How Tylenol Poisoning Changed Our Way of Life

Last night, I opened a bottle of ice tea.  After I removed the outside seal, and twisted the two section cap, there was then a seal with a tab on top that had to be removed.  I thought, “this is because of evil.”

Those who were children in 1982, or not yet born, might not know why we live in a world where seals are on packaged consumable items, including over the counter medications.

In 1982, someone decided to conceal carry in order to murder people; only it wasn’t a gun.  It was poison.

On September 29, 1982, the parents of 12-year old Mary Kellerman gave her an extra-strength Tylenol capsule because she complained of a sore throat and runny nose. They lived in Elk Grove Village, a northwest suburb of Chicago.  Mary died.

Tylenol-killer-Chicago-murders-1983On that same day, 27-year old Adam Janus of Arlington Heights, Illinois, also a suburb of Chicago, had what was initially thought to be a massive heart attack.   His brother and sister-in-law went to his home to console their loved ones.  They both had a headache and took a Tylenol extra-strength capsule from the bottle in Adam’s house. Stanley died that same day and his wife died two days later.

Over the next few days, 35-year-old Mary McFarland of Elmhurst, Illinois, 35-year-old Paula Prince of Chicago, and 27-year-old Mary Weiner of Winfield, Illinois all died.

All of them died from cyanide poisoning.

In October 1982, investigators finally made the connection between the poisoning deaths and Tylenol.

0823ellsroth-clipMcNeil Consumer Products, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson that manufactured Tylenol had a massive recall of 31 million bottles of Tylenol.

The capsules came from different production plants, which meant that no one at Johnson & Johnson was tainting the capsules at the plant.  Police hypothesized that someone purchased the Tylenol, took it home, and put cyanide in the capsules, closed the bottles, and returned them to the shelves of stores to be purchased by the public, poisoning them.

There were copy-cat poisoning.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration received 270 different incident reports of product tampering, including tainting with rat poison, hydrochloric acid, and pins in Halloween candy.

A man named James Lewis claimed being responsible for the poisoning.  He demanded a million dollars in exchange for stopping the poisoning.  Police and federal investigators determined that Lewis lived in New York and had no links to the Chicago events.  Lewis was charged with extortion and sentenced to 20 years in prison, but served only 13 years.

Blog picture groupingWorking with FDA officials, Johnson & Johnson developed tamper-proof packaging that would make it obvious to consumers if the package was previously opened.  The company replaced capsules with caplets — pills that cannot be opened where anything can be added to them.

In 1983, the U.S. Congress passed “the Tylenol bill,” making it a federal offense to tamper with consumer products. In 1989, the FDA established federal guidelines for manufacturers to make all such products tamper-proof.

No one has ever been charged with tampering with the Tylenol, nor for the killings. Modern technology led to reopening the case in 2009.  The police have the original bottles of Tylenol that were tainted and are hoping to discover DNA belonging to the perpetrator.

The impact of what evil did is what resulted in tamper proof seals, and why we now spend 5 minutes opening containers.   The good side is that consumers are protected from the evil of man when it comes to consumables.

The bad side is that state governments have not learned that just like those citizens unaware of poison in Tylenol, people go out into the street every day and are at risk of being killed by someone who conceals carry a gun.

We have passed laws to protect consumers from things concealed in consumables that can kill, while giving mankind the right to conceal weapons that can kill.

Concealed Carry Killers is a resource maintained by the Violence Policy Center that includes hundreds of examples of non self-defense killings by private citizens who are licensed to conceal carry.  They report that since 2007, seventeen law enforcement officers have been killed by people holding conceal carry licenses. 885 people have been killed by conceal carry killers.  These numbers do not include cases where it was determined justifiable homicide.  The number of mass shootings committed by concealed carry holders is 29; and 53 conceal carry holders committed murder-suicide.

What a world we live in.

Posted on 07/31/2016, in Conceal Carry & SYG, Potpourri and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thanks for this timely article. Your description of why we have to wrestle with very well-protected OTC products in order to get to the contents, was a reminder and also a wake-up call to all those who grew up after the fact and who probably never realized the “why.” Enjoyed how you slipped in the “conceal carry gun” aspect. Always find your topics interesting as well as informative. 🙂

    • Hey Sunshinebright! Thanks for your kind words. “Wrestle” is the right word. (thanks) Yet, we go through that inconvenience for our own protection. Most younger folks do not know how it all started. Five to ten years from now, conceal carry of guns will be so common that folks won’t research to learn why it started either. Just like we lived for hundreds of years without tamper proof protections, look at how long we’ve lived without conceal carry of guns. Our legislatures found a way to protect consumers, but can’t find a way to protect citizens from nuts who do the same thing as the Tylenol murdered did, but with a gun and under the color of law.

  2. Man, do I remember that nightmare. Even in NJ there was a panic simply because Tylenol is sold nationwide. Concealed Carry is a pretty good comparison. I can only hope concealed carry laws don’t grow.

    As a public we are being held captive in many ways and don’t even realize to the extent. The laws simply aren’t working……or maybe it’s not the law but the warped minds incapable of love and tolerance.

    • Hey Racer!

      …”or maybe it’s not the law but the warped minds incapable of love and tolerance.”


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