The Florida sheriff whose territory includes Carole Baskin’s exotic-animal sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue, has told TMZ that he has suspicions that she may have been involved in the disappearance of her second husband, Don Lewis, who mysteriously vanished 23 years ago.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister also told TMZ that he is not “yet” ready to say that Baskin is a person of interest in the cold case.
The Baskins have used their website to strongly deny allegations made in the Netflix show Tiger King by the documentary’s antihero, Joe Exotic, that Carole murdered Lewis and fed his body to their big cats.
As viewers of the series will know, Exotic is in prison, serving 22 years for plotting to murder Baskin.
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 and that this is who we are focusing on. I’m not comfortable saying that yet.
“Listen, there’s normally not one person that commits a homicide, it’s always a couple of people. This had to be extremely planned out, this had to be well thought out, 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.”
Chronister said there would be a possibility such a person would be given a deal, saying: “You start talking about different things with immunity, you know. Deals are cut and every deal is on the table right now. Help us solve this case.”
Last week, Chronister tweeted a message seeking new information on the disappearance of Lewis in August 1997, fanning the flames of rumors that Baskin was involved in his vanishing.
Baskin said in her post that she believed Lewis had Alzheimer’s disease and admitted he was “not easy to live with.”
Three months before his abandoned van was found at a small airport near the couple’s home in Tampa, he had sought a domestic-violence injunction against Baskin, which a court rejected. However, Baskin has long maintained that she had nothing to do with the disappearance of her former husband.
The Baskins claim their sanctuary is grossly misrepresented in the hit Netflix docuseries, which lifts the lid on the bizarre world of backyard tiger-keepers, zookeeper rivalries, blackmail, and betrayal in the exotic-animal trade.
The Baskins have slammed the directors of the series, Eric Goode and Rebecca Chalking. They said they agreed to co-operate because the pair told them “they wanted to make the big-cat version of Blackfish [the documentary that exposed abuse at SeaWorld] that would expose the misery caused by the rampant breeding of big-cat cubs for cub-petting exploitation and the awful life the cats lead in roadside zoos and backyards if they survive.
“There are not words for how disappointing it is to see that the series not only does not do any of that, but has had the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers.
“As part of that, it has a segment devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don in 1997. The series presents this without any regard for the truth or in most cases even giving me an opportunity before publication to rebut the absurd claims. They did not care about truth. The unsavory lies are better for getting viewers.”
The interview will be aired as part of TMZ Investigates Tiger King: What Really Went Down? at 9 p.m. Monday on Fox.