Whoever wins the $1.6 billion Mega Millions jackpot will accept some decisions to make. What should they do with the money? Who will they tell?
Jack Whittaker faced agnate decisions in 2002 aback he won Powerball’s $314 actor jackpot ($113 actor afterwards taxes). At the time, it was the bigger jackpot anytime won by a distinct ticket. But the action afflicted Whittaker’s activity and aural a few years, the West Virginia architecture architect faced claimed accident and tragedy. This commodity originally appeared in The Washington Post Magazine on Jan. 30, 2005.
It was advancing up on Christmas, and Brenda-the-biscuit-lady was inexplicably blessed as she absolved to assignment in the predawn darkness. Brenda didn’t aloof accomplish biscuits over at the C&L Super Serve for $6 an hour. She served up acceptable cheer.
“How you doin’, honey?” she’d accost customers, with such activity that they had no best but to smile back.
“Dad-gonnit, you are growing up on me!” she’d alarm to schoolchildren, aloof to see them grin. “What brand you in now?”
At 39, Brenda Higginbotham didn’t accept abounding to appearance for a lifetime of acceptable cheer. No car. No home. No picture-book Christmas on the horizon. In animosity of that, in animosity of everything, she had a faculty of her abode in the angel as unsullied as a ceremony bang afore association bruise it ugly, like association do. That constant faculty was Brenda’s gift.
“What do you need, dear?” she’d ask a weary artisan eyeing her hot-food carryout case. For a moment, Brenda could accomplish the man with chapped easily and addled boots feel like somebody was attractive afterwards him.
“You appetite a cycle with that, baby?” she’d say, animated alike bigger.
Of all her customers, the being Brenda admired to chaff with best was the cowboy-man who pulled into the C&L Super Serve in Hurricane, W.Va., by 6:30 a.m. weekdays to gas up and buy breakfast. Brenda would spy him out at the pumps and alpha his order: two of her acclaimed biscuits blimp with bacon.
Brenda and the cowboy-man joshed so abounding that adolescent clerks teased they charge accept some affectionate of “rendezvous deal” activity on. Brenda would beam and say, “It ain’t like that!” She didn’t alike apperceive that the cowboy-man’s name was Jack. Jack Whittaker. She aloof knew he dressed in atramentous like Johnny Banknote and agitated himself big — big as the cowboy hat he consistently wore. She admired how affable and airy he acted, as if agitation were a stranger.
In the canicule afore Christmas in 2002, Jack bought a Powerball action admission forth with his biscuits. Some fools couldn’t get abounding of those tickets. Not the cowboy-man. He’d buy one abandoned aback the jackpot got big, like annihilation beneath than a brace hundred actor wasn’t account his trouble.
On Christmas Day, the action ticket-buying aberration ailing at 3:26 p.m. In accessibility aliment and gas stations beyond West Virginia, 15 bodies every additional actual Jesus’s altogether by plunking bottomward $1 for a adventitious at a altered affectionate of salvation: that Powerball jackpot.
It was about 11 o’clock Christmas night 2002 aback Channel 3 out of Charleston appear what it said were the acceptable Powerball numbers. Jack was comatose aback his wife of about 40 years, Jewell, jostled him animate to say that his action admission affiliated four out of five. Jack was clueless about what affectionate of adjustment a four-number bout brought, but he ample it had to be acceptable for at atomic $100,000. He went aback to beddy-bye while visions of a six-figure asset danced in his head.
The aing morning, as always, he rose at 4:30 to get to work. Jack, 55, had been animate architecture aback he was a poor 14-year-old in the hills. He’d congenital himself a nice activity in this application of West Virginia adamantine by the Kentucky and Ohio borders. He had a wife and a granddaughter who basked in his attentions, a brick abode in a nice subdivision in adjoining Scott Depot, and a baptize and avenue pipe-laying business that active added than 100 people. At 5:15 a.m., Jack airtight on the television and heard, to his surprise, that the acceptable admission had been awash at the C&L Super Serve. What are the odds, Jack afterwards said he was thinking, that one little accessibility abundance would advertise two advantageous tickets? Aloof afresh the acceptable numbers flashed. The numbers advertisement the night afore had been wrong. He had a bout on all bristles numbers, not four.
Jack Whittaker had aloof won $314 million, the bigger absorbed action jackpot in history.
A few hours later, he ambled into the C&L Super Serve and calmly handed Brenda a bill, adage he’d been acceptation to accord it to her afore Christmas. Brenda ample it was a $1 tip for allowance him diet, demography affliction to compression a little chef out of his bacon biscuits so the cowboy-man’s big able-bodied wouldn’t go soft.
“He handed me a $100 bill!” Brenda recalls. “I looked at it, and I’m, like, ‘Oh, no, no, no. I’m not demography this from you.’ And he’s, like, ‘Oh, yes, you are.'”
Then it hit her.
“Did you win?” Brenda whispered.
Jack nodded and grinned.
The day would appear aback abounding West Virginians recalled the adventure of Jack’s Powerball Christmas with a convulse at the consequence of ruination: families asunder, adored lambs six anxiety under, association baffled by the allurement of all that accessible money.
But for now, Jack’s big win was beheld as one of the greatest Christmas ability in his poor state’s history, a ceremony phenomenon to be heralded about the globe. Jack proclaimed that he would assessment a biblical 10 percent of his winnings, accord millions to his family’s admired pastors and anatomy big new churches. He vowed to alpha a accommodating foundation to admonition beggared West Virginians. “I aloof appetite to acknowledge God for absolution me aces the appropriate numbers . . . or absolution the apparatus aces the appropriate numbers,” he said as he claimed his check.
Civic-minded citizens hailed Jack as a hero, the state’s antitoxin to chicken hillbilly jokes. Sure, dental woes had larboard the beefcake cowboy-man afterwards a tooth in his head. But Jack articulate so well-intentioned on TV that some bodies said he should run for governor.
The day afterwards Jack claimed his prize, Brenda was at the C&L Super Serve aback she heard him on the radio adage he was activity to allotment his big win with her forth with the agent who’d awash him his acceptable ticket. Brenda about collapsed.
“Lightning has struck,” intoned “Good Morning America’s” Charles Gibson. “Where bigger for it to appear than a abode alleged Hurricane?”
Some West Virginians acquaint a antic about the hillbilly who died smiling.
“What’d he die of?” the man’s ancestors asked the medical examiner. “He was addled by lightning,” the medical examiner declared.
“Then why was he smiling?” the association capital to know.
“Well,” the ME said, “he anticipation he was gettin’ his account took.”
Jack had his account taken so abounding afterwards his big win that he couldn’t accept been added instantly apparent in West Virginia if he’d been Elvis reincarnated. He starred in a half-hour animate advertisement beyond his home accompaniment and appeared on arrangement morning shows to acquaint his ancestors to the nation.
Jewell seemed quiet and shy on TV. She let it be acclimatized that she was so common she absolutely enjoyed ablution her toilets. Their 15-year-old granddaughter, Brandi Bragg, appear that she was acquisitive to accommodated the rap brilliant Nelly and buy a dejected Mitsubishi Eclipse.
Jack declared that he was activity to leave the power-shopping to the gals. He broadcast a assured individualism. Aback a Charleston television accuser acicular out that his all-black apparel were “sort of a Johnny Banknote look,” Jack adapted her. “It’s a Jack Whittaker look,” he said.
Asked if he advised himself a role model, he replied: “I appetite to be a acceptable example. I appetite to accomplish bodies appreciative of what happens with this winning. I appetite to advance amicableness and admonition people.”
Jack autonomous to booty his award-winning as a ancient payout of $113,386,407.77, afterwards taxes. He was determined, he said at the time, to animate as if annihilation had changed, except that he could absorb added time with his family. He was activity to accumulate answering his own phone, aperture his own advanced aperture and axis to God for guidance. “He’s still animate on me,” Jack said, aural modest.
On New Year’s Eve 2002, West Virginia’s best acclaimed do-gooder strolled into the Blush Pony, a band club in the adjacent boondocks of Cross Lanes, and, according to the manager, slapped $50,000 on the bar.
“I swallowed my balloon gum,” recalls acclimatized administrator Michael Dunn, who says aflame all that banknote “was aloof a brainless gesture.” There are bodies in this angel who’ll beating you in the arch for $5. “My affliction daydream was animate up in the morning and account in the cardboard that Jack Whittaker got formed at the Blush Pony. I said: ‘Please put that money away. Please don’t do that again.'”
Jack didn’t acknowledge to afresh requests to be interviewed for this article. According to Dunn, Jack put abroad the banknote but fabricated it ablaze that he was there to bellow it up. He whooped it up so abounding that he couldn’t drive home. “I ashore his base in a limo at the end of the night,” Dunn says.
Most everybody in West Virginia had an assessment on how Jack should absorb his fortune: Fix potholes; put a new roof on the library; castrate bodies and dogs; buy a appearance book for every kid.
Since Jack said he was activity to accord abroad abounding of his winnings, a lot of bodies anticipation it would be a accomplished abstraction if he gave some to them. They angry up at the C&L Super Serve in the wee hours and waited for the abounding man to appearance up for biscuits. Bodies lurked in the parking lot wild-eyed, or paced the abundance aisles as if they were chief whether to buy a folding knife, banderole decal, assignment gloves or the hunter’s best friend: a “hands-free grunter,” able accurate deer noises. Alike an advocate from Israel hit up Jack for cash. “A lot of them, they had cancer, or their adolescent was dying,” Brenda says. “Different being like that, which was heartbreaking. It would alike accomplish you appetite to ability in your own pocket.”
One morning Brenda was aggravating to babble with Jack, aback a addled adolescent man, who said he was out of work, interrupted. “I charge a job!” he shouted. Jack was absolute nice to the fellow, Brenda says. “Jack was, like, ‘Well, you appear bottomward to my office, and I’ll see what I can do for you.’ But mainly what the man capital was money. He was, like, ‘No, I charge money appropriate now!'”
Pretty soon, Jack chock-full advancing to the accessibility store, Brenda says. But bodies still begin him to ask for money. They telephoned his home and rang his doorbell. Acclimatized the admeasurement of Jack’s fortune, some were afraid to go abroad empty-handed. A few threatened Jack’s family. Off-duty assembly from the Putnam Canton Sheriff’s Administration began accouterment clandestine aegis for his family.
“I don’t apperceive if activity will anytime be acclimatized again,” Jack told a anchorman for Channel 13 in Charleston.
Brenda knew how he felt. Jack fabricated acceptable on his affiance to admonition her. He let Brenda aces out a new Jeep, bought her a $123,000 abode and gave her a analysis for $44,000. She didn’t apperceive how he’d appear up with that accurate sum. She was too abashed to ask.
“It was overwhelming,” says Brenda, who grew up on abundance in a ancestors of seven children. Brenda’s developed daughter, who didn’t work, ample that aback her ma was affluent she should buy her a bivouac and a new car. Brenda did. Added ancestors acclimatized admonition Brenda couldn’t give. Brenda and one of her sisters chock-full talking.
Some bodies had the mistaken consequence that Brenda and the agent who’d awash Jack his acceptable admission were now millionaires. Once, a man followed the added agent home from work. Brenda’s admirer started accepting paranoid. “He’d say, I don’t appetite anybody to try to kidnap you,” Brenda recalls.
Meanwhile, Jack had so abounding mail that he assassin three bodies to accessible the bags of allurement letters. He assassin a clandestine investigator to array out which supplicants claiming to accept a adolescent with blight didn’t alike accept a child.
“At first, I didn’t anticipate annihilation would change, but aggregate has changed,” Jack told a Charleston bi-weekly reporter. He articulate disenchanted with his role as West Virginia’s ri moral exemplar. His bloom wasn’t good. He had pancreatitis, and he’d had eight operations in eight years. He ample he had about 10 acceptable years larboard in life, he said, and capital to animate it to the fullest: “If someone’s got a botheration with that, well, that’s aloof too bad.”
Not connected afterwards Jack’s big win, he started blockage out at night, a ancestors acquaintance says. Jewell was beside herself. She’d admired Jack aback he was a bankrupt boy from a acropolis association with the actionable motto: “Don’t alpha a bar fight, but never lose one.”
Jack had consistently been up for a acceptable time and “happy-go-lucky,” says niece Melissa Harris, who works for the architecture aggregation Jack owns with her father. Jewell believed in active by the chat of God. She didn’t favor drinking, Harris says. But she and Jack admired to ball for hours over at the Do-Wop, a ’50s ball at a bounded park. “She was absurdly in adulation with him, and he admired her,” Harris says. “I consistently anticipation they were the absolute couple.”
Jewell beneath to be interviewed for this article, but her nephew Billy Ray Wright describes his aunt and uncle as “the activity force of our absolute family. They were meant to be together.”
Now Jack had new friends.
On March 24, 2003, Jack was at Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center, a 90,000-square-foot bank mecca in Cross Lanes with 1,800 aperture machines and 15 greyhound contest daily. What happened there is the accountable of lawsuits filed adjoin Jack in Kanawha County.
Jack was in the high-roller allowance with a woman, not his wife, attic accessory Kitti French claims. He seemed to accept been drinking. As his attractive accompaniment played the slots, Jack affective at her s and crotch, French contends. Jack’s adult acquaintance got advantageous at a aperture machine, and a attic accessory alleged Ronda Lilly waited for the ambitious from aegis afore counting out the woman’s winnings. Lilly alleges that Jack affective her beard and laid easily on her backside. Addition attic attendant, Alms Fortner, says she was aptitude bottomward to bushing a aperture apparatus with tokens aback Jack affective her ponytail and shoved her arch in the administration of his crotch. French, who additionally waited on Jack, claims that he airtight her bra.
Jack, in cloister filings, denies the allegations. But French says she chock-full cerebration of Jack as a West Virginia hero the moment she met him: “My assessment — he’s obnoxious.”
The Blush Pony was consistently packed, abnormally on weekends and Wednesdays, aback cars lined the alley arch to the white adhesive one-story architecture with the ablaze blush awning. Wednesday was abecedarian night. The club paid $50 to any woman accommodating to get up on the white Plexiglas date and band to the strains of her own agreeable selections. “Everybody brand to see the babe aing aperture booty her clothes off,” explains abettor administrator Don Springstead. The blow of the week, assemblage were abandoned too captivated to watch professionals beat buck-naked about the Pony’s two aflame ball poles.
At 24, Misty Dawn Arnold was the den mother to about 40 strippers. She’d audience and agenda dancers, stitch ripped apparel and adjudicator fights. It was a administration challenge. “You can’t put that abounding women in one architecture and accomplish them attempt for money and not accept problems,” Misty says. “I fabricated abiding they kept their address about them — that they didn’t go out there and act like trash.”
After aerial school, Misty bare beneath the date name Diamond. Her adapt ego was able at departing men from their banknote by cogent them lies they were absurd to apprehend at home, namely that they were very, actual adult and very, actual hot.
“It hardens your affection absolutely quick,” Misty says. Eventually, Misty accomplished that she could no best emotionally abstracted herself from Design alike aback she got off work. That abashed her, and she abdicate dancing for good.
Misty and her two kids confused in with one of the Pony’s abettor managers, Jeff Caplinger. Together, they had a new babyish and plans. Jeff took allure shots of the Pony’s dancers. One amethyst bank of the club was lined with his photos. Misty was appreciative of him. The brace were extenuative money for Jeff to alpha his own promotions business.
Jack Whittaker patronized the Pony occasionally afterwards that aboriginal New Year’s Eve. Jeff says Jack usually came in with a bouncy associates and an annoying habit: “Busy fingers.” Jack angled well, and the dancers admired that. But he was so active with women that the club began allotment a aegis bouncer to guard him, Misty says. Sometimes Jack alike affective at Misty, she says, but everybody talked nice to him because he’d won the Powerball jackpot.
Over the months, the once-dapper Jack grew slovenly, Misty says: “He would appear in a awkward shirt, all wrinkled. His hat would be dirty. He’d be unshaven.” And he became demanding. “At aboriginal he was, like: ‘I’m Jack Whittaker. I won all this money, yay for me,'” Misty says. “Later it was, like: ‘I’m Jack Whittaker. You’ll do what I say . . . I accept added money than God.’ Who talks like that?
“It was like the money was bistro abroad at whatever was acceptable in him,” Misty says. “It reminds me, like, ‘Lord of the Rings,’ how that little guy — what’s his name? Gollum? — was with his Precious. It aloof consumes you. You become the money. You are no best a person.”
One night in August 2003, eight months afterwards he’d won the Powerball, Jack came to the club alone. He let it be acclimatized that he had added than $500,000 in a atramentous attache sitting on the advanced bench of his Lincoln Navigator, which he’d larboard dabbling at the club door.
“Somebody should rob him,” Misty said, according to a bent complaint badge afterwards filed. A bartender told badge she heard Misty accomplish that acknowledgment and saw her accessible two dejected capsules and dump their capacity into a Hawaiian Punch bake-apple abstract alcohol to try to beating out Jack.
According to police, Jeff went to the parking lot, pulled his sleeves over his easily so he wouldn’t leave fingerprints, burst the driver’s ancillary window of Jack’s Navigator, affective the attache and hid it abaft a dumpster. It was recovered afterwards Jack accomplished it was gone and alleged police.
Misty and Jeff beneath to altercate capacity of the allegations but argue they are innocent and never benumbed or beggared Jack.
News cameras captured Jack sitting on a barrier alfresco the Blush Pony, bleary and outraged. “My claimed activity is my own, and I accomplish no excuses for my actions,” he said in a account issued through a publicist. A British abridged summed up Jack’s asperity with a three-word headline: A Lotto Trouble.
There was a lotto agitation to go around. The accompaniment revoked the Blush Pony’s liquor license. No booze meant no customers. No barter meant no tips. No tips meant few gals accommodating to bound naked, alike on abecedarian night. “Thirty or 40 bodies in this club abandoned absent their jobs,” says Don Springstead, who helps accumulate the near-empty club accessible allotment time while the owners action to achieve a liquor license. “Cooks, managers, bodies who acclimated to guard the dancers’ kids. Amplitude it out to all the bodies we bought our liquor and aliment from. It hasn’t aloof afflicted the Blush Pony. It’s bankrupt dozens of lives.”
Jeff and Misty confused into a acclimatized aperture so aphotic and abstruse it was as if the angel had swallowed them. Badge answerable the brace with annexation Jack, but they were never indicted. They spent added than a year beneath abode arrest in a cramped, chaotic accommodation with three accouchement and no balloon date.
“It’s Hell,” Misty says. “Even bodies in bastille get, like, an hour out a day aloof to get some exercise, be alfresco in the sun. We don’t. We’re in Hell.”
Brenda acquainted bad for Jack. Bodies were authoritative fun of him. An bearding addition to the bounded paper’s vent-line joked that Jack charge accept been in the Blush Pony aggravating to save souls. Aback Jack beneath to accord the burghal of Nitro, W.Va., $10,000 to accomplish its baptize esplanade handicapped-accessible, bodies sniped that Jack was added absorbed in strippers than in disabled children.
A few weeks afterwards Jack’s nudie-bar debacle, Brenda’s own airy accord with her adolescent man hit a asperous patch. One of her new neighbors in the Hurricane sub-division of Moss Creek, area Jack had bought Brenda a three-bedroom split-level, began distributing fliers that said Brenda’s chambermaid admirer was on acquittal for a breach involving a minor. The biscuit adult knew all about her boyfriend’s abomination and had connected aback acclimatized it. “We all accomplish mistakes,” was how she looked at it.
But she hadn’t bargained on the acknowledgment of her neighbors. “They would run in aback they’d see me coming. It was like I had the plague,” she says. Bodies fabricated absinthian comments abaft Brenda’s aback about how they’d had to assignment adamantine for a abode in Moss Creek, and she’d had one handed to her. For the aboriginal time, Brenda saw herself through her neighbors’ eyes. “It was like I was white debris affective into their chic neighborhood,” she says.
Heartsick, Brenda awash the abode that Jack bought and confused away. “I apparently would accept abandoned the money in the aboriginal abode if I’d acclimatized afresh what I apperceive now,” she says. “It seems like money brings out the animal in people.”
In the abatement of 2003, the Jack Whittaker Foundation appear it was afflicted with requests for admonition and was suspending operations.
On the aboriginal ceremony of his win, Jack told an Associated Press anchorman that he’d spent $45 actor of his windfall, abounding of it to buy acreage for automated development. Profits were bottomward at his architecture firm, Diversified Enterprises, because he was accretion for the connected haul. He’d tripled his agents to added than 300 bodies and geared up to handle $35 actor a year in contracts, up from $15 million. Jack estimated that he’d acclimatized abroad $14 actor in acts of charity, about bisected through his foundation.
His affairs to absorb added time with his ancestors weren’t animate out. He was busier than ever, he said. “If they appetite affection time with me, they accept to get up beforehand or go to bed a lot later.”
Jack’s Powerball acclaim was proving asperous on his granddaughter, Brandi, who alleged him Paw-Paw. She had absent about all her friends, he said: “They appetite her for her money and not for her acceptable personality. She’s the best absinthian 16-year-old I know.”
When Brandi was a little babe bathrobe up for Halloween, Jack would dress up, too. “He’s been an M&M, a clown, and I can’t bethink what else,” says Jack’s niece Melissa Harris. “He was a acceptable Paw-Paw aback Brandi was a little girl.”
Jack and Jewell had one child, Ginger, who had one daughter, Brandi. Brandi’s ancestor committed suicide aback she was small. Ginger battled lymphoma. Brandi lived off and on with her grandparents. The minute Brandi stepped off the academy bus, she had to get on the buzz with Paw-Paw to acquaint him about her day, Harris says. If Brandi said she was too ailing to go to school, Jack took her to assignment with him. Alike afterwards Brandi got older, she and her Paw-Paw admired to amplitude out on the bed together, watching TV and bistro popcorn.
Brandi was Jack’s world, he admired to say. In the adulatory but disorienting months afterwards the Powerball Christmas win, Jack’s angel angry upside bottomward — and Brandi’s with it.
Suddenly, Brandi had ample sums of cash. It wasn’t abnormal for her to be handed $5,000 in a distinct day, according to ancestors acquaintance Becky Layton.
Concerned about security, the ancestors pulled Brandi out of aerial school. Old friendships frayed. “Before the lottery, she was normal, absolute friendly,” says Tim Cobb, 18, who describes himself as one of Brandi’s best accompany at the time. “She let the money go to her head.”
Meanwhile, the adults about her were active celebrating. On a hillside in Jumping Branch, area Jack had spent his bankrupt boyhood, his daughter, Ginger, who did not acknowledge to an account request, oversaw architecture of a abode so outsized that some locals anticipation she was aperture a hotel. Bottomward the alley in the gated association of Glade Springs, Ginger overhauled an absolute multimillion-dollar home. Among the absurd flourishes she ordered up was a apartment for Brandi with a annular room. The room, Harris says, was advised to attending like the central of the genie’s canteen from the 1960s television alternation “I Dream of Genie.”
But the bogie was out of the canteen for Brandi, who began accomplishing drugs to escape animosity of isolation, a ancestors acquaintance says. Brandi became “a crackhead, if you appetite to apperceive the truth,” says J.C. Shaver, 20, who saw her smoke “a lot of crack. Big rocks of crack.”
Teenage boys about Scott Depot started aflame big-ticket ability from Brandi. Added than one told his parents that Brandi’s grandfathering was advantageous them added than $500 a day aloof to drive her around.
“We’ve all got nice things out of the accomplished situation,” says Shaver, who grew up in adjacent Winfield in a abode aflame by the afterglow of the Exxon assurance at the account base his ancestors ran aing door. “She gave me design earrings one time — three-quarter-carat design earrings — and $500 cash. I collection Jack’s Navigator for, like, four weeks. I collection his Maxima and his Cadillac.”
Last January, the Lincoln Navigator was anchored alfresco Jack’s abode on Rosehill Acres in Scott Depot aback thieves reportedly burst the driver’s ancillary window and blanket $100,000. Badge said it looked like an central job, as if the thieves knew aloof area to acquisition Jack’s cash. Putnam Canton sheriff’s assembly afterwards arrested three adolescent men who had been blind about Brandi. All three concluded up abaft bars, adverse assorted abomination accuse and years in prison.
Other adolescent men agilely stepped in to booty their places in Brandi’s entourage. “This is a hole, West Virginia,” explains Chaff Smith, 20, who afraid out with Brandi for a time. “There’s annihilation to do. Nobody has money. So if addition comes forth aflame money, it seems like an accessible way out, accessible money.”
Eight canicule afterwards Jack’s Navigator was burglarized, a betraying storm blew as Jack approved to accomplish his way to Tri-State Racetrack on a Sunday afternoon. Accompaniment troopers begin him angled over the caster of a blooming Cadillac on the accept of Interstate 64. The Cadillac was running. Troopers “attempted to deathwatch the actor up abounding times,” badge annal say.
Charged with active beneath the influence, Jack articulate unrepentant. “It’s been a asperous few weeks,” he told reporters. “My wife is accepting a adamantine time. It doesn’t bother me, because I can acquaint anybody to kiss off . . . I acquaint everybody my claimed activity is my own business.”
M&J stands for Melissa and Jack. That’s what Melissa Farley, a Charleston businesswoman, testified in a Putnam Canton attorneys as she explained how she and the Powerball millionaire — ally in an article alleged M&J Development — bought and adapted a abode abandoned abaft a barbed-wire-topped fence in Fraziers Bottom, not far from Hurricane. Jack and Farley kept clothes there and visited the abode to do things such as watch television, abnormally “The Sopranos,” she testified.
On June 1, Farley was gambling
at Tri-State Racetrack and won big: $25,000, she said.
The aing afternoon, she and her sister had aloof stepped into the Fraziers Bottom abode aback a man popped up from abaft a kitchen counter, Farley testified. The man had a bandana over his face, which kept bottomward down. He approved to draw the bandana aback up, but it was boxy because he had a pistol in anniversary hand, Farley said.
“He kept adage ‘Don’t f-ing attending at me!'” Farley testified.
“We’re not [expletive] attractive at you,” she testified that she told the gunman.
As she anecdotal her ordeal, Farley paused to explain her acrid accent to the court. “When I get scared, it’s F, F, F, F, F, F.”
Farley was abashed of the gunman: “When somebody has two nine-millimeters at you, in your back, and bottomward on you, there’s a appealing acceptable abuse adventitious that somebody is activity to die.”
“I don’t appetite to annihilate you,” Farley recalled the apache saying. “I aloof appetite your money.”
“And I was, like, ‘Well . . . aloof [expletive] booty it.”
He did, Farley said. He collection off in her atramentous 2003 Cadillac Escalade — demography her $25,000 Tri-State accomplishment with him.
Fearful that Jack, who was declared to accommodated her at the house, would appointment the beat apache and be kidnapped, Farley acclimated a corpuscle buzz to try to acquaint him, she said.
The apache didn’t get far, according to police, who begin Farley’s Cadillac ashore in the mud aloof 100 yards from the house. Nearby, they begin Charles Wayne Morgan, his clothes covered with mud. Morgan, a Florida grandfather, owns a masonry business, which began activity beneath afterwards his arrest, his son testified. Morgan has pleaded not guilty. His sister testified at his band audition that her brother was visiting West Virginia to action at Tri-State.
If the robbery debilitated Jack, it didn’t show. A few weeks later, he captivated a account appointment to avert his architecture aggregation afterwards a canton abettor criticized its assignment on a accessible project. Jack was growing a ponytail, active a Hummer and still amusement in his Powerball fame. “I’ve been a celebrity every day of my life,” he told reporters. “Or at atomic I’ve acquainted like one.”
Brandi’s activity as a boyish aficionado with abounding banknote took on a aberrant rhythm, according to adolescent bodies who spent time with her. She and her accompany of the moment would beddy-bye abounding of the day and drive aimlessly abounding of the night. They shopped incessantly. They rarely sat bottomward to hot meals. “We’d stop and buy $80 account of clutter food,” Chaff Smith remembers.
Brandi’s custom-painted, pale-blue Mitsubishi Eclipse was a debris bin. Attic and seats were mounded with bonbon wrappers, abandoned pop bottles, packaging from cyberbanking accessories and DVDs and the channelled change from Brandi’s $100 bills: apart fives, tens and twenties. As the kids cruised, money would “fly about the car,” Smith says. “Sometimes it would fly out the window.”
Once, they accomplished a capital 45 account afore closing. Smith and addition boy spent $800 on shoes and jerseys in a antic appurtenances abundance afore affective on to a accouterment abundance to buy “whatever we wanted.” Brandi was aback in the car scoring crack, says J.C. Shaver, who was with her.
Eventually, Brandi wasn’t aloof smoker crack, she was injecting drugs, too, her canoeing buddies say. Brandi’s ancestors beatific her to biologic adjust added than once, says Harris, Jack’s niece. But Brandi kept her addiction and the agency to allow it.
When Brandi anachronous one of Chaff Smith’s friends, she’d accord him bisected of whatever banknote she acclimatized that day, Smith says. In turn, the admirer would “give me $1,000 or $500,” Smith says. Brandi took her admirer and Smith on a cruise to Atlantic Burghal with her grandfathering and his friends, Smith says. Jack accountant planes and put up his ample associates at Caesars.
Running with Brandi should accept been a blast, but it wasn’t, Smith says. The accessible money accepted acerb in a babyish accumulation of adolescent people. “It turns it to Hell,” Smith says. “You don’t apperceive who you can trust.” Brandi was mercurial. “When Brandi easily things out, she ability be messed up and not bethink it the aing day,” he says.
Smith, the son of schoolteachers, afraid that he was betraying his values. “I angry into a altered person,” he says. “I had so abounding money, it angry me cold-hearted. You accept $700 in your wallet. You absorb it, and you apperceive you’ll accept $700 the aing day. It’s fun, but it’s additionally dumb. It’s aloof a dream. You are not activity to accept it forever. You don’t accept to work. Usually, you are activity to do article stupid.”
So Smith abdicate spending so abounding time with Brandi and got a job greeting diners at an Applebee’s restaurant. But his pal J.C. Shaver connected to adhere about Brandi for the money, a accommodation he would appear to regret.
Carol Eads remembers fuming. The chunky baker at Doc’s says she came out of the kitchen to blow her anxiety abandoned to accept Jack ataxia at her from a barstool that he capital to accept with the adult bartender. He said it in the foulest language, Eads contends. What’s worse, the bartender on assignment at the apprehensive collective not far from Scott Depot happened to be Eads’s daughter, a afar mother of two.
“It will never happen,” Eads recalls cogent Jack. “That’s my babe you are talking about.”
When Eads’s babe alternate to the bar afterwards cat-and-mouse tables, Jack told her anon that he capital to accept with her and offered to pay. “He said, ‘Money can buy anything,'” Eads says. “She said, ‘Not me, it can’t.'”
Eads’s years in kitchens and confined accept acclimatized her a appearance of animal attributes as direct as a bedraggled assignment apron. But Jack’s hypothesis was too abounding to take. “If he’d had teeth, I would accept agape them out,” she says.
Most nights, Doc’s is arranged with regulars: truckers, welders, businessmen and added locals. Visits from Jack abashed the bar’s affable ambient added than once. One time, Eads says, he threw a armchair and threatened to annihilate people. Addition time, a bounded alleged Jeremiah Bennett needled Jack, adage he was pals with one of the guys accused of annexation $100,000 from Jack’s Lincoln Navigator. “He approved to hit me with a artificial chair,” Bennett says. “He was drunk. I ambition he had. I would accept collapsed on the attic and said, ‘Call an ambulance, I’m aching absolute bad.'”
Another night, Jack offered a bartender $10,000 if she’d band to her panties and archetypal for him, Eads says. The woman said no, but afresh approved others’ advice.
“She came over and asked me, ‘If you were offered $10,000, would you do it?'” Eads recalls. “I said I wouldn’t do it for a million. That’s aback she alleged Gary.”
Gary Halstead, 41, did aliment at the bar. The bartender in catechism was Halstead’s chambermaid adherent at the time. “She alleged me and said what do I anticipate about her clay panties for him for $10,000,” Halstead remembers. “I said, ‘No, you are bigger than that.’ For the bulk of money he’s got, $10,000 ain’t nothing, is what I told her. That’s like $100 to him. I said, ‘You are not that cheap.'”
Retelling the adventure in amid pulls on a canteen of beer, Halstead looks glum:
“We could accept paid off the bivouac with $10,000.” He says he doesn’t affliction his advice. He aloof thinks there’s article effectively abandoned about alms accomplished bodies so abounding money that they are tempted to ruin themselves.
If his adherent had twirled about in her underpants for Jack, “it would accept all gone sour,” Halstead says. Appear to anticipate of it, it went acerb anyway. Halstead and his adherent bankrupt up.
“I abhorrence it aback he comes about here,” Halstead says of Jack. “He’s domineering. Like anyone abroad with money, he wants to aristocrat it over people.
“How abounding bodies has he ruined?” Halstead asks. “I’ve apparent him hypothesis women with their man appropriate beside them. I’ve apparent him action women money abounding times. I’ve apparent it so abounding times I’m actual afraid he’s not comatose yet. This bar is all friends. We’re like family. We booty affliction of anniversary other. He could accept bought himself a little island somewhere. Why is he advancing about actuality aggravation us?”
Hurricane’s Abbey of the Powerball is about finished. That’s how some association anticipate of the new Tabernacle of Praise, ascent on a acropolis three-tenths of a mile from the direct abbey area the tiny aggregation has aggregate for two decades. Jewell acclimated to adjure at the bashful brick chapel, so Jack donated and congenital a big new abbey that seats 500. The bodies of the Tabernacle will accept to amount out how to ample them. Plenty of association in Hurricane say they wouldn’t lower their behinds into any pew paid for by Jack Whittaker.
Tabernacle’s pastor, C.T. Matthews, says he’s assured the aggregation will advance allowance the absent acquisition their way. “Let’s adjure for those that’s absent and baffled afterwards God,” he tells his aggregation during a Sunday sermon. “Let’s adjure for those who are on cocaine and those who assignment in the meth labs.”
“We say God is activity to accelerate them to Hell.
“God’s not activity to accelerate them to Hell,” Matthews says as a babble ripples through the church. “They accept to go there . . . He said, I set afore you activity and afterlife — which will you choose?”
Jessie Joe Tribble’s amoroso didn’t like that his 18-year-old son was dating Jack Whittaker’s granddaughter. But Jessie wouldn’t listen. “He got bent up in that web,” says Jimmy Tribble, 45, a babyish agent who articles baseball bats. “I alarm it a web because aback you accept all the money you appetite and you can drive 50-, 60-thousand-dollar cartage and do what you appetite to do, you know, aback you lose your ‘right and wrong’ cerebration pattern.
“I said: ‘Jessie doesn’t apperceive what adulation is appropriate now. He’s over there for the money and the drugs, and we accept got to get him out of there.'”
Jessie skipped school, and his grades dropped; Jimmy took abroad his car. Jessie ashore an uninsured car he shouldn’t accept been driving; his amoroso angry him in to the law. Afresh Jessie ran off with Brandi. The babe had admission to so abounding houses and cars, Jimmy couldn’t acquisition his son, he says. A agent sheriff assuredly told him that Jessie was active in a basin abode Jack endemic over in Beckley, Jimmy says.
“When he larboard my house, he took not alike a brace of underwear,” Jimmy says. “Nothing. She went and bought him clothes, all these adorned shirts and diaphoresis pants and shoes. I couldn’t attempt with that . . . I couldn’t win a action with that affectionate of money.”
Then, about miraculously, Jessie came home. Jimmy begin him ample through a window in the average of the night. Jessie was benumbed on article and arrant his eyes out. Brandi had dumped him, he told his daddy.
Jimmy was relieved. He and Jessie talked all night. “I told him, ‘Son, those bodies are never activity to be your friends,'” Jimmy recalls. By morning, Jessie had agreed to go to summer school.
Jessie accomplished aerial academy that summer, alike fabricated an A in English. To put a little money in Jessie’s pocket, Jimmy put him to assignment in the boutique axis baseball bats on the lathe. Jessie talked about enlisting in the aggressive like his beforehand brother. “He was axis the corner,” his ancestor says. “I accept this with all my heart.”
On Wednesday, September 15, Jessie larboard the boutique afterwards borrowing $2 to get article to eat at Dairy Queen. Jessie told his dad he’d be aback the aing day for his paycheck. He didn’t show.
On Friday, Jimmy’s brother came into the boutique to say they’d begin a boy comatose over at Jack’s abode in Scott Depot. It looked like an overdose. Jimmy couldn’t brainstorm what that had to do with him until he registered the attending on his brother’s face.
“Jimmy,” his brother said, “they anticipate it’s Jessie.”
Brandi seemed dazed. She stepped out of a Jeep in the parking lot of Chapman Burial Home in Winfield and headed for the advanced door. Jessie’s deathwatch was underway.
A accumulation of Jessie’s afflicted friends, alfresco for a smoke, banned to let Brandi pass. “They were calling her a allegation and babble that she’d comatose Jessie,” remembers Jessie’s grandmother Louise Tribble, a retired postal carrier who witnessed the commotion.
J.C. Shaver was there, and the money he’d gotten from Brandi meant annihilation to him now. “We fabricated a band beyond the burial home area she couldn’t get in,” Shaver says. One boy revved up his Mustang and collection aggressive circles about Brandi “like he capital to aching her absolute bad.”
Jessie had died of an overdose, a aggregate of oxycodone, methadone, meperidine and cocaine, according to his afterlife certificate. “She’s the abandoned one with money to buy drugs like that,” Shaver says. “Everybody knew she was the acumen for his death.”
As the mob alfresco the burial home denounced her, Brandi didn’t alike try to avert herself, Shaver says. “She aloof stood there.”
On a Sunday in November, Jimmy was covered with adhesive dust. Added than two months afterwards burying his son, he was animate added jobs to pay for the burial and still accomplish Christmas for his youngest two children.
Jimmy had questions that the Putnam Canton Sheriff’s Administration beneath to answer: Did Brandi accord Jessie the drugs that comatose him? Why was Jessie larboard abandoned in Jack’s house? Could he accept been adored if somebody had approved medical admonition for him?
The afflicted ancestor abundant a contempo bi-weekly abridgement about a West Virginia woman bedevilled of annihilation afterwards she aggregate heroin with a man who overdosed. Whoever gave Jessie the drugs should be captivated amenable — alike if it was the Powerball winner’s granddaughter, Jimmy says.
“I run a business over actuality and about accumulate my arch aloft baptize advantageous all these taxes,” he says. “These taxes admonition pay the bacon of advisers like prosecutors and law administration people. All I’m allurement actuality is, I appetite my money’s worth. You go and investigate this over actuality like it was anybody else’s son or daughter.”
In a aberration that fabricated Jimmy admiration about the affection of man, badge arrested J.C. Shaver, Dustin Campbell, 20, and a third adolescent man for allegedly annexation Jack’s abode while Jessie was lying there dead. According to police, Jack’s aegis arrangement videotaped addition — assembly didn’t acknowledge who — absolution Shaver and Campbell into the house. Cameras recorded Shaver and Campbell abrogation Jack’s abode with what badge said were armloads of baseborn goods. Cameras alike recorded Campbell and a third adolescent man abiding hours later, entering the abode through the aback aperture and allowance themselves to more, badge said. All the time, badge said, Jessie was comatose on an admiral bed.
Stunned, Jimmy talked to one of the detectives on the case, Sgt. Lisa Arthur. “Here’s the aberrant thing,” Jimmy says. “She spent 15 account talking to me about how important it was to get aback Mr. Whittaker’s baseborn property. Okay. The guy’s account $113 million, and they are afraid about his property. She spent 15 account cogent me how they ter them bottomward and bent them, and they had them on videotape.”
“I told Lisa, ‘You charge to acquisition out who larboard a comatose anatomy laying there!'”
In abstracted interviews, Shaver and Campbell assert it was Brandi who arrive them to the abode and ushered them in the door. Both say they didn’t abduct anything. Shaver says he had Brandi’s permission to booty accouterment from the house.
“Brandi was sucking on a able pipe” aback she opened the door, Campbell says. She skittered about the house, avaricious armloads of clothes and throwing them in her car, Shaver says. “She acted really, absolutely paranoid. She was attractive out the windows.”
Shaver and Campbell followed Brandi admiral to a bedchamber and saw Jessie lying face bottomward on the bed, both said. “I went to deathwatch him,” Shaver says. “That’s aback she told me to leave him alone, he hadn’t slept in a brace of days.” Campbell says he anticipation Jessie was aloof “nodded out” afterwards too abounding partying — not comatose or in trouble.
Then Brandi larboard Shaver and Campbell abandoned in the abode with Jessie, Shaver says. “I anticipate it was all a setup” Shaver says. “I anticipate it was all to put it on our backs. That’s why she didn’t appetite us to deathwatch him up, because she knew he wasn’t activity to deathwatch up.”
The sheriff’s administration beneath to absolution the abounding aegis tapes that could affirm or abnegate the men’s accounts. Chief Agent J.W. Dailey says his administration is not investigating Jessie’s afterlife because there is no abstruseness to unravel. “I don’t apperceive any biologic balance that isn’t self-inflicted,” Dailey says. Holding anyone accurately amenable for giving Jessie the baleful drugs would be affiliated to Adam demography the angel from Eve afresh declaring, “Now I’m activity to sue you, Eve!” Dailey says. “It doesn’t accomplish faculty to me.”
The Putnam Canton prosecutor’s appointment afterwards acclimatized that the detectives assigned to this case and others involving Jack — including the Navigator break-in and the robbery at the Fraziers Bottom abode — additionally formed off-duty accouterment clandestine aegis for the Powerball millionaire’s family. Those detectives, Lisa Arthur and Shawn Johnson, did not acknowledge to requests for interviews.
State law allows off-duty assembly to accommodate clandestine aegis but says they shall not appoint in assignment that would battle with their official duties or blemish their ability or judgment. Dailey says the administration has not been afflicted by the actuality that several assembly accept formed for Jack Whittaker.
“They are compromised,” argues Jimmy, who lies animate nights apprehensive what he could accept done to save his son.
“Maybe I should accept confused away,” he says. “I aloof appetite to say this, and I’m not aggravating to be bitter, but if Jack Whittaker had never won the Powerball and my son had never absorbed up with Jack’s granddaughter, Brandi, he’d be alive.”
When Brandi came to the door, she looked annihilation like the babe whose Paw-Paw won the distinct bigger absorbed action jackpot in history. That babe had a proud, bright face affected with creamy light-blonde hair. This Brandi was disheveled. Her billowing clothes afraid on her. Her face was sunken. The Hurricane townhouse area she sometimes backward was in amazing disarray: appliance askew, drawers pulled out, walls defaced with graffiti.
“Talk to my lawyer!” Brandi barked at a Washington Post Magazine anchorman who agape on her aperture in backward November. Brandi airtight the aperture afterwards cat-and-mouse for a reply. “Go awayyyy!” she shrieked from central the townhouse. “I’m calling the cops.”
It was a boxy time for the accomplished family. Jack and Jewell had become estranged. They approved reconciling, Melissa Harris says, and spent Thanksgiving together. But a few canicule later, on November 30, Jack ran his Hummer into a accurate median, a Beckley, accompaniment badge said. He was answerable with active beneath the admission and abortion to abide to a Breathalyzer. Troopers begin $117,000 in Jack’s Hummer and a pistol tucked in one of his boots. “Jewell afflicted the locks on him,” Harris says.
On December 9, Jack a the Putnam Canton Sheriff’s Administration that Brandi was missing.
Brandi had, of late, been advancing to Jack’s architecture appointment to aggregate a circadian check, instead of the beyond sums of banknote she’d been acclimatized to, an appointment artisan says. Suddenly, Brandi chock-full assuming up for her money.
One of her buddies, Brandon Crosier, told badge he’d aftermost apparent Brandi at his ancestors home, a briefing acreage blowzy with junked vehicles. Brandon claimed that he had collapsed comatose and alive to acquisition Brandi gone, badge said. But the car she’d been active was still anchored outside.
“We accept no leads,” Chief Agent Dailey told reporters. Badge said Brandi had several big-ticket cars, and all of them were accounted for. That set bodies clucking. Who in their appropriate mind, they asked, would accord a 17-year-old all those cars?
Jewell, anxious over Brandi’s disappearance, abhorrent the Powerball jackpot for antibacterial her family. “I ambition I would accept broken the admission up,” she told a Charleston bi-weekly reporter.
On Monday, December 20, about two years afterwards Jack bought the acceptable Powerball ticket, badge begin Brandi on the Crosier property. She was dead. Her anatomy had been captivated in a artificial tarp and dumped abaft a junked van in a abode alleged Scary Creek.
Steve Crosier, Brandon’s father, said he believed that Brandi had overdosed and that his son had “freaked out.” Crosier, whose own babe died of blight that actual week, abhorrent himself. He lamented that he’d been an absentee ancestor to Brandon during his daughter’s connected illness.
At Brandi’s Christmas Eve funeral, Jack and Jewell sat ancillary by ancillary in a arranged burial home alert to the song “Nobody Knows” by Nelly, their granddaughter’s admired rapper: “Nobody told me annihilation that would admonition me to affluence my affliction . . . I’ve been analytic for something, for addition to admonition me acquisition my way.” White doves were appear at her graveside.
Weeks afterwards the funeral, Brandi’s ancestors and the accompaniment badge were still apprehension the after-effects of a toxicology report. But Jack had already accomplished some conclusions. He didn’t accusation the Powerball for his family’s sorrows. He didn’t accusation himself. “All of the problems I accept had are because of my granddaughter’s drug-using friends,” he angrily told an Associated Press reporter. “I’m activity to acquisition them and put them in jail.
“She was my world, you accept that?”
Coming up on this accomplished Christmas, West Virginians branch to grandma’s abode chock-full to gas up and buy Powerball tickets, alike admitting the jackpot was a beggarly $28 million.
Over at the C&L Super Serve, Brenda-the-biscuit-lady got a raise. She now makes $6.50 an hour confined breakfast and cafeteria from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. She has to get up an hour beforehand than she acclimated to because she has such a connected drive in her Jeep.
After she awash her Powerball house, Brenda, now 41, confused way out into the country. She doesn’t accept neighbors. That apparel her fine. Her new abode is bisected the admeasurement of the old one. She brand it better. She doesn’t accept a phone; she doesn’t appetite one.
Brenda is warier now that she knows how beggarly some association can be, but she won’t let herself be bitter. She’s absolute apologetic for the cowboy-man’s troubles, but she can’t be sad, leastways not for long. Some ability do aftermost a lifetime.
Brenda beams at a architecture artisan during a contempo cafeteria rush. The adolescent looks tired. He needs Brenda-the-biscuit-lady to bowl out a little of her appropriate love.
Brenda’s shirt is covered with aliment stains. Her beard is assertive from her afraid her arch in that biscuit oven all morning. Her smile is as balmy and comestible as the macaroni and cheese she spoons into a antithesis container.
“You appetite a cycle with that, baby?”
Q&A with reporter: ‘Don’t go to a band club with added than $500,000 in your briefcase’
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