Biggest Lottery Losers: Billie Bob Harrell Jr.
Everyone reacts differently to winning a major jackpot: Some winners spend wildly, some become successful investors, and others give it all away. Billie Bob Harrell Jr. was the generous type, and his lavish gifting would bring him to ruin.
This is the story of how Harrell won the $31 million Texas Lottery jackpot—and the series of terrible decisions that led him to lose it all.
HOW BILLIE BOB HARRELL JR. WON THE JACKPOT
In the mid-1990s, Billie Bob Harrell Jr., a former Marine and print shop manager from Humble, Texas, lost his job of 12 years. He was forced to take whatever work was available in his hometown. For three years, Harrell stocked shelves at The Home Depot to support his wife and three children. He always dreamed of winning the lottery and quitting for good.
On Saturday, June 28, 1997, Harrell stopped by a Texaco Star Mart and bought some Quick Pick tickets for the Lotto Texas draw happening that night. The next morning, he didn’t check the news for the winning numbers. He went to work as usual.
The soon-to-be-rich Harrell finally checked his ticket against the Sunday newspaper after work—and realized he had the winning combination!
Harrell quickly sent his son Bill to the store to get a printout of the winning numbers and make sure the numbers matched his ticket. After what must have felt like eternity, the next day a lottery official confirmed the amazing news: Harrell was the single winner of the $31 million Texas lottery jackpot.
Harrell and his wife put the winning ticket in a safety deposit box, secured financial assistance from an experienced attorney, and went to collect the first of their 25 annual instalments, a cheque for a hefty $1.24 million.
HOW HARRELL SPENT HIS WINNINGS IN JUST 20 MONTHS
A deeply religious man, Harrell immediately set about donating 10% of that money to his church. He donated to another church in Colorado, too. When members of his church needed financial help, Billie Bob would write them a cheque. On Christmas, Harrell shelled out enough money to buy 480 turkey dinners for needy families in town. On top of this, he bought a ranch, several homes for family members, and new cars for himself, his wife, and his kids.
All this giving quickly went to Harrell’s head. He loved the attention he got for his sudden wealth and his ability to write checks to anyone at will. Soon, the local community was hitting Billie Bob up for money regularly, coming to his home, and calling his house at all hours. Harrell also found himself a younger girlfriend to impress, and he bought her a car, jewellery, and more. His spending was out of control and he began racking up debt.
By February 1998, just eight months after winning the jackpot, Harrell’s marriage was in ruins. His wife, Barbara Jean, contacted the couple’s attorney to arrange a separation and create an agreement to split the winnings. The arrangement was drawn up and signed.
Soon after, Billie Bob Harrell was contacted by Stone Street Capital. This company claimed to help lottery winners who agreed to receive their cash in annual instalments to get a single lump sum payout instead.
Harrell wanted the lump sum to repay his debt and continue living large, if only for a short time. Unfortunately, this company was running a scam—and hiring Stone Street Capital to manage his money was Harrell’s last terrible decision.
WHERE IT ALL WENT WRONG
An attorney from Stone Street Capital called the Harrell family lawyer to explain about “the new deal” the company had struck with Billie Bob. The deal was that Harrell would immediately receive a lump sum of $2.25 million in cash from Stone Street Capital in exchange for 10 years’ worth of his half of the lottery winnings. Based on the math, Stone Street Capital would collect $6 million over 10 years—clearly a terrible deal for Harrell.
Everyone around Harrell tried to tell him that this was a bad deal, but he refused to listen. The family’s lawyer even pointed out that in Texas lottery winners could not hand over their lottery instalments in exchange for a service, purchase, or loan. Harrell signed the contract anyway, giving his half of the lottery trust to TrustCorp America, Inc., a company that would collect his half of the winnings and pay back his $2.25 million lump sum “loan” from Stone Street Capital.
Unable to talk Billie Bob out of signing away his winnings, his financial manager recommended that Harrell take out life insurance to cover the massive estate tax load that would hit his family if he passed away unexpectedly.
THE BITTER ENDING
Not long after Billie Bob signed the agreement with Stone Street Capital, he tried to reconcile with his ex-wife. Barbara Jean refused to take him back, but she suggested that the family could meet for dinner. Harrell agreed, and he went to her house early on the night of May 22, 1999.
By the time the rest of the family showed up, Billie Bob was dead. He had taken his life—shooting himself straight through the heart with a shotgun, just five weeks after signing away his winnings.
He left several notes to his family, including these wrenching lines for Barbara Jean: “I didn’t want this. I just wanted you.”
Although investigators agree that Harrell died by suicide, Billie Bob’s parents don’t believe this was the case. They say their son would not have taken his own life.
Meanwhile, Harrell’s children were left looking for answers. When their father died, they were stuck with a massive estate tax bill that they couldn’t possibly pay—just as his financial manager had warned. At the same time, there was no trace of the remaining $2.25 million that Harrell had received from Stone Street Capital.
Winning the lottery is a true test of character and of a winner’s financial mettle. In the wrong hands, millions of dollars can quickly lead to tragedy. If there is something to be learned from the haunting story of Billie Bob Harrell Jr. and his family, it’s that lottery winners should seek reputable financial assistance from the moment they discover their win. And at the end of the day, it’s important not to lose sight of what matters most: the loved ones who will be there to share your good fortune.