Last June, Urooj Khan, a 46-year-old who owned several dry cleaners in Chicago, won a cool million in the Illinois lottery. He reacted in an appropriate enough way, yelling "I hit a million, I hit a million!" repeatedly before leaving the 7-Eleven, only to return after a few moments to tip the store's clerk $100. Several weeks later, at a ceremony where he was presented with an oversized check, Khan said "Winning the lottery means everything to me." Khan added he had plans to donate some of the post-taxes sum of $425,000 to a local children's hospital and then invest the remaining cash into his business.
Happy enough story so far, right? Well, exactly one day after the Comptroller's office cut the check, Khan was found dead, with no signs of trauma. Authorities initially ruled the death the result of natural causes, but after a request from one of Khan's relatives, did an "expanded screening." Now, six months after the initial ruling, authorities are saying Khan died after ingesting cyanide.
No signs of trauma were found on Khan’s body during an external exam and no autopsy was done because, at the time, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office didn’t generally perform them on those 45 and older unless the death was suspicious, Cina said. The cutoff age has since been raised to age 50.
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.
Cyanide can get into the body by being inhaled, swallowed or injected. Deborah Blum, an expert on poisons who has written about the detectives who pioneered forensic toxicology, said the use of cyanide in killings has become rare in part because it is difficult to obtain and normally easy to detect, often leaving blue splotches on a victim’s skin.
“The thing about it is that it’s not one of those poisons that’s tasteless,” Blum said. “It has a really strong, bitter taste, so you would know you had swallowed something bad if you had swallowed cyanide. But if you had a high enough dose it wouldn’t matter, because … a good lethal does will take you out in less than five minutes.”
Only a small amount of fine, white cyanide powder can be deadly, she said, as it disrupts the ability of cells to transport oxygen around the body, causing a convulsive, violent death.
It's perhaps long overdue for lotteries to allow major winners to remain anonymous, at least for a fairly long period of time.