Man's life ruined by $444m lotto win
WHEN Jack Whittaker won the world's biggest ever lottery prize in 2002, he was hailed as a local hero. But within a few years he was broke, his wife had left him, and his granddaughter was dead of a drug overdose.
As the US waited for the lucky ticket holder to come forward to claim the record $2.17 billion jackpot after Tuesday night's MegaMillion's draw, Mr Whittaker's story has been revisited as a classic lotto win gone bad.
"It reminds me, like, Lord Of The Rings, how that little guy - what's his name? Gollum? - was with his Precious. It just consumes you. You become the money. You are no longer a person."
Ms Arnold was one of a sprawling cast of characters swept up in the chaos of the West Virginia construction contractor's record Powerball win.
At the time, the $US314 million ($A444 million) prize was the largest ever undivided lottery payout. Mr Whittaker chose to take it as an after-tax lump sum of $US113.4 million ($A160 million).
"I just want to thank God for letting me pick the right numbers … or letting the machine pick the right numbers," he told reporters as he claimed his winnings.
Talk of charitable works soon gave way to scams, robberies, drink driving convictions, drug addiction, sexual assault and death.
One of his first acts was to buy a house and car for Brenda Higginbotham, the cashier at the local convenience store where he purchased the winning ticket.
People were soon coming out of the woodwork with their hands out.
"A lot of them, they had cancer, or their child was dying," Ms Higginbotham told the magazine. "Different stuff like that, which was heartbreaking. It would even make you want to reach in your own pocket."
On New Year's Eve 2002, Mr Whittaker walked into the Pink Pony, Ms Arnold's strip club, and put $US50,000 on the bar. He had taken to staying out all night, upsetting his wife Jewell.
Ms Arnold's partner, strip club assistant manager Jeff Caplinger, said the millionaire would occasionally come in with a large entourage and "busy fingers".
The staff tolerated him because he was the Powerball winner. Over time, he began to let himself go. "He would come in a sloppy shirt, all wrinkled," Ms Arnold said.
"His hat would be dirty. He'd be unshaven. At first he was, like, 'I'm Jack Whittaker. I won all this money, yay for me.' Later it was, like, 'I'm Jack Whittaker. You'll do what I say … I have more money than God.' Who talks like that?"
Around this time, thieves smashed the window of Mr Whittaker's car while it was sitting outside the strip club and stole a briefcase he carried around containing more than half a million dollars.
Not long after, Ms Arnold and Mr Caplinger were charged with attempting to drug Mr Whittaker's drink to rob him. They spent more than a year under house arrest.
Mr Whittaker's granddaughter, Brandi Bragg, lived on and off with her grandparents. Aged 15 at the time of the lotto win, she sat for TV interviews alongside them, saying how she hoped to meet rap star Nelly.
A year later, she had lost most of her friends.
"They want her for her money and not for her good personality," Mr Whittaker told the Associated Press at the time. "She's the most bitter 16-year-old I know."
She soon fell into drug addiction, becoming a "crack head" who would hand out wads of cash to the teenage boys who orbited around her. In 2003, her ex-boyfriend Jessie Tribble was found dead from a drug overdose at a house owned by Mr Whittaker.
In December the following year, Brandi disappeared. She was found two weeks later, wrapped in a plastic sheet and dumped behind a van on a friend's property. No one was charged with a crime.
By 2007, Mr Whittaker was claiming to be broke. Casino worker Kitti French had sued him for allegedly sexually assaulting her in 2003. They settled in 2006, but a year later he had stopped paying her.
In a court filing, he claimed a "team of crooks went to 12 different banks" and cashed 12 cheques and "got all my money".
"I intend to pay but can't without any money," he said.
In 2009, his daughter Ginger Bragg, Brandi's mother, was found dead at her home. In 2016, his home burnt to the ground. It was uninsured.
Jewell, who left her husband shortly before Brandi's death, blamed the Powerball for destroying her family.
"I wish I would have torn the ticket up," she told a local newspaper.
Mr Whittaker agreed. "My granddaughter is dead because of the money," he told ABC News in 2007.
"She was the shining star of my life, and she was what it was all about for me. You know, my wife said she wished that she had torn the ticket up. Well, I wish that we tore the ticket up too."