On this date in 1982, 12 year old Mary Kellerman of Elk Grove Village, IL took an Extra-Strength Tylenol capsule for a sore throat and runny nose. Shortly after taking the capsule, she was found unconscious on the bathroom floor. She was rushed to the hospital where she was pronounced dead.
That same day, 27 year old Adam Janus was rushed to the hospital after losing consciousness in his Chicago-area home. Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful. He died shortly after arriving at the hospital. A heart attack was suspected as the cause of death. That evening, Janus’s family gathered at his home to mourn. His brother and sister-in-law, both suffering from headaches, each took Extra-Strength Tylenol from a bottle they had found on the kitchen counter. Both soon collapsed on the floor. An ambulance was called and they were rushed to the hospital where they both died.
The sudden deaths of three family members led investigators to focus on poisoning as the cause of death. Toxicology tests eventually showed that all three, as well as Mary Kellerman, had ingested large amounts of cyanide. The Extra-Strength Tylenol was eventually identified as the source of the poison. The public was alerted to the danger and a massive recall was instated by Johnson & Johnson (Tylenol’s manufacturer), but three more people in the Chicago-area had died by this time. The other victims were Mary Reiner, Paula Prince, and Mary McFarland.
As the investigation continued, it became apparent that the five bottles that had caused the deaths (as well as three others that were discovered during the recall) were tampered with in stores, as all had not been manufactured in the same plant. All of the poisoned capsules were found in the Chicago area. Several suspects emerged, including a man who attempted to extort $1 million from Johnson & Johnson, but there was insufficient evidence to link them to the crime.
In recent years the FBI has shown renewed interest in James Lewis, the man who was convicted in the $1 million extortion attempt. In January 2009, they searched his home in Massachusetts and took DNA samples from him and his wife.
In May 2011, the investigation began to focus on Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Kaczynski’s early crimes took place in the Chicago area, and his parents owned a home there at the time. The investigation remains open.
Crime Museum – Chicago Tylenol Murders
The Eighties Club – The Tylenol Murders
Wikipedia – Chicago Tylenol murders