With no signs of trauma and nothing to raise suspicions, the sudden death of a Chicago man just as he was about to collect nearly US$425,000 in lottery winnings was initially ruled a result of natural causes.
Nearly six months later, authorities have a mystery on their hands after medical examiners, responding to a relative’s pleas, did an expanded screening and determined that Urooj Khan, 46, died shortly after ingesting a lethal dose of cyanide. The finding has triggered a homicide investigation, the Chicago Police Department said on Monday.
“It’s pretty unusual,” Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina said, commenting on the rarity of cyanide poisonings. “I’ve had one, maybe two cases out of 4,500 autopsies I’ve done.”
In June last year, Khan, who owned a number of dry cleaners, bought a ticket for an instant lottery. Khan said days later at an Illinois Lottery ceremony in which he was presented with an oversized check that he jumped up and down in the store and repeatedly shouted: “I hit a million!”
Instead of the full US$1 million over installments, Khan opted to take his winnings in a lump sum of just over US$600,000. After taxes, the winnings amounted to about US$425,000.
Khan was pronounced dead on July 20, the day after the check was issued.
No signs of trauma were found on Khan’s body during an external exam and no autopsy was done because, at the time.
A basic toxicology screening for opiates, cocaine and carbon monoxide came back negative, and the death was ruled a result of the narrowing and hardening of coronary arteries.
A relative came forward days later and asked authorities to look into the case further, Cina said.
Further tests revealed cyanide.
The full results came back in November. Chicago police are now investigating the death and said detectives were working closely with the Medical Examiner’s Office.