Jack Donald Lewis, 60, aka as Don Lewis went missing from Tampa, Florida in August 18, 1997. Although, Don’s 1989 Dodge van was found at an airport, two days later, it was never determined if he every flew out of that airport and he has not been seen since.
Those of you that have seen the new Netflix series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, recognize Don’s name, as he and his wife are featured, along with Joe Exotic, who became enemies with Carole.
In he early 90s, Don and Carole Lewis turned 40 acres of real estate in Tampa, into a sanctuary that grew to 200 exotic cats. While running the sanctuary, Carole became aware of small private zoos and other sanctuary’s that were claiming they were helping exotic animals, but Carole stated they were mistreating the animals. Carole’s goal was to end all breeding of exotic cats by 2025, and she worked feverishly at it while running Wild Life on Easy Street with her husband.
Then in 1997, Carole says that Don told her that he was leaving early in the morning to go to Costa Rica. He was even thinking of moving his car business there and also moving the whole sanctuary to Costa Rica.
“Don had told me about people going to Costa Rica and disappearing” said Carole. Our Costa Rican attorney, Roger Petersen, said the Helicopter Brothers were the local version of the mafia and Don was loaning them money.” To be prepared, Carole had Don signed a Power of Attorney and had it read that it would also go into effect in case of Don’s disappearance. An unusual action that many believe shows premeditation on Carole’s part.
A few days later, Don Lewis did disappear and many people, including his grown children suspected Carole of having something to do with it. Don’s daughter’s even went as far as to state they believed, Carole fed Don to the tigers.
“It’s a perfect scenario to dispose of someone,” said Donna Pettis, 42, Don’s daughter, reports People Magazine. “We were upset that the cops didn’t test the DNA on the meat grinder.”
Carole’s response to the meat grinder accusations were;
“My tigers eat meat; they don’t eat people,” Carol told People Magazine. “There would be bones and remains of my husband out there. I’m amazed that people would even think such a thing.”
During the investigation into Don’s disappearance, the police found that Don had filed court documents in June 1997, seeking a domestic-violence injunction against Carole, accusing her of threatening to shoot him, and that she took his guns. The Hillsborough Judge dismissed the case after he found no grounds for the accusations and Don went back to living with Carole, as though nothing had happened.
Carole believes that Don likely staged his disappearance and left to go live in Costa Rica where he owned real estate. He owned many planes and was known to fly uncharted to many places, including Costa Rica, and he chose to leave Carole behind.
An extensive police investigation looked into everything, including Don’s Costa Rica properties where he wanted to retire, and found nothing, but they did uncover “extramarital affairs” and “questionable business practices.” They located all his planes, so if Don did fly to Costa Rica, or any other place, he didn’t fly his own planes.
Don’s handyman says in the documentary that Don told him: “If I can pull this off it will be the slickest thing I ever did”. Also, Don’s mechanic even claimed Don had asked him to go to Costa Rica with him. Don’s assistant claimed he flew commercially from Miami to Costa Rica.
Another theory is that Don Lewis was killed and put in a septic tank that was underneath one of the buildings at Big Cat Rescue.
With Don’s disappearance, life went on for Carol, she continued to run the sanctuary, and eventually remarried. She also began fighting against other private zoos and sanctuary’s that she felt was not taking care of the exotic animals correctly. One person in particular, came into her crosshairs, Joe Exotic.
In 2009, Carole ran across Joe Exotic’s YouTube channel, where he became known as the Tiger King. She felt that Joe Exotic was one of the worst offenders. Carole watched his every move and brought him to the attention of PETA and the humane society. Joe’s costs of defending himself in court soon outweighed any profits he made with his zoo.
Several times, Joe Exotic was heard threatening Carole and complaining about how she was ruining his business with her accusations about his handling of the exotic cats. He felt it was unfair as they both were running rescues for exotic cats and in his opinion, she was accusing him of the same things that she was doing. Although, the threats were reported it was all considered hearsay. Then in 2017, Joe tried to hire someone to murder Carole–twice. What he didn’t know was one of those people he asked, secretly recording their conversations for the FBI. What had begun as a Fish and Wildlife Service investigation into Joe’s animal crimes had evolved into a murder-for-hire case. He was arrested in 2018.
In April, 2019, Joe Exotic, 56, was sentenced for two counts of murder-for-hire, (for plotted to kill Carole), eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act. He was also found guilty of killing five tiger cubs, and for selling and offering to sell tiger cubs in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Joe Exotic is currently in the Grady County Jail in Oklahoma.
The whereabouts of Don Lewis is still unknown. Carole had him declared dead in 2002.
Carole Lewis now known as Carole Baskin still runs Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida.
When Joe was sentenced, Carole stated, “I think it is poetic justice,” she said, “that he could potentially spend the rest of his life in a cage.” She is currently lobbying to pass legislation to further tighten regulations on big-cat ownership in America.