While animal breeder and roadside zoo owner Joe Exotic is the central figure in the Netflix docuseries, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, thanks to his eccentric personality, wild antics and his failed murder-for-hire plot, all anyone can talk about is Carole Baskin and whether or not she was involved in the disappearance of her second husband, Don Lewis.
In the docuseries, Exotic and others make claims that Baskin not only had a hand in Lewis’ disappearance but that she allegedly killed him and fed his body to one of the tigers in her Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Tampa, Florida. While speaking with ET's Lauren Zima, Doc Antle and Jeff Lowe, two of Tiger King’s subjects and more notorious characters, explain why they think she’s indeed culpable.
Antle, who is the owner of an upscale animal park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (“We’re the Ritz-Carlton of big cats,” he boasts), says “if you look at the series, Carole killed her husband.”
He adds, “I don’t know how she did it. I only have the evidence of the show, which seemed to produce a preponderance of ideas that convinced me that that's probably what happened.”
Just like many viewers, he’s basing his theory on what filmmakers Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin put together in the series, which includes one episode dedicated to Baskin’s story, how she came to own Big Cat Rescue, and her many marriages.
“I had never heard so much of the detail,” Antle says. “The story's been around forever, everyone says that and always has, but never got to be so uncovered. It's probably the only good thing that Eric Goode did is that he uncovered more of that story, interviewed more people, and got it to congeal into one space where evidence appears to be so much of a preponderance of truth that something fiendish went along while Carole killed her husband.”
Lowe, meanwhile, offers a motive as to why Baskin may have killed Lewis, who is allegedly worth millions according to those who knew him before he vanished. “I think she discovered that he was going to leave her,” he says. “And she was not about to let that happen. She was a street savvy young lady who had decided that she needed to protect her lifestyle.”
In the episode, several people close to Lewis claim that his marriage with Baskin was falling apart and days before his disappearance in 1997, she threatened his life. He attempted to get a restraining order, but it was rejected by a local judge. Lewis’ first wife, Gladys, as well as his former assistant, Anne McQueen, allege that she tampered with his wills and used his disappearance to take ownership of his financial affairs.
Lowe even believes the theory that in order to feed Lewis to a tiger, Baskin must have used a meat grinder to cut up the body. “We've heard certain things; we've heard names of who people think helped her,” he says. “You know, the meat grinder that they showed in the [docuseries], she scoffed at the fact that Don could be put through a meat grinder that was four inches. That's not the meat grinder that we know that she had. And we've been told that there's a police report someplace in Hillsborough County, where Carole filed claiming that one of her buildings was broken into and her meat grinders were stolen.”
“You can't make this stuff up,” Lowe’s wife, Lauren, adds.
Shortly after the docuseries debuted, Baskin took to her website to refute the claims made by Exotic and others on camera.
“It has a segment devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don 21 years ago,” she writes. “The series presents this without any regard for the truth or in most cases even giving me an opportunity before publication to rebut the absurd claims. They did not care about truth. The unsavory lies are better for getting viewers.”
When it comes to the accusations about Lewis being fed to a tiger, Baskin writes that it’s “the most ludicrous of all the lies.” She goes on to blame “Gladys and the daughters” for perpetuating this rumor in interviews and the media following Lewis’ disappearance. “They spread this rumor that they thought I had ground Don up and fed him to the cats. And the media loved it. The meat grinder shown in the video was enormous. Our meat grinder was one of those little tabletop, hand crank things, like you’d have in your kitchen at home, like the one pictured here.”
Meanwhile, the Hillsborough County police department has reopened the case surrounding Lewis’ disappearance. Sheriff Chad Chronister tweeted about all the newfound interest in Lewis' case, and asked for new leads.
"Since @netflix and #Covid19 #Quarantine has made #TigerKing all the rage, I figured it was a good time to ask for new leads," he wrote alongside a poster about Lewis that includes a number to call for anybody with information.
Whether or not it’s true, there’s no escaping the conversation. “In the grocery store, people walk up and go, ‘Carole killed her husband,’” Antle says. “It is the meme of our times right now.”