The mystery around Don Lewis’ disappearance and declared death was a central storyline in the bizarre ‘Tiger King’ documentary. Learn more about Carole Baskin’s husband who vanished.
Don Lewis was just 59 years old at the time of his 1997 disappearance. The mystery shrouding Carole Baskin‘s second husband was a revisited plot throughout Netflix’s wild and wacky Tiger King docuseries, including several theories about what actually happened to him. “The last thing Don ever said to me was that he was leaving ‘early, early, early’ the next morning for Costa Rica,” Carole said in an interview with the Tiger King filmmakers. Just two days after his recorded disappearance, his white 1989 Dodge van was found 40 miles away from the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary at the Pilot Country Airport in Springhill, Florida. Don was eventually declared dead by Carole in 2002. Learn more about the millionaire who is still the subject of an open case.
1. He had a family before Carole. Prior to Carole, Don was married to Gladys Lewis Cross. The couple shared daughters Lynda Sanchez and Gale Rathbone together, who were also featured in the documentary, in addition to daughter Donna Pettis and an adopted son. Don divorced Gladys in 1990 in order to marry Carole. Despite Don and Gladys’ divorce agreement, a legal battle ensued over Don’s money after his disappearance.
2. He was a millionaire. The Dade City, Florida native came from humble roots and desired a different life for himself as he entered adulthood. Don quickly got his feet wet in the business world, amassing his wealth through the used car business and real estate holdings which Carole later helped grow, according to files from the Tampa Bay Times. He was worth a reported $5 million at the time of his 1997 disappearance. In the documentary, Carole alleges that the docuseries “exaggerates” how much Don was actually worth.
3. He met Carole on the side of the road. After a fight with Gladys, Don was driving around when he spotted a young Carole walking. In the documentary, Carole details him pulling up in his vehicle and saying he needed someone to talk to. Then 20-year-old Carole, also married at the time, agreed. The pair began their affair shortly thereafter, and were married for seven years until his disappearance.
4. His appearance remains a mystery. Despite multiple theories mentioned in the documentary, this case remains unsolved. Carole maintains she had no involvement with Don’s disappearance, and has denied what she dubs as “23-year-old lies and innuendos suggesting” that she was “involved in my husband Don’s 1997 disappearance” as per a statement emailed to HollywoodLife via Big Cat Rescue’s public relations representative. Carole has never been convicted of any crime and no arrests have been made to this day. On Tuesday, Mar. 30, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Chad Chronister invited the public to come forward for new leads via a tweet.
5. He co-founded an animal sanctuary. Don was also a passionate wildlife advocate. Along with then-wife Carole, co-founded the Tampa, Florida zoo Wildlife on Easy Street — now Big Cat Rescue sanctuary — back in 1992. Despite his disappearance over 22 years ago, Carole has remained dedicated to their work of rescuing and caring for exotic cats. Today, the sanctuary remains home to 17 big cats and 34 small cats. “Our smallest enclosure is the size of a small house, about 1200 sq. feet, and our largest is over two acres, all in a natural setting full of foliage,” Carole writes on the website.