The signatures on the will and power of attorney of Carole Baskin’s long-missing second husband Don Lewis appears to be a forgery, experts believe, after it emerged that Baskin helped author the legal documents to ‘save on lawyer fees’.
Made famous by the Netflix documentary series Tiger King, multi-millionaire Lewis, who co-owned a Florida wildlife sanctuary with Baskin, vanished without a trace in August 1997 aged 59.
Lewis has never been found, nor has any evidence to suggest he was murdered, though authorities have previously stated they don’t believe he disappeared on his own volition.
Shortly after his disappearance, Baskin – his wife at the time and the last known person to see him alive – produced his will and his power of attorney that gave her control of his $5 million estate.
However, two handwriting experts now believe Lewis’ signatures on both of the documents are actually forgeries.
‘It’s not a difficult call,’ handwriting expert Thomas Vastrick told the Clarion Ledger. His conclusions mirror those previously made by fellow field specialist Willa Smith, who said the signatures appeared to be ‘the product of tracing’.
Made famous by the Netflix documentary series ‘Tiger King’, multi-millionaire Don Lewis (left), who co-owned a Tampa, Florida wildlife sanctuary with Baskin, vanished without a trace in August 1997.
Shortly afterward his disappearance, Baskin – his wife at the time and the last known person to see him alive – produced his will and his power of attorney that gave her control of his estate and $5 million in assets
However, two handwriting experts now believe Lewis’ signatures on both of the documents were actually forgeries
Vastrick believes Lewis’ signature for both documents were traced from his marriage record, noting that the witnesses signatures and the notary on both documents are also ‘identical’, suggesting that at least one — and possibly both — of the documents may have been forged.
It’s unclear if Vastrick has reviewed a physical copy of the will and power of attorney or just pictures of the documents.
Baskin was never charged in relation to Lewis’ August 18, 1997 disappearance, but the case remains open and gained global notoriety following the release of Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness in March.
The series focuses on the long-running feud shared between self-proclaimed animal activist Baskin and Joe Exotic, a flamboyant polygamist owner of a private zoo in Oklahoma.
Amid the heated fallout that later saw Exotic arrested in a murder-for-hire plot for an alleged hit he took out on Baskin, Exotic repeatedly accused the sanctuary owner of killing Lewis and discarding of his body by feeding it to one of her tigers.
After Lewis was reported missing, deputies found his van abandoned at a nearby airport, where he had allegedly planned to take a trip to Costa Rica. Police found no signs of a struggle or blood inside — nor did they find proof that Lewis ever left the country. Lewis was pronounced legally dead in 2002.
In 2004, Baskin refused to take a polygraph test related to the investigation on the advice of her attorney.
The discovery of the apparent forgeries could be ‘powerful evidence’ in a potential criminal case if one is ever brought forward by prosecutors, Matt Steffey, professor of law at Mississippi College of Law told the Ledger.
‘She has motive anyway, but this ups the stakes,’ Steffey added, pointing out that Baskin was given ‘total control’ of Lewis’ affairs and said ‘it ties a bow on what could be her scheme to get him out of the picture.’
Baskin was never charged in relation to Lewis’ August 18, 1997 disappearance, but the case remains open and has grown ever more notorious since the release of ‘Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness’ in March
The series focused on the long-running feud shared between self-proclaimed animal activist Baskin and Joe Exotic (left), a flamboyant polygamist owner of a private zoo in Oklahoma.
One of the other signatures that appears both on the will and power of attorney is that of Susan Aronoff, who has since told deputies she previously testified she was there for the will signing when actually she wasn’t.
Susan Aronoff has not yet responded to a DailyMail.com request for comment.
Anne McQueen, who served as Lewis’ longtime executive assistant, said the only will and power of attorney she was away of was one that was under her desk.
In McQueen’s version of the documents, she claims was named as the executor of Lewis’ will, power of attorney and life insurance. McQueen said the will that Lewis had signed and given to her for safekeeping.
However, in the version presented after his disappearance, Baskin is listed for executor, power of attorney, and life insurance.
In 2004, Baskin refused to take a polygraph test related to the investigation on the advice of her attorney. She later married to Howard Baskin (left)
After Lewis was reported missing, deputies found his van abandoned at a nearby airport, where he had allegedly planned to take a trip to Costa Rica. Police found no signs of a struggle or blood inside — nor did they find proof that Lewis ever left the country
The attorney for Lewis’ family first hired Willa Smith in 1997 to conduct handwriting analysis when they challenged the will and power of attorney presented by Baskin.
Lewis’ daughter, Donna Pettis, told the Ledger her family opted not to contest the handwriting analysis any further on the advice of their legal counsel.
‘Our attorney was afraid that if Carole continued serving as conservator over the entire estate, then we were risking that our trust fund would be depleted by the end of the five-year term,’ Donna said of the reason behind the decision.
Under the power of attorney unearthed by Baskin, she was given full control over her husband’s estate in the event of his ‘disability or disappearance’.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office previously investigated the allegations of forgery. They turned the case over to the Florida attorney general’s office, which later said the five-year statute of limitations on forgeries had expired.
Carole Baskin has not yet replied to a DailyMail.com request for comment. She has previously stated she authored the legal documents because Don wanted to save money on lawyer’s fees.
In a post published to BigCatRescue.org that has since been altered, Baskin originally wrote: ‘Some people made a fuss about using the word “disappearance,” but Don had told me about people going to Costa Rica and disappearing, and he was dealing with the mob down there, so I thought that seemed like a potential threat and included the word.
‘I also included disability because of Don’s increasingly strange behavior. Our Costa Rican attorney, Roger Petersen, said the Helicopter Brothers were their version of the mob, and Don was loaning them money,’ Baskin continued.
Lewis’ daughter, Donna Pettis (left), said her family followed the advice of their lawyer and chose not to contest the conflict over the handwriting analysis any further
Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue, has also slammed Tiger King as ‘salacious and sensational,’ saying on her website that it ‘has a segment devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don in 1997.’
In response to the claims made by McQueen, Baskin wrote: ‘Anne McQueen is referred to as Don’s trusted assistant. A few months before his disappearance we caught her embezzling roughly $600,000 in properties by buying them with our funds and putting them in her name.
‘A court ordered her to return them. Not the best sign of integrity, credibility, someone to believe,’ she continued.
Last month, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said he believed Lewis was murdered.
Chronister said Baskin ‘is not a suspect at this time’, adding the department doesn’t even had a ‘shred of evidence to even call her a person of interest’.
The police department has not yet returned a DailyMail.com request for comment.