While no official source has confirmed that Lewis is alive, the interview from November 2021 has been widely shared, setting fans of the Netflix documentary into a frenzy online.
In the interview with ITV’s This Morning talk show, Baskin stated that her former husband, who was declared legally dead in 2002 after going missing five years earlier, is alive and well, according to US Homeland Security.
Baskin alleged during the interview that the department had been in touch with her ex-husband.
"They said my husband, Don Lewis, is alive and well in Costa Rica,” she said in the interview. “And yet all of this drama has been made about me having something to do with his disappearance, when Homeland Security has known where he is."
Who is Carole Baskin?
In March 2020, Baskin rose to fame due to the success of Netflix's true crime series Tiger King.
The series follows the interconnected community of big cat conservationists in the US, including Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue, and Joe Exotic, who is now in jail. The success of the show led to second and third seasons.
The first season focused on Exotic’s life as the owner of The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in rural Wynnewood, Oklahoma, and his long feud with Baskin, who has accused him of abusing his animals. The series reveals the events leading up to Exotic’s conviction and imprisonment for attempting to murder Baskin through a paid hitman.
The series revealed that Baskin was one of the prime suspects in the 1997 investigation into the disappearance of Lewis, her then-husband. During the show, Lewis’s relatives questioned whether Baskin was involved with his disappearance, some suggested she may have fed his remains to her tigers.
After Baskin’s unexpected rise to fame, theories surrounding her possible involvement in Lewis's disappearance were frequently shared online, leading the animal conservationist to speak out against Netflix and the show's creators in a detailed post on her blog.
"When the directors of the Netflix documentary Tiger King came to us five years ago they said they wanted to make the big cat version of Blackfish (the documentary that revealed abuse at SeaWorld) that would expose the misery caused by the rampant breeding of big cat cubs for cub petting exploitation and the awful life the cats lead in roadside zoos and back yards if they survive," she wrote.
"There are no words for how disappointing it is to see that the docuseries not only does not do any of that but has had the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers."
Baskin wasn’t involved in the second or third season of Tiger King and in November 2021 filed a lawsuit against Netflix and Royal Goode Productions, after the trailer for the second season was released.
The lawsuit claimed scenes in the trailer were not an accurate representation of her or what happened and she requested the removal of footage of her used in the second season. However Baskin dropped the lawsuit one month later.
What we know for sure
It is still unclear whether Lewis is alive and has been found.
Lewis, who disappeared in 1997 at the age of 59, would be 84 if alive today. While Baskin insists that the US government has confirmed that he is alive and living in Costa Rica, he is still technically legally documented as dead. He has also not made any public statements about his status, whereabouts and does not appear to have returned to America.
“I don’t know how it is that Homeland Security says he’s alive and well in Costa Rica, but I’m glad to hear it,” Baskin added in the interview.
“I didn’t think he was capable of supporting himself. He took about a million dollars down to Costa Rica, I had agreed to let him do that so he could prove to himself that he could make a living.”
Meanwhile, John M Phillips, Exotic’s attorney shared a screen shot alleging that Lewis has been found alive on his Facebook page on Wednesday along with a statement denying the new claim.
“During the filming of Tiger King, detailed efforts were made to find Don Lewis. They all failed. He is not alive,” Phillips wrote in his statement.
“The 2021 report by Carole Baskin was further unsupported allegation. It’s being republished as if it has veracity. It doesn’t. The story of the Tiger King is filled with lies, set up and misdirection. We still await a hearing for Joe’s freedom. The lies and set-up are spelt out in his motion for new trial. Read it. The work is done.”