Cold Case May Become Closed Case

tylenol poison victims

I am referring to the 1982 Tylenol murders in Chicago when seven people died after taking Extra-Strength Tylenol medicine capsules which had been laced with potassium cyanide. This case, code-named TYMURS by the FBI, is still not solved. However, there has been a break in the case.

All along, the major suspect of this crime has been James Lewis, the individual who at the time of the poisonings mailed an extortion letter to Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturers of Tylenol, demanding $1 million to “stop the killing.” In addition, after his arrest, he gave authorities detailed plans on how the capsules could have been injected with lethal doses of cyanide. He, however, denied that he was the culprit and unfortunately, there was not enough evidence to charge him with this crime. He was charged with extortion and served 13 years of a 20-year sentence. He was released in 1995.

Now, however, with advances in DNA forensics, the government may have a second crack at him. Lewis has been ordered by the Massachusetts court to hand over DNA and fingerprint samples which will be checked against an original smudge found on one of the original tampered Tylenol bottles.

The Tylenol murders, which occurred near Halloween, resulted in a frenzy of panic throughout the country and changed the way foods and medicines are packaged in the U.S. Approximately six weeks after the initial reports of the poisonings, the FDA exercised their seldom-used right to bypass the notice-and-comment requirement of the Administrative Procedures Act, and went directly to a final rule, establishing the requirement for tamper-resistant packaging. Prior to this, there was no such regulation regarding packaging of medicines.

Johnson and Johnson acted swiftly during this crisis and recalled 31 million bottles of Tylenol capsules from store shelves and offered replacement product in the safer tablet form free of charge. Johnson and Johnson’s handling of this tampering crisis is considered by public relations experts to be one of the best in the history of public relations and a shining example of corporate social responsibility.


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