When North Carolina resident Marie Holmes won $188 million in the Powerball Lottery in 2015, she must have believed that all of her troubles were behind her. But, like others who have previously won large sums and subsequently found themselves in worse situations, Holmes soon discovered that money is not necessarily the answer to life’s problems. In fact, Holmes’ tale of woe has wound up becoming something of a cautionary tale for all future big-money winners.
In 2015, you see, Marie was a single mother in her mid-20s working two jobs in order to provide for her four children. She was in fact employed by both Walmart and McDonald’s. But Marie was then forced to quit those jobs when doctors revealed that one of her kids was suffering from cerebral palsy.
So Marie was living in a trailer, struggling day-to-day to take care of her family, when the single parent gave her mother, Fontella, money to buy her a lottery ticket from a local gas station. And when the winning numbers were announced some time later, Marie was understandably shocked. She later told TV news channel WECT, “I thought I was going to have a heart attack when I saw the ticket and checked it.”
Then Marie was given a choice. She could receive her winnings in one of two ways: $188 million paid out in instalments over 30 years, or a smaller lump sum of $127 million (or $88 million, according to some differing reports) paid immediately. Marie chose the lump sum and became an extremely wealthy woman almost overnight.
There are, of course, different schools of thought when it comes to Marie’s decision. What would you do? Some observers believe that it would be better to take the instalments – as you are paid more manageable amounts over a period of time, perhaps discouraging frivolous spending. The instalments are also contractually guaranteed and therefore deliver a regular income stream upon which you can always rely.
Yet others believe that it is a better option to take the lump sum and then use it wisely – usually with the help of a financial advisor. Theoretically, then, sound investments and a lack of overly extravagant expenditure could lead to you making more money over a 30-year period than the initial prize amount, due to compound interest.
And given how Marie’s life would proceed over the next few years, it’s arguable that she may have been better off choosing the instalments option. For one thing, according to financial advice website The Balance, “When someone wins the lottery and takes a lump sum, it’s tempting to help out family and friends who come knocking.” And this is exactly what happened to Marie.
The site actually argues that a lottery winner who is receiving instalments is “less likely to make the impulse mistake of generosity… [he or she] can’t really afford.” Unfortunately for Marie, then, after she received the full amount of her win, many of her spending decisions when it came to family and friends were highly questionable.
A few weeks after she received her money, for instance, Marie used $3 million to bail her boyfriend, alleged drug dealer Lamarr “Hot Sauce” McDow, out of jail. Then, just a few months later in August 2015, she paid $6 million to post his bond. He had at that time broken the rules of his pre-trial release program.
Then, on New Year’s Day 2016, she paid $12 million to bail him out again after he was involved in an illegal street race. So all in all, Marie paid out an incredible $21 million of her entire lottery win simply dealing with McDow’s run-ins with the law. Yet McDow defended her decisions to the Daily Mail newspaper in a 2016 interview.
He said that it was Marie’s desire to “stand by her man” and that this meant she had no regrets about spending such huge amounts on him. He said, “We are a couple, and I am the father of her youngest child. This is what people do for each other.”
McDow, whom Marie had also gifted a $15,000 Rolex watch encrusted with diamonds and a pick-up truck, maintained, “If I had that money then I would do the same for her. People are just jealous because of how much she won, and people want to see me locked in jail.”
Regardless of whether or not Marie was happy to spend her money on McDow, though, something that can’t be argued is that he was one of the main recipients of her generosity. Her level of financial responsibility can, however, be debated. And McDow’s belief – “she has the money, and she can do what she wants with it” – doesn’t stand up to scrutiny for many observers.
McDow also spoke in his 2016 Daily Mail interview about how Marie had felt burdened by her lottery win. He revealed that she had told him, “When money comes, there are more problems.” And one such problem was the racism he says the couple had endured when they had moved to a new five-bedroom property in Shallotte, North Carolina.
The house had been worth $294,000 and is a million miles away from the small mobile home that Marie had lived in before her win. But what should have been a happy experience had been the exact opposite, according to McDow. He said, “We were the only black family on the estate, and they did not like it.”
He went on to describe an example of the distrust that he said they’d faced while living there. He lamented, “One neighbor set up a camera to record everything we were doing. If I was driving down the road and going at the speed limit, they would wave at me for going too fast.” This made life there untenable, according to McDow.
McDow’s final statement on the matter was, “They did not want us there. They were prejudiced.” One anonymous female neighbour who apparently gave the Daily Mail a comment didn’t deny that the family was not welcome there, either. She said, “If they are gone and never come back, many people will be happy.”
Perhaps the neighbors hadn’t been fond of the family living there for reasons of a more criminal nature, though. The newspaper reported that, one time, police had gone to the house to check an alert from McDow’s GPS ankle monitor, which he had been wearing due to a prior drug arrest. During the visit, however, the officers had apparently smelled cannabis in the house.
And after the officers subsequently served a search warrant at the property – which they believed to be housing money made from the selling and distribution of other narcotics – Marie found herself arrested on marijuana possession charges. A gun was also discovered in the master bedroom and was later linked to McDow – meaning that he additionally faced a firearms possession charge.
And while Marie’s drug charge had eventually gone away, this was the situation that had led to her paying the $6 million bond in an attempt to limit McDow’s time in jail. So it’s argued that there is little doubt that – while Marie herself mightn’t have been conducting illegal activity – she was a wealthy woman surrounding herself with people of dubious natures.
Even when Marie tried to do something selfless with her money, though, it still went wrong. It seems that Marie made a verbal promise to Kevin Matthews, the pastor of her local church, to give him $1.5 million to purchase an area of land. He had apparently wanted to use this land to open a retreat facility.
Instead, in February 2016, Marie found herself on the receiving end of a lawsuit from Pastor Matthews – one whistling to the tune of $10 million. In the suit, the pastor claimed that Marie had gone back on her verbal agreement. And even though she had paid him $700,000, Matthews wanted her to be held accountable for the original amount they had discussed.
Pastor Matthews also claimed that he had suffered emotional distress and was forced to increase his dosage of antidepressants due to the argument between himself and Marie. He told Centric TV, “I just want her to do what she said she was going to do… I want peace and to do what God told me to do. I really feel like a warrior for Christ.”
Matthews seemingly believed someone came along and discouraged Marie from donating the entire amount to the church. He said it may have been her aunt, who had been appointed the chief executive of The Marie Holmes Foundation. This is an organization formed to pay grants to worthy groups and individuals with ambitious and creative goals.
Spending obscene amounts on her boyfriend’s legal bills and becoming embroiled in legal battles with her church weren’t the only trials Marie faced, however. An appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Network show Iyanla: Fix My Life in October 2016 gave the host, Iyanla Vanzant, the chance to think of possible reasons behind Marie’s skewed attitude to money. Vanzant in fact argued that it may have been born out of Marie’s troubled relationship with her mother and what she described as an overall immaturity.
Before Vanzant, a life coach, was able to dig into these factors, though, she first made an interesting observation about Marie’s house. While Vanzant said the property was beautiful and sprawling, she also immediately noted something that gave her pause: the home had a history as a plantation.
“I believe that every location has an energy,” explained Vanzant. “So it was important for me to help Marie recognize and understand that as a black woman living on a plantation, there was an energy she was dealing with… in addition to what was going on in her personal life.”
Vanzant then delved deeply into Marie’s relationship with her mother, Fontella, and it yielded some shocking revelations. Firstly, even though Marie believed the winning lottery numbers had been picked at random, Fontella told her that they weren’t. Fontella had, in fact, carefully picked the numbers based on the birthday and age of her third child – Marie’s brother – who had died.
Fontella said she let her daughter think the numbers were random because she “just wanted [her] to better [herself], for the babies.” Unfortunately, Marie’s response was that she would rather have known her mother had picked the numbers, due to the pressure that the money had put on her. “Then it would be her and not me,” she admitted.
Despite this, Marie did then thank her mother for what she had done, and Fontella explained that she’d do the exact same thing again if it came to it. On the TV show, Fontella stated, “If I could do it all over again, I’d have still did [sic] it the same way I did it. I want you to better yourself and be the better mom than I was.”
Vanzant was able to dig further into the relationship between the two women as well. Marie even revealed that she felt like her siblings were treated with more love and care than she was. She couldn’t understand, for instance, why Fontella had slapped her in the face when disciplining her – as she hadn’t done that to her other children.
Marie poured out her heart and soul, saying, “None of them ever got hit in the face, and it made me feel like there was a problem with the relationship we had, like it wasn’t strong enough.” She added, “I never understood; like, why did I get treated that way?”
Fontella responded by saying she regretted those actions and hadn’t ever thought about the effect it would have on her daughter’s mental health. This prompted Vanzant to explain how devastating a slap in the face can be. She said it was “the ultimate act of humiliation, because your face is how you show up in the world. It’s who you are.”
Vanzant continued, “So when someone slaps your face, what they’re saying is, ‘I am degrading you. I am diminishing you. I am humiliating you.’” This issue was seemingly something that the mother and daughter needed to work through, as Vanzant claimed it had contributed to Marie being emotionally immature as an adult.
This immaturity made Marie someone who needed lots of help and guidance – that she wasn’t getting – in order to deal with her newfound wealth, according to Vanzant. The life coach pointed out the state of the property, which had dirt bikes abandoned around the grounds and a filthy pool, and told Fontella that both she and her daughter needed her to step up.
“You the mama. Correct her and direct her, and stand with her and for her,” Vanzant proclaimed. “She don’t have a clue! Your daughter needs you so badly.” Vanzant then identified a deep sorrow at Marie’s core. She told Fontella, “The depth of her sadness is heart-breaking to me as a mother, and some of that sadness is about you.”
Vanzant then sat down with Marie herself and told her some uncomfortable home truths. “I see the result of someone who has no concept of what it means to be an adult,” she said. She added, “Mature individuals do not behave this way, no matter how much or how little money they have.”
And in an effort to illustrate the true cost of Marie’s supposedly immature attitude to her money, Vanzant instructed Marie to put bricks in a small red wagon. Each brick identified something that she had bought for other people. She then told Marie to drag the heavy wagon around, with the exercise notionally demonstrating the emotional “weight” of her purchases.
So, after analyzing Marie’s situation and behaviour, Vanzant’s ultimate diagnosis was that her problems were not caused by her windfall. Vanzant believed the money itself was not to blame and was not what was derailing Marie’s life. Rather, the core issue was “a problem of maturity, of self-respect and of dignity.”
“A lot of this doesn’t have anything to do with money,” concluded Vanzant. “It has to do with broken people, with broken hearts, with broken minds… that leads to choices and decisions and consequences.” All in all, the life coach expressed that money isn’t a solution to life’s problems – especially if those problems are buried deep within a person’s psyche.