03.31.12

Mega Millions Winners Might Not Be So Lucky: Jack Whittaker and More Unlucky Lotto Winners

Are you bummed that you didn’t win the $640 million Mega Millions jackpot? Don’t be—it turns out winning the lottery can often be a terrible curse. From Jack Whittaker, who says he wishes ‘we had torn the ticket up,’ to Evelyn Adams, who won twice and gambled it all away, The Daily Beast rounds up the unluckiest lotto winners of them all.

So you defied the odds and won the $640 million jackpot. Congratulations, what should you do next? If these previous lottery winners are any indication, you should probably be very, very careful. Winning the lottery can end in bankruptcy, lawsuits, and even death.

Denise Rossi, $1.3 million

Denise Rossi won $1.3 million in the California lottery and then shocked her husband by filing for divorce 11 days later. But she never told her husband or anyone involved in the divorce about her winnings. Unfortunately for Rossi, two years later, her ex learned about her lucky win and sued her. In a deposition, she admitted she did not mention the winnings because she did not want her husband “getting his hands on them.” That plan backfired slightly. In 1999, a judge ruled that Rossi had violated state disclosure laws and ordered her to give a portion of her winnings to her husband. How much? Every penny. If she had previously disclosed the winnings, he would only have gotten half. Honesty really is the best policy.

Willie Hurt, $3.1 million

Willie Hurt must have felt like he was on top of the world when he won $3.1 million in the Michigan lottery in 1989. But he wasn’t. He had probably figured this out by the time he was hauled into court and charged with killing a woman over crack cocaine two years later. If that wasn’t painful enough, Hurt’s lawyers said that he didn’t have any money left by that time either.

Ibi Roncaioli, $5 million

Ibi Roncaioli, already married to a wealthy doctor, got even luckier in 1991, when she won $5 million in the lottery. But she spent much of it on alcohol and gambling, although she gave $2 million to a secret son that her husband was unaware even existed. Having left control of the family’s finances in Ibi’s hands for years, her husband, Joseph Roncaioli, was stunned to discover in 2003 that not only were the winnings gone, but his personal fortune was gone as well. Shortly after this discovery, Ibi died mysteriously and Roncaioli was found guilty in her death.

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Jack Whittaker Jr., right, is just one of many lotttery winners whose lives took turns for the worse after acquiring their seemingly good fortunes. (Bob Bird / AP Photo)

Evelyn Adams, $5.4 million

They say that in life you get no second chances—unless you happen to be Evelyn Adams. Adams won the New Jersey lottery two years in a row—in 1985 and 1986—for a grand total of $5.4 million. Unfortunately for her, she became a frequent visitor to Atlantic City, where she gambled with her lotto winnings and discovered that the third time is definitely not the charm. By 2001, she was broke and living in a trailer.

William Post, $16.2 million

William “Bud” Post III won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988, and his problems started almost immediately. His landlady/sometime girlfriend sued him, saying that they had agreed to split the winnings. A court awarded her $5.3 million in 1992. At the same time, his legal fees amounted to $129,000 in one year. As Post continued to squander his remaining money, one of his brothers was convicted of hiring a man to kill Post and his wife and make it look like a murder-suicide. Post’s woes did not end there—he also received a 6-to-24-month prison sentence after firing a gun at someone who had come to his house to collect on debt. He died in 2006.

Michael Carroll, £9.7 million

Michael Carroll’s troubles began well before he ever bought his lottery ticket. In fact, he was already being monitored electronically by police when he won £9.7 million, or $15.5 million, in 2002. He spent lavishly on drugs, parties, and prostitutes. Carroll also bought a mansion, which he eventually had to sell at a £600,000 loss because it was in such poor shape, complete with the remains of several cars that he had destroyed during demolition derbies. As if this wasn’t enough, he also had a string of arrests and jail time for everything from cocaine possession to “running amok with a baseball bat at a Christian rock concert.” By 2011, the year of his second suicide attempt, the father of two was completely broke.

Jeffrey Dampier, $20 million

Jeffrey Dampier won $20 million in the Illinois Lottery in 1996, and he was very generous with his money. He bought his family houses and gave them gifts. But Dampier may not have been generous enough for his sister-in-law, Victoria Jackson, because in 2005, she and her boyfriend kidnapped, robbed, and killed him. After she was found guilty in the killing, Jackson offered words of comfort to her mother. “Jeffrey forgives me,” Jackson promised. At least she’s at peace with her crimes.

Billie Bob Harrell Jr., $31 million

In 1997, Billie Bob Harrell Jr. won $31 million in Texas. He bought at least six houses, new cars for his wife and kids, and gave generously to his church and friends. But the pressure of his new lifestyle must have become too much for Billie Bob and he killed himself with a gunshot to the chest—only 20 months after winning. At the time of his death, very little of his fortune remained.

Jack Whittaker, $315 million

Don’t think that massive winnings won’t cause just as much trouble. On Dec, 25, 2002, Jack Whittaker received what some might consider to be the best Christmas present ever: $315 million. Whittaker eventually gave away more than $50 million to almost anyone who would ask. His construction company, which had never received complaints before he won, suddenly faced lawsuits, which Whittaker spent more than $3 million fighting. One night Whittaker was drugged at a strip club and someone stole $2,000 from his car. Finally, his granddaughter spent her share of the winnings on drugs and became an addict. In December 2004, she disappeared and was found dead two weeks later. Now, Whittaker wishes none of it had ever happened. “You know, my wife had said she wished that she had torn the ticket up. Well, I wish that we had torn the ticket up too," he once explained.