Tylenol killings in Chicago Illinois – unsolved murders in chicago
CHICAGO – The unsolved investigation into the deaths of seven people who swallowed cyanide-laced Tylenol is returning to where it started more than 30 years ago, as a group of Illinois law enforcement agencies said Friday that the FBI will no longer lead the probe.
Police in Arlington Heights — where three of the victims died — announced in a news release that a task force made up of their department along with the Illinois State Police and police departments in Chicago, Elk Grove Village, Lombard, Schaumburg and Winfield will run the investigation.
The FBI will continue to “provide resources in areas of expertise as needed to support the investigation,” according to the release, adding that task force will also work with prosecutors’ offices in Cook County and DuPage County.
Investigation of the Tylenol Killer
“The investigation is ongoing, and it continues to be active,” said Arlington Heights Police Commander Mike Hernandez. He said the logistics about what each agency will do still has to be worked out.
Friday’s announcement comes two days shy of the 31st anniversary of the day people who’d taken Extra Strength Tylenol started to die of cyanide poisoning.
In a space of three days beginning Sept. 29, 1982, seven people who took cyanide-laced Tylenol in Chicago and four suburbs died. That triggered a national scare that prompted an untold number of people to throw medicine away and stores nationwide to pull Tylenol from their shelves.
In recent years, the case has taken a number of twists. In 2009, federal agents searched the Boston-area home of James W. Lewis, who once served 12 years in prison for sending an extortion note to Tylenol maker Johnson & Johnson demanding $1 million to “stop the killing.” Lewis, who along with his wife gave DNA samples and fingerprints to investigators, denied any involvement in the poisonings. After the investigation that included a seizure of boxes, files and a computer from Lewis’ Cambridge, Massachusetts, home he was never charged.
Then in 2011, the FBI took a DNA sample from the so-called Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. Kaczynski, who grew up in the Chicago area and whose parents lived in the suburbs in 1982 when the Tylenol slayings occurred, denied in court papers that he ever “possessed any potassium cyanide” — the poison used — and he has not been charged. At the time, his lawyer suggested the FBI wanted Kaczynski’s DNA simply to rule him out as a suspect and not because agents believed he was involved.
As for the slayings themselves, the details of the deaths of the six adults and one 12-year-old girl have faded from memory. But much like the terrorist attacks of 9/11 resulted in new security measures in airports, the poisonings resulted in additional security measures taken in the packaging of food, drink and medicine to prevent tampering.
The Chicago Tylenol murders, codenamed TYMURS by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were a series of intentional poisoning deaths in the Chicagoland area in 1982. The victims had all taken Tylenol branded acetaminophen capsules that had been laced with potassium cyanide. The incidents led to reforms in the packaging of over-the-counter substances and to federal anti-tampering laws. The case remains unsolved and no suspects have been charged. A $100,000 reward offered by Johnson & Johnson, parent company of Tylenol maker McNeil Laboratories, for the capture and conviction of the “Tylenol Killer” has never been claimed.
On the morning of September 29, 1982, twelve-year-old Mary Kellerman of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, died after taking a capsule of Extra-Strength Tylenol. Adam Janus of Arlington Heights, Illinois, died in the hospital shortly after. Adam’s brother Stanley of Lisle, Illinois, and wife Theresa died after gathering to mourn his death, having taken pills from the same bottle. Soon afterward, Mary McFarland of Elmhurst, Illinois, Paula Prince of Chicago, and Mary Reiner of Winfield also died in similar incidents. Investigators soon discovered the Tylenol link. Urgent warnings were broadcast, and police drove through Chicago neighborhoods issuing warnings over loudspeakers.
As the tampered-with bottles came from different factories, and the seven deaths had all occurred in the Chicago area, the possibility of sabotage during production was ruled out. Instead, the culprit was believed to have entered various supermarkets and drug stores over a period of several weeks, grabbed several bottles of Tylenol capsules from the shelves, removed them from the stores and took them to another location. Once there, the suspect opened the bottles, took the capsules out, added the cyanide, then put the now-laced capsules back in the bottles and returned to the stores to place the bottles back on the shelves. In addition to the five bottles which led to the victims’ deaths, three other tampered-with bottles were discovered.
Johnson & Johnson distributed warnings to hospitals and distributors and halted Tylenol production and advertising. On October 5, 1982, it issued a nationwide recall of Tylenol products; an estimated 31 million bottles were in circulation, with a retail value of over US $100 million. The company also advertised in the national media for individuals not to consume any products that contained acetaminophen. When it was determined that only capsules were tampered with, Johnson & Johnson offered to exchange all Tylenol capsules already purchased by the public with solid tablets.
During the initial investigations, a man named James William Lewis sent a letter to Johnson & Johnson demanding $1 million to stop the cyanide-induced murders. Police were unable to link him with the crimes, as he and his wife were living in New York City at the time. He was convicted of extortion, served 13 years of a 20-year sentence, and was released in 1995 on parole. WCVB Channel 5 of Boston reported that court documents, released in early 2009, “show Department of Justice investigators concluded Lewis was responsible for the poisonings, despite the fact that they did not have enough evidence to charge him.” Lewis has denied responsibility for the poisonings for several years.
A second man, Roger Arnold, was investigated and cleared of the killings. He had a nervous breakdown due to the media attention, which he blamed on Marty Sinclair, a bar owner. In the summer of 1983, Arnold shot and killed John Stanisha, whom he mistook for Sinclair. Stanisha was an innocent man who did not know Arnold. Arnold was convicted in January 1984 and served 15 years of a 30-year sentence for second-degree murder. He died in June 2008.
Laurie Dann, who poisoned and shot people in a May 1988 rampage in and around Winnetka, Illinois, was briefly considered as a suspect, but no direct connection was found.
In a book published in 2011, Scott Bartz, a former Johnson & Johnson employee, argues that the poisoned Tylenol was introduced not, as the media reported, in retail stores but in a distributor’s warehouse in the Chicago area. He believes that Johnson & Johnson knew this but intentionally suppressed evidence leading to this conclusion.
In November of 2012 Bartz gave his second interview to investigative reporter Gary Franchi. The interview aired on Next News Network’s WHDT World News, in it he made the case for his book. During the 25-minute interview he stated, “My research showed the tampering occurred within the distribution network for Tylenol and of course Johnson & Johnson, to avoid liability, would not want to be associated with distributing this Tylenol.”
On September 24, 2013, Michelle Rosen, daughter of victim Mary Reiner, appeared on WHDT to provide testimony of her mother’s ingestion of the laced Tylenol. According to Rosen, Mary Reiner had given birth 6 days prior and received her Tylenol from the hospital pharmacy. Bartz’s investigation into Reiner’s ingestion is believed, by Rosen, to be the “smoking gun” because she concluded the culprit presented by authorities could not have gained access to a secure hospital pharmacy.
The media gave Johnson & Johnson much positive coverage for its handling of the crisis; for example, an article in The Washington Post said, “Johnson & Johnson has effectively demonstrated how a major business ought to handle a disaster.” The article further stated that “this is no Three Mile Island accident in which the company’s response did more damage than the original incident,” and applauded the company for being honest with the public. In addition to issuing the recall, the company established relations with the Chicago Police Department, the FBI, and the Food and Drug Administration. This way it could have a part in searching for the person who laced the capsules and they could help prevent further tamperings. While at the time of the scare the company’s market share collapsed from thirty-five percent to eight percent, it rebounded in less than a year, a move credited to the company’s prompt and aggressive reaction. In November, it reintroduced capsules but in a new, triple-sealed package, coupled with heavy price promotions and within several years, Tylenol had become the most popular over-the-counter analgesic in the U.S.
A number of copycat attacks involving Tylenol and other products also took place. In 1986, Excedrin capsules in Washington state were tampered with, resulting in the deaths of Susan Snow and Bruce Nickell from cyanide poisoning and the eventual arrest and conviction of Bruce’s wife Stella of crimes connected to both deaths. That same year, Procter & Gamble’s Encaprin was recalled after a spiking hoax in Chicago and Detroit that resulted in a precipitous sales drop and a withdrawal of the pain reliever from the market.
The 1982 incident inspired the pharmaceutical, food, and consumer product industries to develop tamper-resistant packaging, such as induction seals and improved quality control methods. Moreover, product tampering was made a federal crime. The new laws resulted in Stella Nickell’s conviction in the Excedrin tampering case, to which she was sentenced to ninety years in prison.
Additionally, the tragedy prompted the pharmaceutical industry to move away from capsules, which were easy to contaminate as a foreign substance could be placed inside without obvious signs of tampering. Within the year, the FDA introduced more stringent regulations to avoid product tampering. This led to the eventual replacement of the capsule with the solid “caplet”, a tablet made in the shape of a capsule, as a drug delivery form and with the addition of tamper-evident safety-seals to bottles of many sorts.
In early January 2009, Illinois authorities renewed the investigation. Federal agents searched the home of James Lewis in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and seized a number of items. In Chicago, an FBI spokesman declined to comment but said “we’ll have something to release later possibly.” Law enforcement officials have received a number of tips related to the case coinciding with its anniversary. In a written statement, the FBI explained,
This review was prompted, in part, by the recent 25th anniversary of this crime and the resulting publicity. Further, given the many recent advances in forensic technology, it was only natural that a second look be taken at the case and recovered evidence.
In January 2010, both Lewis and his wife submitted DNA samples and fingerprints to authorities. Lewis stated “if the FBI plays it fair, I have nothing to worry about.”
On May 19, 2011, the FBI requested DNA samples from “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski in connection to the Tylenol murders. Kaczynski denied having ever possessed potassium cyanide. The investigation is still underway. The first four Unabomber crimes happened in Chicago and its suburbs from 1978 to 1980, and Kaczynski’s parents had a suburban Chicago home in Lombard, Illinois, in 1982, where he stayed occasionally.
On September 29, 1982, 12-year-old Mary Kellerman of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, woke up at dawn and went into her parents’ bedroom. She did not feel well and complained of having a sore throat and a runny nose. To ease her discomfort, her parents gave her one Extra-Strength Tylenol capsule. At 7 a.m. they found Mary on the bathroom floor. She was immediately taken to the hospital where she was later pronounced dead. Doctors initially suspected that Mary died from a stroke, but evidence later pointed to a more sinister diagnosis.
Tylenol Poison Victim Mary Kellerman
That same day, paramedics were called to the Arlington Heights home of 27-year-old postal worker Adam Janus. When they arrived, they found him lying on the floor. His breathing was labored, his blood pressure was dangerously low and his pupils were fixed and dilated. The paramedics rushed Adam Janus to the emergency room at Northwest Community Hospital, where they attempted to resuscitate him, but it was too late. Adam died shortly after he was brought to the hospital. His death was believed to be the result of a massive heart attack. However, doctors would later learn that his death was anything but natural.
Janus’ family funeral
The Janus family victims’ funerals
On the eve of Adam’s death, his aggrieved family gathered at his house to mourn his sudden passing and discuss funeral arrangements. Adam’s 25-year old brother Stanley and his 19-year-old bride, Theresa, both suffered from headaches attributed to the stress of losing a family member. To his relief, Stanley found on Adam’s kitchen counter a bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol. He took a capsule from the bottle and then gave one to his wife.
Shortly after taking the capsules, both Stanley and his wife collapsed onto the floor. The shocked family members immediately called an ambulance. Once again paramedics rushed to the home of Adam Janus and attempted to resuscitate the young couple. However, Stanley died that day, and his wife died two days later.
According to an article by Tamara Kaplan, Dr. Thomas Kim at the Northwest Community Hospital became suspicious following the deaths of the three family members. It was suspected that poisonous gas could have caused the untimely deaths of Adam, Stanley and Theresa. However, after consulting with John B. Sullivan at the Rocky Mountain Poison Center, it was determined that cyanide might be the culprit. Blood samples were taken from the victims and sent to a lab for testing.
While the blood samples were being tested for cyanide, two firefighters in another location of the Chicago suburbs discussed the four bizarre deaths that had recently taken place in the neighboring area. Arlington Heights firefighter Philip Cappitelli talked with his friend Richard Keyworth from the Elk Grove firehouse about Mary Kellerman and the fact that she had taken Tylenol before she died. Keyworth suggested that all the deaths could have been related to the medicine.
Following his friend’s suggestion, Cappitelli called the paramedics who worked on the Janus family and asked if they too had taken Tylenol. To both the men’s surprise, they discovered all three Janus family members had ingested the popular pain reliever. The police were immediately sent to the Kellerman and Janus homes to retrieve the suspicious bottles.
The following day, Keyworth, Sullivan and Kim’s hunches were confirmed. Cook County’s chief toxicologist, Michael Shaffer, examined the capsules and discovered that they were filled with approximately 65 milligrams of deadly cyanide, 10,000 times more than the amount needed to kill the average person. Moreover, the blood samples of all the victims further confirmed the belief that they were all poisoned.
McNeil Consumer Products, a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson and the maker of Extra Strength Tylenol, was immediately alerted to the deaths. An October 1982 Newsweek article reported that the company began a massive recall of their product and warned doctors, hospitals and wholesalers of the potential dangers. However, by then it was too late for three more victims of the deadly poison-laced Tylenol capsules.
Twenty-seven-year-old Mary Reiner of Winfield, Illinois, was recovering after the birth of her son when she unsuspectingly ingested the Tylenol laced with cyanide. She died a short time later. That same day, 35-year-old Paula Prince, a United Airlines stewardess, was found dead in her suburban Chicago apartment. Cyanide-filled Tylenol capsules were also found in her home. The seventh known victim of the Tylenol poisonings was 35-year-old Mary McFarland of Elmhurst, Illinois.
Soon after the national news stories on the tragic deaths from the tainted Tylenol, widespread fear swept throughout the country, especially in Chicago and its suburbs. The police drove through the city using loudspeakers to warn citizens about the potential dangers of Tylenol, which further compounded the people’s fears. Citizens across the country literally ran home to dispose of their bottles of Tylenol.
According to a Time article by Susan Tifft, hospitals in the Chicago area were flooded with telephone calls concerning Tylenol and fears of poisoning. Jason Manning’s article titled The Tylenol Murders stated that the growing nationwide panic prompted the head of Seattle’s Poison Control Center to inform citizens that if they had indeed been poisoned with cyanide, they would be dead before they were even able to make a telephone call to a hospital or the police.
Nevertheless, hospitals around the country admitted many patients under the suspicion of cyanide poisoning from Tylenol. The rapid influx of patients was mostly due to mixed signals from the health authorities concerning the threat and symptoms and the ensuing panic of people who really believed that they might have fallen victim to poisoning from the tainted capsules. However, although there were no new cases of poisoning related to Tylenol except for the seven known deaths, many states and retailers took drastic measures to assure that it remained that way.
Newsweek’s October 1982 issue stated that some state health departments actually banned all forms of Tylenol products. Moreover, many retailers completely removed Tylenol products from their shelves. Many other states and retailers decided to follow the FDA’s warning and remove only the products with particular serial numbers linked with the deaths that posed the greatest threats. Regardless, Tylenol’s reputation was virtually ruined by the scare because no one wanted to buy the products any longer for fears of being poisoned.
At stake were the reputations of McNeil Consumer Products, who manufactured the over-the-counter Tylenol capsules, and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson (J&J). The future of both companies greatly depended on how they were able to handle the alarming situation. The main problem they faced was that the drug, once trusted by millions worldwide, was now equated with death. Their first steps were to inform the public, find the source of the poisoning and determine if the cyanide had been impregnated into the capsules at the factory where they were manufactured or elsewhere.
In response to the deaths, Johnson and Johnson immediately issued a nationwide alert to the public, doctors and distributors of the drug. According to an article by Jeremy Cooke, they also issued a massive recall of 31 million Tylenol bottles, costing approximately $125 million. J&J also established a crisis hotline, so that consumers could obtain the latest information about the poisonings, safety measures and any other information concerning the drug. Around the same time, the company inspected the factories where the tainted bottles were produced to see if the cyanide was somehow put into the capsules during production.
Following inspections, the company determined that the cyanide was not introduced into the bottles at the factory, which left only one other possibility. The FBI, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and law enforcement agencies realized that someone had methodically taken the Tylenol bottles off the shelves at the stores where they were sold, filled the capsules with cyanide and returned them back to the shelves at a later period. Investigators had no evidence as to who might have committed the heinous crime and there was continuing fear that more deaths might occur unless they caught the Tylenol terrorist.
Looking for Answers
On October 2, 1982, another contaminated Tylenol bottle was discovered by police from a batch of bottles removed from a drug store in the Chicago suburbs. Thousands of other bottles were undergoing testing for traces of cyanide. Investigators had no idea how many other bottles might have been tampered with. In an effort to put an end to the senseless deaths, J&J offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the terrorist.
Investigators discovered that the cyanide-laced capsules were placed in six Chicago area stores: Jewel Foods in Arlington Heights, Jewel Foods in Grove Village, Osco Drug Store in Schaumburg, Walgreen Drug Store in Chicago, Frank’s Finer Foods in Winfield and another undisclosed retail outlet. Each store contained one tampered bottle with approximately three to ten tainted capsules, except for Osco Drug Store where two cyanide laced bottles were recovered.
It was suggested by the police that the bottles were randomly placed. However there was also a possibility that the terrorist may have purposely chosen those specific locations for unknown reasons. Some speculated that the terrorist could have held a grudge against the producers of Tylenol, society in general or even the stores in which the tainted bottles were found. It was further suggested that the killer many have lived within the vicinity of the drug stores, where the tampered bottles were placed.
Tampered Tylenol Placement Map
Tampered Tylenol Placement Map
Following tests on the capsules, toxicologists revealed the specific type of poison used, which was potassium cyanide. An article by researcher Wally Kowalski stated that potassium cyanide was mostly available to industries such as gold and silver mining, fertilizer production, steel plating, film processing and chemical manufacturing. Therefore, it was likely that the poisoner could have obtained the cyanide from such places and may have even worked in a related job. However, because there was very little evidence for investigators to work on to lead them to the identity of the killer.
Shortly after the random murders, investigators began a nationwide manhunt for the Tylenol terrorist. Although poison has historically been a weapon predominantly used by women to kill, investigators focused their search for an unknown male in connection with the crimes. Less than a month following the murders, police took into custody their first suspect.
According to a Newsweek article, a 48-year-old amateur chemist and dockhand that worked at a warehouse that supplied Tylenol to two of the stores where the tainted bottles were sold became the FBI and local law enforcement agencies primary suspect. The police claimed that he admitted to having worked on a project that involved the use of cyanide. The article further stated that after a search of his apartment, investigators found various weapons, two one-way tickets to Thailand and a suspicious book that described, “how to kill people by stuffing poison into capsules.”
Although the police lacked hard evidence connecting the dockhand with the Tylenol murders, they charged him with illegal possession of firearms. He was sent to jail and eventually released on a $6,000 bond. At about the same time, investigators focused their attention on a new suspect.
Shortly following the Tylenol murders, J&J received a handwritten extortion letter demanding $1 million dollars for an end to the poisonings. The extortionist asked J&J to respond to his demand via the Chicago Tribune. Instead, the company contacted the authorities who began to trace the letter’s source. It didn’t take them long to trace the letter to a man named James W. Lewis, a tax accountant and known con artist, who was also sought in connection with the brutal murder of an elderly man in Kansas City and a jewel robbery. The police quickly issued a warrant for Lewis’s arrest in connection with the Tylenol killings.
James W. Lewis
James W. Lewis
Several state law enforcement agencies and the FBI conducted a massive search for Lewis and his wife, LeAnn. The search led investigators across several states including Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Texas. Photographs and wanted posters of the couple were distributed across the country in local police stations, newsstands and public libraries.
During the last week of October, lab technicians in Chicago discovered yet another unsold tainted bottle of Tylenol in a grocery store in North Chicago. The bottle was found less than one block from where Paula Prince purchased the bottle containing the cyanide-laced capsules that ended her life one month earlier. The bottle was examined for fingerprints and other clues that might link the murders to the killer.
That same week, a man named Robert Richardson sent a letter to the Chicago Tribune that stated that he and his wife did not take part in the Tylenol murders and that they were unarmed. Robert Richardson was one of the many aliases used by James W. Lewis after his arrest for the murder of his elderly boss in Kansas City years earlier. Investigators revealed that week that the letter had been sent from New York City.
On November 11, 1982, J&J held a news conference stating that they were going to reintroduce the Tylenol products that were temporarily pulled off the market. However, this time the bottles were wrapped in new safety packaging. In an effort to restore consumer confidence, the new Tylenol bottles contained a triple-seal tamper resistant package.
Johnson and Johnson spent heavily to advertise the new packaging and offered consumers a $2.50 coupon towards the purchase of any Tylenol product. It took less than two months before consumer confidence was restored. According to Steven Fink’s book, Crisis Management, J&J was able to “regain more than 98 percent of the market share it had before the crisis.”
One month following Tylenol’s re-introduction into the market place, FBI agents received their biggest tip in connection with Lewises whereabouts. After a ten-week search for their suspect, investigators received information from a librarian who claimed to have seen Lewis on several occasions at the New York Public Library. The librarian said she was able to recognize him from “wanted” posters at her workplace.
On December 13, 1982, FBI agents surrounded Lewis in the reading room of the New York Public Library. He was immediately arrested and taken into custody for questioning. The following week, LeAnn Lewis turned herself into the Chicago police.
During the interview by police, the Lewises denied having anything to do with the poisoning of the Tylenol capsules. Moreover, James Lewis denied writing the extortion letter to J&J, even though his handwriting and a fingerprint on the letter was an exact match. Intriguingly, a December 1982 Newsweek article stated that Chicago officials disclosed that someone had sent another extortion letter to the White House, threatening to bomb it and create more Tylenol deaths unless Ronald Reagan changed his tax policies. Lewis vehemently denied writing the second letter even though his handwriting was a perfect match.
Aside from the letters, investigators could not find any evidence linking James Lewis or his wife to the Tylenol murders. Registration records produced by the police showed that during the time the bottles were tampered with, the Lewises were living in a hotel in New York. Further evidence proved that LeAnn Lewis was at her job daily in New York at the time and witnesses claim that James Lewis was known to meet her everyday for lunch and after work.
According to Newsweek, police were unable to find any bus, train or airline records indicating that the Lewises returned to Chicago during the time when the bottles were tampered with. The mounting evidence ruled out the couple as being involved in the Tylenol poisoning. Therefore, the FBI and Chicago law enforcement agencies were forced to accede that the Tylenol murderer was still on the loose. By this time, almost all the leads in the case had grown cold and the chances of finding the killer significantly reduced.
Although Lewis was never convicted for crimes directly related to the Tylenol deaths, he was eventually found guilty of extortion and six unrelated counts of mail and credit card fraud. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Lewis served only 13 years of his sentence before being released on parole in 1995.