The widow of a Chicago lottery winner who died of cyanide poisoning as he awaited a $425,000 check says she cannot believe her husband could have had enemies and that she has no idea who in their family asked that authorities take the deeper look into what originally was believed to be a death by natural causes.
Shabana Ansari spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday, a day after news emerged that her husband's death in July was the result of cyanide poisoning and not natural causes, as authorities initially concluded. Prosecutors, Chicago police and the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office are investigating 46-year-old Urooj Khan's death as a homicide, but they have not given any details, announced any suspects or ascribed any possible motive.
They've also not identified the relative who asked for an expanded screening after the initial cause of death was released. Ansari said she has spoken with police detectives about case but that she didn't make the request and didn't know who did.
She would not talk about the circumstances of her husband's death, saying it was too painful to recall. She said only that he fell ill shortly after they had dinner together.
"I was shattered. I can't believe he's no longer with me," the short, soft-spoken Ansari said tearfully, standing in one of three dry-cleaning businesses her husband started after immigrating to the U.S. from India in 1989.
Ansari described Khan as a hard-working and generous man who would send money to orphanages in their native India.
"I don't think anyone would have a bad eye for him or that he had any enemy," said Ansari, adding that she continues to work at the dry cleaner out of a desire to honor her husband and protect the businesses he built.
Khan planned to use the lottery winnings to pay off mortgages, expand his business and give a donation to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Ansari said her husband did not have a will and the money is now tied up in probate.
She said she hopes the truth of what happened to her husband will come out. She said she could not recall anyone unusual or suspicious coming into their lives after the lottery win became public.
Kahn's death was initially ruled a result of the narrowing and hardening of coronary arteries, after the basic toxicology screening for opiates, cocaine and carbon monoxide came back negative.
Authorities plan to exhume Khan's body in the next few weeks in hopes they might be able to test additional tissue samples and bolster evidence if the case goes to trial. Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina said he did not believe additional testing would change the conclusion that Khan was a homicide victim.
"Based on the investigative information we have now and the (toxicology results), we're comfortable where we are right now," he said.
Ansari, 32, moved to the U.S. from India after marrying Khan 12 years ago.
Khan and his wife were born in Hyderabad, a city in southern India, and their story is a typical immigrant's tale of settling in a new land with big dreams and starting a business. Their daughter, Jasmeen, now 17, is a student here.
"Work was his passion," Ansari said of her husband, adding that she plans to stay in the U.S. and keep his businesses running.
"I'm just taking care of his hard work," she said.
She recalled going on the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, with her husband in 2010. One of Islam's pillars requires every able-bodied Muslim to make the journey at least once in their lifetime.
She said her husband returned even more set on living a good life and stopped buying the occasional lottery ticket.
Nonetheless, he couldn't resist buying one for an instant lottery game in June while at a 7-Eleven near his home. It was a $1 million winner.
Khan opted for a lump sum of slightly more than $600,000. After taxes, it amounted to about $425,000, said lottery spokesman Mike Lang. The check was issued on July 19, the day before Khan died.
Some other states allow winners to remain anonymous, but Illinois requires most winning ticket holders to appear for a news conference and related promotions, partly to prove that the state pays out prizes. Khan's win didn't draw much media attention, and Lang noted that press events for $1 million winners are fairly typical.
"We do several news conferences a month for various amounts," he said.