In 2006, Abraham Shakespeare (pictured), a barely literate 43-year-old truck driver, thought his luck had changed for the better when he won a $31 million Florida lottery prize. Instead, it was the beginning of worse troubles. He was reportedly hounded by friends and relatives asking for money. A year later, he was in court defending himself from an accusation of theft by a trucker who accused him of stealing the winning ticket from him while the two had been delivering meat to Miami restaurants. In 2008, he met Dorice "DeeDee" Donegan Moore, 37, who became his girlfriend and financial advisor. According to police, she managed to bilk him of $1.8 million before his death.
Shakespeare disappeared in April 2009, but his family continued to receive text messages purportedly from him on his cell phone. His family grew suspicious and reported him missing in November 2009. Moore, who was a person of interest from the start, proclaimed her innocence to CNN affiliate WTSP saying, "Abraham had a life of drama because of the money. The money was like a curse to him. And now it has become a curse to me."
Moore said she helped him disappear because he wanted to get away from all the people trying to get money from him. His body was found under a concrete slab on January 28, 2010, and identified a few days later. Moore made a first big mistake telling reporters that she was being accused of having "shot" another human being: Police had not publicly disclosed how Shakespeare had been killed.
But investigators had already been onto Moore, who had unintentionally led them to the victim by approaching an unidentified witness sometime between December 28, 2009, and January 21, 2010, looking for someone willing to confess to Shakespeare's murder and to move the body for $50,000. According to the witness, Moore also furnished the would-be patsy with the gun she said had been used to kill Shakespeare.
Moore was arrested and charged as an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. She later told police that Shakespeare had been shot in an attempted robbery, and that she had tried to conceal his death. Police expect to make more arrests in this case.
On December 25, 2002, West Virginia building contractor Andrew Jackson "Jack" Whittaker Jr. (pictured above right) won $315 million in the Powerball multi-state lottery, at that time the largest jackpot in history won by a single person. Whittaker, already worth an estimated $17 million at the time, famously pledged 10% of his winnings to various Christian charities and created the Jack Whittaker Foundation with another $14 million.
But with immense wealth also came legal problems. By 2004, Whittaker had spent $3 million fending off suits against his business, according to one of his attorneys. Whittaker became depressed and began to drink to excess. In 2003 he was arrested for DUI.
On August 5, 2003, thieves smashed the driver's window of his SUV, which was parked at the Pink Pony strip club in Cross Lanes, W.Va., and stole a briefcase containing $245,000 in cash and three $100,000 cashier's checks belonging to Whittaker. Whittaker, who had been drunk at the club and allowed to stay past its 3:00 a.m. closing time, notified police of the loss at 5:20 a.m. He claimed that he had been drugged and provided deputies with a urine sample to back his claim. Kanawha County Sheriff Dave Tucker noted that it was widely known that Whittaker routinely carried large amounts of cash with him, frequenting similar clubs and casinos. The stolen briefcase, cash and checks were found behind a nearby trash bin. Two club employees were later arrested for the theft. On January 25, 2004, thieves again broke into Whittaker's vehicle, this time taking an estimated $200,000 in cash that was also later recovered. And again in March 2004 his house was robbed of $85,000, a Rolex watch and an ostrich-skin jacket.
Things deteriorated further for Whittaker in September when the boyfriend of Whittaker's granddaughter (pictured above second from left) was found in Whittaker's home, dead from an apparent overdose. Soon after, the granddaughter herself went missing; she was found in December, concealed under a van near her new boyfriend's home, also dead from an apparent overdose. His granddaughter's boyfriend pleaded guilty a year later to hiding her body, to manufacturing a controlled substance, and to possession with intent to deliver.
Six weeks after the discovery his granddaughter's death, Whittaker's wife Jewell (pictured above next to Jack Whittaker) filed for divorce.
In January 2007, Whittaker reported to police that thieves had emptied his bank accounts through a series of fraudulent withdrawals. In March, Whittaker settled a wrongful death suit in the case of his granddaughter's first boyfriend. Whittaker had admitted to giving his deceased granddaughter a $2100 per week allowance and to only minimally supervising her even though she was in his custody.
In July 2009, Whittacker's daughter Ginger Whittaker Bragg (pictured above left), the mother of his dead granddaughter, was also found dead in her home of an apparent overdose. Authorities conducted an autopsy, though foul play was not suspected. When reached for comment, Whittaker, now with no family and no fortune, said "I wish I'd torn that ticket up."
Pankaj Joshi (pictured), a 25-year-old student at the University of Texas at Arlington, was working as a clerk in a Grand Prairie, Texas, convenience store in May 2009, when customer Willis Willis, 67, asked him to check if any of the batch of numbers he routinely played was a winner. Joshi took the tickets and, police allege, removed the $1 million-winning Mega Millions ticket amongst them, returning the rest and misinforming Willis that he was not a winner. In June, Joshi presented the winning ticket at the lottery claim center in Austin, collected approximately $750,000 by wire transfer after taxes and quit his job at the convenience store. Joshi told co-workers he was returning to his native Nepal to help his cousin with her perfume business, and disappeared.
Willis evidently did not notice the theft, or that one of his regular numbers had in fact won, but Joshi's supervisor became suspicious in July when he was notified by the lottery that his store had sold a million-dollar ticket—and that the winner had been one of his clerks whom no one had ever seen playing the lottery. The supervisor informed police, who began an investigation which uncovered the strong likelihood that the ticket had indeed been Willis'.
In September 2009 Joshi was indicted on one count of claiming a lottery prize by fraud. Officials were able to identify several bank accounts Joshi had not yet drained and freeze over $365,000 pending the outcome of the trial, but Joshi had vanished completely. Unless he is located or appears, Joshi will be tried in absentia to clear the way for Willis to recover the remaining money, but a trial date has not been set. Lottery officials had no comment, but their counsel maintains that they were correct to pay out the award to an apparent uncontested winner.
On January 10, 2009, Alec Ahsoak, 53 (pictured above), came forward with the $500,000 winning ticket in the special Lucky Time Pull Tabs jackpot lottery held to raise money for Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) in Anchorage, Alaska, a group that helps sexual abuse victims. The irony was that Ahsoak is a registered convicted sex offender. According to the state's sex-offender registry, Ahsoak was convicted of two incidents in 1993 and one in 2000 for sexual abuse of a minor. On finding out that Ahsoak was a sex offender, Abe Spicola, owner of the Lucky Times Pull Tabs off Spenard Road in Anchorage spoke with him and suggested that if Aksoak was planning to make a charitable donation, he should seriously consider STAR. Ahsoak replied that he would donate $100,000 to STAR of Anchorage. Nancy Haag, executive director of STAR in Anchorage, asked about Ahsoak's winning, told CNN radio, "It's not how we had envisioned the story going."
In June 2007, airline mechanic Arnim Ramdass won a share of $19 million in the Florida lottery with 16 other mechanics. The men opted for a lump-sum payment; Ramdass' cut was around $600,000 before taxes. Ramdass decided to keep his jackpot a secret from his wife, Donna Campbell, runner up in the 1979 Miss Trinidad and Tobago pageant. Donna became suspicious when he forbade her to watch television and had the phone, cable and Internet disconnected. Her suspicions were confirmed when, finding a postcard congratulating him on the purchase of a new home, she searched "Ramdass" and "lotto" on the Internet and found out the truth. What she didn't know was that he had taken an extended leave of absence from work and had stopped paying the mortgage. According to Campbell, he left with the living room furniture, entertainment center and the washer and dryer. Campbell, who gave up modeling when she married Ramdass, was left with no money and one week to find a place to live. She tried suing him for half his winnings, but was unable to locate him to serve him papers. Ultimately, she was denied any share of his winnings and filed for divorce.
Barry Shell (pictured), 45, of Brampton, Ontario, walked into a Petro-Canada station in his hometown to buy a pack of cigarettes with less than $5 in his pocket—and what proved to be the winning lottery ticket for a July 2009 Ontario Lottery drawing, worth over $4 million Canadian. Overjoyed, Shell signed his winning ticket and drove to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. headquarters in Toronto the next day to validate his ticket and claim his prize. Unfortunately for him, the authentication the Ontario Lottery runs on its large prize winners includes a police background check, which revealed a 2003 warrant for Shell's arrest for his failure to appear on charges of theft and possession of stolen property.
The Ontario Provincial Police officers responsible for running Ontario Lottery background checks stood discreetly to the side as Shell claimed his prize and posed for the traditional check-grip-and-grin photo, and then arrested him as he left the building. He spent the night in jail, but, having handed his winnings off to a relative as he was arrested, was able to have himself bailed out the next day. Negotiations between Shell's legal team and Ontario prosecutors continue, and a resolution to the charges against Shell has not been announced.
When Jeffrey Dampier (pictured) and his first wife won a $20 million Illinois Lotto in 1996, he used the money to bring his family closer together, relocating his parents and family to Florida to enjoy his new prosperity. His marriage ultimately failed, but Dampier remarried and stayed in the vicinity. Many of his siblings moved to Florida as well to be close to him and their parents. He invested his winnings in a business, a gourmet popcorn store in Tampa, which thrived and employed some of his family.
But Dampier's generosity was, for some family members, evidently not enough. In July 2005 he was called to the apartment of his sister-in-law, Victoria Jackson, who told him she'd been having car problems. Once there, he was confronted by Jackson and her boyfriend, Nathaniel Jackson (no relation), who brandished a pistol and forced Dampier back into his van, kidnapping him. They bound his hands with his shoelaces, drove him to a dead-end street where, according to Victoria's attorneys, Nathaniel handed Victoria the gun and told her to shoot Dampier, or he would. Victoria shot and killed Dampier and the couple fled on foot. Since his family knew Dampier was planning to stop by Victoria's, it didn't take police long to connect the couple to the crime; they were arrested three days later. Nathaniel Jackson was in possession of $1,500 cash, which police believe was the remnant of several thousand dollars robbed from Dampier.
Forensic evidence gathered from the van linked the two conclusively to the shooting, and both were convicted. Victoria Jackson received three life sentences in September 2006, and Nathaniel Jackson received life in 2007.
Ibi Roncaioli was a mean drunk and may have a had a drinking problem. She chain-smoked and had gambling problems, all of which she was trying to hide form her husband, Dr. Joseph Roncaioli. She was in a miserable marriage with a man about whom she never had anything nice to say. They had been well off, but she burned through her gynecologist husband's $20,000 monthly salary and the $5 million she had won in the Canadian lottery in 1991. Ibi, who was in charge of the family finances, has been described as secretive. She hid money from her husband, though she was very generous with her children. On July 20, 2003, Joseph found out just how bad the family money situation was: they were heavily in debt and all the money was gone. He fatally injected Ibi with two local anesthetics and left here while he went to pick up their son. When they returned, she was dead. Joseph Roncaioli was found guilty of manslaughter in her death and was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2008.
On June 18, 2008, the winner of the $57 million Mega Millions prize, the seventh-largest jackpot in Michigan lottery history, was convicted sex offender Fred Topous Jr. He was released from corrections oversight in 2006 for his most recent offense, a 1999 attempted sexual assault conviction. Topous must register as a sex offender until 2024, according to registry records. He opted for the lump- sum payment of $33 million.
Rick Camat (pictured) was one of 13 Starbucks co-workers who split an $87 million California Lottery jackpot in 2000; his $6.6 million share of the jackpot changed his life, but could not save it. In October 2004, Camat was shot and killed by Seattle police officers responding to a disturbance outside a nightclub in the SoDo neighborhood near Qwest Field. Camat's family claimed that he, his brother and some friends were outside the club, having decided not to go in, when a fight broke out near them. Camat's family claims Camat and his friends were swept up in the confusion, leading Camat to fire a gun in the air in an attempt to break up the fight. Police, on the other hand, maintain that officers witnessed Camat firing at a car to the west, confronted him and repeatedly ordered him to drop the gun before one officer shot him after he turned the gun towards police. Camat's family disputes the official account claiming that police fired without warning. Camat, shot repeatedly, died at the scene.
December 30, 2003, Rebecca Jemison won a $162 million Mega Millions lottery jackpot, but before Jemison could claim the prize, Elecia Battle claimed that she had purchased the winning ticket and had lost it outside of a convenience store. An exhaustive search of the area on Battle's behalf turned up nothing. On January 4, 2004, Jemison turned in her winning ticket. Battle filed suit to stop the payout, but Jemison was able to prove her claim by giving lottery officials another ticket purchased at the same time and place as the winning ticket and an outdated ticket that showed that she had played the same numbers in a prior drawing. Battle insisted that she remembered those numbers because they were somehow family related. The lottery commission soon confirmed that there was only one winning ticket and that Jemison had purchased it, not found it.
By January 6, The Smoking Gun had uncovered Battle's arrest record about which she had been less than candid to the press. She had been arrested under the name Elecia Dickson, her name from a previous marriage. Offenses included vandalism, assault, and was the plaintiff in two negligence lawsuits. On January 8, Battle admitted that her claim to the ticket was bogus, "I wanted to win so bad for my kids and my family. I apologize." She added, "I'm not a bad person, I'm really not." On January 9, Battle was charged with filing a false report.
In November 2004, Colombian immigrant Juan Rodriguez (pictured) was down on his luck. Working in New York City as a parking attendant, Rodriguez earned $28,000 a year in a city with one of the highest costs of living in the U.S. He had credit card and other debts of nearly $40,000 and owed the IRS another $2,000. Seeing no way out, he had filed for bankruptcy about a month before. His marriage was on the rocks as well; his wife Iris had thrown him out just as the preliminary ruling from bankruptcy court ruled that he had no realistic prospect of satisfying his creditors.
Down to 78 cents in his bank account, Rodriguez nonetheless put down one of his last dollars on a Mega Millions lottery ticket. In a scene straight from Hollywood, Rodriguez' numbers came up; he hit the $149 million jackpot. He and his wife reconciled in time for the press conference held to announce his winning, at which he declared his intent to settle for the $88 million lump-sum payout.
But his run of good fortune did not last. Within a month, his wife filed for divorce and moved to include the lottery proceeds in their community property subject to equal division. The divorce proceedings essentially froze access to the prize for both Rodriguez and his wife, although both were able to secure attorneys on contingency. In January 2005, Rodriguez's legal representation received further employment when the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the IRS, moved to have Rodriguez's bankruptcy petition dismissed due to his dramatic change of fortune. While the marriage could not be saved, costing him half his prize, he was ultimately able to settle his debts.
On Wednesday June 1, 1960, traveling salesman Bazil Thorne of Australia won £100,000 (then approximately $2.2 million) in the 10th Opera House Lottery, so named because the proceeds paid for the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Though winning didn't change their lifestyle very much, their personal information was made public. On July 7, their son Graeme, 8, disappeared. It was not long before the Thornes got a call from a man claiming to have kidnapped Graeme and asking for £25,000 by 5:00 p.m. Thorne was prepared to give the entire £100,000 to the kidnappers to ensure the safe return of his son, but when 5:00 p.m. came, the kidnappers did not call. This was Australia's first recorded kidnapping and the police spared no effort searching for Graeme and appealing to the public for help. Eventually, the boy's murdered body was found on August 16 in a nearby suburb. The killer, Stephen Leslie Bradley, was soon found and sentenced to life in prison. Since the Thorne kidnapping, Australia's subsequent lottery winners have had the option of remaining anonymous.