Jack Whittaker, the West Virginia man who won big in 2002 with the largest lottery jackpot in history at the time and who, shortly after, suffered a string of bad luck and tragedy tied to the money, died Saturday at the age of 73.
Whittaker won the Powerball jackpot on Christmas 2002, with a ticket bought at the C & L Superserve in Hurricane. The jackpot was for $314.9 million, and Whittaker took home roughly $113 million cash after taxes for his lucky ticket.
The winnings were a huge bump for the man, who was already worth $17 million due to his work as president of Diversified Enterprises Construction, a contracting firm that was located in Putnam County.
Less than a year after Whittaker won big, his bad luck began. In August 2003, he had $545,000 stolen from him by employees at a gentleman’s club he frequented in Cross Lanes. The employees were later arrested. Five months later, he was robbed again at the same club, this time $200,000 was taken out of a briefcase in his car. The money was later recovered.
Whittaker was 55 years old at the time of his win. He was happily married and close to his then-17-year-old granddaughter, Brandi Bragg. In an interview with ABC News, Whittaker said he gave Bragg a $2,000 a week allowance, and bought her four cars with his winnings.
Bragg suffered from substance use disorder, potentially exacerbated by the influx of cash from her grandfather’s fortune. Whittaker spent some of his money helping his granddaughter with her addiction, checking her into rehab centers at least three times, but sobriety wasn’t easy for her, he told news outlets at the time.
In 2004, Bragg’s boyfriend, 18-year-old Jimmy Tribble, was found dead from an overdose at Whittaker’s home in Teays Valley. He had cocaine, oxycodone and methadone in his system, according to a coroner’s report.
In December of that same year, family tragedy struck Whittaker again. Bragg was reported missing on Dec. 9, and on Dec. 20 — nearly two years after Whittaker took his Powerball winnings — Bragg was found dead at a friend’s house in Putnam County, her body wrapped in plastic and left behind a van on the property.
According to coroner reports, Bragg’s cause of death was “undetermined,” though she had cocaine and methamphetamines in her system.
No one was charged for Bragg’s death, something that seemed to haunt Whittaker as a year later, at a hearing for a 2003 DUI, he criticized local police, saying, “Go after whoever killed my granddaughter with as much [zeal] as these buttholes are trying to convict me of something I didn’t do,” according to reports in MetroNews at the time.
In 2008, Whittaker and his wife of 42 years, Jewell Whittaker, filed for divorce, according to the West Virginia Record. It was a lengthy, ugly dispute that dragged on for years as the couple attempted to split up their vast assets. The proceedings continued until 2011, when the West Virginia Supreme Court issued a 14 page opinion on the actions of the Raleigh County Family Court in giving Jewell Whittaker rights and access to some of Jack Whittaker’s company holdings.
In 2009, Jack Whittaker’s daughter and Brandi’s mother, Ginger Whittaker Bragg, was found dead in her home in Daniels. Police said no foul play was suspected.
Whittaker eventually left West Virginia for Virginia after facing multiple lawsuits alleging bounced checks for gambling debts and other unpaid dues to several individuals, as well as lawsuits from three female casino attendants who accused him of assault.
In 2016, Whittaker’s home in Bland County, Virginia, burned down as he was on his way to work across the state border in Ghent, West Virginia, according to MetroNews reports.
Whittaker was quoted as saying on several occasions that he wished he “tore up” the Powerball ticket that changed his family’s life.
“I pretty much lost everything I held dear in my life,” Whittaker told ABC News. “I don’t like the hard heart I’ve got. I just don’t like what I’ve become.”
While the money brought an onslaught of tragedy into his own life, Whittaker did use the funds to help others when he could.
With his winnings, he bought the deli attendant at C & L SuperServe who sold him the winning ticket a home, a car and he cut her a check for $44,000.
He dedicated 10% of his winnings to Church of God churches throughout Southern West Virginia, including building a new multimillion-dollar modern sanctuary in Hurricane.
He also spent $15 million founding the Whittaker Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provided food, clothing and other assistance to needy families in Southern West Virginia.
Whittaker died of natural causes, and according to The Associated Press, his end of life services will be private.