Tylenol Murders: New Efforts to Solve the 40-Year-Old Case


It sounds like an urban legend, but it was chillingly real in 1982.

Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide sold in suburban Chicago have been linked to the deaths of seven people, sparking a nationwide panic that saw the Food and Drug Administration advising consumers across the country to stop using them. of Tylenol products.

No one has ever been charged with the murders.

Forty years after that terrifying period in September 1982, researchers say new evidence and a possible motive may be enough to finally solve the case.

Here’s what you need to know about the history of the case and the latest developments.

What are the Tylenol murders?

Seven people between the ages of 12 and 35 died in 1982 after ingesting extra-strength Tylenol capsules that were found to be laced with cyanide, a deadly chemical.

Seven people between the ages of 12 and 35 died in the Chicago area in 1982 after ingesting cyanide-laced Tylenol pills. (TODAY)

The pills were sold in suburban Chicago stores and bottles of Tylenol were immediately taken off the shelves to be tested by health departments for the presence of cyanide.

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Local police and prosecutors have been trying to solve the case for 40 years.

Three of the people were killed in Arlington Heights, where police last year told NBC Chicago they still have the pills, bottles and boxes as evidence.

Chicago City Health Department employees continue to test Tylenol medications for the presence of lethal cyanide in the department's lab on Oct. 7, 1982.  (Charles Knoblock/AP)

Chicago City Health Department employees continue to test Tylenol medications for the presence of lethal cyanide in the department’s lab on Oct. 7, 1982. (Charles Knoblock/TAUT)

“We are still getting tips that are being evaluated and investigated. We’re also still — we’re looking at emerging forensic technology,” Sgt. Joe Murphy told NBC Chicago last year.

Illinois state police told NBC News that the investigation is still ongoing.

Was anyone under investigation for the murders?

A decades-long investigation has centered on Massachusetts man James Lewis, 76, who was 36 at the time of the murders.

Lewis admitted to the FBI that he had sent a ransom note to Tylenol’s parent company, Johnson & Johnson, at the time, according to reports by The TAUT.

The publication reported this week that it has obtained video and thousands of documents outlining the current law enforcement case and a possible motive for the killings. NBC News has not reviewed that evidence.

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Tribune reporter Stacy St. Clair told NBC News correspondent Kathy Park TODAY Friday that a number of law enforcement sources close to the investigation have told her that Lewis is the only person currently described as a target of the investigation.

Advances in technology allowed investigators to determine the postmark date of Lewis’s extortion letter demanding $1 million be transferred to a bank account “if you want to stop the killing,” according to the TAUT’s review of the documents.

“As you can see, it’s easy to put cyanide in capsules that are on store shelves,” he wrote in the letter.

The new timeline suggests Lewis wrote the letter before the public knew the deaths were related to the contaminated Tylenol pills, according to the TAUT.

Lewis, who now lives in the Boston area, has long denied any involvement in the murders and has never been charged. NBC News contacted Lewis and received no response.

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Reporters for the TAUT tracked down Lewis last month as part of the investigative podcast “Unsealed: The Tylenol Murders” and asked if he had any theories as to who the Tylenol killer might be.

“Ladies, have you ever been harassed for 40 years for something you had nothing to do with?” he replied.

What were the consequences of the case and where is it now?

The panic caused by the Tylenol murders led to a lasting change in drug packaging.

Tamper-resistant pill boxes have been introduced with packaging that allows consumers to see if a bottle of pills or medicine has been opened or altered.

“Our highest responsibility has always been the health and safety of our consumers,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement to NBC News. “While this tragic incident remains unresolved, this event has led to significant improvements in the industry’s patient security measures, including the creation of tamper-evident packaging.”

As for the pending case, sources familiar with the investigation told the TAUT that charges are not imminent and may not come at all because the case has no physical evidence.

However, investigators believe circumstantial evidence is enough to make this a “taxable” case, but that decision would have to come from prosecutors, according to documents reviewed by the TAUT. NBC News did not review those documents.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com


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