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Mending the missing links

Ripper Jack talks Tiger King 2, and his ongoing private investigations

Season one of Netflix’s Tiger King certainly exposed a lot from animal exploitation to the mysterious disappearance of Don Lewis. Pawhuska’s own self-declared Private Investigator Johnny Smith, otherwise known as, Ripper Jack, felt particularly drawn to the Don Lewis case, and in season two of Tiger King he exposed his findings for all to see.

“After I finished watching the first season, I asked my wife if she thought this was even real and started looking online and saw Joe Exotic’s mugshot, and it hit me that I remembered when his mugshot was first in the local news – this guy from Oklahoma sent to prison,” Smith said.

Smith, who is also an Osage tribal member, said he went down a rabbit hole after that, trying to find out if Don Lewis was ever found. All he could accumulate were a few newspaper articles from the nineties and early 2000’s. Soon, he started talking about the case on his YouTube channel, and he started a Facebook page as well.

“Within days I had people on my YouTube channel telling crazy stories. It snowballed, and I suddenly had access to witnesses and people who had info on the case,” Smith said. He explained how this led him to discover incriminating evidence about Don Lewis’s former wife, Carole Baskin.

“Because I was from Oklahoma, they were willing to tell me what they knew because Carole had so many connections to Florida law enforcement. These people had this info for 20 years, and they were scared to tell the sheriff’s department for fear of being retaliated against.”

Now, Smith has become the spokesperson for the family of Don Lewis and is the man behind the Don Lewis tip line (646-450-6530). In August 2020, Smith had four billboards put up in Tampa, and calls flooded in. Smith explained that a lot of the calls are people yelling, “Carole did it!” but there have also been some legitimate tips.

“In Tiger King 2, they start off with a tip from a notary that was sent to me, and that was a big break in the case,” he said. “It stated that Don’s will and power of attorney were forged, which is major because that’s what gave Carole power over the $7-$10 million in his estate.”

Johnny Smith at Easter with the family of Don Lewis in Dade City, Florida, standing in front of the Memorial Plaque honoring Don Lewis and the flower garden. Courtesy Photo

While Smith works on the Don Lewis case every day, he also has other cases he’s taken on as well. Smith explained that in January 2020, he helped to expose a college in Highland, Kansas for the unjust expulsion of students based on racist pretenses.

“In summer 2019, the athletic director asked my brother to recruit people who the community could relate to. White people. I talked to some more people, and they all had the same story that they were told to recruit more Kansas kids, wink wink. But, in March, I turned my findings over to the NAACP. There was a lawsuit filed and the school settled with the students, they made the students sign an NDA, and they offered the students wrongfully kicked out $100,000,” he said.

This ongoing case and multiple others were brought to light because of social media, which turned out to be Smith’s most powerful tool within the past couple of years.

“The power of social media. When people are stuck at home, it makes a great tool for investigations,” he said.

Smith described endless inboxes of people reaching out who need help because the justice system seemingly failed them. Whether for a missing person, for someone wrongly convicted of a crime, or for wrongdoings that need to be made right, Smith volunteers as much of his time as he can to seek justice.

“You get attached to these people and their stories. They are good people taken advantage of, and you feel for them so much that it takes a toll on you too,” he said. Find out more on the ongoing Don Lewis case, the Highland students and much more by visiting Smith’s YouTube channel.

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Natasha Lovato
Natasha is a Colorado native born with a passion for the natural world. When she’s not hiking, paddle boarding or cycling you’ll find her curled up with a good book and her cats.
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