Florida sheriff seeks tips to solve ‘Tiger King’ cold case

Case involving Jack Donald Lewis inspired Netflix documentary series

Sheriff pushes for new leads in 'Tiger King' cold case
Sheriff pushes for new leads in 'Tiger King' cold case

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. – The Hillsborough County sheriff on Tuesday asked residents to turn in any tips they believe to be related to what has now been dubbed the “Tiger King” cold case.

Sheriff Chad Chronister addressed the media via Zoom to provide an update on the case surrounding Jack Donald Lewis, a key subject in the Netflix documentary series “Tiger King.”

Lewis was last seen in August 1997, and no arrests have been made in the case, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

The main storyline throughout the “Tiger King” series features Carole Baskin, Lewis’ wife, who tries to get private zoos shut down for animal abuse. Baskin owns the Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida.

The Netflix show illuminates the abuse that baby cubs and big cats sometimes endure in the name of profit and entertainment. The story mostly follows the self-proclaimed “Tiger King,” also known as Joe Exotic and his rivalry with Baskin.

“(This case) was extremely convoluted, no different than in the series," Chronister said. “There hasn’t been any leads.”

The sheriff said the case was last revisited in 2011, when detectives asked Baskin to take a lie-detector test and she declined to at her attorney’s request.

“I can’t say she’s been uncooperative by any means,” Chronister said. “We’re required to have evidence before we’re able to contact her attorney.”

In 2010, detectives collected DNA samples from Lewis’ family and it was entered into a national database. The sheriff said with the advancement of forensic technology, the DNA will be available in case there’s ever a match in the future and could provide a new lead.

“So far, there’s been no evidence," he said.

Chronister told reporters that detectives have researched every theory and tip related to the case, saying that although Baskin’s brother was once a deputy with the office, no evidence points to his involvement.

Chronister also disputed a theory that meat grinders at the rescue may be involved, saying they had been removed from the property several weeks before Lewis’ disappearance. Detectives weren’t allowed to test the machinery because they were not at the rescue at the start of the investigation.

Detectives have also checked to see if Lewis used his private plane to disappear, noting there was no record of a flight or either of his two passports being used near or on the date of his disappearance.

“Have you ever heard of a case where a wealthy individual fled and didn’t take their money with them?” Chronister said.

Detectives revisited the will of Lewis, a known millionaire.

Below is a spoiler alert for those who have not watched the show.

Lewis’ will requested that if he ever went missing, to give his money to Baskin. His lawyer mentioned on the show that it was an odd request, saying he had never seen a client include a “missing” clause in their will.

Investigators also noted that none of Lewis’ family received any inheritance.

Spoiler ends here.

“Even with all the theories,” Chronister said, “(there’s) nothing clear and definitive. Nothing that we haven’t researched or looked into. There’s no type of probable cause to arrest anyone.”

Chronister said with the case’s new-found popularity, the Sheriff’s Office has been receiving about six tips a day.

“There’s certainly some suspicion,” he said. “If this series generates, ‘You should take a look at ...' whatever the end of the sentence may be, we’re going to do that," he said.

About the Author:

Gaby is a multimedia producer from Miami. She graduated from the University of Florida and joined the News 6 team in 2018.