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Tiger King 2: What We Learned About Carole Baskin's Ex-Husband's Disappearance

The story of Netflix's "Tiger King" is complex, to put it mildly. As the first season of the docuseries unfolds, audiences learn of murder plots, disappearances, arson, extortion — and of course, the exhibition tigers and other wild cats at independent parks across the United States. When the series premiered back in March 2020 (the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic), it garnered a lot of attention very fast due to the unbelievable nature of the show — and an unusually captive audience. Much like the people who came to witness the wild cats at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, viewers came to behold the wildlife featured in the documentary as well as Joe Exotic and his archenemy, Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin.

It is revealed late in "Tiger King" Season 1 that Exotic allegedly had plans to kill Baskin, going so far as to hire a hitman to do the job. Exotic was arrested and sentenced to 22 years in federal prison for conspiracy to murder. Throughout the Netflix docuseries, Exotic claims Baskin killed her ex-husband, Don Lewis, who has been missing since 1997 — a claim Baskin vehemently denied in an open letter on her website — and was declared legally dead in 2002. 

Here's what we know about Don Lewis and the details surrounding his disappearance.

Lewis was a multimillionaire at the time he disappeared

Don Lewis reportedly lived comfortably as a resident of Tampa, Florida. Dabbling in multiple businesses, Lewis made a significant profit, establishing a real estate portfolio worth $5 million at the time of his disappearance (via People). According to CBS News, during his first marriage, he started having multiple affairs, including the nearly 10-year affair with Carole Baskin. During this time, Baskin was married to her first husband, Michael Murdock. Throughout their affair in the '80s, she helped him increase profits through real estate. Baskin and Lewis married in 1991, and they opened their big cat sanctuary in Tampa in 1992 — Wildlife on Easy Street, until it was later known as Big Cat Rescue when Baskin renamed it with her new husband, Howard Baskin (via Big Cat Rescue's official site).

In "Tiger King 2" Episode 2, it is revealed that Lewis began frequenting Costa Rica soon after he married Baskin, engaging in even more affairs and falling in love with the country so much that he decided to take ownership of a company there. Following this, he began slowly moving his assets and large amounts of cash there with plans to leave the country. He disappeared one morning in the late '90s when loading a truck headed for Miami, not long after getting a plane ticket to Costa Rica.

Baskin claims Lewis was having mental lapses

Not long after Don Lewis went missing, Carole Baskin was questioned by investigators. She claimed that Lewis had been disoriented, rummaging through dumpsters, losing his short-term memory, and showing signs of Alzheimer's disease in the same open letter (via Oxygen) where she refuted other claims made in the Netflix docuseries. It was revealed in "Tiger King" Season 1, Episode 3 by one of Lewis' associates that he had told Baskin Lewis wanted a divorce on multiple occasions; she claimed that she didn't think he was serious about it. However, Lewis' personal attorney stepped forward in the episode to push back on Baskin's suggestion that her first husband was suffering from Alzheimer's, and that he had instead taken steps to distance himself from her before his disappearance. 

Per CBS News, Lewis filed a restraining order against Baskin in July 1997, claiming she threatened to kill him and also hid his gun so he couldn't defend himself. However, Lewis' restraining order was ultimately denied and Baskin claimed he only did it in the first place because she would throw away some of his things from Costa Rica when he came back from trips.

Tiger King raised questions about Baskin's side of the story

On "Tiger King 2" Episode 2, much is revealed surrounding the circumstances of Don Lewis' disappearance that raised some questions surrounding Carole Baskin's claims in the case. The first of which is the will that Baskin filed on Lewis' behalf only one month after he vanished. That, however, wasn't the most unusual part, according to law firm Palmer & Slay and Lewis' own daughters. Along with the will, Baskin filed a durable power of attorney document that had detailed language giving her total control over Lewis' remaining assets in the event he became disabled or disappeared. This kind of language isn't traditionally found in most power of attorney documents.

"Tiger King 2" also details Lewis' daughters' suspicion of Baskin regarding these documents. They even go as far as to hire experts in an attempt to prove that the documents she had provided were forged. Baskin hired her own experts in return and eventually, the pursuit was dropped by Lewis' daughters due to the damage it would do to their trust funds if they pursued it further (via Clarion Ledger). However, that's not the only thing that Lewis' daughters have pursued Baskin for.

Lewis' daughters filed a lawsuit against Baskin in 2020

After "Tiger King" became a hit following its premiere in early 2020, Carole Baskin gained a lot of attention, appearing on television talk shows like "Good Morning America" and even competing in "Dancing with the Stars." According to Entertainment Tonight, Lewis' daughters' sued Baskin for defamation after a couple of appearances on "Dancing with the Stars" where she didn't correct statements on Lewis that judges made on the show, along with her being complicit when it came to jokes about Lewis. In a statement to ET from John Phillips, the former Lewis family attorney, similar malicious statements were made back in 1998 in a prior lawsuit from Lewis' former executive assistant, Anne McQueen.

Phillips went on to note that Baskin is frequently allowed to provide her narrative to the viewing public through her fame from "Tiger King." Speaking to Entertainment Tonight in September 2020, he stated, "All the messaging about Carole and her fame comes at [the] peril [of Lewis' family]. There was 'Tiger King' – and it focused on the exotic animal industry — but a lot of it was about the death and disappearance of Don Lewis." He went on to say this allowed her the opportunity to have some control of the public perception of her involvement in this case.

Tiger King 2 has revealed more on the disappearance of Don Lewis

On "Tiger King 2," an unnamed guest member who seemingly knew Don Lewis personally concurred with Carole Baskin's ex-boyfriend, Alan Schreier, about Lewis' involvement with shady people. He noted that Lewis said he was in danger and owed money to some people in the United States (via Mirror). As easy as it is for audiences to infer what happened to Lewis based on this statement, the Baskin-related restraining order, power of attorney document suspicions, and other information covered in "Tiger King" still arguably raise questions about her narrative.

One of the biggest reveals that we have seen in "Tiger King 2" has been the document from the Department of Homeland Security that notes Lewis is "alive and well" in Costa Rica, potentially changing everything surrounding the case (via E! Online). The agency has made no statement as of yet on the information, though Baskin has been quick to comment that the discovery has been "one of the really exciting things that came out of 'Tiger King 2,'" in a November interview with British network show "This Morning" (via YouTube). She added that "all this hay has been made about me having something to do with his disappearance, when Homeland Security has known where he is, at least since back then."

In Episode 2 of "Tiger King 2," an attorney of Lewis' named Joseph Fritz noted that he was contacted by a detective after the first season of the show who was frustrated as he had to "overcome" federal documents that showed his client was alive and well. Lewis' daughters, however, have yet to comment on this document. 

"Tiger King 2" is currently available to stream on Netflix.