Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister believes that Carole Baskin’s husband, Don Lewis, was murdered and that more than one person was involved.
According to TMZ, Sheriff Chronister said that although he did not want to “insinuate” that Baskin is a person of interest in the case, he was suspicious of her and other people.
He revealed that he believed Lewis was murdered. He also stated that one person couldn’t have committed the murder alone. He believed someone must have paid another person to help.
According to the Daily Beast, Chronister told TMZ:
“I’m extremely suspicious, but not just of her, of this whole circle here. I don’t want to allude to the fact or insinuate that she’s a person of interest… I’m not comfortable saying that yet.”
The sheriff added that he hoped someone with inside information about the alleged murder would come forward and help police solve the mystery of Don Lewis’s 1997 disappearance.
He hinted that police authorities were ready to make a deal with that person.
“… there’s someone else involved in this, there is someone who is paid to do it, there is someone who helped do it. I’m hoping that person wants to come and get this off their chest and help law enforcement do the right thing.”
TMZ reported that Sheriff Chronister will fully explain why he is suspicious of Baskin on TMZ Investigates: Tiger King: What Really Went Down?
The show is scheduled to air on Fox on Monday night at 9/8c p.m.
You think you know the whole story, but we're about to let the cat out the bag … TMZ Investigates: Tiger King – What Really Went Down? Watch this Monday at 9/8c only on @FOXTV pic.twitter.com/68eFoELGHH
— TMZ (@TMZ) April 12, 2020
Sheriff Chad Chronister took to Twitter to ask for new leads
Monsters and Critics reported that Carole Baskin’s husband, Don Lewis, disappeared mysteriously in August 1997, soon after he unsuccessfully sought a domestic-violence injunction against Baskin.
His van was found parked at a local airport in Pasco County, but no trace of him was ever found. Police authorities declared him dead in 2002.
One episode of Netflix’s hit show, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, touched on the mystery of Don Lewis’s disappearance.
Following the success of Tiger King, Sheriff Chronister took to Twitter to announce that he hoped the popularity of the show and the awareness it generated about Lewis’s case would help police obtain new leads.
“I figured it was time to use the popularity of the show to see if anyone wanted to come forward with new leads.”
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
Baskin has denied allegations that she fed Lewis to her Tigers
The mysterious circumstances of Lewis’s disappearance led to speculation about Baskin’s involvement.
The speculation started after one of Baskin’s children, Donna Pettis, told PEOPLE in 1998 that they suspected Baskin fed Lewis to her tigers.
“It’s a perfect scenario to dispose of someone. We were upset that the cops didn’t test the DNA on the meat grinder.”
Baskin, who is the founder of the animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue, denied allegations that she fed Lewis to her big cats.
Reacting to Pettis’s allegation, she told PEOPLE:
“My tigers eat meat; they don’t eat people. There would be bones and remains of my husband out there. I’m amazed that people would even think such a thing.”
She also posted a lengthy message on her blog in which she attempted to refute the allegations.
Big Cat Rescue worked w directors of Tiger King in good faith & its sensationalism is disappointing. We understand concerns & remain focused on our mission. We don’t respond to allegations or hateful statements, but monitor for questions about efforts to save the majestic animals
— Big Cat Rescue (@BigCatRescue) March 25, 2020
But the speculation continued unabated on social media after reports emerged that she refused to take a polygraph test when police investigators asked her.
Carole Baskin definitely fed her husband to those tigers ? #TigerKing pic.twitter.com/7tF4Sjy85h
— ?Ryan? (@Really_Ry) March 20, 2020
20 reasons why I think Carole Baskin killed Don Lewis. (again this is just me) pic.twitter.com/0CokUMadyK
— Sneha Ojha (@osnehaa) March 31, 2020
Baskin’s rival and Tiger King star, Joe “Exotic” Schreibvogel (aka Joseph Maldonado-Passage), also stoked the rumors about Baskin by posting a music video to his YouTube Channel that featured a Baskin look-alike feeding meat to Tigers.
Joe Exotic is currently serving 22 years for attempted murder-for-hire plot against Baskin.
He recently sued multiple U.S. agencies and a former business associate Jeff Lowe, alleging false imprisonment.
TMZ Investigates: Tiger King: What Really Went Down? airs on Fox on Monday night at 9/8c p.m.