‘The Tiger King’ reignites 13-year-old missing man case as sheriff tweets for info

Tweet on missing man from Hillsborough sheriff
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister saw opportunity in the popularity of ‘The Tiger King’ on Netflix, tweeting for information about a missing man case dating to 1997. (From Twitter @ChadChronister)

Are you watching ‘The Tiger King’ on Netflix? When I look at social media, it seems like the whole world is watching this series about a very strange group of real life characters. Now that the series is the number one stream on Netflix, Sheriff Chad Chronister in Hillsborough County saw an opportunity to re-examine a cold case.

The Tiger King streaming on our TV
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In the Netflix series, there are two opposing forces, both of whom get revenue from enterprises involving exotic animals. One is The Tiger King, Joe Exotic (real name  Joseph Schreibvogel). The other is Carole Baskin. Joe Exotic ran a private exotic animal farm, and his passion was promoting the farm as well as his intriguing brand. Baskin presents as an animal activist, owner of a ranch where she cares for big cats abandoned by owners who could no longer care for them. Both Baskin and Joe needed donations to make their enterprises stay afloat.

Baskin and Joe eventually became entangled in a bitter back and forth over the treatment of their animals and over their motives in having the animals. Each assailed the other with insults, and Joe Exotic came up with an unusual accusation, accusing Baskin of murdering her husband.

In 1997 Baskin’s husband went missing. The circumstances were very strange:

“[Don] Lewis, who was born April 30, 1938 (he would be 81 years old today), was last seen on August 18, 1997…He was a white male who stood 5 foot 10 inches tall, and he was 170 pounds. He vanished seemingly without a trace. Anyone with information on the cold case is asked to call the sheriff’s department at 813-247-8200. According to the Tampa Bay Tribune, “His van was found at a Pasco County airport with the keys on the floor. Deputies searched the wildlife sanctuary, then named Wildlife on Easy Street, and flew to Costa Rica looking for leads. They never found him.”

The Sheriff also said Lewis didn’t take his money with him (wherever he allegedly went) and Baskin refused to take a lie detector test because her attorney told her not to. There’s more on the Lewis/Baskin case at Heavy.com.

I’ve watched some of the series, but I’m struggling to stick with it. My husband and I were talking about that struggle last night, and he admitted it isn’t exactly revving up his interest either. I laughed and told him in our lifetimes, we’ve known so many strange people with incredible stories that our personal experiences are hard to upstage. I confess Joe Exotic came off as more authentic to me than his nemesis Baskin. That’s based on how he and she were presented in the show, though. I haven’t exactly researched this in depth.

Seeing the popularity of this show, the sheriff decided to poke what he described as an “active cold case.”

He tweeted since #Tiger King is “all the rage,” it was a “good time to ask for new leads.”

The sheriff’s appeal apparently is paying off. He told a left of center news site he’s getting “about six tips a day”.

If you’re watching the show and want some quirky info, check out a column about The Tiger King at Cnet. Be aware there are spoilers.

Kay B. Day/April 1,2020

Derelict by Rebecca Day
Image of ‘Derelict’ book cover courtesy of author.

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