Carole Baskin's missing husband's will 'was forged,' lawyer claims
Lawyer for missing husband of ‘Tiger King’ star Carole Baskin says strange ‘disappearance’ clause proves his will was forged and has ‘no doubt’ the animal sanctuary owner was ‘murdered’
- The lawyer for Carole Baskin’s missing husband says he believes the man’s will was forged due to a strange clause included
- Don Lewis, 59, went missing in August 1997 after allegedly telling the ‘Tiger King’ star he was heading to Costa Rica on his plane
- Lewis has been missing ever since and many have pointed the finger at Baskin due to her inheriting his entire estate, which some estimates have put at $10M
The lawyer for Carole Baskin’s missing husband claims the man’s will was ‘forged,’ which he is confident about due to a strange ‘disappearance’ clause.
According to Don Lewis’ lawyer, Joseph Fritz, he knew the document was ‘fabricated’ after he came across the surprising clause which gave Baskin full control over his multi-million dollar estate in the case of ‘disability or disappearance.’
Lewis, 59, went missing in August 1997 after allegedly telling Baskin he was planning to travel to Costa Rica on his private plane.
The man vanished without a trace and his truck was later found at an abandoned airfield 40 miles away from the property he owned with his wife outside of Tampa, Florida. He was declared legally dead in 2002 but Fritz says he has no doubt Lewis was ‘murdered.’
The lawyer for Carole Baskin’s missing husband claims the man’s will was ‘forged,’ which he is confident about due to a strange ‘disappearance’ clause
According to Don Lewis’ laywer, Joseph Fritz, he knew the document was fabricated after he came across the surprising clause which gave Baskin full control over his multi-million dollar estate in the case of ‘disability or disappearance’
Fritz, who was also Lewis’ friend, has long maintained that the document was forged and stated he believed someone other than Lewis had signed the will.
In 2020, Hillsborough County sheriff Chad Chronister confirmed the document was forged, saying two experts had examined the document and determined it had been fabricated.
‘They called in some experts to say that the will was a forgery and I had already told them that two months ago,’ Chronister said.
‘They had two experts deem it 100% a forgery’ the sheriff said, speaking to local media.
Chronister said the statute of limitations complicated any hopes of legal action, however, as the will had already been executed.
‘That’s the only reason. There’s no recourse,’ he said. ‘A judge deemed it valid. So the civil side of it, with the execution of the will [and] disbursement of the funds is one thing. But then you have the criminal side, which is unable to prosecute.’
While the exact amount the estate is worth is unknown, some estimates have valued it up to $10 million.
The entire estate was left to Baskin with Lewis’ own family being cut out.
Baskin and Lewis in Tiger King season 2. In 1997, he left his residence and was never seen by friends or family members again
After Lewis’ disappearance, police found his van at the abandoned private airstrip outside of Tampa.
Inside, law enforcement could not locate any signs of a struggle, including blood.
There is also no record of him flying and his banking activity remained untouched.
After he went missing, Baskin brought forth his will and took control of his estate thanks to the puzzling clause.
‘In my law office, we have lawyers with more than 100 years combined experience, and none of us has ever heard the word ‘disappearance’ used in a document like that,’ Fritz told The U.S. Sun.
‘Never. Not in one case. It leaves me to believe that a non-lawyer did that.
‘Who the f**k thinks they’re going to disappear?’ the lawyer continued.
This is Don Lewis, who went missing in August 1997
Baskin got remarried to Howard Baskin two years after Lewis was pronounced dead
Baskin previously stated she had authored legal documents in Don’s name but stated he asked her to do so.
The Tiger King star claimed Lewis wanted to save money on legal expenses.
Baskin said in a 2020 blog post she specifically included the wording regarding disappearance because of her husband’s ‘dealings with the mob’ in Costa Rica.
‘Some people made a fuss about using the word “disappearance,” but Don had told me about people going to Costa Rica and disappearing, and he was dealing with the mob down there, so I thought that seemed like a potential threat and included the word,’ she wrote.
Baskin said the couple’s Costa Rican lawyer told her he was loaning money to the Helicopter Brothers.
‘I also included disability because of Don’s increasingly strange behavior,’ she wrote.
Fritz’s suspicions regarding the signatures on the will were backed up by the investigation conducted by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department.
The investigation found that the signatures appeared to have been copied from his marriage certificate several years prior.
The experts said the two signatures were a perfect match. Typically, signatures show some variation.
‘It was nearly exact replication to the extent that I was very confidently able to opine that what I was dealing with – at least with Mr. Lewis’s signature – that these signatures were traced,’ Fritz said.
Just last week, DailyMail.com reported that Baskin, appearing in a televised interview, said she believes her ex-husband is still alive and in Costa Rica
Baskin’s story came to light in 2020 with the success of Netflix’s docuseries ‘Tiger King’
Just last week, DailyMail.com reported that Baskin, appearing in a televised interview, said she believes her ex-husband is still alive and in Costa Rica.
The claim was immediately called into question by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
Officials have kept Lewis’ disappearance case open and efforts were officially rebooted in April 2020 after the success of Netflix’s ‘Tiger King’ docuseries.
A spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department said that they had not heard anything about Lewis’ whereabouts.
Baskin has also claimed that a Department of Homeland Security official had been in touch with her ex and subsequently informed the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s public information office, Fentress Fountain, said: ‘We have not received any communication from our federal partners that confirms the location of missing person Mr. Don Lewis.’
‘The investigation into Don Lewis’ disappearance remains a priority for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, as do all missing person cases.’
Fritz told the US Sun it’s a bald-faced lie.
‘First of all, it’s a goddamn lie that [federal authorities] will say anything to anybody,’ the lawyer said.
‘Number two, nobody I know outside of police work has ever seen that document I’ve known that it existed since before Tiger King, and we’ve asked for it but they won’t give it up.
‘But that letter’s existence is nothing new, it’s just more bulls**t from Carole,’ he said.
Carole and Howard Baskin said in a 2021 blog post that the second season of Tiger King had some redeeming features in that it revealed that Lewis was routinely flying small aircraft to Costa Rica and could have reached the country undetected
The unverified Department of Homeland Security letter claiming Don Lewis remains alive and well and is living in Costa Rica. He was 59 when he disappeared and would be 84 now
Another person who signed the document, Susan Aronoff, previously testified she was there for the signing of the will but later told investigators she wasn’t.
According to Chronister, Aronoff ‘came forward and said she felt pressured at the time to say that it was signed by everyone.’
‘I’m pretty confident, she says that she felt to prove her allegiance to Carol that she felt pressured into saying that she witnessed those signatures,’ Chronister said.
The longtime executive assistant for Lewis, Anne McQueen, at one point said she had no knowledge of any other wills other than the one she had under her desk.
McQueen’s documents say she is the executor of his will, has power of attorney, and is in control of the man’s life insurance.
Speaking in reference to the documents presented by Baskin, Frtiz said: ‘They’re forgeries, there’s no doubt about it. But we don’t know who did do it for certain.’
‘All the witnesses on the document have recanted, saying it didn’t happen,’ he continued. ‘If there were a murder investigation, it might be evidence. I don’t know.’
‘But there’s nothing they can do about it now.’
Carole (left) and Howard Baskin (right) pictured in August 2021
He also said there is ‘no doubt’ he believes Lewis was murdered.
Despite that, he did note he had heard of potential sightings of the missing man in Costa Rica.
Lewis’ daughters corroborated those reports but said nothing had come of them.
At one point, Lewis’ daughter Donna and her husband Tom even flew down to Costa Rica to look for him after a sighting but the efforts were fruitless.
‘In the past few days, we’ve learned of recent news articles being published claiming that our Dad, Jack Donald Lewis, has been found ‘alive and well,’ in Costa Rica,’ the daughters’ written statement began.
‘While we would certainly welcome the good news of our dad being found alive, it’s just simply not true. In late 1997, we were notified by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department that a report existed from US Customs stating that our Dad had been seen in Costa Rica.’
In spite of the obstacles, the lawyer says he still has hopes the case will one day be solved. Who and how it will be figured out, however, remains a question to him.
‘The sheriff knows I’m unimpressed with their investigation; I once said I’ve seen Walmart security do a better job of investigating a kid that stole a CD,’ he said.
‘They probably have enough probable cause right not to make arrests – they do – but they don’t have it beyond a reasonable doubt and until they do they’re not going to do anything.
‘Will they get there eventually? I think they will. One day someone somewhere is going to need a get-out-of-jail-free card and they’re going to give up testimony in exchange.
‘That’s the only way this one is going to get solved,’ he concluded.
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