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FIRST ON FOX: The daughter of Carole Baskin’s second husband, who vanished nearly 25 years ago, is outraged that Florida prosecutors won’t pursue a murder case against her dad’s former handyman after an “explosive” new witness came forward implicating him.
Florida detectives presented evidence to the Tampa state attorney’s office in July against Kenny Farr for the alleged murder of Don Lewis, who disappeared Aug. 18, 1997, when he was 59.
“I am shocked that the state attorney’s office is not willing to pursue this. What this witness knows is explosive,” Don Lewis’ daughter Donna Pettis told Fox News Digital. “There is enough circumstantial evidence alone without the new witness’ statement for them to at least convene a grand jury. I’m extremely upset.”
The new witness reportedly told detectives that about a year after Lewis was reported missing, the former handyman showed up at a camping trip and drunkenly told the group he got rid of Lewis’ body by using a wood chipper.
The new witness came forward after the airing of the wildly popular 2020 Netflix series “Tiger King,” which documents the vicious rivalry between former big cat zoo owner Joe Exotic, also known as Joseph Maldonado-Passage, and big cat rescuer Carole Baskin.
The feud ultimately landed Joe Exotic behind bars for hiring a hit man to kill her.
Maldonado-Passage had long accused Baskin of orchestrating the murder of Lewis, using a meat grinder to dispose of his remains and burying the larger body parts under a septic tank on the property where the couple lived and ran an animal sanctuary.
Don Lewis’ disappearance
Baskin has vigorously denied on her website that she had anything to do with the disappearance of her second husband, an eccentric millionaire with whom she shared a love of exotic animals.
The pair founded the animal sanctuary Wildlife on Easy Street in Tampa, which is now called Big Cat Rescue. Lewis told family and friends that he planned to leave Baskin and move to Costa Rica. Baskin didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
After “Tiger King” aired, Trish Farr-Payne publicly came forward and implicated Farr, her ex-husband.
The day before Baskin reported that Lewis went missing, Farr allegedly arrived home in the middle of the night with Lewis’ van and guns.
Farr-Payne told Fox News Digital that when she asked Farr why he was in possession of Lewis’ property, he allegedly told her, “Don’s gone and I’m holding onto them for Carole.”
After that night she said he became “paranoid,” suspected their phones were tapped and told her not to discuss Lewis.
“When it hit the news I asked Kenny if he had anything to do with it, and he said, ‘Don’t ask me questions you don’t want answers to,’” Farr-Payne recalled.
During an argument months later, she said Farr threatened, “If you try to leave me one more time, I’ll put you through a grinder just like I did Don.”
‘Explosive’ new witness
Amateur online sleuth Jack Smith, known as Ripper Jack, launched a Facebook group in April 2020 focused on solving the case. About six months later, he announced a tip line and a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Lewis’ killer.
The new witness called the tip line in May 2021. Weeks later Lewis’ family attorney, Alex Spiro, interviewed him in Orlando, Florida, as Smith observed.
“He said Kenny told him he got rid of Don Lewis’ body by using a wood chipper that was on the farm,” Smith said, referring to the 172-acre property Lewis owned but was separate from the 40-acre animal sanctuary. Spiro declined to discuss details of the case.
The witness never asked for remuneration, Smith said.
In the second installment of the documentary, “Tiger King 2,” which aired last November, Farr denied he was involved in Lewis’ demise. Fox News Digital was unable to reach him for this story.
“It is inconceivable to think he is still with us,” Spiro said of Lewis. “It’s not a missing persons case, it’s not a suicide. There’s no evidence of some accident. We know it’s a homicide.”
Spiro handed over the new witness to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office who had reopened the missing persons case and hired two retired NYPD homicide detectives to work on it after the first documentary was released.
Case presented to Tampa state attorney’s office
After conducting dozens of interviews and following up on over 200 leads, the detectives presented the evidence they had gathered during an in-person meeting with prosecutors in July, pushing for an arrest.
But the Tampa state attorney’s office declined to pursue the case.
“The Sheriff’s Office gave us an update on the progress of their ongoing investigation,” Chief Communications Officer Grayson Kamm told Fox News Digital. “As with any cold case, if there is sufficient evidence to prove a perpetrator committed a crime, then we will file charges.”
A former member of law-enforcement did not agree with the characterization of the meeting. “They wanted Kenny Farr arrested,” the source said. “This wasn’t a little update but a full presentation with a compelling argument for an arrest backed up by evidence and this new corroborating witness.”
Shortly after Tampa rejected the case, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office asked Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody to pursue it. But it has been months and the AG’s office hasn’t given an indication either way, sources told Fox News Digital.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment, while the AG’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Current status of Don Lewis case
In a press conference in November, the lead detective on the case, Cpl. Moises Garcia, said the investigation was still active, and that Baskin remains a “suspect and person of interest.”
He said the only two people who have refused to be interviewed are Baskin and Farr.
Baskin, through her attorney, has rebuffed at least three interview requests by detectives, Garcia said. He called her refusal to cooperate unusual.
“She does a lot of interviews, she does a lot of online interviews with different personalities where she says that the sheriff’s office has not even approached her,” he said. “That can be very frustrating when you know you’ve approached multiple times.”
She has also refused to let investigators search her property.
Smith, the online sleuth, said there is overwhelming evidence that Baskin and Farr were involved in Lewis’ disappearance. He noted a few of the most compelling examples.
About two months before vanishing, Lewis applied for a protective order against Baskin, claiming she had threatened to kill him twice and gave it to his best friend and secretary, Anne McQueen. “He told her if anything ever happens to me, you’ll know what to do with this,” said Smith, who interviewed McQueen.
Baskin said she last saw him the morning of August 18, 1997, but Farr allegedly told his wife that Lewis was gone the night before.
Smith said the will that left nearly $7 million to Baskin is another red flag. Sandra Wittkop, the couple’s former housekeeper, who is listed as the notary on the will and power of attorney, told Smith she never signed the documents.
A handwriting expert also weighed in and said that Lewis’ signature on both documents matched too closely to be authentic and concluded they were likely traced from the couple’s marriage license. In addition, Baskin allegedly transferred multiple properties to Farr, Smith said.
Don Lewis’ family wants justice
Pettis said she and her siblings Gale Rathbone, Lynda Sanchez and Danny Lewis deeply miss their father and are haunted by not knowing exactly what happened to him.
He would still visit on the holidays after he left their mother for Baskin. “I remember him bringing raccoons one Easter and baby bears the next year,” she recalled. “He was a very unique individual and the hardest working man I ever met.”
But he was also flawed, she added. Lewis was raped when he was 15 and it left profound damage. She said he had lasting issues with sexuality and fidelity, which were documented in “Tiger King 2.”
After all these years, the family is still hopeful they will get justice and that Baskin and Farr will be held accountable.
“You never get over something like this,” Pettis said. “That void will always be there but we want closure.”