In this 10 NEWS Extra, investigative reporter Dave Balut looks into the disappearance of an animal-loving millionaire, who vanished without a trace more than five years ago. Carole Lewis still cares for 170 exotic cats no one else wants.
But Carole’s life on Easy Street isn't as easy, without the man who helped her start this wildlife sanctuary, her husband Don. Jack Donald Lewis made millions in real estate, trucking and other businesses. Carole says he was an unusual man.
Don wore jeans and t-shirts from yard sales, but always carried lots of cash in case he wanted to buy an airplane or something.
Don Lewis bought 200 acres near Begaces, Costa Rica and considered moving the wildlife sanctuary there. Carole says it wasn't unusual for her husband to leave without telling her first.
She says he was planning to transport cars to Costa Rica when he left home Monday august 18th 1997. Jorge Fernandez has spent much of the last five years, looking for Don Lewis.
The Lewis case is one of the most extensive missing persons files at the Hillsborough county sheriffs office.
Fernandez worked the case with Larry Lingo Senior. Here's what detectives learned about the disappearance of Don Lewis. Monday August 18th 1997, Don was supposed to deliver real estate signs to his lawyer’s office on memorial drive. The signs were left before the office opened. No one saw Don. Tuesday the 19th, Carole Lewis filed a missing persons report with sheriffs' deputies. Wednesday the 20th, Don's blue van was found at Pilot Country Airport in Springhill. The airport manager says it had been there a couple of days, parked on the grass between some planes and highway 52. The keys were on the floorboard. Deputies found no evidence inside. Then detectives were tipped Don and Carol were having marital problems.
Records show Don went to court just two months before he disappeared, claiming Carole threatened to kill him. The judge turned down his petition for protection and Don continued to live with Carole.
Deputies searched wildlife on Easy Street and found no sign of foul play, but Carole’s been living under a cloud of suspicion ever since.
But perhaps the most intriguing piece of information comes from the detectives trip to Costa Rica about a month after Lewis disappeared.
Two ocelots, like these, on Lewis' land near Begacus, had been shipped someplace, but detectives never found out where.
Did Don Lewis really fly down a Pasco County runway years ago, leaving his family, friends and millions of dollars behind for a life someplace else? Or did someone, just want it to look that way?
His wife says the worst part of all of this is not knowing. No closure and no redemption for her.
Here's the latest on the case. A judge has just declared Lewis dead since he's been missing five years, but Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies say they'll keep the case open until they know for sure.
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