Abraham Shakespeare, 43, couldn’t read or write. He had dropped out of school after seventh grade, went to jail for a string of burglaries and then, for a time, scraped by on labor-pool jobs.
In 2006, his life was transformed. He won the Florida Lotto and took a $17 million lump-sum payout before taxes.
He bought a BMW, moved from a working-class neighborhood in Lakeland, where he had grown up, to a gated community and began to live what he hoped would be the good life.
Shakespeare — whose remains were found Thursday under a 6-month-old concrete slab behind a house near Plant City — had become a celebrity in Lakeland, a poor man from the neighborhood who had suddenly become rich, said Sentorria Butler, 25, his former girlfriend.
She was at a bar one night with friends, when one of them said, “‘My cousin’s a millionaire. Would you like to meet him?’”
She and Shakespeare started dating, and then she moved in and they lived together for a year and a half, she said. She later gave birth to their baby, now age 1, about the time they broke up.
Early on, though, they had wonderful times, she said.
They flew to New York City for an overnight trip, she said. Neither had been on a plane before, and Shakespeare liked it so much, one week later they climbed on another jetliner and went back to New York, this time for two days.
‘Con artist’ enters life
But as it turned out, Shakespeare wouldn’t have long to enjoy the good life.
The house where Shakespeare’s remains were found is owned by the boyfriend of a woman who had, in recent months, taken control of much of Shakespeare’s property, according to Polk County officials.
Polk Sheriff Grady Judd three weeks ago described that blonde, Dorice “DeeDee” Moore, 37, of Plant City, as a “con artist” and person of interest in Shakespeare’s disappearance. She has denied harming him.
He had been missing since April.
Moore had told authorities, as well as Shakespeare’s friends and family members, that he had grown weary of people asking for money and wanted to disappear, so she helped.
The people who knew him best said Shakespeare had, indeed, grown exasperated with people asking for money. Even so, he was a soft touch, they said.
People would spot him on the street. That was easy. He was 6 feet, 5 inches tall and 190 pounds. They would tell him stories of hardship, and he would hand over money, friends said. “He thought with his heart — not his head,” Butler said.
State inmates whom he had never met would send him letters from prison, asking for money, Butler said. She had to read them aloud to him. She recalled a note from one inmate who asked for $1,000.
“We just laughed,” she said. “What is he going to do with $1,000 in jail?”
But Shakespeare wound up sending the man $50, she said.
Her brother, Jeremee Reed, 19, was sitting with Shakespeare one morning, and in one 30-minute stretch, Shakespeare’s phone rang eight times, Reed said. Each time, it was someone asking for money.
Having all that money “was like being in the limelight in a small town,” Butler said.
Before winning the Lotto, there was a time when Shakespeare had to get up at 4a.m., hoping to get a labor-pool job, said longtime friend Robert Earl Brown.
After winning his jackpot, he would stay up all night, cruising Lakeland’s streets, and then sleep until early afternoon, said another longtime friend, Eddie Dixon Jr., 47.
Despite the lottery riches, Shakespeare kept some of his old habits. Most days, he hung out at Super Choice Foods, a busy neighborhood supermarket on Lakeland’s West Memorial Boulevard, an artery through the black part of town.
“He liked to look at women,” said Dixon, who spent time with him at the market. After winning the lottery, Shakespeare dated a lot of women, Dixon said.
He had two children, Butler’s 1-year-old boy born after the jackpot and a 10-year-old son with another woman from before.
About two months before Shakespeare disappeared, he and DeeDee Moore, the “person of interest” in his disappearance, launched a new business, Abraham Shakespeare LLC, according to the Polk Sheriff’s Office.
She controlled the company, the Sheriff’s Office reported, and gave herself $1 million. That was a gift from the lottery winner, she explained to deputies. She used the money to buy a Hummer, Corvette and a truck, the Sheriff’s Office reported.
For months, Moore staged events, trying to convince people that Shakespeare was hiding but still alive, the Sheriff’s Office reported.
She used his cell phone in April and sent text messages to his friends and relatives, posing as Shakespeare, the Sheriff’s Office said.
She offered Butler, the mother of Shakespeare’s young son, a $200,000 house if she would lie and say that Shakespeare had dropped by one night, Butler and the Sheriff’s Office said.
Moore also paid one of Shakespeare’s relatives $5,000 to hand-deliver to his mother a birthday card and suggest that it was from Shakespeare, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
She has not been named as a suspect in Shakespeare’s death and has not been arrested.