With $100,000 reward, family of Don Lewis pushes for answers in 'Tiger King' cold case

In early 2020, millions of people tuned in to watch Netflix’s hit show Tiger King as the feud between Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic played out. Now, billboards have popped up around town with the question, "Who killed Don Lewis?"

It’s because of that docuseries that investigators are now once again looking into the mysterious disappearance of Don Lewis, Baskin’s former husband, who has now been missing for over 20 years.

On Monday, his family said they will continue to ask the public for help, and have offered a $100,000 reward, as they hope someone is able to answer the question for them.

"We worked for weeks in raising this money," said Donna Pettis, Lewis' oldest daughter. "An anonymous donor came forward guaranteeing the $100,000. We're hoping that with these funds someone will have the courage to come forward and provide the information to solve this case." 


Billboards have popped up around town with one question: Who killed Don Lewis?

Jack Smith, the family spokesperson, said Monday the family believes there are people with information, but are worried about coming forward.

"We really need someone to come forward," he said. "There is a lot of people who have information who are afraid to come forward…they are worried that if they come forward they will be charged for a crime."

RELATED: Hillsborough sheriff: Don Lewis, former husband of Big Cat Rescue's CEO, was likely killed

The Tiger King docuseries focused mainly on Lewis’s wife, Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin, and her ongoing feud with Joe Exotic, the man behind bars for allegedly trying to kill Baskin through a murder-for-hire plot.  However, the docuseries sparked renewed interest in the over 20-year-old cold case after a whole episode was dedicated to Lewis’s mysterious disappearance. 

RELATED: Where is Don Lewis? Sheriff says cold case in 'Tiger King' documentary still needs 'credible' lead

Lewis disappeared a day before a planned trip to Costa Rica back in 1997. His van was found at a Pasco County airport, but Lewis was never seen or heard from again. He was legally declared dead in 2002, but since Tiger King’s debut, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister has re-opened the investigation into his disappearance. The sheriff said that while he doesn’t have any suspects, he too believes Lewis could have been murdered.

Gale Rathbone, Lewis' youngest daughter, described her father as "quirky and unique."

"We're just so grateful of the outpouring of support we have received from everyone. Amazingly, our little family tragedy has become your tragedy. Our search for truth has become your mission too," she said Monday. "We all know by now that he was not perfect. We ask that anyone with vital information come forward so progress can be made on his case."

John Phillips, the lawyer representing the Lewis family, said they have launched their own internal investigation, and explored possible burial sites.

"Resolving this case is in everyone's best interest," he said. "I believe it's in Carole Baskin's best interest. I invite her to the table. I invite her to talk, and let us know what really happened."

He explained how his wife's mother passed away Thursday, with her daughter at her side.

"She died with family around. Whoever did this stole that from this family," Phillips said describing the Lewis family.  "I will ask one time, for civility. I will ask one time that we come together to find closure of this whole thing. If that can't be done, I'm a lawyer. I sue people. We'll go that route."

RELATED: Big Cat Rescue CEO disapproves of 'Tiger King' documentary, calling it 'sensational'

During the Tiger King episode focused on Lewis’s disappearance, there were many theories about what happened to Lewis. His own family even admitted that they believe Baskin may have had something to do with his disappearance.

In 2011, the sheriff says Baskin was offered a lie detector test, but she refused to participate. However, she has never been charged in relation to the case.