By Alan Duke
(CNN) — Merle and Pat Butler, lifetime residents of Red Bud, Illinois, hold the third winning ticket worth $218 million in last month’s Mega Millions lottery, officials announced Wednesday.
The retired couple came forward publicly in their hometown’s city hall Wednesday after spending the past two weeks hiring “real good financial advisers” and a lawyer to help them manage their new fortune, which is $158 million after taxes are deducted, they said.
With just 3,700 residents in Red Bud, Illinois, Denise Metzger used the process of elimination to guess who bought a lottery ticket now worth $218 million at her convenience store last month.
“We’re watching to figure out who hasn’t been coming in,” Metzger, manager of the Moto Mart, said Tuesday. “If they got the ticket and are making themselves scarce, that’s what we’ve been paying attention to.”
Mayor Tim Lowry suspected the decision by the winner to have the announcement in his southern Illinois town was evidence it was a Red Bud resident.
“Not knowing who it is, it seems like they want to make a splash in Red Bud,” Lowry said.
It probably didn’t help that the drawing happened on the eve of April Fools’ weekend, leading some locals to joke on Facebook and the sidewalk that they had the winning ticket. It kicked off more than two weeks of speculation around town and online.
Red Bud locals commenting on a message board thread threw out several names of suspected winners.
“Names are just going around, we just need to wait and see when they come forward. Congrats to whoever it was!” one poster wrote.
“I really don’t care who won. I really don’t want to know, It wasn’t me so I could care less!!!” said another.
“I just hope it is someone that needs the money,” another commenter said.
Moto Mart, which has seen a two-fold rise in lottery ticket sales, also seems to be gossip central for lottery rumors.
One rumor floating there is that someone ordered 12 new Camaros from the local Chevrolet dealership, Metzger said. “That’s a big rumor. I had a big laugh about that one.”
The sales manager at Weir Chevrolet Buick GMC shot down that gossip. “They were Corvettes,” said Brandon Liefer.
“I’m just messing with you,” Liefer added, clarifying that he has no clue who the new millionaire might be and they’ve not ordered new cars.
The mayor said the “windfall of money” could be a boost for his farming community’s economy, but a person “can only buy so many groceries.”
The winner may find it tough to stay in a small town like Red Bud and avoid having their privacy invaded, he said.
Two other winning tickets were sold for the March 30 drawing that had a record $656 million pre-tax payout. Maryland and Kansas allowed their winners to remain unnamed, but Illinois requires them to come forward publicly.
The man and two women who shared ownership of the winning ticket in Maryland are public school employees who are known only as the “Three Amigos.” The elementary school teacher, a special education teacher, and an administrative worker said they plan to keep their fortune a secret — and keep working.
Metzger and her nine employees at Moto Mart collected their own payoff for selling the winning ticket. Their company gave them $50,000 to share from the $500,000 bonus paid to the store by the Illinois Lottery.