill the widow of Don Lewis, animal activist Carole Baskin. She was co-owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida with Mr. Lewis. Ms. Baskin had attempted to close “Joe Exotic”. In retaliation, “Joe Exotic” raised questions about the disappearance of Mr. Lewis, even suggesting that Ms. Baskin had killed her husband and fed the bodies of their tigers. Baskin, who has never been charged with any crime, vehemently refuted the allegations, which were explored in the Netflix documentary.

She called the series “salacious and sensational” and based on “lies and innuendos of people who are not credible”.

A spokeswoman for Big Cat Rescue added, “We hope the sheriff’s plea for leads will provide new information about what happened to Don Lewis. Sheriff Chronister said that Ms. Baskin refused, on the advice of her lawyer, to take a lie test. in 2011. But he added, “I can’t say she was uncooperative by any means. “

The sheriff said he was able to rule out two theories – that of a meat grinder and that Mr. Lewis was buried under a septic tank at Big Cat Rescue.

He said: “The two meat grinders they had on the property, to feed all lions and tigers, were removed several weeks before his disappearance.

The septic tank was not installed until years later, so it was irrelevant. “

The sheriff added, “Due to the competition between people who had different cat rescues, there were a lot of questions and theories about who was loyal, who was really there as a spy, it was like if these people had to constantly prove their allegiance to the owners of the various rescues.

“We hope someone has changed their minds, maybe the status of a relationship has changed. Anything that will help us solve this case. Detectives may also be sent to Costa Rica to examine Mr. Lewis’ trade relations there. In 1997, his van was found at a private airport.

But he had two known passports, and neither reported him to have left the country.

As to whether the documentary series was accurate, the sheriff said, “I thought it was interesting. They certainly turned it for entertainment in certain directions. I mean, raise your hand if you are not a fan of “Joe Exotic”, if you are not rooting for this individual? “

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