Attorney Launches Probe Into Disappearance of ‘Tiger King’ Star’s Husband

The main subject of the Netflix series, Joe Exotic, has without evidence repeatedly accused a rival zookeeper of killing her late husband and feeding him to tigers.

Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, walks the property near Tampa, Fla., in July 2017. (Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay Times via AP, File)

(CN) — An attorney for the family of missing millionaire Don Lewis of “Tiger King” fame announced Monday an independent investigation into the Florida man’s 1997 disappearance, after the hit Netflix show drew widespread attention to the mystery.  

Questions surrounding Lewis’ mysterious disappearance resurfaced after being featured in the series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” released in March. The show was widely watched as millions of Americans stayed at home during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jacksonville-based attorney John Phillips of Phillips & Hunt said at a press conference in Tampa on Monday that Lewis’ family is offering $100,000 to witnesses in exchange for information that may help solve the case.

In addition to the investigation, Phillips said he filed a lawsuit against Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin — Lewis’ second wife and a main focus of “Tiger King” who became a subject of public speculation after the show aired. 

The documentary series was centered around an eccentric and controversial former Oklahoma zookeeper named Joseph Maldonado-Passage, known popularly as Joe Exotic

Throughout the show, Maldonado-Passage repeatedly accused Baskin, an outspoken critic of his business and rival, of killing Lewis and feeding him to her tigers.

Baskin, however, has repeatedly refuted these accusations and has not been charged with any crime. She defended herself in a blog post after the series first aired.

“Don was not easy to live with and like most couples, we had our moments,” she wrote. “But I never threatened him and I certainly had nothing to do with his disappearance. When he disappeared, I did everything I could to assist the police.”

Phillips said the goal of the lawsuit against Baskin, which the family filed on Friday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, is to have her speak on the record about Lewis’ disappearance. 

Lewis was declared dead in 2002 after having been missing for several years. 

Just a few weeks after the viral Netflix show was released, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister began seeking new leads in a law enforcement investigation into the case. 

Thanks to Phillips and Lewis’ family, the Tampa area now is dotted with billboards requesting more information. 

“Amazingly, our little family tragedy has become your tragedy. Our search for closure and truth has become your mission also,” Lewis’ youngest daughter Gale Rathbone said during the press conference Monday.

Rathbone was one of three of Lewis’ surviving daughters who attended the press conference.

“We all know by now that he was not a perfect man. But do only the perfect among us deserve justice?” she added.

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