"48 Hours" "Tiger King" mystery: Famed attorney claims new witnesses in millionaire's disappearance
Celebrity attorney Alex Spiro is entering the world of Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin. The former New York City prosecutor turned lawyer to stars such as Jay-Z and Mick Jagger has been hired by Don Lewis' daughters to help solve the Tampa millionaire's 1997 disappearance. He tells the latest in that investigation — including, he claims, the existence of new witnesses — to "48 Hours" correspondent Richard Schlesinger in "The Missing Millionaire: A 'Tiger King' Mystery."
Lewis was reported missing by Carole Baskin, who was married to him at the time. She's a big cat owner and animal rights activist made famous for her ongoing feud with Joseph Maldonado-Passage — better known as Joe Exotic — in Netflix's wildly popular "Tiger King" series, now in its second season. Baskin succeeded in shutting down Joe Exotic's Oklahoma big cat zoo, and he was convicted for a murder-for hire plot targeting her.
Even from federal prison, he claims Baskin is the real killer responsible for her husband's death. He's fanned the fires of elaborate theories — such as Lewis being fed to tigers. Another popular rumor is that Lewis was dropped out of a plane into the Gulf of Mexico. Spiro says he's trying to cut through the noise and speculation in attempt to finally learn the truth in this nearly 25-year-old mystery.
"Sometimes in high-profile cases, people come up with fanciful theories of, you know, tigers, lions, bears and airplanes," says Spiro. "I mean, there's usually a simpler explanation of things."
As a part of Spiro's intensive investigation, he's focusing on a narrow timeframe when Lewis seemed to, as Spiro puts it, "vanish from earth." One person who says she can shed some light on what happened is Trish Farr-Payne. She tells "48 Hours" her ex-husband Kenny Farr might have been involved.
Kenny Farr was a handyman who worked for many years for both Lewis and Baskin. He helped take care of their big cats and worked on their many properties. Trish Farr-Payne says that around the time Lewis vanished, Kenny Farr arrived home in the middle of the night with Lewis' van. Inside, she says, was a collection of guns that he allegedly told her belonged to Don Lewis.
When Farr-Payne asked her then-husband about the guns, she says he replied, "'Don's gone. And I don't want you talkin' about him. If anybody calls, you don't say anything about Don.'"
Two days later, Baskin officially reported Lewis missing.
Farr-Payne says, "Everything started kinda coming together. Kenny's got Don's van. Kenny's got Don's guns. Don's gone and I knew Don was gone the day before he was supposedly missing. It — something wasn't right."
When Farr-Payne asked her husband about that, she says, "he said, 'Don't ask me questions that you don't want the answers to.'"
And later, in the middle of an argument, according to Farr-Payne, Kenny Farr threatened her life in a possibly revealing way.
She says, "Kenny had threatened to put me in a grinder. He said, 'If you try to leave me again, I'm gonna put you in the grinder, like I did Don.'"
"In a meat grinder?" asked Richard Schlesinger.
"Yeah," said Farr-Payne.
"Do you remember what you thought when he said that?" asked Schlesinger.
"I thought he was telling the truth. At that time. I thought, you know, at least that is probably the turning point where I knew — I knew deep down that Kenny has some part in Don's not ever coming back. I knew then for sure," said Farr-Payne.
Attorney Alex Spiro says he believes Farr-Payne is credible.
He was unable to provide further information, including the identity of any new witness — he says to protect his ongoing investigation.
Kenny Farr told us Trish's story is an "outlandish lie." He said, "I had absolutely nothing to do with Don's disappearance," and claims he has cooperated with police and even took a polygraph.
Carole Baskin also responded to Trish Farr-Payne's claims. She emailed us saying Farr-Payne's story about Kenny is false. She called Trish's description of the meat grinder "ludicrous and clearly fabricated." She has continually and vigorously denied having any involvement in Don Lewis' disappearance.
Spiro hopes that whatever ultimately happened to Don Lewis, that he can bring answers to his clients — Donna Pettis, Lynda Sanchez and Gale Rathbone — three women searching for their father for over two decades.
"I like to think I'm closer to figuring out what happened than many people would know," said Spiro.
for more features.