Baskin in 2019
Carole Stairs Jones
June 6, 1961
|Known for||Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness|
Carole Baskin (née Stairs Jones; born June 6, 1961) is an American animal rights activist and owner of Big Cat Rescue, a non-profit animal sanctuary based near Tampa, Florida. She drew public attention for her role in the 2020 Netflix documentary series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness about private zoo operator Joe Exotic. The Netflix series follows both Baskin and Exotic, filming their ongoing and escalating feuds over exotic animals in private zoos. Following the series' release, Baskin has been targeted by Internet memes related to the disappearance of Don Lewis, her second husband.
Baskin was born on June 6, 1961 on the Lackland Air Force Base in Bexar County, Texas, United States. She expressed an interest in saving cats when she was nine, but she decided against pursuing a career in veterinary medicine after she learned that veterinarians euthanize animals. She dropped out of high school and left home at 15 with a local roller rink employee. She then hitchhiked back and forth between Florida and Bangor, Maine, sleeping under parked cars. She later purchased a Datsun truck and slept in the back with her pet cat.
Baskin later returned to Florida and worked at a department store where she began a relationship with her boss Michael Murdock. She moved in with him when she was 17, got married, and had a daughter. To make money, she began breeding show cats; she also began rescuing bobcats and using llamas for a lawn trimming business. She later became involved in the real estate business with her second husband Don Lewis.
Baskin and her then-husband Don Lewis founded Big Cat Rescue, an animal sanctuary near Tampa for big cats, in 1992. Baskin is the current chief executive officer of Big Cat Rescue. Baskin has used social media such as Facebook and YouTube and her "The Cat Chat" podcast to promote her big cats activism. The New York Times and The Hollywood Reporter have described Baskin as an animal rights activist. In March 2020, Big Cat Rescue temporarily closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic in Florida.
Baskin moved in with Michael Murdock when she was 17, her boss at the department store that she worked for. The couple married on April 7, 1979, but Baskin claims that she never loved him and only married him because her parents were disappointed that they had been living together outside of marriage. She became pregnant soon after, and daughter Jamie Veronica Murdock was born on July 16, 1980. Over time, Michael Murdock became possessive and physically abusive. Baskin threw a potato at Murdock as he attempted to attack her when she was 19, and she ran out of their home barefoot, and she met Don Lewis on Nebraska Avenue in Tampa that night. Baskin and Lewis engaged in an affair while both were still married. Baskin became one of Lewis' many girlfriends and she substantially grew his wealth by helping him buy and sell real estate in 1984. The couple divorced each of their spouses and married in 1991.
According to Baskin and Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Lewis would take monthly flights to Costa Rica to deal with his sex addiction, timing the trips for whenever she was menstruating. In July 1997, Lewis filed a restraining order against her, claiming that she had threatened to kill him; the restraining order was rejected. Baskin claims that he filed the restraining order because she would haul off some of his "junk" property whenever he visited Costa Rica. Lewis continued to live with Baskin afterwards. Lewis told Baskin multiple times that he wanted a divorce, but she did not think he was ever serious. Lewis disappeared in August 1997. Lewis was declared legally dead in 2002. A dispute ensued between Lewis' children and Baskin over the estate, which was mostly left to Baskin. The case is still open as of 2020.
Baskin met Howard Baskin in November 2002 at a kick-off party for the newly formed No More Homeless Pets organization. He joined Big Cat Rescue soon after as chairman of the advisory board. He proposed to her in November 2003. The couple married in November 2004.
Joe Exotic feud and Tiger King
Baskin has a long-running feud with private zoo owner Joe Exotic. She had been highly critical of Exotic and his Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. Exotic promoted an unsubstantiated theory that Baskin was involved in the disappearance of her husband Don Lewis. In 2013, a court ordered him to pay her $1 million in damages, leading to his bankruptcy. In 2019, Exotic was charged with attempting to hire a contract murderer to kill her.
In November 2019, Universal Content Productions announced that they were adapting a Joe Exotic podcast for television, with Kate McKinnon portraying Baskin. In March 2020, Baskin was featured in Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. She later spoke out against the series, calling it "salacious and sensational", and she criticized directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin. She stated that the filmmakers lied about the nature of the series when they approached her about it. She claims that they told her that they were going to be making "the big cat version of Blackfish". After Tiger King was released, several Internet memes targeted Baskin and her speculated involvement in Lewis' disappearance.
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- "'Tiger King': Sheriff seeking leads in 1997 disappearance of Carole Baskin's 2nd husband". KIRO 7. March 31, 2020. Retrieved April 2, 2020.