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Revisionist history about the Tylenol murders
By Chuck Goudie | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 10/4/2010 12:10 AM

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"There was never a Tylenol Killer."

That was the first sentence of an e-mail sent to me by James W. Lewis, the only person ever found guilty of a crime connected to the Tylenol killings.

"There was never a Tylenol Killer."

Those six words will come as quite a revelation to anyone who mourned for Mary Kellerman of Elk Grove Village, Adam Janus from Arlington Heights, Stanley and Theresa Janus of Lisle, Mary Reiner in Winfield, Mary McFarland of Elmhurst and Paul Jean Prince of Chicago.

"There was never a Tylenol Killer."

Interesting coming from Lewis, the one and only man considered by law enforcement to be the Tylenol killer.

Lewis' e-mail arrived last week shortly after I left him a message at his apartment outside Boston to discuss the 28th anniversary of the Tylenol killings.

"There was never a Tylenol Killer" he wrote, curiously capitalizing the word killer as if it was an earned title such as MD or Mayor.

"There was never a Tylenol Killer" he wrote. "At least not an individual. No one ever went to Chicago area stores, removed Tylenol, laced capsules with cyanide and placed them back on shelves. That story is preposterous. That never happened. The FBI and the Chicago Police have always known this, as has Johnson and Johnson which helped to invent this story to outsource liability."

Mr. Lewis' revisionist history is not new. Others have contended that there was really no Tylenol killer; that no murderer bought bottles of Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules, replaced the pain relief powder with deadly cyanide, resealed the packaged and put them back on the shelves for unsuspecting victims to buy, take and die.

Others have suggested that the whole thing was a corporate conspiracy, covered up for 28 years.

From the moment Lewis surfaced in early October 1982, the focus has been on a solo killer and on him. Lewis was convicted of writing a $1 million extortion letter to Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of Tylenol, to stop the killings.

During the investigation, Lewis drew elaborate diagrams for federal agents showing precisely how cyanide could be put into capsules.

But he always claimed that he wasn't the person who did so even though Justice Department records from 1986 reveal that investigators concluded he was but couldn't prove it.

"The Tylenol murderer is still dancing in the streets" he told me during an interview at the Oklahoma prison where he was doing time for extortion.

Now, only after Lewis himself has been dancing as a free man since his release from prison is he attempting to rewrite history.

In his e-mail Lewis - who refers to me as Charlie - claims that in 1982 Johnson and Johnson "agents grabbed control of the crime scenes and burned over a billion Tylenol capsules before any outside lab could test them for cyanide.

"Charlie, burning those Tylenol capsules was the blatant act of a guilty criminal destroying evidence of mass murder in an ongoing criminal homicide investigation. Why, if they weren't guilty?" he writes.

"QUESTION: Ask your viewers why the most logical culprit, J & J was placed in control of the Tylenol Murder crime scenes in 1982, and permitted to collect and destroy evidence. Hm-m-m!"

"Whatchu think, Charlie? Story too big for you?"

Then Lewis questioned my manhood by suggesting that I didn't have the proper testicular virility to pursue such a story hardly language befitting such a dignified Bostonian.

"Charlie, solving the Crime of the Century is very easy, and I have been giving you all the leads you will ever need, if you were really interested in helping solve the Chicago area Tylenol murders.

"Someday, you guys are going to realize that you have been snookered by the FDA, the FBI and J & J for 3 decades."

Johnson & Johnson refers Tylenol case calls to the FBI. A spokesman for the FBI, which raided Lewis' home outside Boston in 2009 and carted off records and computers, says only that the case is still being investigated.

Lewis' website is chock-full of Tylenol ramblings. But I keep thinking about something else he said back in prison: "I could tell you how Julius Caesar was killed, but that does not mean I was the killer."

Caesar died from three dozen sword and knife wounds during a frontal attack by his enemies. He knew them and saw their weapons coming at him.

That kind of face-to-face killing takes some guts.

Whoever secretly poisoned seven innocent people 28 years ago and has let the victims' loved ones suffer was just a coward.

• Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by e-mail at chuckgoudie@gmail.com and followed at twitter.com/ChuckGoudie