Winning $30 million in the Florida Lottery should have been the best thing that ever happened to Abraham Shakespeare.
But with his newfound wealth came a string of bad choices and hangers-on who constantly hit him up for money. Nine months ago, he vanished. Friends and family hoped he was on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean.
On Friday, detectives confirmed that a body buried under a concrete slab in a rural backyard was his.
The home Shakespeare was found behind belongs to the boyfriend of a woman who befriended him in 2007, the year after he won the lottery. Authorities believe he was murdered and the woman may know something about it, but they do not yet know how he died and have not arrested anyone.
Shakespeare’s brother, Robert Brown, said Friday that Shakespeare often wished he had never bought the winning ticket.
“’I’d have been better off broke.’ He said that to me all the time,” Brown said.
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s detectives used fingerprints to identify Shakespeare’s body, which they found buried 5 feet deep and covered by a 30-by-30 concrete slab in the backyard of a two-story ranch house. There are no neighbors, save for an empty trailer next door and an orange grove across the street.
Life changed 'in a bad way'
When Shakespeare won the lottery, he was an assistant truck driver who lived with his mother in a rural county east of Tampa. He was barely literate, had a criminal record and was extremely generous with his newly acquired wealth.
“He really didn’t understand it at all,” said Samuel Jones, who has known Shakespeare since both were 12. “It was moving so fast. It changed his life in a bad way.”
Jones said Friday that Abraham told him in March that he wanted to get out of Lakeland, where he had bought a million-dollar home. After he chose a lump sum payment of nearly $17 million, people gathered outside his mother’s home, clamoring for cash.
Jones said Abraham would tell him, “I thought all these people were my friends, but then I realized all they want is just money.”
Among those new friends was Dorice Donegan “DeeDee” Moore. Shakespeare met her in 2007, shortly after he bought his home. She told him she was interested in writing a book about his life.
But officials said she was interested in his money.
“DeeDee Moore is a con artist, and if she tried to sell me anything, I certainly wouldn’t buy it,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a news release earlier this month. “DeeDee Moore has cheated Abraham Shakespeare out of his money, and possibly his life.”
Moore — whose known phone numbers were all disconnected Friday — became something of a financial adviser to Shakespeare.
Property records show her company, American Medical Professionals, bought his home for $655,000 in January 2009. In February, she helped him open a company and gave herself the ability to sign for money, detectives said, including a $1 million withdrawal.
Moore told detectives Shakespeare gave her the cash as a gift. She bought a Hummer, a Corvette and a truck, and went on vacation.
Three months later, 26-year-old Shar Krasniqi — identified by Judd as Moore’s boyfriend — bought the home in Plant City that Shakespeare’s body was found behind. A tip led detectives there this week.
Howard Stitzel, who happened to be Shakespeare’s lawyer in a child support case, started working out of Krasniqi’s home after Shakespeare disappeared.
Stitzel said he could not comment when reached by The Associated Press on Friday. His lawyer, Glenn Lansky, said Stitzel rented space in the home in mid-2009.
“The landlord was DeeDee Moore,” Lansky said. “If the police have any questions, we’ll answer them.”
A phone number listed in public records for Krasniqi rang to Stitzel’s law firm Friday.
Rapid rise and fall
Shakespeare was last seen in April. Moore, who spoke several times to the Lakeland Ledger newspaper last year about his disappearance, said he was “laying low” because people constantly tried to get money out of him.
She also told the paper she helped Shakespeare disappear. But Polk detectives say she tried to make it appear that he was alive for several months, at one point using his phone to text his relatives and friends.
Detectives say Moore also paid one of Shakespeare’s relatives $5,000 to deliver a birthday card with cash to Shakespeare’s mother, suggesting it was from her son.
So far, only one person has faced charges in the case, but not for Shakespeare’s disappearance or death. Troy McKay Young, 42, a Lakeland police officer, was charged with unlawful compensation and misuse of confidential information after detectives said he provided Moore with information he obtained through law enforcement databases.
Meanwhile, friends and family puzzled Friday over Shakespeare’s rapid rise and fall. Jones said his friend lived a humble life, and just before he bought the winning ticket he joined a church and was baptized.
“When he won the lottery,” Jones said, “he forgot about being saved.”