Lottery winner’s widow ‘shattered’ by poison death
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 9, 2013
CHICAGO (AP) — The widow of a Chicago lottery winner who died of cyanide poisoning as he awaited a $425,000 check says she cannot believe her husband had enemies and that she has no idea which family member asked authorities to take a deeper look into his death.
Shabana Ansari spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday, a day after news emerged that her husband, Urooj Khan, had not died of natural causes in July, as authorities initially concluded. Prosecutors, Chicago police and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office are investigating 46-year-old Khan’s death as a homicide, but they have not given any details, announced any suspects or ascribed any possible motive.
They have also not identified the relative who asked for an expanded screening after the initial cause of death was released. Ansari said she has spoken with police detectives about the case but that she didn’t make the request and doesn’t know who did.
She would not talk about the circumstances of her husband’s death, saying it was too painful to recall. She said only that he fell ill shortly after they ate dinner together.
“I was shattered. I can’t believe he’s no longer with me,” the short, soft-spoken Ansari said tearfully, standing in one of three dry-cleaning businesses her husband started after immigrating to the U.S. from India in 1989.
Ansari described Khan as a hard-working and generous man who sent money to orphanages in their native India.
“I don’t think anyone would have a bad eye for him or that he had any enemy,” said Ansari, adding that she continues to work at the dry cleaning company to honor her husband and protect the businesses he built.
Khan had planned to use his lottery winnings to pay off mortgages, expand his business and make a donation to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Ansari said her husband did not have a will and the money is now tied up in probate.
She said she hopes the truth of what happened to her husband will come out and that she can’t recall anyone unusual or suspicious coming into their lives after the lottery win became public.
Kahn’s death was initially ruled a result of the narrowing and hardening of coronary arteries, after the basic toxicology screening for opiates, cocaine and carbon monoxide came back negative.
Authorities plan to exhume Khan’s body in the next few weeks in hopes they might be able to test additional tissue samples and bolster evidence if the case goes to trial. Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina said he did not believe additional testing would change the conclusion that Khan was a homicide victim.
“Based on the investigative information we have now and the (toxicology results), we’re comfortable where we are right now,” he said.
Ansari, 32, moved to the U.S. from India after marrying Khan 12 years ago.
Ansari and Khan were born in Hyderabad, a city in southern India, and their story is a typical immigrants’ tale of settling in a new land with big dreams and starting a business. Their daughter, Jasmeen, now 17, is a student in the United States.
“Work was his passion,” Ansari said of her husband, adding that she plans to stay in the U.S. and keep his businesses running.
“I’m just taking care of his hard work,” she said.
She recalled going on the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with her husband in 2010. One of Islam’s pillars requires every able-bodied Muslim to make the journey at least once in their lifetime.
She said her husband returned even more set on living a good life and he stopped buying the occasional lottery ticket.
Nonetheless, he couldn’t resist buying one for an instant lottery game in June while at a 7-Eleven near his home. It was a $1 million winner.
Khan opted for a lump sum of slightly more than $600,000. After taxes, it amounted to about $425,000, said lottery spokesman Mike Lang. The check was issued on July 19, the day before Khan died.
Some other states allow winners to remain anonymous, but Illinois requires most winning ticket holders to appear for a news conference and related promotions, partly to prove that the state pays out prizes. Khan’s win didn’t draw much media attention, and Lang noted that press events for $1 million winners are fairly typical.
“We do several news conferences a month for various amounts,” he said.