Jack Whittaker: A Victim of the Lottery Curse?
Let’s be honest: Most of us have fantasized about winning the lottery. Surely all that wealth would transform our lives for the better, even if it failed to make us significantly happier? The fact is, for many lottery winners the only outcome is pain and tragedy – hence the supposed “lottery curse.”
The lottery curse has claimed many a victim. So strange and haunting are some of their stories that even the most rational person cannot help but wonder if the winning ticket really is jinxed. Consider, for example, the sad tale of Jack Whittaker.
On December 24, 2002, Whittaker, then aged 55, stopped at a convenience store in the town of Hurricane, West Virginia, to purchase fuel for his vehicle, a couple of sandwiches, and a $1 Powerball lottery ticket. A multimillionaire – he owned a successful contracting firm that employed over 100 people – his decision to purchase the lottery ticked was hardly motivated by financial desperation. When the Powerball results appeared on television that evening, Whittaker was disappointed to hear that he’d lost by one digit. The following day – Christmas – he practically fainted when he heard that the results had been broadcast incorrectly, so that his was in fact the winning ticket.
A day or so later, Whittaker – accompanied by his wife Jewel, his daughter Ginger Whittaker Bragg, and his 15-year-old granddaughter Brandi Bragg (Ginger’s daughter) – was photographed holding a giant cheque for the sum of $314.9 million, a record breaking win at the time. Whittaker had two choices: to receive the money in annual installments over a period of 29 years, or two accept a onetime payout of approximately $113 million. He chose the latter option, ending up, after tax, with around $93 million – still a huge sum, though only a fraction of what he’d been announced as winning. Even from the start, there was something not quite right about the money. “I’ve had to work for everything in my life,” he reflected. “This is the first thing that’s ever been given to me.”
Whittaker gave tens of millions to charity, even setting up a foundation to provide food and clothing for the needy of West Virginia. A dedicated Christian, he also donated a portion of his winnings to the church. Less than a year later, however, things began to turn sour for the man with too much money. In August 2003, during a visit to a strip joint called the Pink Pony, he was robbed more than $500,000 in cash and cashier’s checks, the money and checks stolen from his Hummer parked outside. Several months later, he was arrested after driving his Hummer into a concrete median, the arresting officer claiming that he smelled alcohol on Whittaker’s breath.
No matter how much he tried to enjoy his enormous wealth, Whittaker couldn’t help but attract bad luck. More of his money was stolen by thieves; one woman tried to sue him for sexual assault; he was arrested for further drink driving incidents; he and his wife separated after more than forty years of marriage; the list of misfortunes goes on.
But if Whittaker had become a target for bad luck, so had his family members and acquaintances. In September 2004, Brandi Bragg’s boyfriend, Jessie Joe Tribble, 18, was found dead in Whittaker’s home. He had died of a drug overdose. That December Bragg went missing. A few weeks later her heavily decayed body was found wrapped in a plastic tarp behind a dilapidated truck, her death the result of an accidental overdose. Whittaker – who had basically raised Bragg himself and considered her “the shining star of my life” – was understandably devastated. “I wish I’d torn that ticket up,” he told reporters at the time.
In keeping with the adage “bad luck comes in threes,” Whittaker’s daughter Ginger, 42, was found dead in her luxury home in July 2009. Although foul play was never suspected, the exact cause of her death remains unknown.
Sadly, Whittaker’s troubles haven’t ended; reports have surfaced suggesting that he’s broke.