The Winners of Quebec's Largest Lottery Prove That Honesty Is the Best-Paying Policy

updated 04/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

A lot of people in the media thought it was an April Fool's joke and they weren't going to cover the press conference," said Jean Pierre Roy, spokesman for Quebec's provincially run lottery. Indeed, Roy's announcement seemed improbable: The owners of a ticket worth $7.6 million were two welfare recipients who not only didn't speak the same language but who had not met until after the drawing. Even the winners, William Murphy, 28, and Jean Guy Lavigueur, 51, had a hard time believing what had happened.

On Sunday, March 30, Murphy, an unemployed mechanic who was trying to earn a few dollars distributing pamphlets door-to-door, came across a wallet on a street in Montreal. Inside were six lottery tickets, which Murphy decided to keep, figuring he might be able to "cash one in for a small prize." Then he learned that in a drawing the night before the six digits on one of his tickets had been matched exactly. "For two hours I thought of keeping the whole thing," admits Murphy. "But then I said, 'That's not the way to be.' "

Having checked the address in the wallet, Murphy went to the home of Lavigueur, a mattress maker whose unemployment benefits had just run out. Unfortunately, Murphy's French was as poor as the Lavigueur family's English. "I threw him out," says Lavigueur's son Yves, 18. "It was 10:30 at night, and I didn't understand a word he was saying. I thought he was a thief."

When Murphy returned with a French-speaking friend, an overjoyed Lavigueur offered him $100,000 and invited him to celebrate over a beer. As the brew flowed, Lavigueur raised the reward to $200,000. By night's end he'd decided that his brother-in-law, with whom he had jointly purchased the $1 tickets, as well as his three children and Murphy should share the prize, making each a millionaire.

The next day the winners staggered into the lottery office to claim the jackpot. Then Lavigueur returned home to find his first welfare check in the mailbox. He picked up the envelope, waved it and chuckled, "Return to Sender."

From Our Partners