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tylenol murders

The Tylenol Murders occurred in the Chicago area in the autumn of 1982. This was a sick and twisted mind that had a modus operandi the likes of which had rarely been seen before. The killer never came face to face with there victims, in fact, they never even knew who would fall prey to their evil act. The offender had tampered with bottles of the popular painkiller Tylenol, filling the capsules with lethal doses of cyanide before leaving them in numerous stores. The Individual behind the crimes was never caught.

Mary Kellerman

mary kellerman

On the morning of September 29, 1982, 12-year-old schoolgirl Mary Kellerman awoke and complained to her parents that she felt ill. To help ease the young girl’s sore throat and runny nose Mary was given an extra-strength Tylenol capsule.

Shortly after, at around 7 am, Mary was found lying unconscious on the bathroom floor of her Elk Grove Village home by her father. Emergency services were called immediately and Mary was rushed to the hospital. Tragically, at 9 30 am, Mary Kellerman was pronounced as deceased. It was at first believed the 12-year-old had died as the result of a stroke.

Adam Janus

On the same morning as Mary Kellerman’s death, 27-year-old Adam Janus had taken the day off of work due to feeling unwell. As he collected his young children from pre-school he called into a store and purchased a bottle of extra-strength Tylenol capsules.

Upon returning to his Arlington Heights home Adam took a few capsules. Shortly after he collapsed in his bedroom. He passed away soon after arrival at the Northwest Community Hospital.

Stanley And Theresa Janus

stanley and theresa janus

After the death of Adam Janus, the remainder of his family gathered at his home to mourn the loss of their loved one and talk over funeral arrangements. Among those that gathered were Adams younger brother Stanley Janus, who was 25, and his 19-year-old wife Theresa.

During the visit to the recently deceased Adam’s home, both Stanley and Theresa complained of having headaches. They looked to find something to ease their pain and came across a bottle of Tylenol in the bathroom cabinet. The young couple collapsed soon after taking the medicine.

Stanley Janus passed away that same evening at the hospital. His wife Theresa died two days later.

Linking The Tylenol Murders.

The first thoughts were that the Janus family may have been victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. However, after Dr Thomas Kin consulted a colleague at the Rocky Mountain Poison Center another potential cause came to light. It was suggested by John Sullivan that the symptoms sounded like those caused by cyanide.

Meanwhile that same evening a chance conversation between two firefighters from different stations led to the link between the Janus family deaths and that of Mary Kellerman.

Philip Cappitelli, of Arlington Heights station, was in conversation with Richard Keyworth of the Elk Grove station. Keyworth lived close to the home of Mary Kellerman and Cappitelli’s mother had worked with the young girl’s mother so she became a focus of there discussion.

During the chat, it was noted that Mary Kellerman had taken Tylenol prior to her death. Keyworth then pondered the idea of Tylenol been involved in the deaths of the Janus family. Cappitelli got in touch with the paramedics who had dealt with the Janus family. They confirmed that they had indeed taken Tylenol before they had collapsed. Keyworth and Cappitelli contacted Dr Thomas Kim with there hunch and the link between the deaths was made.

The bottles of Tylenol were retrieved from each scene. After testing it was revealed that some of the capsules in each bottle had been emptied and the contents replaced with deadly dosages of cyanide. The four victims were also tested and all came back positive for cyanide poisoning. Further testing found they were not the only victims.

Mary Reiner

mary reiner tylenol victim

Another victim of the Tylenol Murders was soon uncovered. 27-year-old Mary Reiner had only recently given birth to her fourth child and was still suffering the aches which that brings whilst recuperating at her home in Winfield.

To help soothe her pain Mary took a couple of Tylenol capsules in the hope of a little pain relief. She collapsed in front of her 8-year-old daughter soon after. Mary was rushed to Central DuPage Hospital, where she had her baby just days earlier. Sadly, Mary was declared dead not long after arrival.

Mary McFarland

mary mcfarland

30-year-old single mother and resident of Elmhurst, Illinois, Mary McFarland was the sixth victim of the Tylenol Murders. Mary was working at the Illinois Bell in Lombard on the day of her death.

During her shift, she started to get a bad headache and went to take something for it in the backroom. She was found collapsed on the floor after having taken a Tylenol capsule.

Paula Prince

paula prince final tylenol victim

The seventh and final known victim of the Tylenol Murders case was 35-year-old flight attendant Paula Prince. Paula was the only victim to live in the city of Chicago itself with the other victims all coming from the suburbs.

On the day of her death, Paula Prince had flown into O’Hare International Airport from Las Vegas. Whilst making her way home she called into a Walgreens store and purchased a bottle of Tylenol. A surveillance image of the purchase was captured.

Paula returned to her high-rise apartment near North Side and took the Tylenol to relieve the symptoms of a cold. Her body was found lying in a closet, with the open bottle of Tylenol on the bathroom sink, a couple of days later on October 1, 1982.

The Response

Law enforcement quickly went about trying to get the message out about the Tylenol Murders. Police cars hooked up to loudspeakers drove throughout the area warning people of the possible danger.

By this point, the authorities had also been in contact with McNeil Consumer Products, the division of Johnson & Johnson responsible for making Tylenol. To their credit, no attempt was made to keep the incident buried or quiet by McNeil Consumer Products. They immediately put the word out to pharmacists stocking Tylenol and issued a mass recall of the product and halted production. The company also established a hotline to help deal with the crisis.

In the days following the crisis, Johnson & Johnson also put up a reward of $100,000 for information leading to the conviction of the individual responsible for the heinous act. The reward was never claimed.

On November 11, 1982, six weeks after the Tylenol Murders occurred, the product returned to store shelves. Tylenol was now packaged in a new tamper-proof bottle. Many of the laws that exist today around the tamper-proof regulations exist and are a result of the murders.

Despite the events of late September/early October Tylenol quickly regained its popularity and most of its market share.

The Investigation

paula prince cctv
Surveillance footage of Paula Prince about to purchase the Tylenol which killed her.

It was evident that the Tylenol Murders were not the cause of a contaminated batch nor was the switch of capsules likely to have taken place within Mcneil’s premises. Chicago was the only area in which bottles were discovered with the cyanide-laced capsules present.

Officials were firm in the belief that the bottles had been stolen or purchased from stores before been returned to shelves with the cyanide now added. Unfortunately, this wasn’t helpful in identifying a suspect. This was unsurprising given store staff are more focused on looking for customers taking items as opposed to putting them back on the shelf.

The poisoned capsules of Tylenol came from various batches which backed up the belief they had been taken from different stores. The bottles containing the cyanide-laced capsules were located in the following stores:

  • Jewel Foods Store, 122 North Vail, Arlington Heights (1 bottle).
  • Walgreen Drug Store, 1601 North Wells, Chicago (1 bottle).
  • Frank’s Finer Foods Store, Winfield Road, Winfield (1 bottle).
  • Jewel Foods Store, 48 Grove Mall, Elk Grove Village (1 bottle).
  • Osco Drug Store, Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg (2 bottles).
  • Unnamed Location (2 bottles).

The bottles other than containing cyanide filled capsules differed greatly. The number of capsules replaced in each bottle varied as did the quality in which the capsules had been restored. Some were immaculate whilst others had clearly been tampered with. This has led to speculation from some over the years that more than one person was responsible for the Tylenol Murders.

Motive

None of this information was helpful in leading law enforcement towards a culprit. Unfortunately, a motive for the attacks was also unclear to investigators.

Police looked into the seven individuals who had been victims. It was after all possible that one of them was the killer’s actual target and the others used to cover it up and make it seem a random act. Alas, nothing came from this line of enquiry. The victims all seemed unlikely targets of a killer with little in the way of enemies and no large financial gains to be made by anyone related to any of the victims.

Another possibility looked into by officials as a possible motive was money. With no demand for money made by the offender, however, financial gain seemed an unlikely motive. It was, however, possible that the perpetrator made money from the attacks via the stock market, but again no evidence of this was discovered.

Eventually, law enforcement were simply left to ponder the possibility that they were looking for an individual with a personal axe to grind against either Johnson & Johnson or the world in general, perhaps specifically the Chicago area. The only thing investigators really had any confidence in at all was that the perpetrator was living in the Chicago area.

Copycats

Following the Tylenol Murders of 1982, a number of copycat tampering attacks took place. Over 200 incidents were reported shortly after the murders which led to the Tylenol Bill been passed in May 1983. The bill made it a federal crime to tamper with a product, label or container of any consumable or ingestible product if the person responsible knew it could result in bodily injury or death.

Further deaths, however, did occur due to product tampering. Diane Elsroth died after taking two cyanide filled Tylenol capsules on February 8, 1986, in Yonkers, New York at her boyfriends home. Despite being in the new tamper-proof bottles investigators found a further contaminated bottle at Woolworth’s in Westchester County. Again the individual responsible wasn’t identified. For Johnson & Johnson, this seemed a final straw as capsules of Tylenol ceased production and were replaced with Tylenol caplets.

Stella Nickell

stell nickell tylenol copycat

On June 11, 1986, Sue Snow of Auburn, Seattle, became the latest victim of product tampering. The 40-year-old had awoken at around 6 am with a bad headache and took two Excedrin capsules for relief before getting in the shower.

Sue Snow’s 15-year-old daughter Hayley found her 40 minutes later unconscious on the bathroom floor. She never regained consciousness and passed away later that day in the hospital.

Cyanide was again soon found to be the cause of death. Washington now found itself the latest location to enter a state of panic. Capsules were once more ordered to be taken off of store shelves. Other than the bottle found in Sue Snow’s home two further bottles were located with contaminated Excedrin, one in Auburn and one in nearby Kent.

During the hysteria, police were contacted by a 42-year-old widow named Stella Nickell. Nickell said that she believed her husband’s death on June 6, 1986 was the result of possible cyanide poisoning as he had taken four Excedrin shortly before he collapsed.

The initial cause of death had been put down to difficulties relating to emphysema but investigators decided to take a closer look. Law enforcement retrieved two bottles of Excedrin from Nickell’s home. Both bottles were found to be contaminated, which soon set off alarm bells for the investigating officers.

Despite only five bottles in total out of hundreds been found to contain the cyanide-laced capsules, Stella Nickell had managed to purchase two of them. There was a small chance there was nothing to this, however, once Nickell informed officers she bought the Excedrin from different stores at different times she became the prime suspect.

Stella Nickell had received life insurance of $31,000 for her husband Bruce, who by this point officers had confirmed died from cyanide poisoning. So why would she ring the police to investigate her husband’s death if she was responsible? It was soon discovered that if Bruce Nickell had died as the result of an accident the payout would instead be $176,000. The hospital originally ruled natural causes despite Stella trying her best to persuade them otherwise, now was her chance to get an accidental ruling and an extra $105,000 payout.

Stella Nickell was charged on December 9, 1987, with the murder of Sue Snow and her husband after a lengthy investigation which included a failed polygraph, testimony from Stella’s own daughter and a reading record full of books on poisoning. On May 9, 1988, almost two years after Bruce Nickell’s death, Stella Nickell was sentenced to 99 years imprisonment.

Suspects

Roger Arnold

Roger Arnold

In January 1984 49-year-old Roger Arnold was sentenced to 30 years for second-degree murder. He was convicted for the shooting of 46-year-old John Stanisha. The murder was a direct result of the aftermath of the Tylenol Murders.

In 1982 Roger Arnold who worked as a dockhand for a Jewel Foods warehouse found himself a suspect and under investigation in relation to the Tylenol Murders. Arnold, who was also said to be a keen DIY chemist, was soon cleared of any involvement. However, the brief glare of the media spotlight was something Roger Arnold struggled to cope with.

After having a nervous breakdown Arnold decided to take revenge on the man he believed had named him to authorities. He approached the man he believed responsible outside a tavern and shot him at point-blank range. Bar-owner Marty Sinclair was the intended target that night, John Stanisha was the innocent victim of mistaken identity.

Roger Arnold served fifteen years of his thirty-year sentence. He died in 2008.

James William Lewis

James William Lewis

Known con-artist James William Lewis became a suspect in the Tylenol Murders case after a letter sent to Johnson & Johnson was traced back to him. The handwritten letter had demanded a sum of $1 million in order to stop any further deaths. A manhunt was swiftly ordered by the FBI to track down James William Lewis along with his wife LeAnn.

In late October of 1982, Lewis sent another letter under the alias Robert Richardson to the Chicago Tribune newspaper. Lewis, who was also a person of interest for the murder of a man in Kansas City, denied any involvement in the Tylenol poisonings that had taken place weeks earlier in Chicago.

On December 13 the hunt for James William Lewis was over. He was arrested in New York City after a librarian had recognised a regular visitor as the man from the wanted posters which had been circulated by the FBI. LeAnn Lewis waited a week before handing herself in to authorities.

Just like he had done in the letter to the Chicago Tribune James William Lewis denied any involvement in the Tylenol Murders case. Lewis also pleaded innocence in regards to the letter demanding £1 million from Johnson & Johnson.

His denials about sending the letter were quickly rebuffed. The handwriting was clearly shown to be that of James William Lewis but more damming against his argument was the fact that his fingerprints were found on the letter. However, his denial about committing the murders was less easy to disprove.

The couple provided evidence that they had been in New York City at the time of the attacks which the FBI were unable to disprove. They checked all methods of travel for evidence proving that James William Lewis had returned to Chicago but came up empty-handed. Witnesses also collaborated LeAnn’s claim that her husband would meet her for lunch and collect her from work each day.

Despite doubts in the minds of several individuals working the case, James William Lewis was exonerated as a suspect in the Tylenol Murders. He was however convicted and handed a sentence of 20 years for various frauds and for extortion. Lewis was released on parole in 1995 after serving 13 years of his sentence.

In 2009 previously unreleased court papers revealed that the Department of Justice concluded that James William Lewis was the person responsible for the Tylenol Murders. but that they lacked the evidence to secure a conviction. James William Lewis continues to deny any involvement.

Ted Kaczynski

Unabomber Ted Kaczynski

Ted Kaczynski had long been considered a person the authorities should be looking at by the internets sleuthing community. The theory seemed largely ignored until in May 2011 it was revealed that the FBI had requested a DNA sample from Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber.

From 1978 until his capture in 1996 Kaczynski was responsible for the death of 3 people and leaving 23 others injured after a prolonged campaign of mail bombings targeting mainly universities and airlines.

Before branching out to other areas of the United States all of Kaczynski’s early attacks targeted the Illinois area. His parents also lived in Lombard, Chicago. If the locations of were the cyanide-laced capsules were found are mapped the Kaczynski’s family home is right at the heart of the map. Furthermore, Kaczynski could be placed in the area during the Tylenol Murders in 1982.

Ted Kaczynski has stated he had no involvement in the Tylenol poisonings, adding that he had never even been in possession of potassium cyanide. As of writing nothing further has come to light to suggest Ted Kaczynski was the person behind the Tylenol Murders.

Sources And Further Reading

https://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/October-2012/Chicago-Tylenol-Murders-An-Oral-History/

https://beyondthedash.com/blog/remembering/remembering-the-victims-chicago-tylenol-murders/7360

https://web.archive.org/web/20070310232932/http://www.truthinjustice.org/stella.htm

Police continue search for bearded man seen in Tylenol picture

https://www.upi.com/Archives/1982/10/02/Flight-attendant-Paula-Prince-Saturday-became-the-seventh-victim/2195402379200/

Chronology of events in Tylenol poisonings

Tylenol figure is convicted

Feds convinced Lewis was Tylenol Killer

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1388798/Unabomber-Theodore-Kaczynski-investigated-1982-Tylenol-poisoning.html