The hottest cold case in town just got a fresh financial offering for intel.
The family of Don Lewis, the first husband of “Tiger King” star Carole Baskin, is offering a $100,000 reward for information on his disappearance over two decades ago.
Lewis’ disappearance got fresh attention following Netflix’s wildly popular true-crime docuseries, which prompted local law enforcement to seek new leads, confirm and deny old details and buoy hordes of fans in their accusations against Big Cat Rescue owner Baskin.
“We really need someone to come forward in the case with information,” Jack Smith, a family spokesperson, said Monday alongside lawyers and three of Lewis’ daughters. “And there’s a lot of people out there that have information but they’re scared to come forward. There’s people with animals — exotic animals — that are scared if they come forward, they’re gonna lose their animals somehow.”
The new reward comes a week before the 23-year anniversary of Lewis’ disappearance from his Tampa, Florida, home on Aug. 18, 1997. The family has also invested in billboards advertising the reward not far from Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue animal sanctuary.
After “weeks of interviewing attorneys,” the family has chosen to work with Tampa-based John Phillips, of Phillips and Hunt Law Firm, said Lewis’ oldest daughter, Donna Pettis.
Lewis’ youngest daughter, Gale Rathbone, commented on the massive renewed public interest in her father’s case following the popularity of “Tiger King.”
“Amazingly, our little family tragedy has become your tragedy. Our search for closure and truth has become your mission also,” she said Monday. “We all know by now that he was not a perfect man. But do only the perfect among us deserve justice?”
Despite her father being a complicated man, her last 23 years have been haunted by his absence.
“I still to this day miss my dad, I love my dad,” said Rathbone. “For 23 years, I’ve gone to bed every night knowing the only chance I have of seeing him again is in my dreams. For 23 years, I’ve woken every morning to the heartbreak of his strange disappearance.”
Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin walks the property in Tampa, Fla., in 2017.
Don Lewis’ daughter Donna Pettis speaks during a news conference Monday in Tampa, Fla.
Jack Donald (Don) Lewis plays with Nyla, a spotted Asian leopard, in 1997.
Big Cat Rescue chairman Howard Baskin and his wife, Carole, who is the founder of the organization, at the 2008 Fur Ball in Tampa, Fla.