Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as
Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as "Joe Exotic." Picture: Santa Rosa County Jail via AP

Tips flood in for Tiger King cold case

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness has quickly become the biggest diversion from the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, a Florida sheriff is revisiting one of the series' lingering mysteries: What happened to Carole Baskins' husband?

For those who aren't up to speed, Carole Baskin is the owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. Netflix's Tiger King documentary follows Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as "Joe Exotic," a former Oklahoma zookeeper who loves guns, younger men and big cats.

Earlier this year, Maldonado-Passage was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in a murder-for-hire plot. He was convicted of trying to hire someone to kill Baskin, who had tried to shut him down, accusing the Oklahoma zoo of abusing animals and selling big cat cubs.

In retaliation, Maldonado-Passage raised questions about Baskin's former husband, Jack "Don" Lewis, who disappeared in 1997.

This notice posted on the Twitter account of Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister on Monday, March 30, 2020, seeks the public's help for new leads.
This notice posted on the Twitter account of Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister on Monday, March 30, 2020, seeks the public's help for new leads.

His often violent and expletive-filled rants about Baskin were not only broadcast on his web TV show, but also in the Netflix documentary.

Since the show was released, speculation about Baskin and Lewis has run rampant - and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister wants to take advantage of all the attention.

"Everyone's home. They're watching Netflix and they're home," Chronister said in a news conference Tuesday, adding that Lewis' case remains open and that he has recently assigned a detective supervisor to handle new leads.

The documentary extensively covered Maldonado-Passage's accusations that Baskin killed her husband and possibly fed him to her tigers. Baskin has never been charged with any crime and released a statement refuting the accusations made in the series.

"We hope the Sheriff's plea for leads will result in new information about what happened to Don Lewis," said Susan Bass, Big Cat Rescue's spokeswoman, in an email to The Associated Press.

Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue. Picture: Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay Times via AP
Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue. Picture: Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay Times via AP

Chronister said his office has received at least six new leads a day over the past week.

"Nothing credible," he said. "Most tips are more theories."

The sheriff debunked a few allegations raised by Maldonado-Passage in the documentary, including that Lewis is buried under the Big Cat Rescue septic tank (that wasn't put in until years after Lewis' disappearance) and that Lewis' body was put through the meat grinders used to process food for the tigers (those were removed several weeks before his disappearance, Chronister said).

The documentary filmmakers "certainly spun it for entertainment purposes," Chronister said, adding that he, too, binge-watched the series. "I think that's why all of us were so intrigued and engaged."

Maldonado-Passage isn't giving up, either. From behind bars, he filed a federal lawsuit seeking nearly $US94 million in damages, claiming - among other things - that he was convicted based on false and perjured testimony. He also claims he was singled out for prosecution because he "is an openly gay male with the largest collection of generic tigers and crossbreeds".

Joe Exotic in a scene from Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. Picture: Netflix
Joe Exotic in a scene from Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. Picture: Netflix

Meanwhile, a bunch of celebrities have become enthralled in the Tiger King cold case debate, with Kim Kardashian, Cardi B and more sharing their theories on social media.

 

This article originally appeared on Fox News and was reproduced with permission

 

Originally published as Tips flood in for Tiger King cold case


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