Do you remember 1982? It’s the year Michael Jackson’s Thriller was released. It’s the year John Belushi died of a drug overdose. And it’s also the year that people stopped trusting everyday products on drug store shelves.
Have you ever wondered where those little tamper-proof seals came from? You know, the foil under the lid which warns you not to consume the product if the seal is missing or broken. Those didn’t exist before 1982, and it was very easy for someone with bad intentions to do some serious harm.
1982 wasn’t only the year that one of the decade’s worst serial killers, Clifford Robert Olson, was convicted. It was also the year that the Tylenol Murders occurred. Six adults and one child were killed as a result of someone lacing Extra Strength Tylenol capsules with potassium cyanide. The tainted drugs were distributed at drug stores across the Chicago area – the case remains unsolved.
The Tylenol Murders Victims
On September 29, 1982, 12 year old Mary Kellerman woke up feeling ill. Complaining of a sore throat and a stuffy nose, her parents gave Mary one Extra Strength Tylenol capsule and let her stay home from school.
Shortly after giving Mary the Tylenol, father Dennis Kellerman now reports hearing Mary enter the bathroom. He states that he had heard something fall to the floor, and called at the bathroom door to check on her.
Kellerman hears no response, and upon opening the bathroom door he finds his daughter unconscious on the floor. Mary’s father then called 911 and paramedics arrived, but were unable to resuscitate Mary. She was pronounced dead at the hospital less than 4 hours after taking the medicine.
Adam Janus was a postal worker who lived in the suburbs of Chicago. He took the day off from work on September 29, as he felt like he was getting a cold. He stopped at a local Jewel Drug to buy some Tylenol, then picked up a neighbor’s child from preschool. After lunch, Janus took two Tylenol and said that he would take a nap. Only a few minutes later, he collapsed in the kitchen, and paramedics could not revive him.
Stanley and Teresa Janus
Adam Janus was close with his brother, Stanley. After Adam’s death, Stanley (25) and wife Teresa (19) drove to Adam’s Arlington Heights home to mourn their family member. Distressed and grieving, they took Tylenol from Adam’s medicine cabinet. They died soon after.
Mary Lynn Reiner
Mary Lynn Reiner was a 27 year old new mother from Winfield, Illinois. She was at home, a week after having given birth to her fourth child. On September 29, she didn’t feel well and took some Tylenol. Very shortly after taking the medicine, she collapsed in the living room. Her husband arrived home soon afterward, and called an ambulance. Mary Lynn Reiner was taken to Central DuPage Hospital, but she didn’t survive.
Mary McFarland was at work in Lombard. The 31 year old complained of a headache, and went into the back room to take some Tylenol. It only took several minutes before Mary was unconscious. She was a single mother of two boys, ages 4 and 18 months old.
Paula Prince was a 35 year old flight attendant from Chicago. On her way home from work, she stopped at an Old Town drugstore and bought a bottle of Tylenol. Tired, she returned to her apartment and took some medicine before lying down. Police discovered her body on October 1, 1982.
The Tylenol Murders: What Really Happened?
The Tylenol Murders is not a closed case. It’s certainly an inactive case, and law enforcement has stated that there’s simply nothing left to do. There are no current leads, and unless someone steps forward and speaks, the Tylenol Murderer will likely never be found, making this one of the most troubling unsolved serial murders.
There have, however, been several leads in the past and more than a few theories. Several of these theories come from those directly involved with the incidents in September 1982. Former Chicago Police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek supplied reporters with one possible theory. He claims that the Tylenol Murders were a cover up act – a series of random murders to cover up one, intentional murder.
Richard Keyworth was a first responder firefighter in Elk Grove Village, where Mary Kellerman lived and died. Keyworth’s opinion is that the Tylenol Murders were an attempt to show how weak the United States economy is. Just one incident like the Tylenol Murders would bring the economy to a standstill. In a way, it did.
Tyrone Fahner, who was Illinois Attorney General at the time, has a similar theory to Keyworth’s. He still believes that the Tylenol Murders were a random act of terrorism- the first real act, in a manner of speaking. All three theories may be plausible, but none are proven. They instead serve as evidence of just how baffling the Tylenol Murders case is.
Tylenol Murder Suspects
Though the case has left law enforcement scratching their heads, there have been several names which have come up in connection with the Tylenol Murders. None of the suspects have been tried for or found guilty of the murders, but the investigation remains open and ongoing.
Roger Arnold was a chemist from the Chicago area. He worked at a Jewel Foods warehouse, and had worked with Mary Reiner’s father. Arnold’s wife was ill in the hospital, and he frequently visited her there – the medical center was directly opposite the pharmacy where Mary Reiner had purchased her Tylenol.
Roger Arnold was overheard discussing the murders in a bar one evening, and an anonymous patron tipped the police. Arnold was arrested, but it was determined that he had no connection to the murders.
Roger Arnold, however, cracked soon after. In 1984, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for shooting John Stanisha point blank. Arnold had mistaken Stanisha for the bar’s owner, Marty Sinclair. Roger Arnold believed that it was Sinclair who had tipped the police.
Chicago resident Laurie Dann was also briefly considered in the Tylenol Murders. Dann had been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and had a long history of bizarre behavior. She accused her ex-husband of abusive behavior, and her ex-boyfriend of rape.
In 1988, she attempted to lace snacks, drinks and cereal with diluted cyanide. No one became seriously ill, but that same year Dann entered an Illinois elementary school and killed one child. Five other children were wounded. Later, at her home surrounded by law enforcement, Laurie Dann turned the gun on herself.
James W Lewis
James W. Lewis was perhaps the most investigated of the possible suspects, as he brought attention to himself in the case. During the investigative phase of the Tylenol Murders, Lewis wrote a letter to Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Tylenol. He demanded that the company pay him $1 million to stop the killings.
Lewis was a known extortionist, but was living in New York at the time of the crimes, and no connection was found between the man and the Tylenol Murders. Lewis was, however, charged with extortion and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was released after 13 on parole.
In 2009, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reopened their investigation. Lewis’s office, home and a storage unit were searched, and a number of items seized. Lewis was not charged with the Tylenol murders, however.
Tylenol Murders Ongoing Investigation
It’s difficult to say if a true suspect in the Tylenol Murders will be found. The FBI do continue their investigation, and are now making use of more modern forensics tools. But law enforcement still seems to be on a wild goose chase, going so far as to ask the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski for DNA samples. No connection was found.
In 2011, a former employee of Johnson & Johnson self published a book titled The Tylenol Mafia. Scott Bartz, in his book, claimed that the Tylenol killer did not put capsules into bottles of the drug in stores. Instead, he claimed, the poison was placed somewhere in the supply chain.
Tylenol Murders Copycats
If there’s one thing that can be said for the Tylenol Murders, it’s that they created a national panic. Consumers were afraid to buy drugs of any kind, and Johnson & Johnson created the tamper evident packaging still in use today. A nationwide recall was initiated.
But another effect of the Tylenol Murders was that copycat killers were given a few ideas. In 1986, Stella Nickell of Washington state killed Sue Snow with cyanide-laced Excedrin. This murder was an attempt to cover the murder of her husband, Bruce. Bruce Nickell and Sue Snow were the only two deaths in this case.
In 1993, Joseph Meling laced Sudafed with cyanide and gave it to his wife, Jennifer. Jennifer Meling survived the incident, but Meling killed Kathleen Daneker and Stan McWhorter with laced Sudafed purchased from drug stores.
Tylenol Murders Today
There have, to date, been no convictions in the Tylenol Murders case. There have been leads, and even a few confessions by callers to the FBI, but no solid case has been made against any one suspect.
The FBI claims that the Tylenol Murders is an open case. But as mentioned, they’ve just got nowhere to go with it. It seems all leads have been exhausted, and while theories have surfaced about the case, none have been proven accurate, and the Tylenol Murders remain unsolved.