Saturday, February 27, 2021

MS Investigative Reporter Takes on Cold Case After Watching ‘Tiger King’

By Alyssa Schnugg
News editor

As the world’s population retreated into their homes to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, comments about the reality show, “Tiger King” on Netflix started popping up on social media as a “must watch” show.

Jackson investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell didn’t have a Netflix subscription but decided to sign up and watch the show at the suggestion of a friend.

“Every episode you kept waiting for it to be less crazy and it kept getting crazier,” Mitchell told Monday.

Jerry Mitchell is investigating the disappearance of “Tiger King’s” Don Lewis.
Photo provided by Jerry Mitchell.

After watching the seven-episode series, the reporter in Mitchell honed in on one particular part of the show – the disappearance of Jack “Don” Lewis in 1997. Lewis was never found and was declared dead in 2002.

Lewis was married to Carole Baskin. The two co-owned the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Tampa. In the show, Joe Exotic made claims that Baskin killed her husband. No one was ever arrested or charged with Lewis’ disappearance.

Mitchell is the founder of Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting – a nonprofit news organization that reports on the criminal justice system, public education funding, prisons, public corruption, political cronyism, generational poverty, health woes, racial disparities or a host of other issues.

While Lewis’ disappearance happened outside of Mississippi, Mitchell has decided to take on the 20-plus year case and do what he does best – find the truth.

On Monday, he announced on his Facebook page that his investigation into Lewis’ disappearance was “official.”

“I’ve gone online and found some stuff that wasn’t necessarily in the main press, so I’m digging into some of those things,” he said.

Mitchell said he hopes to get an interview with Baskin and once life returns to “normal” and travel is safer, he intends to make a few trips to Florida.

“I’m going to try to speak to his (Lewis’s) family too,” he said.

Via Facebook/Who Killed “Tiger King’s” Don Lewis?

Mitchell has started a new Facebook page where he will share some of the information he learns as he moves forward with the investigation and is also asking for volunteers to be part of his team to help dig up information. He said he is also looking at a possible podcast associated with his investigation.

“We’ll see what it becomes,” he said.

This isn’t the first cold case Mitchell has taken on.

Mitchell played a central role in convincing law enforcement to open several cases from the Civil Rights Era. Through his work, the killers were finally brought to justice for the assassination of Medgar Evers, the firebombing of Vernon Dahmer, the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham and the Mississippi Burning case. He recently released a book about his work titled, “Race Against Time.”

For his investigative work, Mitchell has won more than 20 national awards, including a MacArthur Foundation genius grant and the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service. In 2006, he was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

His investigative work on the 1962 murder of Mary Horton Vail helped bring about the arrest and conviction of Felix Vail, who was found guilty in 2016 of killing his then-22-year-old wife.