Wife gambles house away...

Lynne Foord was lucky. Once she bet R10 on the horses and won R9 500. When her daughter Morgen matriculated, Lynne wagered R12 and walked away with R14 000. On another occasion she won R7 000 off a R10 bet.

However, when the pension fund administrator died last September of a heart attack, a month before her 50th birthday, her husband Trevor, 55, and daughter Morgen, 22, made a shocking discovery.

Lynne had lost at least R1,5-million gambling online: she had emptied their access bond account of R700 000, had defrauded her company of more than R300 000, had maxed out eight credit cards and left many more unpaid bills.

Father and daughter have hardly had the time or the state of mind to grieve. Every letter or telephone call seems to bring more bad news; every day they learn more about Lynne's gambling compulsion.

And it all started with those little flutters on the horses. Gambling had always been part of Lynne's life: her late father had been a farrier and had bet on the horses.

Trevor, too, had liked going to the track. He relished its raw energy, palpable excitement and even its smells, enjoying a drink with friends and swapping stories.

During the couple's occasional days at the races, he would lay out R200.

Lynne was always luckier, though.

"She won far more money than I ever did for a minimal outlay," says Trevor.

The couple would occasionally go to casinos. After supper, they'd go their separate ways - she to the slot machines and he to have a drink and chat with people.

Trevor didn't like casinos. He didn't understand the games. And he saw how quickly R200 could vanish.

One day in December 2006, Lynne excitedly told Trevor and Morgen that she had won R20 000 on Piggs Peak (an online gambling website based in Swaziland).

Trevor was livid.

"This was the first we knew of her gambling online. I told her that if I ever found out she was doing it again, I would pack her suitcases and put her out on the street. I told Lynne that I would never see her again.

"Lynne said yes to all this. She knew it was off limits. She knew if she ever did it again behind my back, it would have been the end of our marriage."

The marriage hadn't been happy for some time. Menopause had changed Lynne. She had became moody, irritable and touchy about her weight.

She was always on edge, and father and daughter had to tread carefully around her. She spent more and more time on the computer in the spare room.

The couple fought constantly, about everything.

Morgen angrily told them one day that she wished they'd get divorced. It would be better for everyone.

Things got worse when, in February 2007, Lynne left her job, saying she had had enough of the industry.

Trevor tried to delve further into her reasons for leaving, but Lynne became irritable. Tired of the arguments, he told her to try to find another job and dropped the subject.

He wasn't too worried about their financial situation. Their home and three cars were paid off, and he planned to use some money from their access bond account to buy a small print finishing business. It would be his chance to start afresh after a run of traumatic experiences for the family.

First, in 2000, Trevor was shot in a hijacking not far from their home in Mulbarton, south of Johannesburg.

Bullet wounds to his upper spine had left him paralysed on his right side, and shrapnel in his throat damaged his voice box.

He had to live with nerve pain.

He couldn't work as a photo-lithographer anymore, a trade that had been made redundant by technology anyway.

"Being my age, white and disabled all worked against me in the job market," says Trevor.

"I wanted to be self-employed."

Lynne, who for a time became the main breadwinner, had a heart attack a year later. And then after she left her job, she and Morgen survived a hijacking outside their home.

All Trevor wanted for his family was security. He hoped having his own business would do that. In 2006, he found the print finishing business he wanted to buy.

Lynne helped him put together a business plan, but didn't seem too enthusiastic.

"It was probably because she knew we would never be able to buy it," says Trevor.

"The money was already gone."

By then Lynne had lost all interest in socialising. Their house, once full of activity and with friends and family dropping in regularly to braai and watch sport, became tense.

Lynne was depressed, antisocial and seemed interested only in being on the computer. When questioned by Trevor or Morgen, she would say she was just playing computer games.

"Mom used to be a fun, happy person, whose infectious laughter came from the stomach. But I became the only person in her life," says Morgen.

"She could not speak to my dad. There was always tension."

Morgen felt stuck in the middle.

One day Trevor told Lynne: "This is the loneliest I have ever felt."

"And me," she replied.

"She couldn't even have a drink, a brandy, with me in the evenings," says Trevor.

"I suppose it was in case she let slip about her gambling."

Lynne's relationship with her daughter also deteriorated. They began to fight all the time.

"I had some suspicions about mom's gambling," says Morgen, "but I couldn't tell dad. I couldn't tell him that mom was stealing my salary from my au pairing jobs. It would have caused more fights. I only wanted peace".

Lynne always told Morgen the money was to buy food and asked her not to tell her father.

"She made me feel guilty and promised to give it back," adds Morgen.

Somehow Lynne always did, but the money never stayed long in Morgen's account. It was always withdrawn again.

"There were times I went out with friends, and when I tried to draw money, there was nothing there," says Morgen.

The couple's friends were also keeping Lynne's gambling addiction secret from Trevor.

"I didn't know that she had been borrowing from our friends and her sister," says Trevor.

"They told me much later. I asked them why I was never told and they said they hadn't wanted to ruin our marriage. So they protected her."

The moment of truth

On September 5 last year, Morgen arrived home from her trainee teacher practical at 2.30pm and found her mother asleep on the couch. When she woke up, her speech was slurred and her toes blue. She seemed very ill. An hour later, she was worse.

Morgen called her father who arrived home 20 minutes later.

"He asked mom what was wrong, and she said, 'This is because of what I've done'. When I told her we had to take her to hospital, she refused, saying there was no money. I didn't understand. I thought we had medical aid or a hospital plan, but she said not.

"We took her to Mulbarton Clinic," says Morgen.

After stabilising Lynne, a doctor said she would be transferred to Union Hospital.

Father and daughter went home to switch on the lights and returned to the clinic to find Lynne had already been transferred.

At Union Hospital, they were first told she was in casualty. An hour later they were told she had died of a massive heart attack.

"My whole life fell apart, right there," Morgen said.

Trevor picks up the tale: "My sister-in-law told us the estate would be frozen until everything was sorted out, which is normal. So the very next day we went to First National Bank. We needed money to carry on living."

Trevor was told there was no money.

"I was so numb with shock that I couldn't even cry. I knew part of our access bond had been used because I was out of work, but I had no idea it was all gone."

Bank statements showed large withdrawals. On one day R31 000 was withdrawn, on another R48 000 was taken. In one month, Lynne went through R300 000, obviously chasing her losses. Further investigations revealed these were credit transfers to Piggs Peak.

"We now owed the bank R900 000," says Trevor.

"Two weeks later, Morgen and I received a letter from Lynne's company, in which they expressed their condolences and then added that Lynne had defrauded them of R325 000."

"There were also other debts on eight credit cards," says Trevor.

"In total, she left us with R1,5-million debt. Because we were married in community of property, I have become liable for it."

It's been eight months and Trevor and Morgen are still trying to piece everything together. Most of the evidence of Lynne's addiction was found in her handbag. As was a letter from her work about her disciplinary hearing for fraud.

Says Morgen: "It was like a filing cabinet - full of bills. Her whole life was in it. When she was alive, she was obsessive about her handbag, never letting it out of her sight and never allowing us to touch it.

"My mother hid bills and letters from us. She had the only key to the post box and went there about six times a day to intercept the mail."

Trevor had not suspected a thing. "It wasn't as if Lynne was going to casinos and coming home late," he says.

"There are basically three kinds of addicts - alcoholics, drug addicts and gamblers. You can tell when the first two are using again. An alcoholic will smell and sway when he walks and, with a drug addict, you can tell from their eyes. You can't tell a gambler just by looking at them.

"They are one step ahead of you, and it's worse when they go online. Electronic gambling has made money easy come, easy go. At the press of a button, my wife could make a credit transfer and there would be no-one to ask her whose money it was and where it came from. There are no signs at the door warning you of the ills of gambling.

"From the statements you could tell that she had become desperate,"says Trevor. "In the beginning, she was transferring R5 000 to R10 000 up to five times a day. Towards the end she was transferring only R20 to R50."

He adds: "Somehow Lynne obtained a power of attorney to access my cheque account. She forged my signature and used my credit cards without me knowing. I also discovered that three days before she died, she had been 'kite flying'.

"She was depositing cheques to pay our water and lights bills, the bond, the business that I was planning to buy and the lawyer to register it, and then stopping them. She knew that it would take a few days to reflect that. The cheques bounced. I lost the print finishing business after I told the owner there was no money to buy it."

Says Morgen, "People don't understand how we couldn't know, but they didn't know my mother. Everything she said made sense. She never gave excuses, she gave answers. She gave reasonable explanations for everything."

A couple of times Trevor had seen SMSs from the bank on Lynne's phone notifying her of withdrawals on the access bond account.

When he questioned her, she said that since he hadn't been paid yet for a job he had done, she was ensuring that their debit orders were covered. And as soon as he was paid, the money would be put back. It made sense to him.

"She played me better than Eric Clapton plays a guitar," said Trevor.

Lynne knew he hated queuing anywhere, was computer illiterate and didn't like dealing with accounts. From the start of their marriage he ceded managment of the family finances to her.

She was already working in the financial sector and was very smart. He trusted her.

"I'm not blameless in all of this," he says.

"I blame myself for not querying things."

Father and daughter are now in a desperate situation. They have no income, no savings, no medical aid.

Morgen's university fees haven't been paid - she is in her last year studying to be a teacher. The pair have been living on the generosity of friends and family.

"I have to find a way to start all over again," says Trevor.

"And we have to deal with the bank, find an executor for the estate and a lawyer who will work pro bono on challenging these debts.

"What my wife has done to us has broken my heart."

Morgen adds: "We wait for the phone to ring or the doorbell to go, and wonder if this is the day that they will take everything away from us.

"As much as I'm cross with her, she was still my mother, and I miss her. But at the end of the day, dad and I are left to pick up the pieces and we have to carry on. I only realise now that I never knew her. All we have left is each other."

  • This article was originally published on page 15 of Pretoria News on June 13, 2008

Article by: Noor-Jehan Yoro Badat - www.pretorianews.co.za