Record Lottery Winner's Wealth Cost Him Dearly Part 2
Meanwhile, the adults around her were busy celebrating. On a hillside in Jumping Branch, where Jack had spent his impoverished boyhood, his daughter, Ginger, who did not respond to an interview request, oversaw construction of a mansion so outsized that some locals thought she was opening a hotel.
Down the road in the gated community of Glade Springs, Ginger overhauled an existing multimillion-dollar home. Among the fanciful flourishes she ordered up was a suite for Brandi with a circular room. The room, Harris says, was designed to look like the inside of the genie's bottle from the 1960s television series "I Dream of Genie."
But the genie was out of the bottle for Brandi, who began doing drugs to escape feelings of isolation, a family friend says. Brandi became "a crackhead, if you want to know the truth," says J.C. Shaver, 20, who saw her smoke "a lot of crack. Big rocks of crack."
Teenage boys around Scott Depot started flashing expensive gifts from Brandi. More than one told his parents that Brandi's grandfather was paying them more than $500 a day just to drive her around.
"We've all got nice things out of the whole situation," says Shaver, who grew up in nearby Winfield in a house illuminated by the glow of the Exxon sign at the service station his family ran next door. "She gave me diamond earrings one time -- three-quarter-carat diamond earrings -- and $500 cash. I drove Jack's Navigator for, like, four weeks. I drove his Maxima and his Cadillac."
Last January, the Lincoln Navigator was parked outside Jack's house on Rosehill Acres in Scott Depot when thieves reportedly smashed the driver's side window and stole $100,000. Police said it looked like an inside job, as if the thieves knew just where to find Jack's cash. Putnam County sheriff's deputies later arrested three young men who had been hanging around Brandi. All three ended up behind bars, facing multiple felony charges and years in prison.
Other young men eagerly stepped in to take their places in Brandi's entourage. "This is a hole, West Virginia," explains Josh Smith, 20, who hung out with Brandi for a time. "There's nothing to do. Nobody has money. So if someone comes along flashing money, it seems like an easy way out, easy money."
Eight days after Jack's Navigator was burglarized, a treacherous storm blew as Jack tried to make his way to Tri-State Racetrack on a Sunday afternoon. State troopers found him slumped over the wheel of a green Cadillac on the shoulder of Interstate 64. The Cadillac was running. Troopers "attempted to wake the defendant up numerous times," police records say.
Charged with driving under the influence, Jack sounded unrepentant. "It's been a rough few weeks," he told reporters. "My wife is having a hard time. It doesn't bother me, because I can tell everyone to kiss off . . . I tell everybody my personal life is my own business."
M&J stands for Melissa and Jack. That's what Melissa Farley, a Charleston businesswoman, testified in a Putnam County courtroom as she explained how she and the Powerball millionaire -- partners in an entity called M&J Development -- bought and renovated a house secluded behind a barbed-wire-topped fence in Fraziers Bottom, not far from Hurricane. Jack and Farley kept clothes there and visited the house to do things such as watch television, especially "The Sopranos," she testified.
On June 1, Farley was gambling
at Tri-State Racetrack and won big: $25,000, she said.
The next afternoon, she and her sister had just stepped into the Fraziers Bottom house when a man popped up from behind a kitchen counter, Farley testified. The man had a bandana over his face, which kept slipping down. He tried to yank the bandana back up, but it was tough because he had a pistol in each hand, Farley said.
"He kept saying 'Don't f-ing look at me!'" Farley testified.
"We're not [expletive] looking at you," she testified that she told the gunman.
As she recounted her ordeal, Farley paused to explain her salty language to the court. "When I get scared, it's F, F, F, F, F, F."
Farley was terrified of the gunman: "When somebody has two nine-millimeters at you, in your back, and down on you, there's a pretty good damn chance that somebody is going to die."
"I don't want to kill you," Farley recalled the gunman saying. "I just want your money."
"And I was, like, 'Well . . . just [expletive] take it."
He did, Farley said. He drove off in her black 2003 Cadillac Escalade -- taking her $25,000 Tri-State winnings with him.
Fearful that Jack, who was supposed to meet her at the house, would encounter the fleeing gunman and be kidnapped, Farley used a cell phone to try to warn him, she said.
The gunman didn't get far, according to police, who found Farley's Cadillac stuck in the mud just 100 yards from the house. Nearby, they found Charles Wayne Morgan, his clothes covered with mud.
Morgan, a Florida grandfather, owns a masonry business, which began going under after his arrest, his son testified. Morgan has pleaded not guilty. His sister testified at his bond hearing that her brother was visiting West Virginia to gamble at Tri-State.
If the robbery unnerved Jack, it didn't show. A few weeks later, he held a news conference to defend his construction company after a county commissioner criticized its work on a public project. Jack was growing a ponytail, driving a Hummer and still reveling in his Powerball fame. "I've been a celebrity every day of my life," he told reporters. "Or at least I've felt like one."
Brandi's life as a teenage addict with abundant cash took on a strange rhythm, according to young people who spent time with her. She and her friends of the moment would sleep much of the day and drive aimlessly much of the night. They shopped incessantly. They rarely sat down to hot meals. "We'd stop and buy $80 worth of junk food," Josh Smith remembers.
Brandi's custom-painted, pale-blue Mitsubishi Eclipse was a trash bin. Floor and seats were mounded with candy wrappers, empty pop bottles, packaging from electronic gadgets and DVDs and the crumpled change from Brandi's $100 bills: loose fives, tens and twenties. As the kids cruised, money would "fly around the car," Smith says. "Sometimes it would fly out the window."
Once, they reached a mall 45 minutes before closing. Smith and another boy spent $800 on shoes and jerseys in a sporting goods store before moving on to a clothing store to buy "whatever we wanted." Brandi was back in the car scoring crack, says J.C. Shaver, who was with her.
Eventually, Brandi wasn't just smoking crack, she was injecting drugs, too, her cruising buddies say. Brandi's family sent her to drug rehab more than once, says Harris, Jack's niece. But Brandi kept her habit and the means to indulge it.
When Brandi dated one of Josh Smith's friends, she'd give him half of whatever cash she received that day, Smith says. In turn, the boyfriend would "give me $1,000 or $500," Smith says. Brandi took her boyfriend and Smith on a trip to Atlantic City with her grandfather and his friends, Smith says. Jack chartered planes and put up his large entourage at Caesars.
Running with Brandi should have been a blast, but it wasn't, Smith says. The easy money proved corrosive in a small group of young people. "It turns it to Hell," Smith says. "You don't know who you can trust." Brandi was mercurial. "When Brandi hands things out, she might be messed up and not remember it the next day," he says.
Smith, the son of schoolteachers, worried that he was betraying his values. "I turned into a different person," he says. "I had so much money, it turned me cold-hearted. You have $700 in your wallet.
You spend it, and you know you'll have $700 the next day. It's fun, but it's also dumb. It's just a dream. You are not going to have it forever. You don't have to work. Usually, you are going to do something stupid."
So Smith quit spending so much time with Brandi and got a job greeting diners at an Applebee's restaurant. But his pal J.C. Shaver continued to hang around Brandi for the money, a decision he would come to regret.
Carol Eads remembers fuming. The stocky cook at Doc's says she came out of the kitchen to rest her feet only to have Jack snarl at her from a barstool that he wanted to have sex with the lady bartender. He said it in the foulest language, Eads contends. What's worse, the bartender on duty at the humble joint not far from Scott Depot happened to be Eads's daughter, a divorced mother of two.
"It will never happen," Eads recalls telling Jack. "That's my daughter you are talking about."
When Eads's daughter returned to the bar after waiting tables, Jack told her directly that he wanted to have sex with her and offered to pay. "He said, 'Money can buy anything,'" Eads says. "She said, 'Not me, it can't.'"
Eads's years in kitchens and bars have given her a view of human nature as unadorned as a dirty work apron. But Jack's proposition was too much to take. "If he'd had teeth, I would have knocked them out," she says.
Most nights, Doc's is packed with regulars: truckers, welders, businessmen and other locals. Visits from Jack disturbed the bar's friendly ambience more than once. One time, Eads says, he threw a chair and threatened to kill people. Another time, a local named Jeremiah Bennett needled Jack, saying he was pals with one of the guys accused of robbing $100,000 from Jack's Lincoln Navigator.
"He tried to hit me with a plastic chair," Bennett says. "He was drunk. I wish he had. I would have fallen on the floor and said, 'Call an ambulance, I'm hurt real bad.'"
Another night, Jack offered a bartender $10,000 if she'd strip to her panties and model for him, Eads says. The woman said no, but then sought others' advice.
"She came over and asked me, 'If you were offered $10,000, would you do it?'" Eads recalls. "I said I wouldn't do it for a million. That's when she called Gary."
Gary Halstead, 41, did maintenance at the bar. The bartender in question was Halstead's live-in girlfriend at the time. "She called me and said what do I think about her modeling panties for him for $10,000," Halstead remembers. "I said, 'No, you are better than that.' For the amount of money he's got, $10,000 ain't nothing, is what I told her. That's like $100 to him. I said, 'You are not that cheap.'"
Retelling the story in between pulls on a bottle of beer, Halstead looks glum:
"We could have paid off the trailer with $10,000." He says he doesn't regret his advice. He says he doesn't regret his advice. He just thinks there's something powerfully wicked about offering hardworking people so much money that they are tempted to ruin themselves.
If his girlfriend had twirled around in her underpants for Jack, "it would have all gone sour," Halstead says. Come to think of it, it went sour anyway. Halstead and his girlfriend broke up.
"I hate it when he comes around here," Halstead says of Jack. "He's domineering. Like anyone else with money, he wants to lord it over people.
"How many people has he ruined?" Halstead asks. "I've seen him proposition women with their man right beside them. I've seen him offer women money many times. I've seen it so many times I'm very surprised he's not dead yet. This bar is all friends. We're like family. We take care of each other. He could have bought himself a little island somewhere. Why is he coming around here bothering us?"
Hurricane's Church of the Powerball is almost finished. That's how some folks think of the new Tabernacle of Praise, rising on a hill three-tenths of a mile from the unadorned chapel where the tiny congregation has gathered for two decades. Jewell used to pray at the modest brick chapel, so Jack donated and built a big new church that seats 500. The people of the Tabernacle will have to figure out how to fill them. Plenty of folks in Hurricane say they wouldn't lower their behinds into any pew paid for by Jack Whittaker.
Tabernacle's pastor, C.T. Matthews, says he's confident the congregation will prosper helping the lost find their way. "Let's pray for those that's lost and undone without God," he tells his congregation during a Sunday sermon. "Let's pray for those who are on cocaine and those who work in the meth labs."
"We say God is going to send them to Hell.
"God's not going to send them to Hell," Matthews says as a murmur ripples through the church. "They choose to go there . . . He said, I set before you life and death -- which will you choose?"
Jessie Joe Tribble's daddy didn't like that his 18-year-old son was dating Jack Whittaker's granddaughter. But Jessie wouldn't listen. "He got caught up in that web," says Jimmy Tribble, 45, a small businessman who manufactures baseball bats. "I call it a web because when you have all the money you want and you can drive 50-, 60-thousand-dollar vehicles and do what you want to do, you know, suddenly you lose your 'right and wrong' thinking pattern.
"I said: 'Jessie doesn't know what love is right now. He's over there for the money and the drugs, and we have got to get him out of there.'"
Jessie skipped school, and his grades dropped; Jimmy took away his car. Jessie wrecked an uninsured car he shouldn't have been driving; his daddy turned him in to the law. Then Jessie ran off with Brandi.
The girl had access to so many houses and cars, Jimmy couldn't find his son, he says. A deputy sheriff finally told him that Jessie was living in a lake house Jack owned over in Beckley, Jimmy says.
"When he left my house, he took not even a pair of underwear," Jimmy says. "Nothing. She went and bought him clothes, all these fancy shirts and sweat pants and shoes. I couldn't compete with that . . . I couldn't win a battle with that kind of money."
Then, almost miraculously, Jessie came home. Jimmy found him crawling through a window in the middle of the night. Jessie was stoned on something and crying his eyes out. Brandi had dumped him, he told his daddy.
Jimmy was relieved. He and Jessie talked all night. "I told him, 'Son, those people are never going to be your friends,'" Jimmy recalls. By morning, Jessie had agreed to go to summer school.
Jessie finished high school that summer, even made an A in English. To put a little money in Jessie's pocket, Jimmy put him to work in the shop turning baseball bats on the lathe. Jessie talked about enlisting in the military like his older brother. "He was turning the corner," his father says. "I believe this with all my heart."
On Wednesday, September 15, Jessie left the shop after borrowing $2 to get something to eat at Dairy Queen. Jessie told his dad he'd be back the next day for his paycheck. He didn't show.
On Friday, Jimmy's brother came into the shop to say they'd found a boy dead over at Jack's house in Scott Depot. It looked like an overdose. Jimmy couldn't imagine what that had to do with him until he registered the look on his brother's face.
"Jimmy," his brother said, "they think it's Jessie."
Brandi seemed dazed. She stepped out of a Jeep in the parking lot of Chapman Funeral Home in Winfield and headed for the front door. Jessie's wake was underway.
A group of Jessie's grieving friends, outside for a smoke, refused to let Brandi pass. "They were calling her a bitch and yelling that she'd killed Jessie," remembers Jessie's grandmother Louise Tribble, a retired postal carrier who witnessed the commotion.
J.C. Shaver was there, and the money he'd gotten from Brandi meant nothing to him now. "We made a line across the funeral home where she couldn't get in," Shaver says. One boy revved up his Mustang and drove threatening circles around Brandi "like he wanted to hurt her real bad."
Jessie had died of an overdose, a combination of oxycodone, methadone, meperidine and cocaine, according to his death certificate. "She's the only one with money to buy drugs like that," Shaver says. "Everybody knew she was the reason for his death."
As the mob outside the funeral home denounced her, Brandi didn't even try to defend herself, Shaver says. "She just stood there."
On a Sunday in November, Jimmy was covered with plaster dust. More than two months after burying his son, he was working extra jobs to pay for the funeral and still make Christmas for his youngest two children.
Jimmy had questions that the Putnam County Sheriff's Department declined to answer: Did Brandi give Jessie the drugs that killed him? Why was Jessie left alone in Jack's house? Could he have been saved if somebody had sought medical help for him?
The grieving father unfolded a recent newspaper clipping about a West Virginia woman convicted of murder after she shared heroin with a man who overdosed. Whoever gave Jessie the drugs should be held responsible -- even if it was the Powerball winner's granddaughter, Jimmy says.
"I run a business over here and barely keep my head above water paying all these taxes," he says. "These taxes help pay the salary of employees like prosecutors and law enforcement people. All I'm asking here is, I want my money's worth. You go and investigate this over here like it was anybody else's son or daughter."
In a twist that made Jimmy wonder about the heart of man, police arrested J.C. Shaver, Dustin Campbell, 20, and a third young man for allegedly robbing Jack's house while Jessie was lying there dead.
According to police, Jack's security system videotaped someone -- deputies didn't reveal who -- letting Shaver and Campbell into the house. Cameras recorded Shaver and Campbell leaving Jack's house with what police said were armloads of stolen goods.
Cameras even recorded Campbell and a third young man returning hours later, entering the house through the back door and helping themselves to more, police said. All the time, police said, Jessie was dead on an upstairs bed.
Stunned, Jimmy talked to one of the detectives on the case, Sgt. Lisa Arthur. "Here's the strange thing," Jimmy says. "She spent 15 minutes talking to me about how important it was to get back Mr. Whittaker's stolen property. Okay. The guy's worth $113 million, and they are worried about his property. She spent 15 minutes telling me how they hunted them down and caught them, and they had them on videotape."
"I told Lisa, 'You need to find out who left a dead body laying there!'"
In separate interviews, Shaver and Campbell insist it was Brandi who invited them to the house and ushered them in the door. Both say they didn't steal anything. Shaver says he had Brandi's permission to take clothing from the house.
"Brandi was sucking on a crack pipe" when she opened the door, Campbell says. She skittered around the house, grabbing armloads of clothes and throwing them in her car, Shaver says. "She acted really, really paranoid. She was looking out the windows."
Shaver and Campbell followed Brandi upstairs to a bedroom and saw Jessie lying face down on the bed, both said. "I went to wake him," Shaver says. "That's when she told me to leave him alone, he hadn't slept in a couple of days." Campbell says he thought Jessie was just "nodded out" after too much partying -- not dead or in trouble.
Then Brandi left Shaver and Campbell alone in the house with Jessie, Shaver says. "I think it was all a setup" Shaver says. "I think it was all to put it on our backs. That's why she didn't want us to wake him up, because she knew he wasn't going to wake up."
The sheriff's department declined to release the full security tapes that could confirm or refute the men's accounts. Chief Deputy J.W. Dailey says his department is not investigating Jessie's death because there is no mystery to unravel. "I don't know any drug overdose that isn't self-inflicted," Dailey says.
Holding anyone legally responsible for giving Jessie the lethal drugs would be akin to Adam taking the apple from Eve then declaring, "Now I'm going to sue you, Eve!" Dailey says. "It doesn't make sense to me."
The Putnam County prosecutor's office subsequently acknowledged that the detectives assigned to this case and others involving Jack -- including the Navigator break-in and the robbery at the Fraziers Bottom house -- also worked off-duty providing private security for the Powerball millionaire's family. Those detectives, Lisa Arthur and Shawn Johnson, did not respond to requests for interviews.
State law allows off-duty deputies to provide private security but says they shall not engage in work that would conflict with their official duties or impair their independence or judgment. Dailey says the department has not been influenced by the fact that several deputies have worked for Jack Whittaker.
"They are compromised," argues Jimmy, who lies awake nights wondering what he could have done to save his son.
"Maybe I should have moved away," he says. "I just want to say this, and I'm not trying to be bitter, but if Jack Whittaker had never won the Powerball and my son had never hooked up with Jack's granddaughter, Brandi, he'd be alive."
When Brandi came to the door, she looked nothing like the girl whose Paw-Paw won the single largest undivided lottery jackpot in history. That girl had a proud, beaming face framed with fluffy light-blonde hair. This Brandi was disheveled. Her baggy clothes hung on her. Her face was sunken.
The Hurricane townhouse where she sometimes stayed was in spectacular disarray: furniture askew, drawers pulled out, walls defaced with graffiti.
"Talk to my lawyer!" Brandi barked at a Washington Post Magazine reporter who knocked on her door in late November. Brandi slammed the door without waiting for a reply. "Go awayyyy!" she shrieked from inside the townhouse. "I'm calling the cops."
It was a tough time for the whole family. Jack and Jewell had become estranged. They tried reconciling, Melissa Harris says, and spent Thanksgiving together. But a few days later, on November 30, Jack ran his Hummer into a concrete median, near Beckley, state police said.
He was charged with driving under the influence and failure to submit to a Breathalyzer. Troopers found $117,000 in Jack's Hummer and a pistol tucked in one of his boots. "Jewell changed the locks on him," Harris says.
On December 9, Jack informed the Putnam County Sheriff's Department that Brandi was missing.
Brandi had, of late, been coming to Jack's construction office to collect a daily check, instead of the larger sums of cash she'd been accustomed to, an office worker says. Suddenly, Brandi stopped showing up for her money.
One of her buddies, Brandon Crosier, told police he'd last seen Brandi at his family home, a rundown property littered with junked vehicles. Brandon claimed that he had fallen asleep and awakened to find Brandi gone, police said. But the car she'd been driving was still parked outside.
"We have no leads," Chief Deputy Dailey told reporters. Police said Brandi had several expensive cars, and all of them were accounted for. That set people clucking. Who in their right mind, they asked, would give a 17-year-old all those cars?
Jewell, despairing over Brandi's disappearance, blamed the Powerball jackpot for destroying her family. "I wish I would have torn the ticket up," she told a Charleston newspaper reporter.
On Monday, December 20, almost two years after Jack bought the winning Powerball ticket, police found Brandi on the Crosier property. She was dead. Her body had been wrapped in a plastic tarp and dumped behind a junked van in a place called Scary Creek.
Steve Crosier, Brandon's father, said he believed that Brandi had overdosed and that his son had "freaked out." Crosier, whose own daughter died of cancer that very week, blamed himself. He lamented that he'd been an absentee father to Brandon during his daughter's long illness.
At Brandi's Christmas Eve funeral, Jack and Jewell sat side by side in a packed funeral home listening to the song "Nobody Knows" by Nelly, their granddaughter's favorite rapper: "Nobody told me nothing that would help me to ease my pain . . . I've been searching for something, for someone to help me find my way." White doves were released at her graveside.
Weeks after the funeral, Brandi's family and the state police were still awaiting the results of a toxicology report. But Jack had already reached some conclusions. He didn't blame the Powerball for his family's sorrows. He didn't blame himself.
"All of the problems I have had are because of my granddaughter's drug-using friends," he angrily told an Associated Press reporter. "I'm going to find them and put them in jail.
"She was my world, you understand that?"
Coming up on this past Christmas, West Virginians heading to grandma's house stopped to gas up and buy Powerball tickets, even though the jackpot was a measly $28 million.
Over at the C&L Super Serve, Brenda-the-biscuit-lady got a raise. She now makes $6.50 an hour serving breakfast and lunch from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. She has to get up an hour earlier than she used to because she has such a long commute in her Jeep.
After she sold her Powerball house, Brenda, now 41, moved way out into the country. She doesn't have neighbors. That suits her fine. Her new house is half the size of the old one. She likes it better. She doesn't have a phone; she doesn't want one.
Brenda is warier now that she knows how mean some folks can be, but she won't let herself be bitter. She's real sorry for the cowboy-man's troubles, but she can't be sad, leastways not for long. Some gifts do last a lifetime.
Brenda beams at a construction worker during a recent lunch rush. The fellow looks tired. He needs Brenda-the-biscuit-lady to dish out a little of her special love.