The 1982 Tylenol poisonings panicked the nation. Bottles were pulled off shelves across the U.S., and a massive criminal investigation got underway, hunting for the person who tainted the popular painkiller with deadly cyanide, killing seven people.
In our six-part series and companion podcast, we’ll take you inside law enforcement’s latest — and, possibly, last — attempt at solving these crimes. We also reported today that investigators are making a new push to hold someone responsible for the murders.
As the 40th anniversary of the 1982 Tylenol murders approaches, investigators are working with prosecutors on a now-or-maybe-never effort to hold a longtime suspect responsible for the poisonings that killed seven people in the Chicago area, the Tribune has learned.
This summer’s meetings mark the latest effort to pin the unsolved killings on James W. Lewis, a former Chicago resident who was convicted years ago of trying to extort $1 million from Johnson & Johnson amid a worldwide panic that arose after the victims took cyanide-laced capsules. He has denied responsibility for the poisonings. Read the full story here.
The story of the Tylenol murders begins at 6:15 a.m. on Sept. 29, 1982, when 12-year-old Mary Kellerman woke before sunrise with a nagging head cold that would keep her home from school.
After persuading her father to let her miss her classes, she went into the bathroom and swallowed an Extra-Strength Tylenol capsule that her mother had purchased at the grocery store the previous night.
Seconds later, her father heard coughing and then the sound of something hitting the floor. Read the full story here.
Within hours of finding cyanide in Tylenol capsules that killed three people in the northwest suburbs, the Cook County medical examiner’s office held a news conference to warn people about the potential poison in their medicine cabinets. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration then cautioned the public against taking the pain reliever in capsule form.
In Illinois, some towns began pulling bottles from the store shelves and sent police officers down the street with bullhorns encouraging people to throw out their Tylenol. Police departments and fire stations began collecting bottles, as well.
And a massive criminal investigation was soon underway. Read the full story here.
Reporters Christy Gutowski and Stacy St. Clair interviewed more than 150 people, many of whom are retired but continue to give their time and knowledge to investigators still working the case. The team also reviewed tens of thousands of pages of records, including sealed affidavits and other confidential documents that outline law enforcement’s best evidence. Read the full story here.
How a single bottle of Extra-Strength Tylenol killed three members of a close-knit Polish clan. See the map and timeline here.
In the fall of 1982, eight bottles of Tylenol in the Chicago area were found to be tainted with potassium cyanide. Five of those bottles caused seven fatalities, and testing identified three other poisoned bottles that were turned in to authorities or discovered on pharmacy shelves. Here’s what we know about each bottle.
At the core of the Tylenol case are seven people, from Elk Grove Village to Chicago, who died simply because they took some Extra-Strength Tylenol for their aches and pains. Their deaths left children, spouses, parents, siblings and friends to mourn.
Here is how the murders unfolded 40 years ago over several days in late September, and a remembrance of each person. Read the full story here.
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“Apparently a very sophisticated, very malicious person is at large who had to spend a lot of time and a lot of effort to lace these capsules with cyanide,” said Police Chief Carl Sosta of Winfield, where one of the DuPage victims lived.
Elmhurst Police Sgt. John J. Millner said: “We’re investigating it as a homicide simply because someone had to be crazy enough to do that. The thing is going to boil down to where’s the stuff (cyanide) coming from?” Read the full story here.
Two suburban firefighters happened to compare notes Wednesday night about unusual deaths in their suburbs, Elk Grove Village and Arlington Heights.
Out of their telephone conversations, the first suspicion arose that some bottles of a popular painkiller held capsules that were deadly poison.
“I said, ‘This is a wild stab, but maybe it’s Tylenol,’ ” recalled firefighter Richard Keyworth of Elk Grove Village. Read the full story here.
If you are the Tylenol killer, your whole murderous exercise may have seemed beautiful in the flawlessness of its execution. You doctored the capsules, and the people died, and you put fear in hearts all over the nation. If you are the killer, the success of your mission may be sustaining you.
If you are the Tylenol killer, though, you may be harboring just the vaguest curiosity about the people on the other end of your plan: the people who were unfortunate enough to purchase the bottles you had touched. Read the column here.