A Florida sheriff is using the hype surrounding the wildly popular Netflix series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” to seek new leads in the case of Jack Donald “Don” Lewis, who’s been missing since 1997.
Lewis was married to Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin, the intended target of the murder-for-hire plot at the center of the docuseries.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister told CNN that the show has generated a lot of new interest in the case. His office is receiving about six tips a day, he said.
“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.”
In a video news conference on Tuesday, Chronister told reporters that he has assigned a detective supervisor to chase down any new leads generated from the show.
“The case remains open we never close a cold case,” he said.
So far, none of the tips have been credible, he said.
He also posted a new call for information on his personal Twitter account.
“Since @netflix and #Covid19 #Quarantine has made #TigerKing all the rage, I figured it was a good time to ask for new leads,” he wrote. He tweeted a poster with information about Lewis and encouraged anyone with information to call the Sheriff’s Office nonemergency number.
Lewis, who would be 81, was last seen on August 18, 1997, according to the sheriff’s post.
Chronister told reporters that he has watched the series and said it was “interesting,” but that it didn’t present any information that investigators hadn’t checked out.
“They certainly spun it a certain way for entertainment purposes,” he said.
Chronister said the case was extremely convoluted and that everyone involved had theories about what happened to Lewis.
He said investigators have never found enough probable cause to charge anyone with a crime — or even to determine that a crime had been committed.
At the time, they did not have GPS or mobile phones that might have helped locate Lewis, Chronister said.
Investigators have entered DNA samples from Lewis’ relatives into law enforcement databases in hopes of finding a match, he said.
Oklahoma zoo owner “Joe Exotic” (Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage), serving a 22-year prison sentence for his role in the Baskin murder-for-hire plot and other charges, has repeatedly accused Baskin of killing her husband and feeding his body to the tigers at her animal rescue center.
He claimed that a septic tank on the Big Cat Rescue property might hold evidence.
Chronister said the septic tank wasn’t even there at the time that Lewis disappeared.
Baskin has denied any involvement in the disappearance. CNN reached out to Baskin but has not heard back.
Chronister said Baskin declined to take a polygraph test a few years ago because her attorney said it would not vindicate her if she passed. He said they haven’t seen any new evidence that would justify asking again.
Lewis often traveled to Costa Rica, and Chronister said they have looked into the possibility that he may have fled there. However, there is no evidence that he chartered a plane and there is no record that he used either of his two passports to leave the country.
“Like any case at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office we want to bring closure to the families involved and the community. We are seeing greater interest in this case thanks to Tiger King and we encourage anyone who knows something to call 813-247-8200,” Chronister said.