Marie Holmes thought she was going to have a heart attack when she realized she’d won a $188-million Powerball jackpot. It was February 2015, and the 26-year-old single mother of four had recently quit jobs at Walmart and McDonald’s to care for one of her kids, who has cerebral palsy. She and her children had been living in a mobile home in North Carolina with her mother.
Holmes rarely played the lotto—only when there was cash to spare. This time, $15 and six numbers changed her life: 11, 13, 25, 39, and 52, with a Powerball of 19.
Holmes told a reporter with WECT, a local NBC affiliate, that she was “thankful that I can bless my kids with something I didn’t have.”
“Your whole life is about to change. How are you feeling about that?” the reporter asked Holmes in one of her first TV interviews.
“I’m ready for it,” Holmes answered. “I’m ready to embrace the change.”
Today, another fortunate soul has the chance to snag an eye-watering $1.02 billion Mega Millions reward and see their world permanently transformed overnight. It’s the third time in the game’s 20-year history that the prize is hitting ten figures.
But while some winners take a lump sum and ride off into the sunset, others seem to stick around in the headlines—for reasons that aren’t always so lucky.
Among the most famous cases of the curse of the lotto is that of Jack Whittaker, who won a record-setting $315 million Powerball on Christmas night in 2002. Then 55, the West Virginia businessman opted for a $113.4 million onetime payout and became an instant celebrity, basking in the light of TV cameras with his family, which soon fell apart. Four and a half years later, Whittaker was filled with regret. “Since I won the lottery, I think there is no control for greed,” he told ABC News. “I think if you have something, there’s always someone else that wants it. I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”
In that short time, Whittaker’s wife, Jewell, left him. His granddaughter Brandi Bragg, who was going to inherit his fortune, died at age 17. Bragg, who’d struggled with drug addiction, was found dumped in a plastic tarp near her boyfriend’s home. “My granddaughter is dead because of the money,” said Whittaker, whose daughter Ginger died of cancer in 2009.
Scandal after public scandal plagued him. Thieves stole hundreds of thousands from his vehicles and home, he was mired in legal battles—including with female casino employees who accused him of assault—and he fell into drinking and gambling.
“Just disappear. Get lost while you still can. The drama is nonstop.”
“I don’t have any friends,” Whittaker told the Associated Press in 2007. “Every friend that I’ve had, practically, has wanted to borrow money or something and of course, once they borrow money from you, you can’t be friends anymore.”
Willie Seeley, who in 2013 won about $4 million after splitting a $450-million jackpot with 15 coworkers, was adamant that he would not suffer such a fate.
Back then, Seeley told NBC that he was moving to a secluded cabin full-time not only for his love of the great outdoors, but also to avoid freeloaders and reality TV producers. He also bought a shotgun for protection. His advice back then for charmed ticket holders? “Just disappear. Get lost while you still can,” he told the network, which is perhaps why The Daily Beast couldn’t reach him Thursday. “The drama is nonstop.”
For Holmes, who also could not be reached for comment, the post-prize controversy included lawsuits from her ex-fiancé, Lamarr Andre McDow, and a local pastor who reportedly claimed she backed out of providing $1.5 million for a retreat center. (The Daily Beast could not confirm the pastor’s court filings.)
A year after winning millions, she appeared on Iyanla, Fix My Life on the Oprah Winfrey Network, which filmed her TV therapy session at a plantation she’d purchased. In the show, Holmes revealed how her mansion was in disarray and how she’d burned through millions to pay McDow’s bail and fund his businesses, and bankrolled allowances for relatives.
Last year, McDow sued Holmes, claiming she’d sold off his automotive business and vehicles and gave away other items he says she had purchased for him as gifts ahead of his prison sentence for trafficking narcotics.
Before the case was dismissed, Holmes’ lawyer filed a memorandum that warned: “This case is the embodiment of the phrase ‘What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is my own. The problem here, however, is that McDow has nothing of his own.”
Courtroom brawls in wake of multimillion-dollar windfalls, or even lesser gambling prizes, are nothing new. In May, a Canadian pizza delivery driver sued 16 of his friends for leaving him out of their lotto pool, which won $1 million. “Why wouldn’t they tell me they won?” the driver, Philip Tsotsos of Windsor, Ontario, asked CBC. “These guys are like family to me.”
Meanwhile, on Vancouver Island, two women are suing their sister Lisa Turnbull over their late mother Frances Lloyd’s $3 million jackpot won in 2021. According to the Vancouver Sun, Lloyd planned to bestow some money upon her family and buy a new house, but she died at age 78 on Jan. 2 without leaving a will and testament.
Turnbull, in an affidavit, says her mother gave her and her husband $1 million to express gratitude for their companionship, as she was Lloyd’s primary caregiver. “She said she was ‘comfortable’ with the balance of the account going to me upon her death,” Turnbull claimed of her mother’s wishes, the Sun reported.
Such family feuds over high-profile paydays are numerous. In 2012, Etta May Urquhart sued her own son and accused him of claiming her $51 million Mega Millions ticket as his own, putting millions in accounts out of her control, and buying 10 cars and four homes. They reached a confidential settlement in the matter one year later.
Gloria Mackenzie of Florida filed a lawsuit against her son in 2019, when she was 90, for allegedly mismanaging her $278 million score, which supposedly resulted in a $10 million loss. When Mackenzie won in 2013, it was the largest jackpot in Powerball history at $590.5 million. She claimed her son, who had power of attorney over her finances, had enlisted a host of a financial talk radio show to invest her money.
Pennsylvania state lotto winner William “Bud” Post III was also bedeviled with litigation and even an attempted hit job by his own brother. “Everybody dreams of winning money, but nobody realizes the nightmares that come out of the woodwork, or the problems,” Post said just five years after his lotto bonanza in an interview with the AP.
“I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”
Post, who’d worked as a circus and carnival driver, cook, and painter, had $2.46 in his bank account when he purchased his winning ticket worth $16.2 million in 1988. He decided on annual payments of roughly $500,000 rather than a lump sum.
After cashing in, Post faced a stream of misfortunes, including a lawsuit from a landlord who obtained a third of his jackpot, an assault conviction, and bankruptcy. His brother, Jeffrey Post of Sarasota, Florida, was arrested in 1993 and later convicted of trying to enlist a hitman to kill Bud and his wife and make it look like a murder-suicide.
“The apparent motive for the (attempted) deaths was monetary gain,” police said in a statement, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report. “(Jeffrey) Post’s brother won a Pennsylvania lottery and apparently was reluctant to share it.”
For Florida winner Abraham Shakespeare, the lottery ultimately cost him his life.
The Lakeland sanitation worker, who was reportedly illiterate and dropped out of school in eighth grade, was 41 when he won a $31 million state jackpot in 2006 and took home a nearly $17 million lump sum. Soon after, a coworker claimed Shakespeare stole the winning ticket and sued him but a jury sided with Shakespeare in 2007.
Following this victory, Shakespeare told the Tampa Tribune he might finally get some peace. “I want to be able to turn the phone completely off and not have to worry about any phone calls,” he said. “My goal is to be able to wake up in the morning, get a fishing pole and go fish. Or go hunting. Or golfing. I ain’t never golfed before.”
Shakespeare would squander his funds over the next couple years, paying off friends’ and relatives’ mortgages or otherwise giving his money away—until he vanished in 2009.
A cousin reported him missing that November, though he was last seen in April, according to The Ledger, a daily newspaper in Lakeland, which reported that Shakepeare’s $1 million home and other real estate holdings or mortgages had been sold or transferred to a medical staffing company owned by a woman named Dorice Donegan “Dee Dee” Moore.
She quickly became a person of interest in Shakespeare’s disappearance. Moore told reporters Shakespeare was hiding out because acquaintances were often begging him for money. She also claimed to be writing a book about the lotto winner.
In January 2010, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told the media that he feared Shakespeare was dead, noting, “There are a lot of odd and bizarre circumstances in this case.”
Cops found Shakepeare’s body later that month, buried under a concrete slab in a rural backyard of a property Moore owned. He had been shot twice in the chest.
Moore was arrested that February and later charged with first-degree murder. A jury convicted her in connection to Shakepeare’s death in 2012.
Robert Brown, Shakespeare’s brother, told the Associated Press that his sibling regretted buying his golden ticket.
“‘I’d have been better off broke.’ He said that to me all the time.”