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Tylenol Poisonings Remain Unsolved 30 Years Later

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Discarded Tylenol

Tylenol discarded after the 1982 poisonings that left seven people dead in the Chicago area. (1982 File Photo; Credit: CBS)

Lisa Fielding Lisa Fielding
Lisa Fielding is a news anchor and reporter for Newsradio 780. She...
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CHICAGO (CBS) — A grim anniversary will come this weekend for one of the nation’s most notorious cold cases.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Lisa Fielding reports, Saturday, Sept. 29, will mark the 30th anniversary of the poisonings that left seven people dead in the Chicago area after they took over-the-counter Tylenol.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Lisa Fielding reports

The case remains unsolved, and FBI spokesman Ross Rice says no suspects have been named. But he hopes the evolution of technology will change that.

“There are usable DNA samples that were obtained to the original investigation,” Rice said. “We now have a means to analyze those DNA samples and compare them with known offenders in the Illinois database.”

Three decades ago, when Jane Byrne was mayor of Chicago and President Ronald Reagan was in his first term, the first tainted Tylenol victim – Mary Kellerman, 12, of Arlington Heights – collapsed and died on Sept. 29, 1982. She had taken some Tylenol for a head cold.

A short time afterward, postal worker Adam Janus, 27, also of Arlington Heights, also died, followed soon afterward by his brother, Stanley, and sister-in-law, Teresa.

New mother Mary Reiner, 27, of Winfield; Lombard phone center employee Mary McFarland, 31; and flight attendant Paula Jean Prince, 35, of the Old Town neighborhood also died suddenly within the next few days.

A reporter for the City News Bureau discovered that all the victims had taken Tylenol, and a panic ensued when that link was made public. Soon, manufacturer Johnson & Johnson ordered stores to clear its shelves of Tylenol, and Mayor Jane Byrne banned the drug in Chicago.

The case also spawned a national investigation that brought together city, state and federal authorities, and changed the marketing and packaging of over-the-counter drugs.

One man, James Lewis, was arrested after sending a letter to Johnson & Johnson demanding $1 million for him to “stop the killing.” But while Lewis was convicted of extortion and sent to prison, he was never charged with the Tylenol murders.

Lewis was back in the news just three years ago, when the FBI confiscated boxes and a computer from his home in Cambridge, Mass. But no charges against him were brought forth.

Last year, authorities confirmed they were seeking DNA samples from Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, in connection with the poisonings. But Kaczynski said he has never even possessed any potassium cyanide, the poison used in the Tylenol case.

Lewis’ attorney said in May 2011 that the developments surrounding Kazcynski were proof that his client was an “innocent person.”

A special task force was formed four years ago to reinvestigate the Tylenol murders. Rice says it is important to remind the public that the case still remains unsolved.

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