A Brief History
On September 29, 1982, the first of seven victims of intentionally-contaminated Tylenol died. The deadly Tylenol capsules had had their normal acetaminophen switched and replaced with cyanide, meaning that anyone who took them would die a quick and unexpected death.
When the first victim died suddenly, his family and friends gathered to mourn his passing, and then the victim’s brother and widow took Tylenol from the same contaminated bottle and became fatalities numbers 2 and 3. Another 4 bottles resulted in another 4 deaths, and the nationwide alarm was raised. Only 3 more tampered-with bottles were found, but the scare resulted in Johnson & Johnson recalling 31 million bottles of Tylenol capsules, valued around $100 million.
All the murders occurred in the Chicago area. Though both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Illinois State law authorities were involved, no perpetrator was ever caught, and Americans found themselves in a panic about possibly taking poison-containing drugs. Because the contaminated capsules came from different factories, various theories have circulated that the culprit spiked the capsules in a warehouse, distribution center or even directly in the store!
One enterprising creep in New York attempted to extort $1 million from Johnson & Johnson for him to “stop” adding poison to Tylenol, and he was duly caught and convicted. Another suspect was named and although cleared, was so upset over the experience that he shot the man he believed was responsible for him being blamed. Tragically, he shot the wrong person entirely. Finally, another suspect was someone who had gone on a poisoning and shooting spree in 1988, but he was found to have no known connection with the Tylenol murders.
As a result of these murders, Tylenol is no longer produced in capsule form, making it impossible to empty capsules and replace the contents with poison. Tamper-resistant packaging for drugs became mandatory, and this new policy has also extended to foods and drinks so that the consumer can readily see if they have been tampered with.
Tragedy sometimes brings out the worst in some people, and some copy-cat crimes ensued; some were hoaxes, but others involved genuinely poison. Question for students (and subscribers): Will the Tylenol Murderer ever strike again? After so many years, it seems unlikely. Will he or she ever be identified? Perhaps the perpetrator has died in the meantime. We will just have to wait and see. Please let us know what you think in the comments section below this article. In the meanwhile, always check your tamper-resistant seals!
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For more information, please see…
Bartz, Scott. TYMURS: The 1982 Tylenol Murders (TYMURS, Book 1). New Light Publishing, 2012.