What happened to Carole Baskin’s husband Don Lewis? We look at Tiger King’s mystery

The mysteries keep on coming in the Tiger King

Tiger King: Carole and Howard Baskin

Fans of barmy new Netflix show Tiger King will know that you spend most of the seven-part series shouting questions at the screen. “Sorry, what now?!” being the most common, closely followed by “How was he allowed to get away with this?” But there’s one question lingering, that we’re desperate to know the answer to, namely what happened to Carole Baskin‘s husband, Don Lewis?


To get you up to speed, Baskin was the main adversary of zookeeper Joe Exotic. While he ran his zoo in Oklahoma, Baskin was 12,000 miles away in Florida, campaigning to get his GW Exotic Animal Park closed down. Furious about her efforts to interfere with his livelihood, Exotic (unsuccessfully) attempted to hire two hitmen to kill her. Weirdly though, this was not the first headline-grabbing drama to happen to Baskin.

Wild true story behind the Tiger King – what they did and didn’t show you

What happened to Carole Baskin’s husband Don Lewis?

Baskin was previously married to self-made millionaire Don Lewis, who she met when she was 20 and he was 42. Lewis helped Baskin open her sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue, in 1992. But five years later he went missing and has never been seen since. His van was discovered at a private airport two days after he went missing but while Baskin hired a private investigator and the police did their own enquiries, he was never found and was declared dead in 2002, despite no body ever being found. Baskin said Lewis had told her he was going on a trip to Costa Rica, but she never heard from him again.

So what on earth happened to him? The rumours circulating on the internet range from him just wanting to get away for a bit, to his daughter Donna’s gruesome suggestion that he could have been fed to the cats at the sanctuary. In one of the most disturbing sentences we’ve ever heard, she is quoted by People magazine as saying: “We were upset that the cops didn’t test the DNA on the meat grinder.”

Unsurprisingly, Exotic was keen to suggest that Baskin killed her husband, but he isn’t the only person who suspected her. She inherited millions once he was declared dead, and Lewis had filed a restraining order against her two months before his disappearance. Lewis’s children, from a previous marriage, claim he had told them he was about to leave her. Baskin vehemently denies these accusations.

There are also suggestions that Lewis led a strange life before he went missing, with reports that he would scramble around in bins for food despite his vast wealth. He was a notoriously private man, but now public interest in his life is huge, with Kim Kardashian leading the discussion on Twitter. If Netflix is looking for a follow up to Tiger King, a series about Don Lewis could well be it.


Tiger King is on Netflix now. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide.