Wife says poisoned lottery winner had no enemies

January 9, 2013 - 12:32 AM
Lottery Winner Poisoned

This undated photo provided by the Illinois Lottery shows Urooj Khan, 46, of Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood, posing with a winning lottery ticket. The Cook County medical examiner said Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, that Khan was fatally poisoned with cyanide July 20, 2012, a day after he collected nearly $425,000 in lottery winnings. (AP Photo/Illinois Lottery)

CHICAGO (AP) — The wife of a Chicago lottery winner who was poisoned with cyanide said Tuesday she was devastated by his death and cannot believe her husband could have had enemies.

Shabana Ansari spoke to The Associated Press a day after news emerged that 46-year-old Urooj Khan's death in July was the result of cyanide poisoning and not natural causes, as authorities initially concluded. Prosecutors, Chicago police and the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office are investigating Khan's death as a homicide, but they have not given any details, announced any suspects or said whether they believed the lottery win could have presented a motive.

Ansari 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 had dinner together.

She described Khan as a hard-working and generous man who would send money to orphanages in their native India.

"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.

Khan's death on July 20 was initially ruled a result of natural causes. But a relative's request for a deeper look resulted in the startling conclusion months later that Kahn was killed with the poison as he was about to collect $425,000 in winnings. Authorities won't identify the relative. Ansari, who said she has spoken with police detectives about the case, said she was not the one who asked for a deeper investigation and that she doesn't know who it was.

"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 cleaner out of a desire to honor her husband and protect the businesses he built.

Khan planned to use the lottery winnings to pay off mortgages, expand his business and give a donation to the 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. She said she could not recall anyone unusual or suspicious coming into their lives after the lottery win became public.

Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told reporters Tuesday that he had never seen anything like Khan's case in his 32 years of policing in New York, New Jersey and now Chicago.

"So, I'm not going to say that I've seen everything," McCarthy said.

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.

"It's always good if and when the case goes to trial to have as much data as possible," said Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina. He added that he did not believe additional testing would change the conclusion that Khan was a homicide victim, saying those comprehensive toxicology results were validated in the lab.

"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.

Khan and his wife were born in Hyderabad, a city in southern India, and their story is a typical immigrant's tale of settling in a new land with big dreams and starting a business. Their daughter, Jasmeen, now 17, is a student here.

"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, an awe-inspiring trip that was a first for both of them. 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 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 in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on the city's north side. It was a $1 million winner.

Khan opted for a lump sum of slightly more than $600,000. After taxes, the winnings 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.

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Associated Press writer Don Babwin contributed to this report.