Jerry Mitchell is in the business of finding the truth. After watching the wildly popular show “Tiger King,” his sights are set on a new mystery: the disappearance of Don Lewis.
Lewis disappeared from his Florida home in 1997. As a millionaire and private owner and breeder of exotic animals, Lewis made waves in the media at the time of his disappearance. The mystery of Lewis’s disappearance recently made its way back into the public eye after being featured in the Netflix documentary series “Tiger King,” which is currently the No.1 show on Netflix in the U.S.
Throughout his career, Harding University alumnus Mitchell’s work has brought about the conviction of five murderers many years after the crimes, most recently with serial killer Felix Vail in 2016. Mitchell said “Tiger King” piqued his interest in another cold case, especially when one of the subjects stated that such mysteries don’t get solved.
“[Doc Antle] opens by saying you can’t solve 20-year-old murder cold cases, you know, and I thought, ‘Well, I’ve worked on some.’ So I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll take this on,’” Mitchell said.
At the end of episode two and throughout the rest of the season, “Tiger King” primarily sets up Lewis’ former wife, Carole Baskin, as the prime suspect in his disappearance. Throughout the show, numerous people speculate that she instigated foul play — with the leading theory being that she fed him to their privately owned tigers.
Mitchell said he was keeping in mind that speculation is not necessarily truth, and there is a difference between journalism and entertainment.
“I haven’t totally researched the whole thing, but there are things that I would have done as a journalist and included or not included … like people just kind of speculating or giving theories,” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t like a person saw it — it just kind of got put out there as a presumption. As a journalist, I would hesitate going down that road.”
Mitchell said since the case has gained so much attention recently, it may be hard to reach certain people in the beginning, like Baskin and Lewis’s family members. However, he said he already started the search and has found some information.
“You just begin to try to assemble whatever material you can that did exist and then names of potential witnesses, et cetera, and begin talking to them, and so I’ve started doing that,” Mitchell said. “I’ve already talked to a couple of potential witnesses, I guess you could say. Well one, definitely, and then the other one is a maybe. It’s Interesting just to kind of begin to piece things together.”
Sophomore Jenna Akins said “Tiger King” caught her interest because of how bizarre it is. She said each character brings their own kind of craziness, but she wondered if some of the elements may have been blown out of proportion.
“I think that, like most reality-type shows, the producers had to make things seem more interesting to keep the viewers’ attention,” Jenna said. “Though, you can only make so much stuff up. I do not think it was fair in how they portrayed people like Carol for being a possible murderer and possibly feeding her husband to a tiger; even Carol herself was upset about that.”
The entertainment factor of “Tiger King” caught junior Jared Akins’ attention, too, and he said he’s excited that a Harding alumnus will be searching for the truth, though challenging.
“I think it’s cool that Harding is playing a role in this massive story,” Jared said. “I don’t think it’s too late, but feel like finding the truth will be a very tough task for Jerry Mitchell to do, given the situation.”
Mitchell released his book “Race Against Time” earlier this year, and he was going to visit Harding after spring break as part of his book tour. Since on-campus classes and activities were canceled, Mitchell has been rescheduled to speak to Harding as an ASI lecturer on Sept. 8.