Case Studies
Will ‘Tylenol Murders’ Case of 1982 Ever Be Solved?

Will ‘Tylenol Murders’ Case of 1982 Ever Be Solved?

It was in Chicago in the year 1982, where seven people between the ages of 12 and 35 years old died after ingesting extra-strength ‘Tylenol’ capsules that were found to have been laced with cyanide, a deadly chemical. At that time ‘Tylenol’ was a bestseller painkiller in the United States.

Still after 40 years of incident, no one has been charged with the murders. The investigators say new evidence and a potential motive may be enough to finally solve the case.

The police officers in Arlington Heights outside of Chicago said that they still have the evidence- pills, bottles, boxes and more which are waiting for a break in the case, saying it was still an active homicide.

The panic stemming from the Tylenol murders resulted in a permanent change in the packaging of medicine. Tamper-resistant pill containers were introduced with packaging that allows consumers to notice if a bottle of pills or medication has been opened or altered.

The person that investigators, for years, have identified as suspect number one is James Lewis. During the height of the scare, as people were collapsing in cyanide comas, Lewis threatened Tylenol maker Johnson & Johnson to pay $1 million or the killings would continue.

Following a nationwide manhunt for Lewis, he was arrested and convicted of extortion. Lewis was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. He was released from prison in October 1995 and now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

At one point in 2007 and 2008, Lewis said it took him three days to write the letter he sent to Johnson & Johnson. Advances in technology have allowed investigators to determine the postmark date on the extortion letter written by Lewis. 

According to the Chicago Tribune, the new timeline suggests Lewis wrote the letter before the public knew the deaths were linked to the tainted Tylenol pills. Lewis changed the timeframe in a later interview, saying he had “faulty memory”. 

Police said that Lewis had a book about poisoning in his home in Kansas City before he moved to Chicago in 1981. Experts said they found his fingerprints inside, including on a page where it describes how much cyanide is needed to kill someone. 

They have a “chargeable, circumstantial case” against James Lewis, who had lived in Chicago before the killings occurred. But they don’t have physical evidence, but what they have found links him to the product tampering. Lewis, who now lives in the Boston area, has long denied any involvement in the murders and has never been charged.

After 40 years of this one of the world’s most vexing criminal cases, the ex-state police director is still looking for a solution for it. He said on Friday, 23 September 2022, “I remain hopeful, as I always have, in this case so we’ll see a resolution. We’ll see charges and justice will prevail“.

Some authorities believe if this same situation happened today, between crime solving science and security cameras, it would have been solved quickly. Hope this decade-long case will come to its positive end and the culprit will be punished.

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