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Body of lottery winner to be exhumed to determine cause of poisoning

Published: Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 8:44 a.m. CST

(MCT) — CHICAGO — Authorities on Friday plan to exhume the body of a Chicago man who died of cyanide poisoning last summer after winning a million-dollar lottery, according to a source.

The exhumation of Urooj Khan’s remains — scheduled to begin at about 7 a.m. CST — will come about six months after he was buried at Rosehill Cemetery on Chicago’s North Side.

In court papers last week, Chief Medical Examiner Stephen J. Cina said it was important to exhume the remains “as expeditiously as possible” since Khan’s body was not embalmed.

The exhumation comes after the Chicago Tribune broke the story Jan. 7 about Khan’s mysterious death, sparking international media interest in the case.

The medical examiner’s office initially ruled Khan’s July 20 death was from hardening of the arteries when there were no signs of trauma on the body and a preliminary blood test didn’t raise any questions. But the investigation was reopened about a week later after a relative suggested to authorities that Khan’s death “may have been the result of poisoning,” prosecutors said in a court filing seeking the exhumation.

The medical examiner’s office contacted Chicago police Sept. 11 after tests showed cyanide in Khan’s blood. By late November, more comprehensive toxicological tests showed lethal levels of the toxic chemical and the medical examiner’s office declared his death a homicide.

Khan’s widow, Shabana Ansari, who has hired a criminal defense lawyer, told the Tribune last week that she had been questioned for more than four hours by detectives and had fully cooperated. She said the detectives had asked her about ingredients she used to prepare his last meal of lamb curry, shared by Ansari, her father-in-law Fareedun Ansari and Khan’s daughter from a previous marriage, Jasmeen, 17.

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

According to court records obtained by the Tribune, Khan’s brother has squabbled with Shabana Ansari over the lottery winnings in probate court. The brother, ImTiaz Khan, raised concern that since Khan left no will, Jasmeen Khan would not get “her fair share” of her father’s estate.

Khan and Ansari did not have children together. Since her father’s death, Jasmeen Khan has been living with Khan’s siblings.

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 state law, the estate typically would be split evenly between the spouse and Khan’s only child, he said.

In addition, almost two years ago, the Internal Revenue Service placed liens on Khan’s residence in an effort to collect more than $120,000 in back taxes from his father-in-law, Fareedun Ansari, who still lives at the home with his daughter.

Fareedun and Shabana Ansari have denied involvement in Khan’s death.

In the court papers, Cina said it was necessary to perform a full autopsy to “further confirm the results of the blood analysis as well as to rule out any other natural causes that might have contributed to or caused Mr. Khan’s death.”

A pathologist will take samples of Khan’s stomach contents to try to determine how the cyanide was ingested, Mary Paleologos, Cina’s spokeswoman, has said. They will also look at other organs such as the lungs to make certain the cyanide wasn’t inhaled, she said.

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