Carole Baskin’s late husband Jack ‘Don’ Lewis’s will was “100% forged”, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.
In an interview with Tampa Bay CBS affiliate WTSP’s Rob Finnerty, Chronister said by the time it was discovered that Don Lewis’s signature was a forgery, it was too late. The will had already been deemed valid by a judge.
“They had two experts deem it 100% a forgery,” Chronister said. “We knew that before.”
Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, who came into the national spotlight from the hit Netflix series, Tiger King, has long been accused of having something to do with her second husband’s disappearance in 1997. Baskin has vehemently denied any accusations of wrongdoing.
According to the sheriff, “the girl” – he doesn’t specify who — had come forward claiming she was forced to say she’d witnessed the signatures on the will, but by the time she’d come forward there was no recourse because will had already been executed; a judge deemed it valid and it had already passed the statute of limitations.
When asked about Chronister’s accusations, Carole Baskin told Heavy, “I don’t have any comments other than what is posted at BigCatRescue.org/netflix where you will find that all of the documents were authenticated by at least two expert firms and everyone involved in the conservatorship agreed by stipulation ratified by the court to their authenticity.”
It’s Been Nearly 23 Years Since Don Lewis’s Disappearance & No Traces of Him Have Ever Been found
Since @netflix and #Covid19 #Quarantine has made #TigerKing all the rage, I figured it was a good time to ask for new leads. #CaroleBaskin #DonLewis #Netflix #Tiger #BigCatRescue #JoeExotic #TigerKingNetflix #HCSO pic.twitter.com/LHoJcBZVOI
— Chad Chronister (@ChadChronister) March 30, 2020
Chronister says his investigators are still looking into the disappearance of Don Lewis, who was deemed dead over two decades ago though his body was never found.
In this new interview, Chronister told WTSP, that both “the kids” [Lewis’s adult children] and the office manager from the time of his disappearance gave detectives additional information that investigators did not have before.
“Investigators have some great leads. They’re working through them. I hope something pans out,” Chronister said.
Of the alleged forgery, he said, “…it certainly cast another shadow of suspicion by all means…fingers crossed, Rob, I hope we can finally solve this case.”
However, the sheriff did tell People in a recent interview that Baskins is “not a suspect at this time. We don’t have any evidence to even call her a person of interest.” Chronister did say, though, he believes Lewis was murdered.
Lewis’s former attorney and friend, Joseph Fritz, told People in April 2020, “I do have reason to believe he is dead. Too many indications of foul play, too many motives, too many opportunities. He wouldn’t leave his family, his fortune and his kids behind. There was enough motive and enough opportunity for something bad to have happened, and it probably did.”
Fritz’s theory, according to what he told People, is that Lewis was strangled in a plane over the Gulf of Mexico and thrown out of the plane into the water. He does not know who would do that or the motive, though he suspects it would’ve taken at least two people — one to fly the plane and one to kill Lewis.
Lewis had properties in Costa Rica and frequented the area. He also owned small private planes. During the investigation into his disappearance, his van was found at a nearby private airport. He left all his money and assets behind, worth somewhere between $5 and $6 million. Most of that went to Baskins through the will, though Don had four children from his first marriage.
Baskin Says Lewis Was Suffering From Mental Illness When He Disappeared
In the Aftermath of the Tiger King series, suspicions about Baskin’s possible involvement in her husband’s disappearance went from being privately held by law enforcement and those who knew Lewis to include millions of viewers who watched the series.
Baskins says that the series painted her in a bad light and framed the story inaccurately. On her Big Cat Rescue Website, she wrote at length to tell her side of the story refuting the series’ version of events.
What Baskin said that people didn’t know, that she didn’t even realize about her husband, was that he may have been in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. According to Baskins, less was known of the disease in 1998, and her then 60-year husband, a millionaire, was prone to odd behaviors like dumpster diving, one time getting stuck inside and calling her, crying, not knowing where he was.
Baskin wrote that Lewis went to a doctor over his mental issues, and was diagnosed as bi-polar. She said he got to a point in which he refused to use the bathroom in the house and would defecate outdoors. He went to Costa Rica for a week out of every month while she was on her period, she said. It was not unusual for him to just up and go, according to Baskins.
Finally, Baskin said that Lewis’s wealth was largely incurred with her help. Claiming he only had a first-grade reading level, she said she largely dealt with the paperwork of their property acquisitions.
Lewis tried to take out a restraining order against Baskins about two months before his disappearance. In a handwritten statement, Lewis said Baskins had threatened to kill him twice, and had taken one of his guns.
Lewis also complained in the statement that he was upset because Baskins had called people to come take some of his “trucks and equipment” off the property while he had been away. Baskins writes on her page that the restraining order was sought because Lewis was mad that she would have his “junk” that she claimed he hoarded removed from their property.
During the week he was away, I would haul off the property as much of the junk as I could. Wendell told Don I was doing this. Don tried calling the police to get them to stop me. They told him he would need a restraining order. It is unclear if it was Don’s idea that to get a restraining order he should say I threatened him or if someone like Wendell suggested that.
Lewis was denied the restraining order.
Of the popular theory that Baskins killed her husband and put him through a meat grinder and fed him to the big cats, she says that’s “the most ludicrous of all the lies.” According to Baskins, she did not own big meat grinders shown in the Tiger King series.
“Our meat grinder was one of those little tabletop, hand crank things, like you’d have in your kitchen at home,” she said. “Meat had to first be cut into one-inch cubes…to go through it. The idea that a human body and skeleton could be put through it is idiotic. But the Netflix directors did not care. They just showed a bigger grinder.”
Baskins Was Awarded 16 Acres of Land From Joe Exotic’s Former Big Cat Park After He Went to Prison for Trying to Have Her Killed
When Lewis disappeared, he left behind his Big Cat Sanctuary. Baskin’s ownership of that property and her philosophies on best practices for caring for and breeding big cats clashed with other big cat organizations in the U.S., most notably with Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka Joe Exotic, Star of the Tiger King series.
His ire for Baskins culminated in Maldonono-Passage trying to have her killed. In Jan. 2020, ‘Joe Exotic’ was convicted of “two counts of murder-for-hire, eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records, and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act,” according to the Oklahoma Department of Justice.
He was sentenced to 22-years-in prison.