Jack Whittaker woke up on Christmas morning in 2002 to more than just Santa Clause. He held the winning ticket to the $315 million Powerball jackpot. “I got sick at my stomach, and I just was at a loss for words and advice,” Whittaker said. “You know, I was really searching for advice, and it’s, like, Christmas Day.”
Since that time, Whittaker has handed over $15 million for the construction of two churches. He gave away at least $50 million worth of houses, cars and cash. The publicity meant that everyone knew about Whittaker’s record-breaking win, and he was besieged by requests for help. In order to deal with these requests, he formed the Jack Whittaker Foundation. Jill, the clerk who sold him his winning ticket, went to work for him in the mailroom. “There were so many letters that they wouldn’t even deliver the mail. It was nothing for us to sit for 10 hours just opening envelopes,” said Jill, who asked that her last name be kept private. Jill says the foundation received all kinds of requests, such as, “people wanting new carpet, people wanting entertainment systems, people wanting Hummers, people wanting houses – just absolutely bizarre things.”
Whittaker met his wife at age 14 and started a successful construction business, earning around $16 million a year. He went to doctor’s visits with his daughter where he saw his granddaughter, Brandi, wave to him for the first time during a sonogram. Life was good then, but all that changed when he came into a whole lot of money. People starting suing his company, over 400 law suits total, and Whittaker began to drink. Money was stolen out of his car; he could not go anywhere in town without 150 people circling him and asking for money or things they needed. He retreated from family, friends, and everybody, except Brandi.
Whittaker bought and decorated an elaborate home that included a perfect recreation of the bottle from the 1960’s TV sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie.” He also gave Brandi about $2,000 a week and bought her four new cars. Whittaker said while Brandi was only 17 years old at the time, she was very responsible with her money. “To a young kid cars mean a lot,” Whittaker said. “She had four cars and I’m very proud that she had four cars.”
But, the money and the cars also attracted the drug dealers. Brandi started to use illegal drugs. Whittaker repeatedly tried to get her help and sent her to several treatment programs, but she couldn’t stay clean. “She doesn’t want to be in charge of the money; she doesn’t want to inherit the money; she just looks for her next drugs,” Whittaker said. “She said, ‘Pawpaw, all I care about is drugs.’ It broke my heart.”
Then, one of Brandi’s friends was found dead, from a drug overdose, in a house that Whittaker had purchased. The father blamed Whittaker and Brandi for his son’s death. Almost two years after Whittaker hit the jackpot, Brandi disappeared. After a frantic two-week search, on Dec. 20, 2004, she was found dead, wrapped in a plastic sheet, dumped behind a junked van. The cause of death was listed as unknown. Whittaker believes that the Powerball win had become a curse upon his family. “My granddaughter is dead because of the money,” he said.
Whittaker now says that he regrets winning the lottery. “Since I won the lottery, I think there is no control for greed,” he said. “I think if you have something, there’s always someone else that wants it. I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”