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Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

This mystery could be a best-seller

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

After playing hide-and-seek for a couple of months, winter has finally arrived, with snow blanketing the ground, and enough ice and wind to make staying in with a good book and a cup of hot cocoa a pretty tempting option.

For many folks, a good mystery makes the best reading on a cold day. A real-life mystery appears to be shaping up down in Des Moines, as Iowa officials are trying to unravel the ever-twisting yarn of the last minute lottery winner. Call it a $7.5 million (in cash) whodunit.

A little background:

A winning lottery ticket, worth up to $14.3 million(if taken in yearly increments, at the date of the drawing, not so much now), was sold on Dec. 29, 2010 at a QuickTrip store in Des Moines. The Iowa Lottery has surveillance video of the person who picked up the Hot Lotto ticket over one year ago.

That much is certain.

And that's where things get interesting.

Months and months went by. No one claimed the jackpot. While it's not unusual for big winners to wait weeks, or even a couple of months, to claim a prize, it's rare for so much time to pass without a winner.

After weeks of publicizing the impending deadline to turn in the winning ticket and claim the prize, an 11th hour - really, really 11th hour winner showed up.

Less than two hours before the deadline to claim the prize, representatives of a Des Moines law firm showed up at Iowa Lottery headquarters with the winning ticket.

And that's when things started to get really, really odd.

They told officials the ticket had been FedExed to their office.

Now, I trust FedEx, use them a lot. But this represents the ultimate trust in the motto; "When it absolutely, positively has to get there on time."

The lawyers were acting in the interests of "Hexam Investments Trust," and its trustee, a man named Crawford Shaw.

A lawyer from Bedford, New York. One of the wealthiest areas of the country. Not anywhere near Des Moines, Iowa.

Our Mr. Shaw wasn't talking. While he assured lottery officials he would fly out to Iowa, explain the matter, and clear up all confusion, the trip kept getting put off.

The mysterious Mr. Shaw finally met with lottery folks last week. Last Wednesday, he spoke to reporters, telling them he wasn't sure whether the money would ever be paid out. "I really don't know how this is going to turn out," he said. So, the man whose name is on the back of the ticket, as a trustee for the trust which had possession of the ticket, doesn't know if the lottery is going to give them the money?

That's where we were at- until Monday.

That's when lottery folks said they "plan to consider whether to launch a criminal probe," into the matter.

Could we be any more wishy-washy? What the heck does "plan to consider whether to..." indicate?

And then, in another twist, the lottery set a deadline. The winner must reveal themselves by 3 p.m. this Friday, or their claim on the prize will be denied.

So, it's a mystery. Wrapped in a riddle. Wound around a puzzle.

I admit it, I'm curious about this lottery caper. And, as a bookworm from way back, It's fun to imagine this lottery story playing out in different ways, basked on how popular novelists would write the story.

If Danielle Steele were writing the tale, it would go something like this:

A long-haul truck driver, running away from his painful past, purchased the ticket on his way to New York with a load of Washington apples. The idea of great wealth brings back painful memories about the girl he loved and lost, who was torn from him because of his "wrong side of the tracks" background. So, he holds on to the ticket, knowing it's too late to win her back. She married the vineyard's manager, at the urging of her father, on his deathbed. On the radio one day, he hears his lost love needs $14.3 million to save her family's vineyard from foreclosure (her ne'er-do-well husband lost the family fortune, gambling on the wrong grapes.) So, he turns to a phonebook from the town he happens to be in - Bedford, New York, to look up a lawyer to handle the anonymous donation he wants to make to his lost love. He finds Shaw. He chooses the name "Hexam" as the name of the trust because it includes his three initials as well as his love's three initials. If she remembers him enough to recognize that fact, he'll know she truly loved him after all.

She does. He saves the vineyard. They live happily ever after.

John Grisham's take would include lawyers, lots and lots of lawyers.

An idealistic QuickTrip counter worker, making minimum wage, knows the truth about the winner, "a regular customer with one large Slurpee, a beef jerky and two lottery tickets every Friday morning," who hasn't been in for months. Mr. QuickTrip counter worker knows why - he ran across the body behind the third base fence of the city league ball field. That's where he sits in left field, dreaming of a career in the majors.

He's scared to tell anyone he knows about Mr. Lottery Winner, as his boss has recently taken to humming "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" under his breath. He also saw his boss mail a package, suspiciously lottery ticket-sized, to Bedford, New York.

OK, maybe I'm not cut out to be a mystery writer.

The true story may, someday soon, come out.

And it could very well be even more fantastic than I've imagined.



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Paula Buenger
Publisher