Tylenol Murders Investigation Sees Renewed Effort to Solve Case, 40 Years Later

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Authorities have engaged in a renewed effort to solve the 1982 Tylenol murders, seven fatal poisonings that terrorized the Chicago area and have remained unsolved, forty years later.

"There was cyanide in the Tylenol and the public had to be warned about that because once you took the pill, you were going to die," former Cook County Medical Examiner Edmund Donoghue said during an interview on the case last year. He was one of many raising the alarm in the fall of 1982, as victim after victim took cyanide-laced Tylenol and died.

For years, investigators focused on James Lewis, now 76 and living in Massachusetts. Lewis admitted to sending a letter to Tylenol's parent company Johnson & Johnson, demanding a $1 million ransom to stop the killings. He was convicted of extortion and spent years in prison - but was never charged with the murders.

The Chicago Tribune reports investigators traveled to the Boston area this week to try to interview Lewis, who has long maintained his innocence.

"They’re barking up the wrong tree and as long as they continue to do this, it absolutely guarantees that they will never solve the Tylenol homicides," he said years ago in an interview from prison.

An Illinois State Police spokesperson said Thursday, "We are involved in the most recent investigative follow-up efforts, but cannot comment any further because it is an ongoing investigation."

ISP confirmed those efforts have included meetings as recently as this summer, involving the agency's director and other law enforcement officials.

In September of 1982, residents of Chicago and its suburbs began living a nightmare. Someone was putting cyanide into capsules of Extra Strength Tylenol and putting the bottles back on store shelves. In the course of just a few days, seven people were found dead. In this episode of “Big Chicago Stories,” NBC 5’s Phil Rogers goes back to those...

Police in Arlington Heights - where three of the deaths occurred - said last year that they’ve held onto everything in this case: pills, bottles, boxes and more.

"We still receive tips that are being evaluated and investigated. We also are still – we’re looking at emerging forensic technology," Sgt. Joe Murphy said in an interview last year, noting that the case is an "active homicide investigation."

"We’ve been working collaboratively with multiple agencies for years, with the ultimate goal of solving this case," Murphy said Thursday.

The DuPage and Cook County State's Attorney's offices said in a statement they've worked "tirelessly" on the case for 40 years.

"We’ve interviewed scores of witnesses, poured over thousands of documents and devoted countless man hours in this pursuit and continue to do so. This case remains an open and active investigation and will continue to be until justice is served," the statement reads.

Former federal prosecutor Jeremy Margolis was assigned to the case from day one.

"Those of us involved in this were absolutely consumed by a relentless sense of mission to figure out who did this, how do we stop them and how do we then bring justice to them," he said last year. "Every conceivable theory, every conceivable motive, virtually every possibility that one’s imagination could conjure up was looked at."

"I’m hopeful that someday, someone - name not mentioned here - will be brought to justice for this series of horrible murders," he said in 2021.

In addition to sparking a panic across the Chicago area and the U.S., the murders forever changed the way we consume medicine, prompting the introduction of tamper-evident pill containers.

Note: At 8 p.m. Thursday, NBC 5 News is hosting a special showing of its documentary on the Tylenol murders on Peacock. It can be viewed by downloading the free Peacock app, clicking on the "Channels" tab and scrolling down to NBC Chicago News.

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