Urooj Khan was living the ultimate expression of the American Dream. After immigrating from India in the 1980s, Khan started working at a dry cleaner in Chicago. With a bit of hard work, he would soon own his own dry cleaners, then three, and later five condominiums, too.
And in June, the 46-year-old Khan received the ultimate crown of the American Dream when he walked into his local 7-Eleven convenience store and bought a $30 scratch-off lottery ticket. Unable to contain his excitement, he scratched it off right there. And the exuberance only grew when he found he had a $1 million winner in his hand. He jumped up and down, kissing and hugging the 7-Eleven clerk who sold him the tickets. He put $100 into the clerk’s hands, apologizing for not having more cash on him, according to the Chicago Tribune.
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“I hit a million!” Khan told the crowd at the Illinois Lottery ceremony on June 26, recalling the moment when he discovered he had hit the jackpot.
He decided to cash out the rewards all at once, receiving nearly $425,000 after taxes, instead of the monthly installments. The hefty check was sent to him on July 19. On July 20, Khan was pronounced dead.
It was a tragic turn of fate for the big winner, but the death wasn’t considered suspicious. There were no obvious signs of trauma on his body, and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the cause of death as “hardening of coronary arteries,” with no thorough autopsy being done on Khan since he was over the cutoff age of 45 (the age has since been upped to 50). Kahn was given a basic toxicology test, which came back negative, showing his body without a trace of opiates, cocaine and carbon monoxide, the AP reports.
But after the lottery check was cashed on August 15, likely by Khan’s estate, according to the AP, a relative requested a more thorough autopsy. The Medical Examiner’s office revisited the body with an extensive chemical test. And to their surprise, they determined Khan was in fact poisoned — using cyanide.
Now, the death has turned into a potential murder case, and Chicago police are helping with the investigation and attempting to piece together the events that led to the inauspicious death.
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But there are few immediate leads in the case. Indeed, the night of his death was marked with routine. After arriving home from work, he ate dinner and went to sleep about an hour later. His wife, Shabana Ansari, and teenage daughter, Jasmeen Khan, were also at home, according to Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina, the Tribune reports. Soon after, he was heard screaming and rushed to the hospital, the Tribune reports. He was pronounced dead the next day, without ever seeing his major check. It was not until a relative — who Cina said shall remain unidentified — asked the authorities to look into Khan’s death, the AP reports.
Cyanide poisoning is so rare that Cina told the AP that out of 4,500 autopsies he has performed, he has only seen two cases. Though innocent in appearance (white powder) and bitter in taste, cyanide is a deadly poison that can kill a person within minutes, poison expert Deborah Blum told the AP, saying it has the mortifying power of causing a “convulsive, violent death.”
“It essentially kills you in this explosion of cell death,” Blum said. “You feel like you’re suffocating.”
Police have since changed the cause of death to homicide and will likely to exhume the body.