CHICAGO — Authorities plan to exhume the body of a Chicago lottery winner poisoned with a lethal dose of cyanide as detectives move forward with a homicide investigation, the medical examiner said Tuesday.
Prosecutors, Chicago police and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office are trying to unravel precisely how Urooj Khan, 46, was killed and have not publically identified any suspects.
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.
Exhuming the body could allow investigators to do more tests on tissue samples that could bolster evidence if the case goes to trial, explained Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina.
“It’s always good if and when the case goes to trial to have as much data as possible,” he said.
He hopes to exhume the body in the next few weeks, once a judge has approved it.
The mysterious death has surprised investigators, who have not made any details public.
Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told reporters Tuesday that he had never seen anything like it 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.
Khan, who owned a number of dry cleaners, stopped in at the convenience store near his home in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on the city’s north side in June and bought a ticket for an instant lottery game.
Khan once played the lottery regularly but had sworn off gambling after returning from the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, because he sought to lead a better life, according to the 7-Eleven clerk who sold him the ticket.
But Khan couldn’t resist and scratched off a $1 million winner in front of clerk Ashur Oshana.
“Right away he grabbed my hand,” Oshana told The Associated Press Monday. “He kissed my hand and kissed my head and gave me $100. He was really happy.”
At an Illinois Lottery ceremony days later, Khan recalled that he jumped up and down in the store and repeatedly shouted, “I hit a million!”
“Winning the lottery means everything to me,” he said at the June 26 ceremony, also attended by his wife, Shabana Ansari; their daughter, Jasmeen Khan; and several friends. He said he would put some winnings into his businesses and donate some to a children’s hospital.
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. It was cashed Aug. 15, Lang said, explaining that if a lottery winner dies, the money typically goes to his or her estate.
Khan’s family could not be reached for comment.
Khan was pronounced dead July 20 at a hospital, but Cina would not say where Khan was when he fell ill, citing the investigation. The external exam showed no signs of trauma on Khan’s body.
No autopsy was done because, at the time, the Medical Examiner’s Office didn’t generally perform them on people 45 and older unless the death was suspicious, Cina said. The cutoff age has since been raised to 50. After the basic toxicology screening for opiates, cocaine and carbon monoxide came back negative, the death was ruled a result of the narrowing and hardening of coronary arteries.
Days after the initial cause of death was released, a relative of Khan’s asked authorities to look into the case further, Cina said. He would not identify the relative. The full results came back in November.
“She (the morgue worker) then reopened the case and did more expansive toxicology, including all the major drugs of use, all the common prescription drugs and also included I believe strychnine and cyanide in there just in case something came up,” Cina said. “And in fact cyanide came up in this case.”