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Chicago man fatally poisoned a month after hitting lotto jackpot

January 07, 2013|By Matt Pearce
  • Urooj Khan, 46, of Chicago is shown with his winning lottery ticket. A month after winning, he was fatally poisoned.
Urooj Khan, 46, of Chicago is shown with his winning lottery ticket. A month… (Illinois Lottery )

Urooj Khan gushed that hitting it big meant everything to him. But he didn't live to enjoy his winnings.

He'd won a $1-million jackpot from the Illinois Lottery over the summer. The idea was that he'd pay off his debts and his mortgage, then invest the rest in his dry cleaning business -- after making a donation to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. He was a generous guy.

“I scratched the ticket, then I kept on saying, 'I hit a million!' over and over again," Khan, 46, of Chicago's north side, told lottery officials later. "I jumped 2 feet in the air, then ran back into the store and tipped the clerk $100."

But on July 20, less than a month after accepting an oversized check from lottery officials, Khan was dead.

According to a police document obtained by the Chicago Tribune, Khan came home from work to his wife, Shabana Ansari, and daughter, Jasmeen, the night he died, ate dinner and went to bed.

Then he began screaming. He was pronounced dead at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston. An initial examination said he died of heart disease.

Not so, officials now say, after looking into the case further: He was killed. By cyanide, according to the medical examiner.

Khan wouldn't be the first lottery winner to be murdered. Abraham Shakespeare, 42, won $17 million in the Florida Lottery in 2006 and was later killed for the remains of the award by Dorice "Dee Dee" Moore, who was convicted last month of his murder.

As previously reported by the Los Angeles Times, winners often find themselves targeted by for-profit businesses and for-profit family members after hitting it big in lottery drawings, which are fundraising machines for state governments.

Many winners are not allowed to remain anonymous for the sake of maintaining lotteries' credibility, and lottery officials have relished the high-publicity crazes that send buyers on long treks to find winning tickets for bigger and bigger jackpots.

The cause of Khan's death was initially ruled to be heart disease. But within a few days of his autopsy in July, "a family member asked that we look into it more closely because they had concerns," Stephen J. Cina, chief medical examiner for Cook County, Ill., told the Los Angeles Times, declining to identify the family member.

Examiners ran more tests. In September, a result came back that tested positive for cyanide. In late November, officials said that amount "showed the cyanide at a lethal level," Cina said -- at which point Khan's death was ruled a homicide. His body may be exhumed for further examination.

An unnamed police official told the Chicago Tribune that an investigation was underway and that Khan's lottery win couldn't be ruled out as a motive. His wife, Ansari, 32, wouldn't talk to the Tribune about the investigation other than to confirm that she'd spoken with police, but praised her husband's character as "the best husband on the entire planet."

"By God's grace, he was a workaholic," she told the Tribune. "Day or night ... he picks up the phone 24/7. He made the clients happy by doing his job. He could not be everywhere, but he had to be everywhere."

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