CULTURE

Is Carole Baskin of "Tiger King" Finally Going to Become a Suspect in Her Husband's Disappearance?

The Sheriff of Hillsborough County, Florida has indicated that he may reopen the investigation highlighted in Tiger King.

If you talk to someone who has just finished Netflix's Tiger King, the second topic they're likely to bring up—after the fact that it's all so crazy—is Carole Baskin.

Despite the fact that all the major players are variously involved in patently criminal activity—including a former drug kingpin who has admitted involvement in the dismemberment of a federal agent in 1980—Carole Baskin is the figure who has drawn the most ire.

At first blush this seems absurd. Why, when Bhagavan "Doc" Antle is (seemingly) running a polygamist cult that preys on young women, is everyone so upset at the weird cat lady who fights for animal rights and wears flower crowns? No doubt a certain sense of hypocrisy is part of the issue. While Joe and Doc may have dubiously purported to be animal lovers, they never tried to market their businesses as something other than entertainment. Carole Baskin, on the other hand, runs Big Cat Rescue, a "sanctuary" (read: zoo) that shares a lot in common with the businesses she vilifies, all while portraying herself as an animal rights hero.

Carole Baskin Netflix

But these issues are obviously complicated—what else are you supposed to do with giant animals that can't be returned to the wild? At least she isn't breeding her big cats, or euthanizing them, or making them perform. She probably deserves some benefit of the doubt, and people might be more willing to give that to her if it wasn't for the mysterious disappearance of her wealthy first husband, Don Lewis—and the open question of Carole Baskin's involvement.

To many fans of the insanity that is Tiger King, that's not really a question at all. They are as convinced as Joe Exotic himself is that Carole Baskin is directly responsible for the death of Don Lewis—even Kim Kardashian has weighed in. The documentary definitely makes a compelling case that she had the means, motive, and opportunity to kill her husband, claim his fortune for herself, and cover up the crime. Don Lewis' own daughters and ex-wife all seem to be convinced that Carole did exactly that, and yet she was never treated as a real suspect by law enforcement. With the growing attention that Tiger King has gotten, that may finally change.

On Monday morning, Chad Chronister, the sheriff of Hillsborough County in Florida, sent out a tweet asking the public for new leads into Don Lewis' disappearance. Among the hashtags Chronister included #CaroleBaskin and #BigCatRescue. The tweet has received thousands of likes and retweets, and around 500 comments—many of which simply point to Carole Baskin as the culprit. For those who haven't yet seen Tiger King, or want a refresher on the issue, here are the "leads" that the documentary lays out:

Don Lewis was a notorious philanderer who was more than 20 years Carole Baskin's senior, and some have speculated that Baskin—previously his mistress—would not accept Lewis being unfaithful to her. Several people close to him report that, prior to Lewis' disappearance, he had grown to hate Baskin and decided to leave her. At least one individual claims that Baskin kept a pistol on hand, while having confiscated Lewis' own gun. Lewis' van was left at a local airport and was returned to Carole Baskin several days before any police inspection of the vehicle was made. While Lewis had been in the process of moving to Costa Rica, it is not believed that any of the planes that he was known to fly could have gotten him there, and his plans for moving were far from complete.

Don Lewis' daughters and ex-wife Netflix

After his disappearance, Carole Baskin broke into Lewis' office to retrieve paperwork that gave her power over his estate. People close to the situation suspect that the paperwork was altered to include prominent provisions about the possibility of his disappearance—essentially unheard of in this type of document. People have argued that Baskin's access to tigers, a large meat grinder, and a septic tank would have made for easy disposal of Lewis' body.

Five years after Lewis was last seen—the minimum period of time required by law—Baskin had him declared dead and inherited his wealth as per his will—which was also among the paperwork that Baskin retrieved and (possibly) altered. Early on, his daughters and ex-wife gave interviews talking about their belief that Baskin was responsible. They claim that Baskin then threatened them into silence.

While this evidence paints a vivid picture of a potential confrontation, murder, and cover up, Baskin has her own story that is likewise compelling. According to Baskin, Lewis was not licensed to fly his planes, but he did so anyway, flying at unsafe altitudes over the Gulf of Mexico in order to avoid radar detection. She also claims that Lewis was showing early signs of senility, and would often become confused and disoriented—though others dispute this. She says that Don Lewis had disowned his daughters nearly a year before his disappearance—which explains why they weren't in his will—and that they've been predisposed to see her as the villain ever since she was "the other woman."

people with honk signs about Carole Baskin Pictured: The court of public opinionReddit

It seems unlikely that a cold case from more than 20 years ago will suddenly be cracked wide open thanks to an over-the-top Netflix documentary. More than likely, the "leads" the sheriff receives won't amount to enough to reopen the investigation in any serious way. But the court of public opinion is another matter. Tiger King is already causing Carole Baskin to receive a lot of scrutiny and harassment. In the aftermath, she has sought to refute much of the documentary's portrayal of her, while figures from her past have come forward to cast further doubt on her version of the story.

While the facts of what happened between Carole Baskin and Don Lewis in August of 1997 are likely to remain obscure, we are all entitled to an opinion—like, just for example, that she definitely, definitely did it.