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Are Tylenol investigators hot on the trail of a cold case?
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Staff

FBI agents carry boxes out of the apartment building in Cambridge, Mass., Wednesday, after searching the apartment home of James W. Lewis, who was linked to the fatal 1982 Tylenol poisonings that triggered a nationwide scare.

 

Associated Press

FBI agents carry boxes out of the apartment building in Cambridge, Mass., Wednesday after searching the apartment home of James W. Lewis, who was linked to the fatal 1982 Tylenol poisonings that triggered a nationwide scare.

 

Associated Press

A law enforcement official use binoculars Wednesday while watching the Cambridge, Mass., home of a man linked to the fatal 1982 Tylenol poisonings that triggered a nationwide scare.

 

Associated Press

The exterior of the apartment building where Lewis lives in Cambridge, Mass.

 

ABC 7 Chicago

James W. Lewis in 1995

 

Associated Press

Theresa Janus

 

Stanley Janus

 

Adam Janus

 

Mary Kellerman

 

Mary McFarland

 

Paula Prince

 

Mary Reiner

 

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Published: 2/4/2009 2:12 PM | Updated: 2/4/2009 11:37 PM

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Families of the seven victims of the 1982 Tylenol poisonings don't know much more about the murders of their loved ones today than they did yesterday.

They know something's happening with the notorious case that panicked the suburbs that autumn. They just don't know what. And after more than 26 years, they know not to expect too much.

"It's been so long and you sort of give up hope of anything being done about it," said Bob Tarasewicz, brother of 19-year-old victim Theresa Janus of Lisle, whose husband, Stanley Janus, 25, and brother-in-law Adam Janus, a 27-year-old postal worker from Arlington Heights, also died after taking cyanide-laced pain relievers.

Tainted capsules also claimed the lives of 12-year-old Mary Kellerman of Elk Grove Village; new mother Mary Reiner, 27, of Winfield; 31-year-old Elmhurst resident Mary McFarland; and Chicago flight attendant Paula Prince, 35, in late September and early October 1982.

On Wednesday, FBI agents searched the Cambridge, Mass., home of former accountant and convicted extortionist James W. Lewis, who authorities have long considered a prime suspect in the slayings. It marked the first recent movement in the stone-cold case that triggered a nationwide panic and prompted police officers and firefighters to drive through suburban towns using bullhorns to warn residents against taking Tylenol.

The terse statement the FBI released Wednesday mentioned no charges or arrests but said "recent advances in forensic technology" led to re-examination of evidence in the case. Tips to authorities after news coverage of the crime's 25th anniversary in 2007 also prompted the FBI and Illinois State Police to launch a "complete review" of the case, the FBI statement said.

ABC 7 Chicago reported that authorities had taken the 63-year-old Lewis in for questioning and were in the process of updating victims' family members on their investigation.

Authorities have not charged Lewis with the deaths. However, he spent more than 12 years in prison for sending an extortion note to Tylenol manufacturers, Johnson & Johnson, in 1982 demanding $1 million to "stop the killing."

Lewis also served two years for tax fraud. Paroled in 1995, he moved to Boston. He is listed as a partner in a Web design company called Cyberlewis, whose address matches the residence where the FBI conducted its search.

In response to the poisonings in 1982, Johnson & Johnson immediately pulled all 22 million bottles of Tylenol from store shelves nationwide, a move that cost the company more than $100 million and set the standard for corporate accountability. The crisis also led manufacturers to adopt tamperproof packaging that has become standard for over-the-counter medication and other items as well.

"You can't open a package of anything without being reminded of this," said Wally Tarasewicz of Lisle, brother of Theresa Janus. "I'm reminded of it on a daily basis. You can't buy a screwdriver without getting another tool to get it out of the package."

Family members said time has not lessened their pain.

"I will never get past this because this guy is out there, living his life, however miserable it might be," said Michelle Rosen in a 2007 interview. She was 8 when her mother, Mary Reiner, collapsed in front of her after taking Tylenol.

"If this is it, I don't know if it will bring me closure," said Bob Tarasewicz. "It doesn't address the main thing that's been taken away from all of us."

Daily Herald staff writers Jake Griffin and Jamie Sotonoff, as well as news services, contributed to this report.