TAMPA (WFLA/News Nation) — The family of a Florida man who disappeared in 1997 and was featured on the hit Netflix series “Tiger King,” has hired a lawyer and is offering $100,000 in exchange for information to help solve the case.
Don Lewis, a Tampa-based millionaire, vanished a day before a scheduled trip to Costa Rica in 1997 and was never found. He was declared legally dead in 2002. At the time of his disappearance, he was married to Carole Baskin. He and Baskin started the animal sanctuary, which later became Big Cat Rescue Corp. in Tampa.
Attorney John Phillips held a news conference in Tampa Monday and announced an independent investigation Don Lewis’ disappearance. He also said that on behalf of the Lewis family, he’s filed a lawsuit against Baskin in an attempt to depose her and get her to speak on the record. He and the family have also paid for four billboards across the Tampa area asking “Who murdered Don Lewis?”
Three of Lewis’ daughters were at the news conference. Lewis’ youngest daughter Gale Rathbone, expressed gratitude for those interested in the case.
“Amazingly, our little family tragedy has become your tragedy. Our search for closure and truth has become your mission also,” she said. “We all know by now that (Lewis) was not a perfect man. But do only the perfect among us deserve justice?”
In addition to the $100,000 reward being offered for information, a lawyer is also offering to help anyone who may have information but fears being charged by representing them pro-bono.
“You’re looking at a criminal defense attorney over here who’s ready to make someone a deal if you have information,” Smith said.
What exactly happened to Lewis remains unclear, but there has been much public speculation about his disappearance over the past year after it became one of the main plotlines in “Tiger King,” Netflix’s true crime docuseries about eccentric tiger trader Joe Exotic and his rival Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa.
In the show, Exotic accuses Baskin of being responsible for Lewis’ disappearance and feeding her husband to the tigers after murdering him.
Since the show aired, an army of truthseekers has taken over the internet to uncover what had happened.
Baskin had previously responded to Monday’s press conference in an e-mail to News Nation affiliate WFLA, saying “I believe it is a publicity stunt orchestrated by Jack Smith to bolster his YouTube views but do hope that all of the attention from Tiger King and the aftermath will result in us finding Don.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.