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Family of Don Lewis, whose cold case drew new interest after 'Tiger King,' offers $100K reward

The family's lawyer asked for civility and wants people with information to come forward.

TAMPA, Fla. — While the attention around Netflix's seven-episode docuseries "Tiger King" may have slowed, a family's search for answers in their father's cold case has not. 

Jack "Don" Lewis' almost 23-year-old cold case resurfaced after the third episode of the docuseries looked into the disappearance of Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin's second husband. In the episode, Joe Exotic claims Baskin killed Lewis and fed him to her tigers. 

Baskin has denied being involved in her husband's disappearance.

During a press conference Monday, the family and family's attorney announced a $100,000 reward for information regarding Don Lewis' disappearance. 

The family's lawyer, John Phillips urged people with information to come forward. He also said the family is dissatisfied with the lack of answers and closure surrounding Lewis' disappearance. 

"We are hoping that with these funds, someone will have the courage to come for it and provide the information necessary to solve this case," said Donna Pettis, one of Lewis's daughters.

Lewis, who once owned Big Cat Rescue with Baskin, was last seen the day before a scheduled trip to Costa Rica in 1997.

"I still to this day, miss my dad," Gale Rathbone, Lewis's youngest daughter, said. "Twenty-three years I've gone to bed every night knowing the only change I have of seeing him again is in my dreams."

A press release sent a day prior to the planned news conference said the family retained Jacksonville attorney John Phillips and the Law Offices of Phillips and Hunt to represent them.

It says Phillips and his team will conduct their own investigation into how Lewis disappeared. Phillips said the family has made it clear they are not satisfied with more than 23 years of investigation by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

The hype around the docuseries led the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office to reopen the case for new leads in March. Tips came in daily, but most were missing one key element –credibility.

Baskin has ardently denied all allegations that she had anything to do with her then husband's disappearance or death, calling the Netflix docuseries "salacious and sensation" and full of "unsavory lies."

In interviews since, Sheriff Chad Chronister has said he believes Lewis was murdered in 1997 and did not just disappear as was alleged. 

"There's a lot of suspicion surrounding his death," Chronister said in an interview with 10 Tampa Bay this past April. "What wealthy person disappears and doesn't take his wealth with him?"

And while he believes more than one person was involved in Lewis' murder, Baskin is "no more a person of interest than anyone else."

"She is not even a person of interest at this point," Chronister said previously. "We have no reason to deem her or anyone else equally as important as a suspect in this case."

Chronister also said while he understands why people would believe she is guilty due to the show's spin, that the sheriff's office can disprove two of its biggest theories related to the meat grinder and septic tank.

A celebration for life has been set for Lewis at 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 15. And, people living in the Tampa will also see billboards featuring the $100,000 reward offer. The money was raised with help from a GoFundMe page and an anonymous donor, the family said.

"Amazingly, our little family tragedy has become your tragedy," Rathbone said. "Our search for closure has become your mission also."

"Tiger King" premiered on March 20 chronicling the life of Joe Exotic – the former Oklahoma zookeeper, singer and gubernatorial candidate currently in prison after being convicted of a murder-for-hire plot against Carole Baskin.

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