In the News: The Tylenol Killings | Bleader

In the News: The Tylenol Killings



This afternoon James Lewis, convicted of extortion in the still-unsolved 1982 Tylenol murders, in which seven people died after ingesting Tylenol tainted with cyanide, was forced to give a DNA sample and fingerprints in response to a DuPage County grand jury. Investigations into the murders have been reopened.

Ten years ago, Joy Bergmann's Reader cover story "A Bitter Pill" offered a chilling profile of Lewis, including a link to an earlier murder.

Since then Lewis has also been accused of rape.

From Bergmann's story:

On the morning of September 29, 1982, 12-year-old Mary Kellerman awoke with a sore throat. The Elk Grove Village girl opened the bathroom medicine cabinet and took two Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules. In seconds she collapsed to the floor. Paramedics thought her symptoms indicated a stroke or heart attack. Nothing they tried would bring her back.

That same day, Adam Janus, 27, stayed home from his postal job suffering from a chest cold. The Arlington Heights man reached for a Tylenol and fell into a coma at 11:54 AM.

That afternoon, Mary Reiner, 27, stopped in at Frank's Finer Foods in Winfield to buy a bottle of Tylenol. She had recently delivered her fourth child and complained of aches. Forty-five minutes later, she too became comatose.

A hectic day at the Illinois Bell Phone Center in Lombard sent Mary McFarland, 31, looking for migraine relief. After a trip to the ladies' room, she walked back into the office and, to the horror of her coworkers, dropped to the floor.

Around 5 PM the confused, bereaved family of Adam Janus gathered in his home to console each other and discuss funeral arrangements. Grief stricken, his younger brother, Stanley, and his sister-in-law, Theresa, both complained of headaches. Someone mentioned seeing a bottle of Tylenol in the bathroom.

Minutes later Stanley collapsed in the living room. As paramedics loaded him onto a stretcher, Theresa fell to the floor. Authorities evacuated the house and put the family and medical workers under quarantine, suspecting some sort of contagion or toxic gas.

That evening Paula Prince, a 35-year-old Chicago flight attendant, was exhausted after arriving late from a Las Vegas run. She drove to the Old Town Walgreens near her LaSalle Street apartment. An ATM surveillance camera captured her buying some Extra-Strength Tylenol around 9 PM.

Prince went home, put on a flowery nightgown, took some capsules, and collapsed shortly thereafter. Her body was discovered two days later, her face still half smeared with cold cream.

While Paula Prince was making her deadly purchase, two suburban firefighters—Richard Keyworth of Elk Grove Village and Phillip Cappitelli of Arlington Heights—were on the phone talking about the strange calls their departments had received that day.

Cappitelli said that his mother-in-law worked with Mary Kellerman's mother at United Airlines, where everyone was upset by the mysteriousness of the girl's death. Keyworth pulled the incident report and described it to him. Cappitelli remarked on its similarities to the three Janus deaths.

Keyworth then noticed a mention of Tylenol in the Kellerman document and said to his friend, "This is a wild stab, but maybe it's the Tylenol."

Following a mad series of phone calls, police officers found the Kellerman bottle tossed in a station desk drawer. Sirens screaming, they delivered it to Northwest Community Hospital, where doctors had already started to suspect that the Janus family had been poisoned.

As soon as investigators opened the capsules, the distinctive cyanide scent of bitter almonds confirmed the worst.

"It was just nuts," remembers Richard Brzeczek, Chicago Police superintendent at the time.

Within 72 hours of Mary Kellerman's death, an unprecedented army of federal, state, and local law enforcement agents were on the case. Product tampering had happened before, but never with such random, deadly results. An official Tylenol Task Force convened at a command post in Des Plaines while Brzeczek maintained his own crew out of Chicago Police Department headquarters.