Intrigue grows after lottery winner's death
CHICAGO -- In the week since news surfaced that a Chicago man was poisoned to death with cyanide just before he was to collect a lottery payout, surprising details about his convoluted family saga have trickled out daily.
Urooj Khan's widow and siblings fought for months over the businessman's estate, including the lottery check. His father-in-law owed tens of thousands of dollars in taxes. His 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage had moved out of her stepmom's home and into his sister's after his death. Then his ex-wife came forward.
The slowly emerging family backstory and expanding cast of characters have added layers of intrigue to a case in which authorities have revealed little.
Khan's wife, Shabana Ansari, 32, has endured clutches of reporters asking even whether it was a lamb or beef curry dinner she made for Khan on the night he died.
"She's just as curious as anyone else to get to the bottom of what caused her husband's death," said Al-Haroon Husain, who is representing Ansari in the civil case that will divide up Khan's estate, including the $425,000 in lottery winnings.
Ansari and other relatives have denied any role in his death.
Authorities remain tight-lipped about who they may suspect. In the coming weeks, they plan to exhume the 46-year-old immigrant's body, which might allow investigators to determine exactly how he was poisoned.
Khan came to the United States from Hyderabad, India, in 1989, setting up several dry-cleaning businesses and investing in real estate. Despite having forsworn gambling after a pilgrimage to Mecca in 2010, Khan bought a ticket in June.
Khan said he planned to use his winnings to pay off mortgages, expand his business and donate to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. He was just days from receiving the money when he died before dawn on July 20.
The night before, Khan ate dinner with his wife, daughter and father-in-law in their house in Chicago's North Side.
Sometime that night, Khan awoke feeling ill and then collapsed, his wife has said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
With no outward sign of trauma, authorities initially determined Khan died of natural causes. But a relative, whose identity remains a mystery, came forward with suspicions and asked authorities to take a closer look.
Further toxicology tests found a lethal amount of cyanide in Khan's blood, leading the medical examiner in November to reclassify the death as a homicide. The Chicago Tribune reported the story Monday.
Khan died without a will. Under Illinois law, the money should be divided evenly between his wife and daughter, but Husain says Khan's three siblings kept asking whether they had rights to the money. In their court filings, Khan's siblings accused Ansari of trying to cash the lottery check and expressed concern Khan's daughter would not get her fair share.
A judge has made Ansari the administrator until a ruling on how to divide the assets.
Khan's sister, Meraj Khan, and her husband, Mohammed Zaman, have said they had no suspicions before the toxicology results showed cyanide poisoning.
Zaman then added yet another puzzling wrinkle: Ansari is a vegetarian and therefore would not have eaten the lamb curry she prepared for her husband the night he fell ill.
Authorities have not said how they think Khan ingested the cyanide, which can be swallowed, inhaled or injected.Detectives questioned Ansari for more than four hours at a police station in November and searched the family home.
Around the same time, Ansari's stepdaughter, Jasmeen, went to live with Khan's sister, who had won guardianship.
And then there's Ansari's father. A few months before Khan's death, two federal tax liens were filed against Fareedun Ansari. He owed $124,600, according to Cook County.
Finally, Khan's ex-wife and Jasmeen's mother emerged. Now remarried, living in South Bend, Ind., and going by the name of Maria Jones, she told the Sun-Times she last saw her daughter 13 years ago. The distraught woman said she didn't know the girl was in the United States and she hoped to reconnect with her.