Carole Baskin’s claim to fame, if you want to call it that, is that she may or may not have killed her husband, Don Lewis, and fed his corpse to their animals. This was a big storyline in the first season and has remained a point of fixation for fans of the show ever since, not to mention the source of countless memes. Tiger King 2 returns to the story from a slightly different angle, exploring Don’s secret gangster life in Costa Rica, but once again raising the obvious question: Is Don Lewis dead or alive?
Don Lewis might look like someone’s grandfather, but he was, at least according to the show, all about planes, guns, money, exotic animals, and sex. He was a hustler, through and through, and also potentially a pedophile, but we’ll get to that shortly. Either way, after some chance meetings and affairs with Carole Baskin, he eventually married and opened a wildlife sanctuary with her.
According to Carole’s journal entries, which she reads aloud on YouTube, the relationship was either a fairytale romance or mutually abusive, depending on her mood, but it seemed very much like Don had had enough of it either way. He disappeared on August 18, 1997, was reported missing a day later and hasn’t been seen since. An abandoned van of his was found at a private airport in Pasco County, Florida, but no concrete information has ever been unearthed, though there are at least two credible theories about what happened to him. The first is, obviously, that Carole killed him. The second is that he fled to Costa Rica, where he had already established a base of illicit operations. If that’s the case he might well have been murdered by someone else, since he had his share of enemies thanks to his gonzo schemes.
Is Don Lewis dead or alive?
The general sense one gets of this whole business is that the matter of Don’s disappearance was never properly investigated and Carole’s potential as a suspect was never properly considered, even in light of some damning developments such as Don filing for a domestic violence injunction against her after she apparently threatened to kill him, and her refusing to take a polygraph test on the vague grounds of her legal counsel advising her not to.
Given what Don was getting up to in Costa Rica, it seemed very much like he was preparing to flee there. He has numerous properties under the name of a frontman fixer named Rey Rodriguez, including a farm and a house that he allegedly maintained a series of relationships with underage women in. He was blatantly laundering money through his properties to fund the illegal import and export of exotic animals, and he was openly very wealthy, which he’d often brag about. Whereas the first season of Tiger King, which was mostly Joe’s story, seemed to lean into his idea that Carole killed Don and fed him to her tigers, Tiger King 2 implies rather strongly that Don had enough enemies all over the place that virtually anyone could have killed him.
Don was declared dead around five years after his disappearance, and in all likelihood, he is, though his remains have never been found since nobody knows for sure. Later episodes in the season posit that perhaps his remains were dumped at one of his properties in Seffner, Florida, dubbed “The Farm”, and a brief visit from a hilarious “psychic investigator” named Troy Griffin seems to confirm it, but amateur internet sleuth Ripper Jack and a team of divers weren’t able to discover anything meaningful. The case remains unsolved.