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Tylenol poisoning victim's daughter: 'It's not him'
Police staying tight lipped about this week's search of James Lewis' house
By Jamie Sotonoff | Daily Herald Staff

Mary Reiner, 27, a mother of four from Winfield, was among the seven people who died after taking cyanide-laced Tylenol in 1982. Her daughter, Michelle Rosen, questions whether the man police are zeroing in on, James Lewis, is responsible for the crimes.


Courtesy of Michelle Rosen

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Published: 2/6/2009 12:03 AM | Updated: 2/6/2009 9:33 AM

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The daughter of Tylenol poisoning victim Mary Reiner said Thursday that she doesn't believe suspect James W. Lewis is the person who committed the crime.

Michelle Rosen, 34, of Winfield, said she can't understand how evidence confiscated from Lewis' Boston area home Wednesday can link him to the 1982 crime, which killed seven people including her mother.

"Most people think it's him ... but I think, no, it's not him. I'm not convinced it's him," Rosen said. "The guy didn't live there in 1982. What forensics could possibly be in his apartment today? Did they not raid his apartment the first time and find something? I'm just totally lost and confused. What's this new evidence they have?"

Police remained tight-lipped about the case Thursday. Several suburban police departments and the Cook and DuPage County state's attorneys offices are involved in the investigation, an FBI spokesman said. Cook and DuPage authorities would prosecute the case if an arrest is made.

The tainted capsules took the life of Reiner, a 12-year-old Elk Grove Village girl; an Arlington Heights postal worker and his brother and sister-in-law from Lisle; a Chicago flight attendant and an Elmhurst woman.

Police informed one of Rosen's family members Wednesday that some new leads had evolved and there might be a break in the case.

Exactly why investigators have suddenly taken so much interest in Lewis, the self-proclaimed "Tylenol Man," is unclear, but the FBI cited advances in forensic technology, along with publicity and tips that came in around the 25th anniversary of the crime in 2007.

Authorities refused to release any further details of the investigation Thursday, including the whereabouts of Lewis, who is in his early 60s.

Lewis spent 12 years in jail for extortion after sending a letter to Tylenol manufacturers Johnson & Johnson demanding $1 million to "stop the killing." He was paroled in 1995 and has always denied any involvement in the murders.

Reports surfaced Thursday that Lewis was writing a novel titled "The Doctor's Dilemma." "This is a novel about courage and integrity," he writes on a Web site registered at the address the FBI searched Wednesday. "Dr. Rivers is driven to protect individuals from man made environmental dangers. But in the biggest case in his life, Dr. Rivers discovers something dark in his own family's past which could destroy him if he continues digging."

Retired FBI agent Grey Steed, who worked on the extortion probe, said Thursday that he had been contacted by investigators to discuss the case.

"It wouldn't surprise me if they weren't looking for something in the way of memoirs or some type of journal he was keeping," Steed said.

While Rosen doesn't believe Lewis is the killer, she's not sure who is. She imagines it's a geeky, smart and shy man like Michael Douglas' character in the 1993 movie "Falling Down."

"I hope that if it's not him, (the investigation) just doesn't stop," Rosen said. "There are several families waiting for an answer."

Rosen was 8 years old when she watched her mother, Mary Reiner, collapse and die after taking a cyanide laced Extra Strength Tylenol capsule. Reiner had just given birth to a son. Rosen was the second oldest of Reiner's four children. Her father and three siblings prefer not to discuss the case, and Wednesday marked the first time in "years" any of the authorities have spoken to the family about it.

To this day, Rosen and her two children have never taken any over-the-counter or prescription medication for anything, including childbirth, she said.

Mary Magdalene Reiner grew up in Villa Park and was "100 percent Irish." Rosen remembers her being a good cook and preparing corned beef and egg noodles for the family. She also loved playing softball, the drums, and bowling.

"I really don't remember a whole lot, as a result of being traumatized by it," Rosen said. "She was just happy."

Staff writer Barbara Vitello and Daily Herald wire services contributed to this report.