Carole Baskin sees herself as the victim in Netflix’s “Tiger King” — but armchair detectives and Twitter conspiracy theorists aren’t buying it.
The runaway hit docuseries centers on the eccentric title character, known as Joe Exotic, plotting to have Baskin, a big-cat conservator, murdered. Days before the show took social media by storm, Baskin optimistically told The Post, “We’re hoping the film raises awareness.”
She was referring to awareness about the mistreatment of lions and tigers. However, the series raised a different kind of awareness that Baskin, 58, might not have anticipated.
The narrative included details about the fact that Baskin’s first husband, Jack “Don” Lewis, disappeared under circumstances that some find to be unresolved. Included in that group is Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. Spurred on by the doc’s popularity, Chronister, 52, has expressed renewed interest in the 23-year-old cold case.
Baskin, however, is adamant that she’s the real victim here — and reminded us she’s no stranger to receiving death threats herself.
“He’s been trying, since 2009, to get his minions to kill me,” the founder of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, told The Post. “He was constantly going on his internet show, saying that he has to get rid of me. It was very disturbing. The kinds of people who back up what he does are not stable people. It would be one thing if he went out to mainstream America. But he was going out to a group of wack-jobs.”
“Tiger King,” co-directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, exposes the wild world of people who are obsessed with big cats and details the long-running feud between Baskin and Exotic. She wants him to stop breeding big cats. He allegedly wants her killed for threatening his lucrative biz.
But now she’s the target of ugly online rumors.
Her current husband, Howard Baskin, 69, speaking in a YouTube video, pointed out the degree to which the accusations have blown up: “This week Kim Kardashian as ked her [Twitter] followers if they think Carole killed her husband . . . We would welcome [Kardashian] visiting if she wanted to.”
Two months before disappearing in August 1997, Lewis sought a domestic violence injunction against Baskin. She has hinted that he may have had Alzheimer’s disease. His van was found at an airport near the couple’s home in Tampa — and Lewis was not heard from again.
“He just literally vanished into thin air,” Greg Thomas, a Hillsborough County patrol sergeant told told Oxygen.
“Tiger King” floated a wildly out-there allegation that Baskin fed her ex-husband to their tigers. Exotic fanned that flame by making a video showing a woman, who bore a resemblance to his arch-enemy Baskin, tossing meat to a big cat.
Baskin has characterized such talk as the “most ludicrous of all the lies,” pointing out in a blog post that her tigers eat meat broken down into 1-inch cubes before being ground in her tabletop meat grinder. “The idea that a human body could be put through it,” she said, “is idiotic.”
Nevertheless, Sheriff Chronister tweeted this cryptic message Monday: “Since @netflix and #Covid19 #Quarantine has made #TigerKing all the rage, I figured it was a good time to ask for new leads.”
Baskin has long maintained that she had nothing to do with the disappearance of her first husband — and authorities confirm this.
Patrol Sergeant Thomas told Oxygen that Baskin was looked at as a “person of interest,” but “nothing linked her to being involved.” She was never charged.
“As far as our case goes,” Thomas, 45, added, “he is still a missing person. It’s not a homicide because he’s missing. We have no knowledge of where he’s at or a body or anything.”
Baskin and her second husband continue to run Big Cat Rescue. It is a sanctuary for unwanted lions and tigers — but it’s also a nonprofit organization that tries to stop people from breeding big cats.
“We’d like to put ourselves out of business,” Baskin told The Post. She claims she wants breeding to stop so that she no longer has to rally against the practice. Through social media, Baskin continues to wage campaigns against a number of people who own roadside zoos where patrons can pet cubs.
Exotic knows just how effective Baskin’s business can be.
He lost his zoo in 2018, and three months later was arrested by federal agents and charged with playing a role in an attempted murder. In April 2019, jurors in an Oklahoma City federal court found him guilty on 19 counts — including twice hiring hit men to kill Baskin, illegally killing tigers and falsifying documents related to big-cat sales.
Earlier this year he was sentenced to a 22-year prison term for the above charges.
“Joe is a minor character in my world,” Baskin told The Post. “I am always going after these people and they are always making threats to me. Joe was just one more guy.”
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