CHICAGO, January 9, 2012 — Urooj Khan was a hard working entrepreneur. He was living the immigrant American dream. Khan owned three dry cleaning stores on the north side of Chicago. He worked several hours a day, six days a week.
On his way home last summer he stopped at a convenience store and purchased a scratch off lottery ticket. He won one million dollars. Khan had recently returned from Saudi Arabia after participating in the hajj pilgrimage. He was inspired to lead a better life and resolved to stop buying lottery tickets, except this one time. He was so overjoyed at winning he tipped the store clerk one hundred dollars.
Kahn planned to plow some of the winnings back into his enterprises and the rest was to be used for his family. He chose to take a lump sum pay out amounting to just less than half the total winnings after taxes. It takes several weeks to process lottery winnings and issue a check.
What should have been a cause for joy and celebration turned into a tragic mystery, one of those closed-door mysteries the English used to love.
The day after Khan received his check, he collapsed and died in his home. He was in his mid forties. All indications pointed to coronary heart disease. His body was released by the medical examiner and he was buried.
Reportedly, on the day of his death Khan returned home from work, ate a meal with his family, and collapsed in pain shortly afterwards. His wife told police he felt uncomfortable after eating dinner. The mystery came to light when a relative of Khan’s approached authorities, worried that Khan’s teenage daughter from a previous marriage would not receive her fair share of the estate. He requested and was granted more toxicology tests. The tests revealed cyanide in Khan’s blood.
Cyanide is rarely used to murder people, as it is extremely difficult to obtain without leaving some kind of paper trail. After World War II through the 1970s it was used occasionally as a method of suicide.
Chicago police have questioned Khan’s wife and searched their home after obtaining a warrant. The wife, Shabana Ansari, hired a criminal defense attorney to represent her. She has cooperated with police and according to her attorney answered every question they asked. She also stated that she wants answers in the mysterious death of her husband.
Contrary to popular fiction, detectives hate mysteries. They like nice predictable solvable murders. Crimes of passion, family relations, gangs, drugs, normal urban violence, domestic violence, child abuse, and other motives are the norm. There is usually a reason police can find to lead to an explanation or solution, if not always an arrest.
The case of the dead lottery winner is a head scratcher and now a “heater case” due to the international media attention it is receiving. The medical examiner has requested Khan’s body be exhumed for a full autopsy. Cook County prosecutors are preparing papers to exhume the remains and present them to a judge by Friday.
The lottery check was cashed and turned over to the estate. Khan died without leaving a will. According to probate experts, the estate would be divided evenly between Khan’s wife, Shabana Ansari and his seventeen-year-old daughter.
Cyanide is a very effective vehicle for death. It deprives cells of oxygen and causes them to explode, shutting down the respiratory system. It works fast, usually within minutes, depending on the dosage. A form of cyanide was used for executions in gas chambers due to its effective and quick lethality.
Chicago is the murder capital of the world. It is more known for people being shot in the street than closed-door mysteries like the Case of the Poisoned Lottery Winner. This case is not just generating international publicity; it is interesting due to its sheer curiosity value.
There is great anticipation in the outcome of this enigma. We already know one thing. The butler did not do it.
Peter V. Bella is a retired Chicago Police Officer, freelance journalist and photojournalist, cook, and raconteur. He likes to be the irreverent sharp stick that pokes, prods, and annoys. His opinions are his and his alone. Mr. Bella is a member of the National Press Photographers Association, Online News Association, Chicago Headline Club, and the Society for Professional Journalists.
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