Unlucky strike

Less than two years after Billie Bob Harrell Jr. took the $31 million lottery jackpot, he took his own life

Two veteran homicide investigators, who requested anonymity, reviewed the police and autopsy reports for this story. They indicated that while there are some minor discrepancies, Harrell's death appears to be a clear-cut case of suicide.

That finding, however unanimous among authorities, has yet to be accepted by two of the people closest to Harrell: his parents.

David Hollenbach
Billie Bob Harrell Jr. dreamed of winning the lottery. When his dream came true, his life ended.
Billie Bob Harrell Jr. dreamed of winning the lottery. When his dream came true, his life ended.

At their home in Trinity, east of Huntsville, Billie Bob Sr. and Tina Harrell, who are still taking their son's death hard, cautiously greet a reporter. Their minister, Guy Hargrove, who was also their dead son's pastor, is there too. The interview begins with Billie Sr. reading from Isaiah 57:

"The righteous perish,

And no man takes it to heart;

Merciful men are taken away,

While no one considers

That the righteous is taken away from evil.

He shall enter into peace;

They shall rest in their beds,

Each one walking in his uprightness."

That Bible verse, he says, has given him and his wife great comfort since the death of their son, a man who they say always tried to do the right thing. They cannot conceive that their son would take his own life under any circumstances.

"He never showed any signs like that at all to us, or to anybody we've talked to," Billie Sr. says. "That's what puzzles us so much."

The eldest Harrell is also puzzled by his and his wife's suddenly strained relationship with their grandchildren and former daughter-in-law. The grandparents say their son had intended to make the payments on their new house and motor home. Now, they say, their grandchildren do not intend to honor their father's wishes.

But what the elder Harrells do not seem to understand is that, at the moment, their grandchildren are trying to figure out how to pay the estate taxes they now owe as a result of their father's death. The Harrell children also want to know what happened to the $2.25 million their father supposedly received in exchange for 10 years' worth of lottery installments. To find out, they recently hired attorney Norman Riedmueller, who says he has some questions for Vic Bonner, Paul Hulse, and Stone Street Capital.

"So far there is no definite evidence of wrongdoing," says Riedmueller. "But I think it's safe to say that there's supposed to be some money in this estate. Yes, he was generous to churches, but the present state of affairs is that [the kids] can't raise the money to pay the taxes that are owed. There's nothing there. You'd think they'd be rolling in dough. And that's my assignment: Where's the money? This estate should not be in the condition it's in."

While their grandparents live 20 miles away and are in denial that Billie Bob Jr.'s death was a suicide, the Harrell children attend classes at Sam Houston State in Huntsville, living in a house that their father bought for them. From time to time, they reflect on what they had, what they've lost -- and what they really need.

"You've got to be happy with yourself," says Ben, "and happy with your loved ones. You don't take that for granted."

Ben's words are hauntingly similar to what are believed to be among the last thoughts of his father. In the bedroom where Billie Bob Harrell Jr. took his life, there were also three handwritten, unsigned notes. One was apparently meant for his ex-wife. It might as well have been addressed to his entire family:

"I didn't want this. I just wanted you."

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