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Chicago Tylenol Murders

Updated on June 16, 2017

Seven people were murdered from taking the pain relief medication Tylenol that was tainted with potassium cyanide poison in 1982 in the Chicago area of the U.S.A. The incident was code named TYMURS by the F.B.I. The manufacturers of Tylenol Extra Strength capsules were forced to the repackaging of over the counter medication which led to reforms and federal anti-tampering laws. No one was ever charged for such a deliberate act of violence and disregard for human life. A reward of $100,000 was posted by the parent company Johnson & Johnson for the apprehension and imprisonment of the "Tylenol Killer" there were no claims filed.

On September 29, 1982, innocent Mary Kellerman who resided in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, died after taking a capsule of the Extra Strength Tylenol she was only 12 years old. This only got worse when Adam Janus who lived in Arlington Heights, Illinois, died at the hospital shortly after taking the capsule, Adam's brother Stanley from Leslie, Illinois, and his sister-in-law Theresa gathered to mourn Adams passing, who both had taken capsules from the same bottle as Adam died later. Then there were Mary Mcfarland of Elmhurst, Illinois, Paula Prince from Chicago, and Mary Reiner from Winfield, whom also died from such malicious intent. The cause of this death was discovered soon after investigation linking the deaths to Tylenol, which lead to urgent warnings broadcasted with a loud speaker throughout the neighborhoods in Chicago from police officers.

All the deaths occurred within the Chicago area, and the tainted bottles came from different factories. Could this have been some type of conspiracy? This theory was ruled out as sabotage was dismissed. The Later investigation had revealed that the culprit/culprits had entered several supermarkets and pharmacies within a few weeks. Packages of Tylenol were removed from shelves and contaminated with solid cyanide compound at other locations which were placed back on shelves, there were five bottles that led to the death of seven victims and three more contaminated bottles were later discovered.

The Tylenol Scare had caused Johnson & Johnson to issue a nationwide recall of some 31,000,000 bottles of Tylenol products valued at about $100,000,000, which included warnings to hospitals and distributors. After the recall, Johnson & Johnson also advise that consumers should refrain from using any product containing acetaminophen, later it was discovered that only capsules had contaminants which were offered the exchange of capsules for tablets that were bought previously.

Throughout the investigation, a man by the name of James William Lewis tried to extort money from Johnson & Johnson by sending them a letter demanding $1 million to stop the contamination of cyanide poisonings. The investigation revealed that there was no evidence to validate his claims because James and his wife were residing in New York at the time of the incidents. James Lewis claims had cost him 13 years of his life out of a 20-year sentence for extortion, he was released and placed on parole in 1995. The Department of Justice more or less retracted their initial claim of the link between James and the crime of Tylenol poisoning. Court documents that were released in 2009 concluded that James Lewis was the culprit associated with the murders, despite facts, there weren't enough evidence for charges that are now on file, Lewis has denied all involvement of the crime for several years.

Another man, Roger Arnold, was also a suspect and was investigated and cleared of the murders. Arnold nervous breakdown was blamed on Marty Sinclair a bar owner brought on by the media attention. John Stanisha was shot and killed by Arnold in the summer of 1983, whom he mistook for Sinclair. Arnold was convicted of second-degree murder in January 1984 of which he served 15 years out of a 30-year sentence for killing a man unbeknown to him.

Yet there were several other suspects like Laurie Dann, who was on a killing spree from poisoning to shootings in may 1988 in areas of Winnetka, Illinois, but there was no evidence to link Dann to the murders.

Then there was Ted Kaczynski (AkA) "Unabomber" on May 19, 2011, the FBI requested DNA of him to include into the investigation for the killings which was based on theory.

There was also speculations that the initial findings from the seven deaths of Tylenol were not true as reported in 1982 by Johnson & Johnson company. It was disputed by a former employee of J&J that the poison was introduced through a distributor's warehouse in the Chicago area which is illustrated in a book published in 2011 from a statement of former employee Scott Bartz.

The Johnson & Johnson company was commended for their handling of the Tylenol crisis which indicates how cooperation should handle disasters. The further comparison provides example of the Three Mile Island incident that had made damage control worse than the original incident. Assuring the recall through a developed relationship with the Chicago Police Department, FDA, and the FBI was applauded, which also paved the way to have more involved participation in searching for the criminals that created and implementing ways to prevent future tampering. During the period of this violent crime the company endure a devastating financial blow which impacted the decline in market share from 35 % to 8 %, due to the aggressive recall of the product Tylenol was able to recover in less than a year, and reintroduced capsules along with triple-sealed package, and also boosted price promotions that leveraged Tylenol as the most popular over the counter analgesic in North America.

Copycat crimes involving Tylenol and similar products like the 1986 Excedrin tampering murders that followed a few years after Tylenol which included one incident in Chicago; this copycat behavior ended some of these products that were prompted through hoaxes, unlike Tylenol. These Acts of violence inspired pharmaceutical manufacturers to apply precautions to further improve tamper-proof packaging, and also implemented product tampering a federal crime.

These incidents prompted the industry to move away from capsules that encourage contaminates of foreign substances that would not have recognized signs of tampering. Stringent regulations were implemented that led to the replacement of capsules with a solid tablet shaped as capsules, within a year

The investigation was reopened in Illinois in January 2009 that encouraged the FBI search of Lewis home and retrieved items that FBI spoke person declined to comment. Investigators have a number of leads to follow up on that were prompted by the 25 anniversary of the murders, encouraging forensic technology.
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    • alvairs profile imageAUTHOR

      Barrington Nixon 

      5 years ago from Brampton Ontario Canada

      You are welcome, Thank you.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      This was really helpful. Mostly because, I'm researching the Tylenol Murders. Thanks, I needed this.


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