Body of Lotto Winner Who Died of Cyanide Poisoning to Be Exhumed

Cook County medical examiner said lottery winner's body would be exhumed.

January 8, 2013, 12:28 PM

Jan. 8, 2013 — -- The body of the $1 million Chicago lottery winner who died of cyanide poisoning will be exhumed within the next two weeks, said the Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen Cina.

The exhumation is needed to complete the investigation into Urooj Khan's death, which the medical examiner ruled a homicide last November.

Last June, Khan, 46, won $1 million in a scratch-off Illinois Lottery game, and said he planned to use the money to pay off his bills and mortgage, and make a contribution to St. Jude Children's Research Center.

But Khan died unexpectedly on July 20. The suddenness and unexpectedness of Khan's death brought it to the attention of the Cook County Medical Examiner.

Because there were no signs of foul play or trauma, the medical examiner's office initially attributed the death to arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, which covers heart attacks, stroke or ruptured aneurysms. An external exam -- not an autopsy -- was performed and toxicology reports indicated no presence of drugs or carbon monoxide.

Khan was buried at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.

But several days after the death certificate was issued, a family member called and requested that the medical examiner's office look further into Khan's death, said Cina.

"In response to the family member's concern, the ME's office ordered comprehensive toxicological testing, including screens for cyanide and strychnine," according to a statement from the Office of the Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

"As a matter of routine, we take body fluid samples, even with our external exams: urine, blood and bitreous fluid from the eye. We keep them for a certain period of time," said Cina. "Tests for cyanide and strychnine were run on the blood samples after the relative expressed concern of foul play. These are not routine tests."

Cina said he could not disclose the identity of the family member or other details of the phone call because of the ongoing investigation.

"If or when this goes to court, it would be nice to have all the data possible," Cina said about the exhumation.

Cina said when the final toxicology results came back late last November, they showed a lethal level of cyanide, which led to the homicide investigation.

Melissa Stratton, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Police Department, confirmed it had been working closely with the medical examiner's office.

Khan is survived by his wife, Shabana Ansari, 32, and a teenage daughter. The family owned three dry-cleaning businesses in Chicago.

Ansari told the Chicago Tribune that Khan was "the best husband on the entire planet," and, "extraordinary, nice, kind and lovable."

Ansari could not be reached by ABC News for comment.

The police are not confirming whether Khan's lottery winnings played a part in the homicide.

In Photos: Biggest Lotto Jackpot Winners

When asked why cyanide, a chemical asphyxiant that binds to red blood cells and prevents the entry of oxygen, was not found in the initial examination of Khan's body, Cina said, "Quite frankly, it's unusual as a cause of death, so it's not at the top of your mind."

He said about 50 percent of people can smell cyanide, but it is more noticeable when the body is opened up.

Sometimes the coloring of blood changes with cyanide poisoning after death, becoming "more reddish than purple," he said.

"In this case that wasn't particularly striking," Cina said, describing the first examination of Khan's body.

"It strangles your red blood cells at a biochemical level," he said.