When Tiger King first hit Netflix in 2020, it became an overnight sensation. The pandemic had just hit us with full force, and as we were all stuck inside quarantining, we thought a bit of outlandish entertainment would get us through the ordeal quicker. But the pandemic is still dragging on, and Tiger King has proven to be a bit too much of "entertainment."
In the viral documentary, Big Cat Rescue owner and animal rights activist Carole Baskin went head-to-head against big cat zoo owner Joe Exotic for his treatment of animals. Exotic had quite a few legal complaints and investigations against him, not the least of which included a murder-for-hire plot against Baskin that he got convicted and sentenced for in 2019. But he—and the Netflix viewers—had their own accusations to throw Carole Baskin's way.
In 1997, Baskin's husband, Don Lewis, disappeared. By 2002, he was legally declared dead, and Carole went on with her life, remarrying in 2004. As tensions between Exotic and Baskin began to heighten, Exotic alleged to anyone who would listen—and eventually the camera documenting their sordid feud—that the reason Don Lewis was missing was because Baskin fed him to her tigers.
But if anyone thought the ranting and raving of Exotic was anything close to true, recent updates seem to indicate otherwise. In fact, they indicate that Don Lewis isn't dead at all.
In an interview done in November of 2021 with This Morning, Baskin declared that Lewis had been seen alive—and apparently well—in Costa Rica, the very place he used to allegedly abandon her to conduct extramarital affairs. Lewis also apparently had substantial real estate holdings in the area. But if this was true, why has news of this update just now gone viral?
The New York Post reached out to Baskin to talk more on the matter. In their conversation, Baskin said that news of her husband's whereabouts was a surprise to her, and she only became aware of this news when the Tiger King sequel series premiered. On the show, they produced a letter, allegedly from Homeland Security, that claimed a special agent with the agency reached out to sheriff's detective Jorge Fernandez and informed him of Lewis's location.
However, the sheriff's office claims that none of their federal partners have come forward to them regarding information in Lewis's missing person's case. According to them, the case is still very much open, and still a priority.
If Lewis is in fact alive, he has not come forward to offer any clarity in the drama.
When season two of Tiger King premiered, Baskin wrote a blog post on her Big Cats Rescue website pondering why Homeland Security would release this information to Netflix. It should be noted that Baskin had no involvement in season two of Tiger King. Was this simply a ploy by the show's producers to keep the drama alive?
Not entirely disproving this theory, Joe Exotic's lawyer John M. Phillips spoke out about these alleged updates on Facebook. He claimed that Carole Baskin was making unsupported allegations, republishing the report—originally touted by Netflix—as if it had any real veracity. He claims that the Netflix show is built entirely upon lies and misdirection. Of course, he also states that the lies were the cause of his client's conviction, which he was pushing to get overturned.
Lewis's family has been pretty open about their belief that Baskin was involved in the man's disappearance. When Baskin was on Dancing With the Stars in 2020, the family paid for a TV spot requesting any information about Lewis that the public might have. During the spot, Exotic's lawyer posed the question, “Do you know who did this or if Carole Baskin was involved?” It should be noted that, upon the legal declaration of Lewis's death, his family disputed with Baskin about the distribution of his assets.
Baskin believes this commercial was just a publicity stunt. Unfortunately, many viewers of Tiger King rose again after the premiere of season two to fill social media platforms with hate.
Ultimately, the documentary series provided very few facts on any side of any story, focusing more on interpersonal drama than any crime, "true" or otherwise. Is it likely that Carole Baskin fed her husband to tigers? Is it likely that Don Lewis fled to Costa Rica to live a secret life? Or is it likely that the truth exists somewhere in the space between?