Friday, October 22, 2010

An elderly woman in central England claims to have held the winning Euromillions lottery ticket worth 129 million in euros ($183 million), but that she gave the ticket to her husband who threw it away. She said that she recorded the numbers in a notebook because her husband is always losing things or throwing them out. After investigation, she was paid the prize.

- News item

Reading the above item started me thinking about past large prizewinners who may have thought that they were blessed with the win but who had, in reality, been passed a poisoned chalice.

Here are 3 such stories:

Vivian Nicholson

In 1961 Viv Nicholson, then aged 25, won £152,000 on the Littlewoods footballs in England. That equals about £5m today. She and husband Kevin, a trainee miner, had been raising 3 kids on a £7 a week wage and living in a tiny terrace house in Castleford, Yorkshire. She was working in a liquorice factory. Asked by the press what she was going to do with her winnings, she famously declared “Spend, spend, spend.” And spend she did, on cars, clothes, alcohol, holidays, a luxury home and in numerous other ways. She found that people she had known distanced themselves from her and she no longer related to them. When they moved, she complained, the new neighbours hated them as well.

Hubby Kev died drunk at the wheel of his Jaguar. Viv then married a succession of loser husbands who were interested mostly in her money, Her third husband beat her so badly she ended up in a mental home, the marriage lasting 13 weeks and the period lived together having lasted 4 days. One husband died of an overdose, another in a further car smash. "Why did I marry them? Because I had nothing to do, and they asked me…"

Attempts to earn money, such as by releasing a record “Spend, spend, spend”, written by her brother, and appearing in a strip club singing “Big Spender” were flops. A boutique also failed.

Today, aged 74, the wheel has come full circle. She lives again in Castleford and wishes that she had never won the money. At the same time she recognises her weakness: "I can't not do, I love to spend. I enjoy it…”

The cover of a book, “Spend, spend, spend” by Stephen Smith.

Andrew Jackson “Jack” Whittaker Jnr:

Jack Whittaker won US$315m in the Powerball lottery in 2002 when he was aged 55. A resident of West Virginia and the president of a construction firm, he was already worth US$17m when he won, becoming the biggest winner of a jackpot won by a single winning ticket in US history. Although the $315m was by way of a yearly annuity, Whittaker chose the cash option and still pocketed $114m.

Whittaker did some nice things with part of the money: he gave 10% to various charities and Christian churches (insurance?) and donated $14m to the Jack Whittaker Foundation to help feed and clothe low income families in West Virginia. He also bought a house and truck for the woman who worked the biscuit counter at the convenience store where he bought the ticket, as well as giving her $50,000.

Nonetheless he has been beset by personal problems:

- He has been the victim of numerous robberies with large amounts of cash being taken.

- In 2004 his granddaughter’s boyfriend was found dead of an overdose in his home.

- Several months later the 17 year old granddaughter, Brandi (pictured above, second from left), was also found dead of an overdose.

- Six weeks later Whittaker’s wife, Jewell (pictured above next to Jack Whittaker), filed for divorce.

- He is being sued by a casino for bouncing $1.5m worth of cheques.

- In 2007 he claimed to have lost all his money to thieves who had cleaned him out with forged cheques.

- In 2009 Brandi’s mother Ginger (pictured above, left), was found dead of a suspected overdose.

Asked to comment, Whittaker, now with no family and no fortune, said "I wish I'd torn that ticket up."

Bazil Thorne:

Next time you happen to pass by or visit the Sydney Opera House, take a moment to spare a thought for 8 year old Graeme Thorne.

In 1960 the construction of the Opera House was becoming expensive for the NSW Government. To raise funds, the Government commenced an Opera House Lottery. The first prize was £100,000, the equivalent of about $5m in 2006.

The winner of the 10th such lottery was a travelling salesman, Bazil Thorne, who lived with his wife Freda and children Graeme, 8, and Belinda, 3, in Bondi.

In those days lottery winners did not have the option of remaining anonymous. The Thorne’s names, address and photos were published on the front pages of Australian newspapers.

When Graeme was on his way to the corner where a parent of a school friend would usually pick him up to take him to the boys’ school, Scots College, he was snatched by Stephen Bradley, a Hungarian migrant who had spent time in a Nazi concentration camp.

Bradley telephoned the Thorne’s home, demanding £25,000 in ransom. He also advised the consequences of failure to comply: “If you don't get the money, I'll feed the boy to the sharks."

The Thornes had called in the police immediately upon discovering Graeme had not been collected for school. The police released the story and it made front page news. Bradley contacted the home again but did not give definite instructions for the ransom payment. Thereafter there was no further contact.

Graeme Thorne’s body was subsequently discovered wrapped in a rug on a vacant lot at Seaforth. He had died from a fractured skull and asphyxiation, having been killed within 24 hours of abduction. He may already have been dead when Bradley threatened to feed him to the sharks.

Bradley was linked to the crime through a description of a vehicle parked near to the crime scene. When it was time to make an arrest it was learned that he had left for Sri Lanka. He was extradited for trial when he arrived in Sri Lanka, detectives from Sydney waiting there for him.

In the first trial to use modern, complex forensic science, the prosecution used experts to link a rug, animal hairs, lime mortar and tree seeds to Bradley.

For those interested, the Justice and Police Museum at Cnr Phillip & Albert Streets, Circular Quay, has a permanent display on the case, including the actual exhibits. It is well worth a look.

Bradley was convicted and died of a heart attack in Goulburn jail in 1968 at the age of 45. He had initially been repeatedly bashed by inmates and was thereafter kept in protection.

As a result of the case, kidnapping was made a separate offence in all Australian States. Until then the only similar offence had been abduction of a woman for marriage or carnal knowledge.

Also as a result of the case, lottery winners were given the option of remaining anonymous.’

Next time you hope to win a fortune with Lotto or Powerball, spare a though as to whether that is something that you do really want.


  1. Interesting article - but I would still like to win the Euro Millions!

  2. People are just irresponsible and not realizing we live in an ugly world. I play the lottery everyday because I enjoy it and do hope to win one day. But you can get shot over $10.00 dollars, why would anyone think after winning millions nothing will happen to them. If I win, I will remain anonymous, get a lawyer immediately and have a meeting with immediately family informing them we are rich and to keep their trapps shut!! Good luck and GOD bless to any and all who wins the win fall.


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