Is Don Lewis really alive? All we know

By Chege Karomo — ON Jan 20, 2023
Don Lewis
Weniger Anzeigen/Imago-images

Tiger King was arguably Netflix’s biggest 2020 show. Audiences trapped in their homes watched the trials and tribulations of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka Joe Exotic, the Tiger King. Joe Exotic vehemently believed that Carole Baskin, his sworn nemesis, was responsible for the disappearance of her husband, Don Lewis, in 1997, six years after the couple’s wedding. 

Exotic alleged that Baskin fed Lewis to her tigers at her Big Cat Rescue sanctuary. The documentary influenced many viewers to believe that Baskin killed Don Lewis. The authorities declared Lewis legally dead after he failed to show up for several years. 

Carole Baskin claimed that Homeland Security found Don Lewis alive in Costa Rica

It turns out that Carole Baskin said during a November 2021 interview that Don Lewis was alive – and it flew under the radar. Perhaps we were all preoccupied with the emergence of a new coronavirus variant. 

Baskin appeared on ITV’s This Morning and said that Homeland Security had confirmed Lewis’ whereabouts in Costa Rica. She stated:

“They said my husband, Don Lewis, is alive and well in Costa Rica. And yet all of this drama has been made about me having something to do with his disappearance, when Homeland Security has known where he is.”

Baskin told People that she wasn’t aware Don Lewis was alive until Tiger King 2 presented a Homeland Security document saying Lewis was living in Costa Rica. It’s unclear if the document is authentic. 

“I’ve mentioned it [Lewis’ whereabouts] in more than 60 interviews I’ve done since them, where reporters asked about Don, so I’m surprised everyone in the press is acting like they aren’t aware of it,” Baskin told People

Baskin’s Big Cat rescue blog contains screenshots of the alleged Department of Homeland Security (DHS) document. Baskin wrote in a blog post that the document debunks rumors that she killed Don Lewis:

“And for everyone who still wants to believe that Carole killed Don, then please explain to us why you think armchair detectives or you are better informed than the Special Agent in Charge at the FBI in this Homeland Security Document which says ‘Don Lewis is currently alive and well in Costa Rica.’”

The Sheriff’s office insists Lewis is still missing, and his family considers him dead

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office denied receiving communication from Homeland Security claiming Don Lewis is alive. Fentress Fountain, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, told The New York Post:

“We have not received any communication from our federal partners that confirms the location of missing person Mr. Don Lewis. The investigation into Don Lewis’ disappearance remains a priority for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.”

Don Lewis’ family considers him dead as their efforts to find him didn’t bear fruit. The Lewis family told TMZ that in 1997, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office informed them that a U.S. Customs report claimed Lewis was in Costa Rica. 

They believe the alleged DHS document is a doctored version of the U.S. Customs report. The family said that Lewis’ oldest daughter, Donna, and her husband searched for Lewis in Costa Rica in 1997 and never found him.

“While we would certainly welcomed the good news of our Dad being found alive, it’s just simply not true,” Lewis’ daughters said. Without a confirmed sighting of Don Lewis, it seems Lewis’ daughters and the government are right: Don Lewis is dead. 

Baskin’s statement and the alleged document certainly haven’t changed Joe Exotic’s stance. Per a Facebook statement by attorney John M. Phillips, Joe Exotic believes Don Lewis is dead:

“During the filming of Tiger King, detailed efforts were made to find Don Lewis. They all failed. He is not alive. The 2021 report by Carole Baskin was further unsupported allegation. It’s being republished as if it has veracity. It doesn’t.”