When we reach into our medicine cabinets for a pain reliever, we have options; Aleve, Advil, Aspirin, and Tylenol. Never expecting that the pills in those bottles are going to do anything besides take away the pain we are experiencing at the moment. However in 1982, seven innocent people died when taking Tylenol in the Chicago area, and the person or persons responsible have never been found.
It all started on September 29, 1982 when 12 year old Mary Kellerman passed away after taking an Extra-Strength Tylenol capsule.
Later that same day, a man named Adam Janus also died mysteriously after taking the medicine. Stanley and Theresa Janus also took the medicine and died that same day.
Mary Reiner, Mary McFarland, and Paula Prince, all died in the next three days.
It didn’t take investigators long to link the deaths to the medicine. It was discovered that the Tylenol capsules had all been laced with potassium cyanide.
The bottles all came from different factories, but since the deaths all happened in the Chicago area, it meant that the tampering happened at the stores, and not at the factory.
The manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, immediately cut all production and advertisements of the product. When they learned it was the capsules that had been tampered with, the company offered to replace the purchased capsules. The company recalled all the product from shelves nation wide.
In 1982, medications didn’t have all the tamper evidence that we have now. The bottles were sometimes in a box, but did not have a seal around them, nor other safety features. The capsules were then modified to become a caplet, similar is size, but not able to be tampered with like a regular capsule.
Investigators had little to go on. Johnson & Johnson began receiving letters shortly after the deaths, and as investigations began, from a man named James William Lewis. He claimed he was the one who tampered with the capsules and demanded $1 million to stop. However, James and his wife lived in New York and had zero ties to Chicago. He was never arrested for the murders, but he was convicted of extortion, and served 13 years in prison.
The mystery remains, who tampered with several bottles of Tylenol in the Chicago area and why? The investigation remains open, but nothing recent has been discovered.
Hopefully the families of the seven Tylenol victims have found some peace, even if they haven’t gotten any closure.