Wife of poisoned lottery winner hopes ‘God will reveal the truth’
BY STEFANO ESPOSITO AND MITCH DUDEK Staff Reporters January 8, 2013 3:18PM
Chicago police are investigating the death of Urooj Khan, a $1 million lottery winner, as a homicide. | Illinois Lottery photo
Updated: January 9, 2013 8:58PM
At the beginning of the holiest month for Muslims, Urooj Khan and his family sat down in their West Rogers Park home for a traditional Indian Kofta curry — a meal that would be Khan’s last.
Just a few hours later, Khan — a jovial, hardworking businessman who had won the lottery less than a month earlier — collapsed and died, from what investigators now say was cyanide poisoning.
Khan’s wife, Shabana Ansari, told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday that she prepared her husband’s final meal on that July 2012 evening. Ansari, who had been married for 12 years, also wants it made clear that she had nothing to do with her husband’s death.
“No, I loved him to death,” the 32-year-old said, leaning in close, her unblinking eyes locked on her visitor’s. “I loved him and he loved me the same way.”
And she is eager for investigators to dig up his body to learn “the truth.”
“I really want them to go for it because I really want to know what exactly happened,” the soft-spoken Ansari said. “I wish God will reveal the truth — the sooner the better.”
In November, the Cook County medical examiner’s office reclassified Khan’s July 20 death as a homicide by cyanide poisoning and haven’t named anyone as a suspect. Stephen J. Cina, the county’s chief medical examiner, said this week that the investigation appeared likely to involve exhuming the 46-year-old’s body for further testing.
Khan’s death — less than one month after he won $1 million with an instant lottery ticket — was initially classified as natural, from hardening of the arteries. But a few days later, Cina’s office got a call from one of Khan’s relatives, who suggested that investigators should dig deeper. Further testing revealed a lethal dose of cyanide. In an interview with the Sun-Times this week, Cina wouldn’t name the relative who called his office.
On Tuesday, Ansari said she doesn’t have any idea what killed her husband, a man she described as a “very great husband.” She also said the lottery winnings are tied up in “probate.”
Ansari looks younger than her 32 years, but sounds older — a consequence perhaps of the uncertainty and the stress she’s been under recently.
Ansari described her husband as extremely hardworking but physically healthy at the time of his death. She noted he had been taking some antibiotics to treat a problem mole on his thigh.
“He was perfectly OK,” she said. “As a matter of fact, he was very busy running around here and there” taking care of the family’s three dry-cleaning businesses.
Ansari said the family, which includes a teenage daughter and Ansari’s father, ate the curry dinner July 19 in their West Pratt home without incident. It was only later, in the middle of the night, when Khan began to feel ill, Ansari said. Instead of lying in bed, he was sitting in a chair, Ansari said.
“He got up from the chair and then he collapsed,” Ansari said. “Then I called 911.”
Khan was pronounced dead at 4:25 a.m. July 20, at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston.
Ansari said she’s cooperating with investigators, giving them access to the chemicals used in the family dry-cleaning business, which don’t include cyanide, she said.
Ansari, whose family is originally from the city of Hyderabad in southern India, spoke inside one of the family’s dry-cleaning stores at Western and Jarvis on Tuesday. She said her husband was immensely proud of his American dream. Ansari said she’s “so depressed,” but she can’t abandon what her husband accomplished.
“This is his achievement,” she said, gesturing to the racks of plastic-wrapped garments. “I can’t let it go. This is his dream.”