Chicago Tylenol murders
|Chicago Tylenol Killings|
|Location||Chicago metropolitan area, United States|
|Date||September 29/30, 1982|
|Poisoning, mass murder|
The Chicago Tylenol murders were a series of poisoning deaths resulting from drug tampering in the Chicago metropolitan area in 1982. The victims had all taken Tylenol-branded acetaminophen capsules that had been laced with potassium cyanide. A total of seven people died in the original poisonings, with several more deaths in subsequent copycat crimes.
These incidents led to reforms in the packaging of over-the-counter substances and to federal anti-tampering laws. The actions of Johnson & Johnson to reduce deaths and warn the public of poisoning risks have been widely praised as an exemplary public relations response to such a crisis.
No suspect was ever charged or convicted of the poisonings. New York City resident James William Lewis was considered the prime suspect, and was convicted of extortion for sending a letter to Johnson & Johnson that took credit for the deaths and demanded $1 million to stop them.
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. Elsewhere in the Chicago area, Adam Janus of Arlington Heights, Illinois, died in hospital later that day, for unknown reasons at first—which would later be discovered as including the ingestion of Tylenol. Shortly thereafter, Adam Janus' brother, Stanley, and sister-in-law, Theresa, of Lisle, Illinois, also died sometime after gathering to mourn his death. Investigations later revealed they had also consumed pills from the same Tylenol bottle. In the coming days, Mary McFarland of Elmhurst, Illinois, Paula Prince of Chicago, and Mary Reiner of Winfield also died in similar incidents. Subsequent investigations by police soon discovered a common denominator: all the victims had recently taken Tylenol. Tylenol samples from each case were examined, and discovered to have been tainted with cyanide. Having now determined the cause of death, police issued urgent warnings via the media, and also sent patrols through the greater Chicago metropolitan area and suburbs issuing warnings over loudspeakers to discontinue use of all Tylenol products.
Police, knowing that various sources of Tylenol were tampered with, ruled out manufacturers, as the tampered-with bottles came from different pharmaceutical companies—and the seven deaths had all occurred in the Chicago area, so sabotage during production, was ruled out. Instead, police concluded that they were likely looking for a culprit who was believed to have acquired bottles of Tylenol from various retail outlets. Furthermore, they concluded the source was most likely supermarkets and drug stores, over a period of several weeks, with the culprit likely adding the cyanide to the capsules, then methodically returning to the stores to place the bottles back on the shelves. In addition to the five bottles that led to the victims' deaths, three other tampered-with bottles were later discovered.
In a concerted effort to reassure the public, 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 of its products that contained acetaminophen after it was determined that only these capsules had been tampered with. Johnson & Johnson offered to exchange all Tylenol capsules already purchased by the public for 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 consistently denied all 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 unrelated 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.
In early 1983, at the FBI's request, Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene published the address and grave location of the first and youngest victim, Mary Kellerman. The story, written with the Kellerman family's consent, was proposed by FBI criminal analyst John Douglas on the theory that the perpetrator might visit the house or gravesite if he were made aware of their locations. Both sites were kept under 24-hour surveillance for several months, but the killer did not surface.
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.
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 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.
In 2011, Scott Bartz, a Johnson & Johnson whistle-blower and former employee, claimed the poisoned Tylenol had actually been tampered with somewhere along the repackaging and distribution links in Tylenol’s supply chain, rather than at retail locations.
Three more deaths occurred in 1986 from tampered gelatin capsules. A woman died in Yonkers, New York, after ingesting "Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide". 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 Nickell'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.
Johnson & Johnson response
Johnson & Johnson received 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 the highest market share for the over-the-counter analgesic in the U.S.
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, for which she was sentenced to ninety years in prison.
Additionally, the incident 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.
- Douglas, John E.; Olshaker, Mark (1999). The Anatomy of Motive – The FBI's Legendary Mindhunter Explores the Key to Understanding and Catching Violent Criminals. New York City: Scribner. pp. 103–104. ISBN 0-684-84598-9.
- "5 Crisis Management Truths from the Tylenol Murders". 4 October 2012.
- Markel, Howard (September 29, 2014). "How the Tylenol murders of 1982 changed the way we consume medication". PBS NewsHour. Retrieved December 6, 2017.
- Douglas, 106.
- Bell, Rachael. "The Tylenol Terrorist". Crime Library. truTV.
- Emsley, John. Molecules of Murder: Criminal Molecular and Classic Cases. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2008, p. 174.
- "Feds Convinced Lewis Was Tylenol Killer". WCVB-TV. February 12, 2009. Archived from the original on October 30, 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2009.
- Lavoie, Denise (January 11, 2010). "Friend: Tylenol Suspect Submits DNA, Fingerprints". Associated Press (via ABC News). Retrieved November 29, 2014.
- "Tylenol Figure Is Convicted". Associated Press (via The New York Times). January 15, 1984.
- Greene, B. American Beat. Penguin Books (1984), pp. 344–50. ISBN 0140073205
- "Tragedy in Winnetka: The Answers Are Few". Milwaukee Sentinel. May 25, 1988. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
- Saltzman, Jonathan (February 5, 2009), "Fatal Tampering Case Is Renewed", The Boston Globe
- "FBI Searches Home of Man Linked to Tylenol Deaths". Associated Press (via Fox News). February 4, 2009. Retrieved March 7, 2010.
- Fifis, Fran (February 5, 2009). "Law Enforcement To Review Tylenol Murders". CNN. Retrieved March 7, 2010.
- Woolner, Ann (May 19, 2011). "FBI Wants Unabomber's DNA for 1982 Tylenol Poisoning Probe". Bloomberg News. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
- "FBI wants to test Unabomber DNA in Tylenol killings".
- Bergmann, Joy. "The Tylenol Mafia".
- Fletcher, Dan (February 9, 2009). "A Brief History of the Tylenol Poisonings". TIME. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
- Food and Drug Administration, United States Department of Health and Human Services (November 4, 1998). "Tamper-Evident Packaging Requirements for Over-the-Counter Human Drug Products (Final Rule)". Federal Register. 63 (213): 59463–59471. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
- Norman, Michael (February 14, 1986). "2D TAINTED BOTTLE OF TYLENOL FOUND BY INVESTIGATORS". The New York Times. p. B2. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
- Tibbits, George. "Woman Guilty of Killing 2 in Poisoned Excedrin Case". The Boston Globe – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Seattle, Washington. Retrieved May 10, 2012.
- "Retired Drugs: Failed Blockbusters, Homicidal Tampering, Fatal Oversights". Wired.com. October 1, 2008.
- Jerry Knight (October 11, 1982). "Tylenol's Maker Shows How to Respond to Crisis". The Washington Post. p. WB1.
- Kaplan, Tamara. "The Tylenol Crisis: How Effective Public Relations Saved Johnson & Johnson". The Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved February 12, 2010.
- N. R. Kleinfield. "Tylenol's Rapid Comeback". The New York Times.
- "§ 1365. Tampering with consumer products" (PDF). TITLE 18—CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE. United States Government Printing Office. pp. 343–345. Retrieved December 4, 2011.
- Bergmann, Joy (November 2, 2000). "A Bitter Pill – Someone Killed Seven People by Putting Cyanide in Tylenol Capsules – When James Lewis Was Caught for Writing an Extortion Letter, Prosecutors Appeared To Stop Looking for the Killer – Almost 20 Years Later No One Has Been Convicted of the Murders". Chicago Reader. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
- Mikkelson, Barbara & David P. "Tylenol Murders" at Snopes.com: Urban Legends Reference Pages.
- Wolnik, Karen A.; Fricke, Fred L.; Bonnin, Evelyn; Gaston, Cynthia M.; Satzger, R. Duane (March 1984). "The Tylenol Tampering Incident – Tracing the Source". Analytical Chemistry. 56 (3): 466A–470A, 474A. doi:10.1021/ac00267a003. PMID 6711821.