The Whittaker family story: There is more to the poverty-stricken inbred family than meets the eye

The Whittakers of Odd, West Virginia is far from an ordinary family. Brought to widespread recognition by the accomplished American photographer Mark Latia, they first appeared on his Created Equal portrait book in 2004.

Back then, the family of siblings lived in a decrepit house and the majority of them displayed signs of abnormalities and inability to communicate properly. They were (and still are) protected by their neighbors who ward off suspicious onlookers intending to mock or disturb them.

Latia has since visited them frequently over the years and made endeavors to improve their lifestyle, from raising funds for the family to taking them out for shopping at Walmart. Needless to say, they have formed a most peculiar and endearing acquaintance over the last 16 years.

The Whittaker family was featured in a video titled Inbred family-The Whittakers that was posted on Mark Latia’s YouTube channel Soft White Underbelly on July 4, 2020. It showed Latia conversing with the three siblings, Betty, Lorraine, Ray, and their younger nephew Timmy.

Latia wrote in his video description;

“The individuals in this video are brothers and sisters, except for Timmy who is a cousin. There is no way I would be able to confirm that the Whittaker parents were related but given that this does happen in some part of the country and the Whittakers are the most extreme case I’ve seen so far.”

A year later, in a follow-up video of the same title posted on Latia’s channel on July 24, 2021, Betty confirmed that their parents were double first cousins. The father, John Whittaker, had worked as a coal miner while the mother, Gracie, had stayed home and looked after their 16 children.

Apparently, John suffered major episodes of heart attack which might have contributed to his death. Likewise, Betty states that their mother was unable to stand up due to cancer and that she had a few miscarriages and heart troubles as well. The earlier children were born in Virginia and later the family moved to West Virginia where the rest were born.

Over the years, some of the siblings have married and moved away while the others have passed away. For instance, Betty mentions losing a sister named Barbara.

Today, the family of four lives still lives together in their renovated home and has four well-fed pet dogs. They have two known brothers, Kenneth and Larry, who are comparatively well-spoken and lives nearby. Larry also has a daughter named Betty, who could possibly be named after her aunt.

Betty is the caregiver of the family and looks after her siblings, Ray and Lorraine, and her nephew, Timmy, who all seemingly struggle from undiagnosed mental and physical disorders. Apart from Betty, the others have difficulties in communicating though it is believed that they understand most of what is said and have trouble in expressing their thoughts.

Ray and Timmy can only speak in indistinct grunt noises while Lorraine does not speak much at all. Though most of their ages are unknown, Ray mentions his age as 67 years old during the time of the video and Timmy is the youngest at 42 years old and is “like a brother” to Betty.

“I would bet that inbreeding was at least partly responsible for the mental and physical abnormalities seen in Lorraine, Freddie, Ray and Timmy,” wrote Latia in the description.

However, Boxden reported other comments below the video which argued otherwise. One commenter named Michelle Cole stated;

“Their parents were not siblings but first cousins. Their grandparents were not closely related. First cousin relationships don’t typically cause this much damage in the genes…this has likely been caused by a chromosomal issue not necessarily made worse by the facts that they are children of cousin.”

She further went on to say that Timmy being a nephew, not a cousin, “adds to the proof that this is a genetic issue because his parents were not relates.”

It is no secret that the whereabouts of the most famous family in Odd, West Virginia would induce curiosity in the minds of people who may be tempted to seek them out. Well, it turns out that the Whittakers are surrounded by protective neighbors who would disallow intruders from going near the family. Latia wrote in the beginning of the first video;

“I first photographed the Whittaker family for my first book “Created Equal” in 2004. That visit was interrupted by an angry neighbor with a short-gun who threatened to use it if I didn’t leave the Whittakers alone. After explaining what I was doing, he calmed down and allowed me to photograph the Whittaker family.”

He also cautioned his viewers from seeking the family out, stating;

“I strongly discourage anyone attempting to look for the Whittakers as their armed neighbors and the Raleigh County deputies both make it clear that curious visitors are not welcome.”

In a podcast with Koncrete KLIPS, Latia recounted that a police officer of Rayleigh County had led him to the Whittakers. It happened while he was in pursuit of subjects for his Created Equal book that was about the “diverse portraits of different kinds of people in America such as astronauts to ballerinas to politicians to drug addicts to polygamist.”

He described his first impression of the family as;

“We came around to this road which turns into a country road which turns into a dirt road and we come to this trailer and then a little shack on the other side of the road. And there’s these people walking around and their eyes are going in different directions and they are barking at us…They are kind of protected by the neighbors and the relatives [who] don’t like these people coming to ridicule them and everybody in the area kind of knows of them.”

Betty has lived in Odd, West Virginia for “all her life” and has never traveled anywhere else. Furthermore, none of the family members had been educated except for Timmy who graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School. As a result, financial gains were hard to come by in the family.

At the time of the first video, they had lost their other brother, Freddie, to a heart attack four years earlier. In the follow-up video, Latia had raised about 30,000 dollars from the GoFundMe campaign for the Whittakers.

The money was used for renovating their house, especially towards repairing the roof and the windows. It also covered their medical expense for Lorraine and Timmy’s heart attack in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

Betty said that she “took care of the family more than anyone”.

“I promised my mommy I wouldn’t get married. I was going to stay home and take care of Ray, Lorraine and Timmy,” she shared.

However, things were not always easy as they faced their fair share of ridicule for standing out from the community. For example, Timmy and Lorraine used to frequent the church until one family made fun of him and Timmy had stopped going to the church after that. This was not an isolated incident as Betty states that they still get made fun of sometimes.

When questioned what kind of people their parents were, Betty answered that they were nice people. She doesn’t recall the best years of her life and said that she sometimes feels lonely and that people hardly come around to their place.

In the most recent video posted by Latia titled ‘Walmart shopping trip-The Whittakers’ posted on November 25, 2021, he said;

“I think they are more intelligent than people think, they just have a difficult time communicating.”

Mark Latia is currently trying to gather more funds via GoFundMe for the Whittakers so that they can buy their neighbor’s house across the road or move into a new and improved home.