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New clue in Tiger King mystery: "I will put you in the grinder"

"48 Hours Suspicion": The Tiger King Mystery
"48 Hours Suspicion": The Tiger King Mystery 42:45

A reported 64 million households watched "Tiger King" on Netflix. The story focused on the battle of wills between the Oklahoma-based flamboyant big cat owner Joe Exotic, and the Tampa-based animal rights activist Carole Baskin.

A major part of that battle was Joe Exotic's claim that Baskin had murdered her former husband Don Lewis back in 1997, and fed him to their tigers. Baskin has strongly denied the allegations, and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister has clearly stated that Baskin is neither a suspect, nor a person of interest in the case. The mystery of Lewis' disappearance remains unsolved, and the case is open. His body has never been found.

Carole Baskin & Don Lewis
Carole Baskin and Don Lewis.  Tampa Bay Times/ZUMA Press

Now, for the first time on TV, the ex-wife of a former employee of Baskin and Lewis has come forward with a sensational allegation to "48 Hours" correspondent Richard Schlesinger. Schlesinger's report, "The Tiger King Mystery," will air on a special "48 Hours" series: "Suspicion," on Wednesday, September 9, at 10/9c on CBS.

Trish Farr-Payne tells "48 Hours Suspicion" her ex-husband Kenny Farr may be connected to Don Lewis' disappearance.

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. His ex-wife Trish Farr-Payne claims he was often violent with her, and that the couple had a tumultuous relationship.  Trish Farr-Payne tells "48 Hours Suspicion" that around the time Lewis vanished, Kenny Farr arrived home in the middle of the night with Lewis' van.  Inside that van, she says, was a collection of guns that Kenny Farr allegedly told her belonged to Don.

Kenny Farr in a 2001 arrest photo. Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

When Trish Farr-Payne asked her then-husband about the guns, she says he replied, "'Listen … I'm hangin' on to these right now for Carole.' But — he said, 'Don's gone. And — I don't want you talkin' about him. If anybody calls, you don't say anything about Don.' I'm, like, 'OK.'"

"Did you ask him what he meant by, 'Don's gone?'" asked Schlesinger.

Farr-Payne replied, "No, not right then. Because … he would blow up real easy at me … I just didn't question it." It wasn't until two days later that Baskin officially reported Lewis missing.

Trish Farr-Payne
In her first television interview, Trish Farr-Payne claims her ex-husband Kenny Farr may have been connected to  DonLewis' disappearance. Kenny Farr was a handyman who worked for Lewis and his wife, Carole Baskin. CBS News

Trish Farr-Payne claims that after hearing news reports about the missing Lewis, she realized that her husband told her "Don's gone" before Lewis had even been reported 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, "I asked him, and he said, 'Don't ask me questions that you don't want the answers to.'"

Farr-Payne also claims that roughly around that same time a large freezer with a padlock appeared on their porch. And then vanished.

"How long after Don disappeared did the freezer disappear?" asked Schlesinger.

"About a week after Don disappeared," replied Trish Farr-Payne.

And later—in the middle of an argument about their rocky marriage — according to Farr-Payne, Kenny Farr threatened her life.

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 Schlesinger.

"Yeah," said Farr-Payne.

"Do you remember what you thought when he said that?" asked Schlesinger.

"I thought he was tellin' the truth. At that time. I thought, you know, at least that is probably the turnin' 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.

Preview: "48 Hours Suspicion": The Tiger King... 00:30

Trish Farr-Payne claims she was too scared of her husband and worried about protecting her kids to go to police. But, in 2000, three years after Lewis' disappearance, Trish Farr-Payne says the couple had another fight, and this one was so violent police came to the home. Kenny Farr was arrested and eventually convicted of domestic violence and a gun charge. Trish Farr-Payne says that at that time, she told the sheriff's detectives the whole story.

The sheriff's office has had no comment other than to say there are currently no suspects or persons of interest in Don Lewis' disappearance.

On Wednesday morning "48 Hours Suspicion" heard from Kenny Farr in an e-mail. He wrote, "…I can tell you I have no idea why my ex wife has came up with a outlandish lie. I cooperated with authorities at the time of Don's disappearance and Took a polygraph . I had absolutely nothing to do with Don's disappearance or any knowledge of."

 Carole Baskin declined to do an on-camera interview with "48 Hours Suspicion," but she wrote an email saying Trish Farr-Payne's story about Kenny is false. She says he had nothing to do with Don's disappearance and that she gave him Don's guns long after Don vanished. Carole also says that Farr-Payne's description of the meat grinder is "ludicrous and clearly fabricated." 

Following Lewis' disappearance, Kenny Farr continued to work for Baskin. She wrote on her website earlier this year that she loves him "like a son."

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