Family of 'Tiger King' star's missing ex-husband demands answers

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The family of Carole Baskin’s missing husband, who featured in Netflix series Tiger King, have hired a lawyer and are offering about $139,000 for information about his disappearance.

Lawyer John Phillips held a news conference in Tampa, Florida, last week and announced an independent investigation into Don Lewis’ disappearance.

He also said that on behalf of the Lewis family, he’s filed a lawsuit against Mr Lewis’ second wife Carole Baskin in an attempt to depose her and get her to speak on the record.

He and the family have also paid for Tampa-area billboards asking for information in the case.

Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, walks the property near Tampa, Florida.
Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, pictured in 2017. Source: AAP

Mr Lewis vanished a day before a scheduled trip to Costa Rica and was never found. He was declared legally dead in 2002. He and Ms Baskin started the animal sanctuary, which later became Big Cat Rescue Corp in Tampa, Florida.

Three of Mr Lewis’ daughters were at the news conference. Mr Lewis’ youngest daughter Gale Rathbone, expressed gratitude for those interested in the case.

“Amazingly, our little family tragedy has become your tragedy. Our search for closure and truth has become your mission also,” she said.

“We all know by now that (Mr Lewis) was not a perfect man. But do only the perfect among us deserve justice?”

Don Lewis is pictured.
Questions remain about the disappearance of Don Lewis more than 20 years ago. Source: Netflix

In an email sent to the Associated Press Monday, Ms Baskin said she wouldn’t comment.

“It’s been my policy not to discuss pending litigation until it’s been resolved,” she wrote.

“I had told some news outlets that I thought the press conference on August 10 was just a publicity stunt, but at that time was not aware there would be pending litigation.”

Mr Lewis’ case, and Ms Baskin, were featured in Tiger King. Ms Baskin is still the owner of Big Cat Rescue, and lobbies for abolishing private wildlife ownership.

This file photo provided by the Santa Rose County Jail in Milton, Florida, shows Joseph Maldonado-Passage aka Joe Exotic.
A mugshot of Joseph Maldonado-Passage aka Joe Exotic. Source: AAP

Tiger King was a documentary series about Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic,” an eccentric former Oklahoma zookeeper who loves big cats.

Earlier this year, Maldonado-Passage was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in a murder-for-hire plot.

He was convicted of trying to hire someone to kill Ms Baskin, who had tried to shut him down, accusing the Oklahoma zoo of abusing animals and selling big cat cubs.

In retaliation, Maldonado-Passage raised questions about Ms Baskin’s former husband, Jack “Don” Lewis.

The documentary extensively covered Maldonado-Passage’s repeated accusations that Ms Baskin killed her husband and possibly fed him to her tigers.

Carole Baskin is pictured with a caged lion.
Ms Baskin hasn't been charged with an offence and refutes accusations. Source: Netflix (file pic)

Ms Baskin hasn’t been charged with any crime and has repeatedly released statements refuting the accusations made in the series.

Maldonaldo-Passage is currently in prison. A federal judge in June granted control of the Oklahoma zoo that was previously run by Maldonado-Passage — also known as Joe Exotic — to Big Cat Rescue Corp.

Ms Baskin previously sued Maldonado-Passage for trademark and copyright infringements and won a US$1 million civil judgment against him. The judge found that ownership of the zoo was fraudulently transferred to Maldonado-Passage’s mother in an attempt to avoid paying the judgment.

In March, the Hillsborough County sheriff asked for tips in the case of Ms Lewis and announced a reopening of the case.

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