CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia man who claimed what was at the time the largest lottery jackpot in history has died. Family members confirmed Jack Whittaker died over the weekend at the age of 73.
Whittaker picked the correct numbers to win the Powerball jackpot on Christmas night 2002. The ticket, purchased at the C & L SuperServe in Hurricane, W.Va. was worth $315 Million. Initially when he checked the numbers, the TV station which broadcast them got one of the numbers wrong.
“The ticket had been won at my gas station where I get gas and a biscuit ever morning,” Whittaker said at the press conference claiming the money. “I told my wife, the odds of them selling me a Powerball and four numbers and somebody else a Powerball and five numbers was astronomical. I looked at the ticket and sure enough, we had the winner.”
Whittaker was already a millionaire when he won the Powerball lottery and had a very successful contracting/construction business. He noted at the press conference he looked forward to seeing his daughter and granddaughter enjoy the new found fortune and he did not believe the money would change him.
“If I can help it, it’s not going to change me. I’m content with my life. It’s going to excite my daughter and granddaughter. I get my enjoyment out of them spending the money,’ Whitaker said.
But Whittaker’s life after the jackpot became anything but joy. In August of 2003, he was robbed of $545,000 at the Pink Pony gentleman’s club in Cross Lanes. Two mangers at the establishment were eventually arrested for the crime in which Whittaker’s drink was spiked with a drug. He was robbed a second time in 2004 when thieves broke into his car in the parking lot of the same establishment and stole $200,000 in cash. The money in the second heist was recovered.
His granddaughter, Brandi Bragg, 17,, fell deeply into drugs, a habit fueled by her grandfather’s fortune. Her boyfriend, Jessie Tribble, 18, was found dead in Whittaker’s Teays Valley home of a drug overdoe in September 2004. Three months later, Brandi disappeared on December 9th. Her body was discovered December 20, 2004 wrapped in plastic and dumped in a woodpile behind a junked van in Putnam County outside the home of a former boyfriend. The boyfriend admitted Brandi had overdosed and in a panic he didn’t know what to do and hid her lifeless body.
During the years following Brandi’s death, Whittaker was the target of several lawsuits, including one from Caesar’s Atlantic City for bouncing a check for $1.5 Million for gambling debts.
His daughter, Ginger Whittaker Bragg, Brandi’s mother, was found dead at a home in Daniels, West Virginia in July 2009. Foul play was not suspected in her death.
Whittaker left the state, moving to neighboring Virginia where he was haunted by more tragedy and bad luck. His home was destroyed in a 2016 fire. He and his wife would eventually divorce over the strain brought on by the fortune.
Despite his well documented misfortunes with lottery wealth, Whittaker’s money also did a lot of good in the world. He donated millions of his winnings to various charities through his Jack Whittaker Foundation which he established soon after the lottery win. He created the foundation for the expressed purposes of vetting and funding charities of his choosing and those of his family. He funneled a large amount of money to the Church of God and footed the bill for a modern church sanctuary in Hurricane. He also bought the woman who sold him the winning ticket at the C & L SuperServ a home, a vehicle, and gave her $50,000 in cash.
Whittaker’s notoriety for winning a massive jackpot is unlikely to happen again in West Virginia. The Legislature passed a new law which allowed lottery winners to remain anonymous in claiming their winnings. At the time of Whittaker’s win, it was required for winners to come forward and accept the money during a press conference.