Every Theory About What Happened To Carole Baskin’s Husband

He vanished without a trace in 1997.

Originally Published: 
A still of Don Lewis' wife Carole Baskin from 'Tiger King' via the Netflix press site

Of the many curiosities to come out of Tiger King, one of the biggest is what happened to Carole Baskin’s husband Don Lewis, who disappeared in 1997 and was declared legally dead in 2002.

When Season 1 of the Netflix series premiered in March 2020, viewers immediately glommed onto the theory put forth repeatedly by Baskin’s archrival Joe Exotic: that she killed Lewis and fed him to the tigers at her animal sanctuary. But to this day, Baskin has fervently denied the claims, and law enforcement ruled her out as a suspect during the investigation.

Over 20 years later, Lewis' family is still looking for answers. They even ran an ad during Dancing With the Stars Season 29 — on which Baskin competed — asking for information and again insinuating that Baskin may have been involved in Lewis’ disappearance. But there are a number of other theories about what happened to him, too.

Don Lewis Started A New Life In Costa Rica

Lewis knew how to fly a plane. He owned property in Costa Rica. His van was found abandoned at an airport after he vanished. And he had told friends that he planned on moving to the Central American country, according to a 1998 People magazine feature. This all suggest that Lewis could have simply decided to start a new life south of the border. However, there are a few problems with the theory: chiefly, that Lewis' Costa Rica property was thoroughly searched by investigators, who found no trace of him.

Don Lewis Crashed His Plane

Going hand-in-hand with the Costa Rica theory, some have speculated that Lewis died in a plane crash. This would explain why his credit cards were never used again after his disappearance, and why no sign of his body — living or dead — has ever surfaced. This is the theory that Baskin herself said is “the most likely scenario.” As she explained in a Nov. 15, 2021 Reddit Ask Me Anything, Lewis actually “wasn't licensed to fly,” but still took to the sky all the time.

“Don loved to fly and was looking to buy ultralights and experimental planes. I believe Don crashed a small experimental plane or ultralight into the Gulf for a number of reasons,” Baskin wrote. Because he wasn’t licensed, Lewis “couldn't file a flight plan and had to take off from closed airports to evade detection. He had to fly under 200 feet to stay off the radar which means he would typically fly out over the Gulf because the air is smoother there, whereas over land there are up and down drafts that will crash you at the height. Since phone records indicated he was planning to go to Texas, and his van was found at a small private airstrip and we have never found Don or wreckage, I think this was the most likely scenario.”


Don Lewis Was Killed By A Drug Cartel

One Reddit user posited that Lewis was pushed out of a plane over the Gulf of Mexico by drug dealers. Their logic follows the same evidence that suggests Lewis flew somewhere when he disappeared, while also putting stock in a statement by Lewis' former handyman Kenny Farr, who claimed Lewis told him he was going to pull off the "slickest thing he'd ever done" the night before he went missing. The user speculates that Lewis was able to make his mysterious millions by smuggling drugs from south of the border, and that a deal must have gone bad while out on what would be his final run. Around the time that he vanished, rumors swirled that Lewis was pushed out of a plane. However, CBS investigated the possibility of this happening and found it unlikely.

Don Lewis Was Murdered As Part Of A Bogus Plane Deal

Lewis' lawyer, Joseph Fritz, also thinks Lewis was pushed out of a plane. He told Fox Nation's Nancy Grace in an April 2020 interview that he believes Lewis was lured to the airport under the guise of buying a plane, but once on the plane, he was strangled and thrown overboard. Lewis declined to name a murder suspect in the interview, but claimed Baskin hasn't been truthful about what she knows.

Kenny Farr Killed Don Lewis

In a Sept. 9, 2020 episode of CBS' 48 Hours, Farr's ex-wife Trish Farr-Payne alleged that her former husband admitted to killing Lewis. She claimed that Farr was in possession of Lewis' van and guns the day before his disappearance was announced, and that that he told her "Don's gone" and to not ask questions about him. She also alleged that a mysterious padlocked freezer showed up on their porch around the same time as Lewis' disappearance and then vanished. Most damning of all, she accused Farr of once threatening to put her "in the (meat) grinder, like I did Don." Farr denied any knowledge of what happened to Lewis in an email to CBS.

Could one of these theories to explain what happened to Don Lewis? Given that it's been 24 years since anyone saw him, it seems unlikely we'll ever know for sure.

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