The big question: “Who murdered Don Lewis?”
The query is now displayed way up high and 50-feet wide on four billboards around Tampa. One at 8705 Citrus Park Drive is a mile from Big Cat Rescue, where Lewis was last seen on Aug. 18, 1997.
The family of the millionaire property investor, amateur pilot and eccentric collector of big cats is offering $100,000 for tips that answer the question. Lewis disappeared a day before a scheduled trip to Costa Rica and was never found. He was legally declared dead in 2002.
Hillsborough County sheriff Chad Chronister has said that he believes Lewis was murdered, though the sheriff’s office has no evidence to consider anyone a suspect.
Interest in Lewis’ case got a boost when it was featured in the hit Netflix series Tiger King, which centered on the feud between Lewis’ former wife, Carole Baskin, and Oklahoma zookeeper Joe Exotic.
The $100,000 reward was raised through a Gofundme campaign and an anonymous donor, said Jack “Ripper” Smith, an amateur investigator from Oklahoma who has been serving as a spokesman for Lewis’ first wife, Gladys Cross, and his adult daughters, Donna Pettis, Lynda Sanchez and Gale Rathbone.
Smith has also been conducting his own interviews with various witnesses in the case for YouTube, and is participating in a Tiger King follow-up being filmed for Netflix in Tampa.
Lewis and Baskin founded Tampa’s Wildlife On Easy Street, which became the non-profit Big Cat Rescue. The re-married Baskin still operates the rescue today.
Lewis’ family plans to hold a news conference at 11 a.m. on Monday at Riverhills Church of God in Tampa. Smith gave no details about what would be announced, but said it will be streamed online on the YouTube channel RipperJack Media.
The Hillsborough sheriff’s office assigned a new supervisor to the open Don Lewis case, reviewed the case files and began conducting new interviews after Chronister took a personal interest in the case after watching Tiger King.