Lottery Curse Victims: 7 People Who Won Big & Lost Everything

Riches-to-Rags Stories of 'Cursed' Lottery Winners

Many people believe winning the lottery would answer their prayers and solve all their problems — but for some lottery winners, the reality is far different. Despite being lucky enough to win huge lottery prizes, they later wished they'd torn their ticket up instead of redeeming it.

It may seem impossible to wish you hadn't won millions of dollars. But it's happened often enough that the phenomenon has been dubbed the "lottery curse."

Don't believe it? Here are seven victims of the lottery curse — people whose "lucky" win turned sour, leading to divorce, bankruptcy, or even death.

Keep in mind that these stories are cautionary tales, but they're also the exception. There are plenty of jackpot winners who have put their lottery winnings to good use for themselves and their communities. Read through to the end for tips on how to handle a jackpot responsibly and enjoy your winnings.

Jack Whittaker: "Since I Won the Lottery, There's No Control for Greed"

Powerball jackpot winner Scott Gries with granddaughter Brandy, who died of a drug overdose. © Scott Gries / Getty Images

Unlike many winners, Andrew "Jack" Whittaker was already wealthy when he won the largest jackpot ever awarded to a single Powerball winner. He became a jackpot winner on Christmas morning in 2002. He chose a lump sum payment instead of an annuity, so he took home $113-some million from his $314.9 lottery ticket.

He added that to the already significant amount he'd earned by working his way up from poverty to the owner of a West Virginia contracting company. When he bought the ticket, his company brought in about $15 million a year in contracts. However, Jack Whittaker found his lottery winnings changed him more than the wealth he'd earned himself did.

Jack Whittaker did a lot of good with the money he won, setting up a charitable foundation, donating money to build churches in West Virginia, and even being remarkably generous to the woman who sold him the winning ticket. He gave her a new house, a new car, and a pile of cash.

Nevertheless, the lottery curse hit him.

Not all states let winners stay anonymous, and Jack Whittaker's win was widely publicized. He was deluged with people asking for money and favors.

His habit of leaving large amounts of money in his car became widely known. One evening, while he was visiting a strip club, someone stole about half a million dollars from his car. In a separate incident, $100,000 was later stolen from another car.

To make things worse, his company was hit with frivolous lawsuits from people who wanted to get access to his deep pockets, which cost him millions in legal fees.

Whittaker began to unravel under the strain. He started drinking hard and getting into fights. He'd get handsy with women and offer them money to sleep with him or take off their clothes for him. His relationship with his wife, who'd been with him since he was 14 years old, deteriorated.

But that's, by far, not the worst of it.

He enjoyed spoiling his granddaughter, Brandi. He gave her a huge allowance and four cars. However, his generosity backfired when her wealth attracted a bad crowd.

A boyfriend of Brandi's died of an overdose in a house Whittaker was developing, and Brandi was implicated. Friends wouldn't even let her attend the funeral. A year later, Brandi was found dead under suspicious circumstances. The case was never solved.

The deaths had devastating consequences for Whittaker's family. His daughter, Brandi's mother, was found dead seven years after he won the jackpot. Whittaker's wife divorced him.

Whittaker lost the people he loved and the money that he won, and he blames his "lucky" windfall.

"Since I won the lottery, I think there is no control for greed," Jack Whittaker said. "I think if you have something, there's always someone else that wants it. I wish I'd torn that ticket up."

You can read more about Jack Whittaker's story here: Powerball Winner Says He's Cursed.

Curtis Sharp, Lottery's $5 Million Man

Photo of a bowler hat filled with money.
Curtis Sharp, Jr. was famous for his lottery win and his bowler hats. Image © Andrew Paterson / Getty Images

Curtis Sharp, Jr., who won a $5 million jackpot in 1982, was a dream come true for the lottery's public relations department. The lottery was facing an image problem, and Sharp seemed like just the person they needed to spread the word that everyday people could turn their lives around by buying a ticket.

Sharp, who'd been a dishwasher before he struck it rich, became known as the "Five Million Dollar Man".

With his larger-than-life personality, his distinctive bowler hat, and the way he loved to flash his newly-won money around, he was a walking advertisement for the lottery. Parties, women, new houses, flashy cars... he lived big and became one of the lottery's best-known winners because of it.

Unfortunately, Sharp's lifestyle wasn't sustainable. He was spending more than his big yearly annuity checks covered, and his party-hard attitude was wearing on him. The lottery curse had hit.

The year after he won the lottery, he left his wife for a lover and had a huge wedding. Five years later, his second wife divorced him, too. He was drinking hard, even passing out in front of his new girlfriend's house. And the money ran out, forcing him to borrow money from his first wife. 

Luckily, his story has a happy ending. After a drunk-driving incident, Curtis Sharp, Jr. found God. He stopped drinking, stopped partying, cleaned up his act, and became a minister.

But he still buys lottery tickets.

You can read more about Curtis Sharp, Jr. in Matthew Sweeney's book, "The Lottery Wars" or online here: Country's Most Famous Lottery Winner Is Now Living Off His Pension, Social Security Checks.

William Post III: "Nobody Realizes the Nightmares"

Picture of a Pennsylvania Lottery sign.
William Post III's win from the Pennsylvania Lottery should have been a dream come true. Instead, he became a victim of the lottery curse. Image (c) William Thomas Cain / Getty Images

If you had less than $3 in your bank account, would you buy a lottery ticket? While that's not a great idea, William Post, III, known to his friends as Bud, went a step further. He pawned one of his few possessions for $40, then spent the entire amount on lottery tickets.

Foolish though it was, his gamble paid off: One of those tickets won him a $16.2 million jackpot from the Pennsylvania lottery.

You might think the man who had been little more than a drifter would have an easy life from the moment he won. But, unfortunately, after cashing in his win, Post's life took a sharp turn for the worse.

"Everybody dreams of winning money, but nobody realizes the nightmares that come out of the woodwork, or the problems," he said.

How could that happen?

Post spent his money wildly. He spent the majority of the first yearly installment of his winnings, which totaled over $400,000, in just two weeks. After a year, he was half a million dollars in debt.

His girlfriend sued him, claiming they had agreed to share the money if he won. When she won her court claim, he couldn't pay, so his lottery payouts were frozen.

He had to declare bankruptcy, and he only managed to hold onto about $2.6 million — which he immediately spent. He was arrested for assault after firing a shotgun at a man who was pestering him for money.

Worst of all, his brother hired a hitman to kill him and his wife so he'd inherit the money. Post was on wife number six at that point.

Thirteen years later, this lottery curse victim died alone and penniless. He'd been living off of welfare payments.

You can read the whole story here: William 'Bud' Post III; Unhappy Lottery Winner.

Powerball Winner Willie Seeley: 'The Drama Is Nonstop'

Image of grim-looking lottery balls.
Willie Seeley's lottery win went from a dream come true to an annoying curse -- quickly. Image (c) Montaplex

It seemed like a blessing when "Wild" Willie Seeley and 15 of his co-workers formed a lottery pool that won a big jackpot in August of 2013. Only a few weeks later, Seeley felt he'd been hit by the lottery curse.

The lottery pool, known as Oceans 16, bought a ticket that was one of three to win a $450 million Powerball jackpot. At a press conference, Willie Seeley said that he and his wife were, "happy, happy, happy" and planning to spend their days fishing, hunting, and relaxing.

But it didn't take long for the downside to winning a lottery jackpot to appear.

It's hard to go fishing when you are being followed by reporters and camera crews clamoring for an interview or an appearance on a reality TV show. And distant relatives and complete strangers coming to your house to ask for handouts made it hard to relax.

Plus, it was a shock to realize that after splitting the jackpot three ways (three winning tickets were sold), then splitting the remainder among the 16 members of the lottery pool, not even $4 million was left over after taxes.

$4 million was enough for the couples to buy new vehicles, help their families, and quit their jobs, but not the never-worry-about-money-again windfall it had seemed at first.

Only weeks after their initial exuberance, Willie Seeley and his wife were bemoaning the lottery curse. "There are days I wish we were back to just getting paid every two weeks. You have to change your whole way of life, but we didn’t want to change the way we lived."

Read Willie Seeley's full story here: Powerball Winner 'Wild' Willie Wants His Old Life Back.

Lottery Winner Abraham Shakespeare: Murdered for His Money

Image of a lottery ticket being filled out.
Filling out a lottery ticket led to Abraham Shakespeare's murder. Image (c) David Joyner / Getty Images

After winning $40 million from the Florida Lottery in 2006, Abraham Shakespeare was more than generous with his money. Although he gave money to nearly anyone who asked, his kindness didn't make him immune to the lottery curse.

Abraham, a high-school dropout and convict who couldn't even read, won the lottery when he stopped at a convenience store with a coworker and gave the coworker a couple of bucks to buy tickets.

His troubles started almost immediately. His coworker took Shakespeare to court, accusing him of stealing the tickets and the jackpot from him Shakespeare won the suit, but his troubles didn't end there.

So many people were asking Shakespeare for money that he said, "I'd have been better off broke," and "I thought all these people were my friends, but then I realized all they want is just money."

Then he met Dee Dee Moore, who said she wanted to write about his experiences. She also said she'd help manage his money. When he agreed, she immediately started spending it on herself, buying herself a Hummer and a Corvette, for example. She even took possession of his home.

But apparently, stealing from Shakespeare wasn't enough for Moore, who killed Shakespeare and buried his body under concrete slabs at her boyfriend's house.

She took extreme lengths to try to make it seem as if Shakespeare were still alive, sending fake texts and attempting to bribe his family to say they had seen him.

Moore's crime was discovered and she was convicted of first-degree murder. Nevertheless, Shakespeare would have been better off sticking to the $5 he had in his pocket when he bought his winning lottery ticket.

You can read more about Abraham Shakespeare's life and death here: Abraham Shakespeare, Wikipedia.

Billy Bob Harrell Jr.: Committed Suicide Only 2 Years After $30 Million Win

Image of a snake wrapped around a dollar sign.
Billy Bob Harrell Jr.'s lottery win seemed like a godsend, but it became a curse. Image (c) Michael Melford / Getty Images

Billy Bob Harrell, Jr. had fallen on hard times after an unsuccessful attempt to become a minister. When he won $31 million from the Texas Jackpot, it seemed he had finally found a way to support his family and put his money troubles behind him.

He was generous with his winnings, helping his family, his church, and needy parishioners. But the requests for money didn't stop coming.

His bad investments and the constant demand for more, more, more from outsiders put a strain on his family. His marriage ended and other family members were at odds with each other.

He said, "Winning the lottery was the worst thing that ever happened to me."

On a day when he was scheduled to go to dinner with his ex-wife, Billie Bob Harrell, Jr. decided he'd had enough. He put a shotgun to his chest, pulled the trigger, and killed himself. He died less than two years after his miraculous lottery win.

You can read Billie Bob Harrell, Jr.'s full story here: Billie Bob's (Mis) Fortune.

Jeffrey Dampier, Jr.'s $20 Million Lottery Win Led to His Murder

Image of a Man Made of Money
This Lottery Curse Victim's Win Led to His Murder. Image (c) Jan Stromme / Getty images

Many lottery curse victims fall on hard times because they overspend or flaunt their money, but Jeffrey Dampier, Jr. seemed to be doing everything right after winning $20 million from the Illinois lottery. 

Dampier moved to Tampa Bay along with his parents, his second wife, and her family. He invested in a popcorn business that he named after his daughter, and the business thrived.

But despite paying for an apartment, a car, holidays, and more for his sister-in-law Victoria and her boyfriend, the couple hatched a scheme to get their hands on Dampier's money.

Victoria asked Dampier to come to her apartment to help her with car trouble. When Dampier arrived, her boyfriend tied him up and they stole thousands of dollars in cash from him. The couple then took Dampier into an alley and shot him in the back of the head, killing him. 

The crime didn't pay off, however. Victoria and her boyfriend are each serving life sentences for murder, kidnapping, and other charges.

You can read about the case here: Sister-in-Law, Boyfriend Arrested in Businessman's Slaying.

You Don't Have to Be a Lottery Curse Victim!

Although these lottery curse stories make it seem like winning money is the worst thing that could happen to you, remember that the media loves a riches-to-rags story. Lottery curse stories get a lot of press, while people who win big and live happily don't make the news.

More big winners are responsible with their money and have a wonderful winning experience than feel a windfall has cursed them. For some examples, see these interviews with PCH Winner Natalie Bostelman and HGTV Dream Home Winner Don Cruz.

Don Cruz is sometimes cited in news articles as a big winner who lost it all, but he had a great time with his huge prize ​and cherishes the memories that he has.

Remember that most lottery winners don't make big news because they handle their money responsibly and use it to enjoy an easier life.

Want to know what steps to take to avoid becoming a victim of the lottery curse, should you ever win big? Check out my article, How to Win the Lottery Without Losing Your Shirt.