It is a common enough dream to scoop an unimaginable amount of money on the lottery. But for a surprisingly large number of winners, that dream quickly descends into a nightmare. Relatives and friends all want a cut, spending gets out of hand, and sometimes drugs and booze take their toll. And in the most tragic cases, a lottery win can even lead to premature death.
1. Abraham Shakespeare
Assistant truck driver Abraham Shakespeare’s lottery ticket, bought in November 2006, saw the 40-year-old win $17 million. But, in actual fact, Shakespeare had asked his fellow driver, Michael Ford, to buy the winning numbers in Frostproof, Florida. This was the first sign of trouble for Shakespeare. Subsequently, Ford tried to sue the winner for £1 million. The litigation was unsuccessful but unfortunately this was not an end to Shakespeare’s dramas. Three years after the win, his worried family went to the police to report his disappearance.
Law officers eventually searched the backyard of a home belonging to Shakespeare’s friend and business partner, Dorice “Dee Dee” Moore. The lottery winner’s body was found there under recently laid concrete. Moore was charged with Shakespeare’s murder, found guilty and sentenced to life without parole. Shakespeare had once said, “I thought all these people were my friends, but then I realized all they want is just money.” Sadly, he was 100 percent on the money with regard to Moore.
2. Amanda Clayton
In September 2011, mother-of-two Amanda Clayton scooped $1 million on Michigan Lottery television game show Make Me Rich! The program certainly lived up to its name in Clayton’s case, as the 24-year-old was then living in dire poverty in the city of Ecorse, MI. But sadly things soon turned nasty when a local TV news channel got an amazing tip-off about Clayton.
Less than a year after her win, Clayton was filmed being confronted in front of her house by a news reporter. It was alleged that, despite her winnings, Clayton was still claiming welfare. She did not deny the charge. Indeed, she was now officially charged with welfare fraud by the state and was given a nine-month probation for not declaring her winnings. Tragically, only three months later Clayton was found dead at her home. Police believed the cause of death was an overdose of over-the-counter drugs.
3. Ibi Roncaioli
Hungarian-born Ibi Roncaioli of Ontario won $5 million on Canadian lottery game Lotto 6/49 in 1991. The then 56-year-old owned a beauty parlor while her husband, Joseph, was a gynecologist. Mr and Mrs Roncaioli were already comfortably off before the win, but now they were rolling in it. But nevertheless, despite the couple being used to money, the situation turned uncomfortable for the Roncaiolis.
Ibi Roncaioli was found dead at home in July 2003, killed by a mixture of prescription drugs and alcohol. It subsequently emerged that she had previously handed over a clandestine $2 million to a son fathered by another man. Joseph was eventually convicted of manslaughter in 2008. The medical man insisted the overdose had been a mistake but he was found guilty and sent to prison for seven years.
4. Billy Bob Harrell Jr.
In June 1997, Billy Bob Harrell Jr. won a staggering $31 million on the Texas Lottery, which he accepted as a series of annual payments of $1.24 million. Unsurprisingly, the 47-year-old quit his mundane shelf-stacking job at a Harris County Home Depot. Harrell was a committed Christian and he was a good Samaritan to friends and family, as well as his church, passing over significant sums of money.
The paper multi-millionaire bought a ranch for himself and houses and automobiles for various relatives. But then it all went sour, and Harrell’s profligate expenditure became uncontrollable. A shockingly brief 20 months after his windfall, Harrell locked himself in a bedroom at his luxury home. He then stripped off his clothes, held a shotgun to his chest and pulled the trigger. Not long before he died, Harrell had confessed to an investment specialist, “Winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
5. Craigory Burch Jr.
Craigory Burch Jr. of Fitzgerald, Georgia was working as a forklift driver when he lifted the Georgia Lottery jackpot of $434,272 in November 2015. At the time, the 20-year-old told the game’s organizers, “I couldn’t believe it at first. I was stunned. I’m still overwhelmed.” Burch was living with his girlfriend and their three children at the time of his win.
But just two months after his wonderful windfall, Burch was the victim of a terrible and brutal crime. A gang of masked thugs showed up at Burch’s home and threatened him and his family with a shotgun. Burch offered them his bank card, but he was shot dead anyway. Police later arrested seven lowlifes and charged them with various offenses including the luckless Burch’s murder.
6. Urooj Khan
In June 2012, 46 year-old Chicago resident Urooj Khan bought a scratch card at a convenience store. He duly scraped away at the card to discover that he had won $1 million. Kahn was already prosperous, owning a string of dry cleaning businesses in his hometown, but this time he had really cleaned up. Subsequently, the Illinois Lottery reported that a jubilant Kahn had shouted, “I hit a million!” But sadly, he was about to take a more fatal hit.
Kahn elected to take a lump sum, and a check for $425,000 was issued on June 19. But the very next day, Kahn died unexpectedly. Initially, it was believed that natural causes had done for Kahn. But a persistent relative was skeptical and pushed for a more detailed autopsy. Further tests from the coroner showed that Kahn had died of cyanide poisoning. This naturally raised suspicions that the man who won a million could have been the victim of foul play. To date, no charges have been brought against anyone.
7. Keith Gough
In 2005 a baker called Keith Gough and his wife Louise were well in dough when they won the equivalent of almost $12 million in the U.K. National Lottery. Unsurprisingly, Gough, from the town of Bridgenorth in Shropshire, bade farewell to the bakery and said hello to unbelievable new-found wealth. He and Louise now set about the serious business of spending their riches. The cash went on sundry items such as race horses, high-performance cars and – unfortunately – copious amounts of celebratory drinks…
A couple of years later, the hangover had well and truly set in. Louise had left and Gough’s drinking appeared to be out of control, leading to a stint of rehab. Speaking to U.K. tabloid The News of the World, Gough admitted, “My life was brilliant. But the lottery has ruined everything. What’s the point of having money when it sends you to bed crying?” The former baker’s misery came to a sorrowful end in 2010, a mere five years after his big win. Gough died, aged just 58, of a heart attack brought about by stress over money worries.
8. David Lee Edwards
At the age of 46 in 2001, David Lee Edwards of Ashland, Kentucky had served jail sentences that amounted to about a third of his time on Earth. He was jobless, living in a home with no running water and in arrears with child support payments. But then Edwards bounced back in style. A Powerball ticket he had bought won him no less that $27 million. Surely this was enough money to change not only his life, but that of his girlfriend, Shawna Maddux, and his wider family forever? Sadly, it was – but not for the better
At the check presentation ceremony, Edwards said, “I want this money to last, for me, for my future wife, for my daughter and future generations.” But then he celebrated with a mammoth spending spree, spoiling his buddies and himself with massive amounts of narcotics. Edwards is reputed to have blown an astonishing $3 million in the first three months following his win. Things went rapidly downhill for the overwhelmed man from that point on. In 2013, a dozen years after his win, a broke and friendless Edwards died in a hospice.
9. Gerald Muswagon
Gerald Muswagon’s huge lottery win of $10 million in 1998 came courtesy of a $2 Canadian Super 7 ticket. In time-honored fashion, Muswagon, of Winnipeg in Manitoba, set about spending his unaccustomed wealth in style. The then 42-year-old bought luxury goods and cars for himself and his wide circle of friends, and a house that soon became a venue for raucous parties. And, as a host, Muswagon did not stint on shelling out for booze and drugs.
Even with his new riches, poor Muswagon still managed to get into trouble with the law. In fact, he already had a criminal record that stretched back to 1981. In 2000, Muswagon copped a three-month sentence for dangerous driving. Two years later, he was sentenced to the same amount of time for sexual assault. Then in 2005, in a tragic end to a troubled life, Muswagon hung himself in a garage belonging to his parents.
10. Alex Toth
In 1990, grinding poverty was a daily reality for Alex Toth in Hudson, Florida. The 42-year-old was unable to find work due to disability. It was largely left to his 33-year-old wife, Rhoda, a nursing assistant, to support their family of six children. Then it happened – the lucky couple won $13 million on the Florida Lottery. They sensibly decided to take their winnings in annual payments. Alex and Rhoda would receive 20 checks for the ominous amount of $666,666. They started their new life with a three-month stay at the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas in a $1,000-per-night suite.
After that binge, the Toths settled down to life back in their hometown, albeit with a more up-market address. They bought a large house for the family complete with ten acres of land. Alex and Rhoda hoped for a quiet life, but it wasn’t long before noisome fights about money started. Slowly but steadily down the years, their funds dwindled, gambled by Alex or given away to family and friends. Meanwhile Alex got into trouble for cultivating marijuana and bouncing checks. Then in 2006, the taxman caught up with them. The Toths were indicted for tax fraud. The stress was too much for an already ill Alex, who died awaiting trial at the age of 60. A grieving Rhoda received a two-year jail sentence and an order to repay the Internal Revenue Service $1.1 million.