The Untold Truth Of Carole Baskin's Missing Husband, Don Lewis

Oh, Tiger King. Just when one story seems too implausible to believe on the Netflix docuseries, another character comes along with their own wild history. First, we meet Joe Exotic, a sensational big cats enthusiast with a blonde mullet and an eyebrow piercing that hangs on for dear life. Joe is totally entertaining enough to hold a captive audience, but Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness doesn't stop there. Along comes Carole Baskin, the "Mother Teresa" of big cats — at least according to her current husband, Howard Baskin.

But Carole may not be a saint after all. As the docuseries unfolds, viewers discover that this mother-of-tigers might have a few skeletons of her own in the closet. We're talking about her former husband, who disappeared one day and was literally never heard from again. Jack Don Lewis went missing on Aug. 18, 1997, and has never been seen since, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

So who was the man known as Don Lewis, and what the heck happened all those years ago?

Don Lewis picked up Carole Baskin on the side of the road

The case of Don Lewis' disappearance was never officially closed, but until Tiger King catapulted his story into the headlines again, there had not been much activity for years. According to The New York Times, police asked Carole to take a lie detector test in 2011, but she refused.

When Lewis vanished in 1997, his disappearance did make headlines. As People reported in 1998, he was a self-made millionaire who "amassed a small fortune through trucking, used cars and real estate." Lewis reportedly married a woman named Gladys, and together they had three daughters and an adopted son. That all changed in 1981, when Lewis apparently spotted a young woman walking barefoot on the side of the highway. He circled around repeatedly to check up on her, and she eventually joined him in his car. That woman was Carole Baskin, who was apparently escaping a fight from her then-husband, per People.

Baskin, her daughter, and Lewis began a new life together. As a gift, he bought his new lady love a bobcat she named Windsong, and this began their fascination with big cats. They bought more than bobcat kittens, according to People, to save them from a fur farm, and before you know it, the couple had rescued more than 200 cats and opened a sanctuary called Big Cat Rescue.

There was trouble in paradise for Don Lewis and Carole Baskin

The relationship between Carole Baskin and Don Lewis became contentious. After Lewis disappeared in 1997, police found out that he "had filed court documents seeking a domestic-violence injunction against Carole," alleging she had threatened to shoot him, reported People. The request for a restraining order was denied, and Lewis and Baskin continued to reside together.

Reports surrounding Lewis' disappearance lead nowhere. His van was found at an airport just 40 miles from Big Cat Rescue, but none of his credit cards were ever used again, according to People. Lewis owned property in Costa Rica and loved it there, so both the police (and a private eye hired by Carole) reportedly looked for him there but came up empty-handed.

Lewis' disappearance fueled a feud between Carole and his former wife and children, who have speculated that Carole killed him and fed him to her tigers. Joe Exotic ran with this theory, and even put out a music video called "Here Kitty Kitty." In the vid, a Carole Baskin look-alike feeds pieces of meat to a tiger from a platter with a man's human head on it. Joe, by the way, is currently behind bars after being convicted of conspiring to kill Baskins.

Tiger King cracks open the case into Don Lewis' disappearance

Law enforcement is taking a fresh look at the unsolved disappearance of Carole Baskin's former husband, Don Lewis. According to The New York Times, Chad Chronister, sheriff of Hillsborough County, Fla., watched the Tiger King docuseries and then held a "Facebook Live news conference in his kitchen" to discuss the case. 

"We are already receiving new tips and we hope to close this cold case soon with the help of the public," Chronister told CNN. "Since the documentary came out we've been receiving about six tips a day related to this case. We are looking into each one thoroughly."

"The case remains open we never close a cold case," he said, per CNN. The sheriff even tweeted about the case (above) and said he'd assigned an investigator to follow fresh leads, though none have been credible to date. "We still have it labeled a missing persons case," Chronister said, per the Times. "We don't have any type of evidence, not one piece, that suggests that he was killed."