The disappearance of Carole Baskin’s former husband Don Lewis


Tampa Bay Times/ZUMA Press

An inside look at the puzzling 1997 cold case disappearance of the Florida millionaire.

Carole Baskin’s former husband, millionaire Don Lewis, was reported missing on August 19, 1997. At the time, he and Carole were married and living in Tampa, Florida.

Denied Allegations

Tampa Bay Times/ZUMA Press

Carole Baskin has repeatedly denied she had anything to do with Don Lewis’ disappearance. 

Don’s First Marriage

Donna Pettis

Don Lewis was married to Gladys Lewis when he first met Carole in 1981. Gladys and Don raised a family [pictured]. Their daughters say they had a happy childhood and that their father had a passion for animals. “We had a variety of animals,” Gale Rathbone, Don’s youngest daughter, told “48 Hours.” “We would come home from school, and there’d be a baby alligator swimming in the bathtub.”

Numerous Affairs

Gale Rathbone

But not everything was perfect in the Lewis household. Don’s first wife Gladys says her husband had multiple affairs – including a nearly 10-year affair with Carole. In 1990, nearly 10 years after Don and Carole first met, Gladys and Don divorced.

A New Marriage

Tampa Bay Times/ZUMA Press

A year later, in 1991, Don married Carole and they eventually founded Wildlife on Easy Street, an animal sanctuary where they raised tigers and other exotic animals.

Trouble in Paradise

Gale Rathbone

But Don and Carole Lewis ended up having a troubled marriage, too. They disagreed over what to do with their animals. While Don wanted to breed and sell, Carole was against that and wanted to focus on rescuing.

Don Disappears


In the summer of 1997, Carole Lewis reported Don missing. The only trace of him was his van, which was found at a remote airport about  half an hour from where the couple lived. Don’s keys were reportedly still in the vehicle.

The night of August 17, 1997

Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Wire

Carole later recounted the events leading up to her husband’s disappearance. After 11 p.m. on August 17, 1997, she says she had to run out and buy ingredients for kitten formula. The store she drove to was closed, and then she says her car overheated. After failing to reach Don on the phone, she walked the six miles back to their home. It was a few hours later—in the early morning of August 18 —that she says she saw Don for the last time as he left to prepare for a business trip. 


Joe Fritz

Don Lewis’ lawyer Joe Fritz [pictured with Don]  heard at the time that Don may have been strangled and thrown from a plane over the Gulf of Mexico.

Testing a Theory

CBS News

Don Lewis was an amateur pilot. He owned several airplanes and his family says he loved to fly.

“48 Hours” correspondent Richard Schlesinger is also a pilot, and flies the same type of plane that Don was known to fly –  a Piper Arrow. Schlesinger took to the skies to analyze the theory that Don may have been strangled and thrown from an airplane. 

Testing a Theory

CBS News

Richard Schlesinger reports it would have been extremely difficult to even open the plane door. Winds approaching hurricane strength would be pushing against it.

“Don’s Gone”

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