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Wife questioned in lottery winner death

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 9:42 a.m. CST

(MCT) — The widow of a West Rogers Park man who died of cyanide poisoning weeks after winning a $1 million lottery jackpot was questioned extensively by Chicago police last month after the medical examiner's office reclassified the death as a homicide, her attorney told the Tribune on Tuesday.

Authorities investigating the death of Urooj Khan also executed a search warrant at the home he had shared with his wife, Shabana Ansari, according to Steven Kozicki, her attorney. Ansari later was interviewed by detectives for more than four hours, answering all their questions, the attorney said.

"She's got nothing to hide," Kozicki said.

The mystery surrounding Khan's death — first reported by the Tribune Monday — has sparked international media interest.

Cook County authorities said Tuesday that they plan to go to court in the next few days for approval to exhume Khan's remains at Rosehill Cemetery. In a telephone interview Tuesday, Medical Examiner Stephen J. Cina said he sent a sworn statement to prosecutors laying out why the body must be exhumed.

"I feel that a complete autopsy is needed for the sake of clarity and thoroughness," Cina said.

Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, confirmed that papers seeking the exhumation would be filed soon in the Daley Center courthouse.

Khan, who owned a dry cleaning business on the city's North Side, died unexpectedly in July at 46, just weeks after winning a million-dollar lottery prize at a 7-Eleven store near his home. Finding no trauma to his body and no unusual substances in his blood, the medical examiner's office declared his death to be from natural causes and he was buried without an autopsy.

About a week later, a relative told authorities to take a closer look at Khan's death. By early December, comprehensive toxicology tests showed that Khan had died of a lethal amount of cyanide, leading the medical examiner's office to reclassify the death a homicide and prompting police and prosecutors to investigate.

While a motive has not been determined, police have not ruled out that Khan was killed because of his big lottery win, a law enforcement source has told the Tribune. He died before he could collect the winnings — about $425,000 after taxes and because he decided to take a lump-sum payment.

According to court records obtained by the Tribune, Khan's brother has squabbled with Ansari over the money in probate court. The brother, Imtiaz, raised concern that because Khan left no will, his 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage would not get "her fair share" of her father's estate. Khan and Ansari did not have children.

Al-Haroon Husain, an attorney for Ansari in the probate case, said the money was all accounted for and the estate was in the process of being divided up by the court. Under Illinois law, the estate typically would be split evenly between the surviving spouse and Khan's only child, he said.

Kozicki, Ansari's criminal defense attorney, said his client adored her husband and had no financial interest in seeing harm come to him.

"Now in addition to grieving her husband, she's struggling to run the business that he essentially ran while he was alive," Kozicki said. "Once people analyze it, they (would) realize she's in a much worse financial position after his death than she was before."

Reached by phone Tuesday evening at the family dry cleaners, Ansari denied reports that she had fed her husband a traditional Indian meal of ground beef curry before he died. She said he wasn't feeling well after awakening in the middle of the night. She said he sat in a chair and soon collapsed. She then called 911.

Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, speaking Tuesday at an unrelated news conference, remarked that he had never seen a case like this in 32 years in law enforcement.

"So I'll never say that I've seen everything," he told reporters.

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