A Florida sheriff involved in the case of Carole Baskin’s missing husband Don Lewis has said that the multi-millionaire's will was forged.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister told 10 Tampa Bay that experts had deemed the will was ‘100 percent a forgery’ casting 'another shadow of suspicion' on his disappearance.
Chronister added that there was no update on whether Baskin, 58, was a suspect in her first husband’s disappearance but that investigators have acquired new information and are working through it.
The disappearance of Jack ‘Don’ Lewis from Tampa in 1997 was a major talking point of the Netflix’s recent hit Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.
Don Lewis, former owner of Wildlife on Easy Street in Florida, mysteriously disappeared in 1997 shortly before his second wife Baskin took control of his will and reported $5M estate. A sherriff working on the case has now confirmed that his will was forged
The series explored claims that animal rights activist Baskin murdered Lewis and fed him to the tigers in their big cat sanctuary in Florida.
Lewis has never been found, nor has any evidence to suggest he was murdered, though authorities have previously stated they don’t believe he disappeared on his own volition.
Shortly after his disappearance, Baskin - his wife at the time and the last known person to see him alive – produced his will and his power of attorney that gave her complete control of his $5 million estate.
Lewis’ former attorney has previously claimed that his client's signature was forged on two documents that effectively surrendered his fortune to the Tiger King star after he vanished.
Chronister has now confirmed that they were forged but that the investigation into Lewis’ disappearance previously knew this.
‘They called in some experts to say the will was a forgery, but I had already told them that two months ago,' he said.
'Because the girl who came forward and said "hey, I was forced to witness and say that I witnessed these signatures".
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister confirmed that Lewis' will was forged in an interview this week. He said that investigators were already aware it was a forgery
Carole Baskin, pictured right, was the last person to see her husband Don Lewis, left
'The problem was that the statute of limitations had already expires,' he added.
'The will had already been executed but it certainly cast another shadow of suspicion by all means.’
Chronister may have been referencing notary Sandra Wittkopp who is listed on the documents but told the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting that she has no memory of it.
'I don’t remember a will at all,' she said. 'I was the housekeeper.'
The sheriff continued, however, that police could take no action even if the will is forged as it had already passed the statute of limitations and a judge previously deemed it valid.
'That’s the only reason there’s no recourse,' Chronister said.
'A judge deemed it valid so the civil side of it, the disbursement of the funds is one thing, but then you have the criminal side of it is unable to be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations.'
Two handwriting experts and a local sheriff have now said that they believe Lewis’ signatures on both of the will documents, as pictured above, were actually forgeries
Lewis' disappearance was brought to the spotlight by the hit Netflix show Tiger King which focused on the long-running feud shared between self-proclaimed animal activist Baskin and Joe Exotic (left), a flamboyant polygamist owner of a private zoo in Oklahoma
Chronister also revealed that the investigation has found some knew leads on Lewis after speaking again to the family and his office manager.
'I can tell you that investigators have some great leads, they’re working through them. I hope something pans out,' he told the station.
'They talked to the kids; the kids had some extra information that the investigators weren’t aware of.
'They talked to the office manager, she started to tell them things that they weren’t aware of that they didn’t have in the file. So, I think they’re going through a lot of information right now and, fingers crossed, I hope they can solve this case.'
Tiger King tells the real-life story of a zoo owner called Joe Exotic, who spirals out of control amid a cast of eccentric characters in a true murder-for-hire story from the underworld of big cat breeding.
A section of the show explores the controversy surrounding Joe Exotic's nemesis Baskin and her missing first husband.
Don Lewis, former owner of Wildlife on Easy Street in Florida, mysteriously disappeared in 1997 shortly before his second wife Baskin took control of his will and reported $5M estate.
Shortly afterward his disappearance, Baskin - his wife at the time and the last known person to see him alive – produced his will and his power of attorney that gave her control of his estate and $5 million in assets. She has denied any involvement in his disappearance
After Lewis was reported missing, deputies found his van abandoned at a nearby airport, where he had allegedly planned to take a trip to Costa Rica. Police found no signs of a struggle or blood inside — nor did they find proof that Lewis ever left the country
This led to Baskin being accused of her husband's murder by rival animal owner Exotic, though she has always protested her innocence.
Despite Baskin’s denials, the case quickly became one of the most discussed parts of the show as the internet was taken over by conspiracy theories
Tiger King explored other theories about Lewis' disappearance - including the blonde Texan burying his body under a septic tank, Don crashing his plane, and Don starting a new life in Costa Rica.
He was formally declared dead in 2002 but his body was never found.
Lewis' ex-attorney, Joseph Fritz, has also said he believes his client's signature on both documents are forgeries.
'I believe it was traced,' Fritz told FOX, adding that he thinks the ledger was copied from Lewis' marriage certificate, signed some five years prior to his disappearance.
'Somebody sat at my office and had the pictures and was able to lay one over the other on their cellphone and they are a perfect match,' he continued, citing that typically a person's signature shows at least some variation.
Fritz's observations have also been supported by two independent handwriting experts: Willa Smith, who contested the legitimacy documents for Lewis' family back in 1997, and Thomas Vastrick, who voiced his suspicions earlier this week.
Baskin, pictured right, claims that her first husband Lewis either fled to Costa Rica, or he was thrown off a plane over the Gulf of Mexico . She later married to Howard Baskin (left)
‘It’s not a difficult call,’ Vastrick told the Clarion Ledger, adding that the signatures appeared to be ‘the product of tracing’.
Vastrick also believes Lewis’ signature for both documents were traced from his marriage record, noting that the witnesses’ signatures and the notary on both documents are also 'identical', suggesting that at least one — and possibly both — of the documents may have been forged.
He reiterated his findings to Fox on Thursday: 'In conducting the examination of the durable family power of attorney and the will, both of which were created on Nov. 21 in 1996, I was struck by the uncanny similarity between each set of signatures,' he said.
'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.'
Investigators have unearthed new information they hope could lead the the discovery of what truly happened to Don Lewis, pictured above with one of his tigers
Don Lewis was a multi-millionaire and his disappearance in 1997 became one of the major talking points of recent Netflix sensation Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness
'Every time you sign your name, there's a level of variation from one signature to the next,' he continued, 'and these are just way, way too similar. I did not find this a difficult determination at all.'
In this instance, Fritz says, the most critical document is the power of attorney.
'[Baskin] managed to move their money and assets and property via the power of attorney, not the will ... she had to because he wasn't declared dead [until] five years later,' he explained.
Baskin herself said she thinks Don either fled to Costa Rica, or he was thrown off a plane over the Gulf of Mexico. His car was recovered at an airfield in Pasco County.
Detectives have said there was no way one of Don's private planes could have held enough fuel to take him all the way to Costa Rica, after Baskin said he would often fly below the radar because he had lost his pilot's license.
Baskin has since married second husband Howard, and she addressed claims made by Joe Exotic that she could have killed her husband and fed to him her tigers in the show.
She has never been charged with any crime.