On Sept. 29, 12-year-old Mary Kellerman was feeling too sick to go to school, so she took a capsule of extra-strength Tylenol.
“I heard her go into the bathroom. I heard the door close. Then I heard something drop,” Kellerman’s father recalled. “I opened the bathroom door, and my little girl was on the floor unconscious.”
Mary died within four hours of taking the over-the-counter medicine.
Meanwhile, 27-year-old Adam Janus was rushed to the hospital, where he ultimately died from unknown causes. He, too, had taken Tylenol earlier that day.
The deaths just kept coming…
Shortly after Adam’s funeral, his brother and sister-in-law died suddenly, too.
In the next couple of days, three women died mysteriously, their causes of death almost identical to those in the Janus family and that of Mary Kellerman.
Police soon found the connection all seven had in common: All of the victims had taken Tylenol capsules, two half-shells filled with powdered acetaminophen.
But how could this be happeing?
Tylenol samples were taken from each household, and it was revealed that the bottle at Mary Kellerman’s house, as well as the three individual women’s bottles, had been tainted with cyanide.
Adam Janus’ bottle was tainted as well, and police believe that during the funeral his brother and sister-in-law unknowingly took capsules from the same bottle.
As the investigation continued, Tylenol manufacturer Johnson & Johnson issued a nationwide recall of their products, as well as a warning to every hospital and pharmacy in the country.
The company also offered to exchange all of the Tylenol purchased for solid pills, which had a lower risk of contamination.
It was eventually found that the contamination hadn’t come from within Johnson & Johnson itself
Police surmised that the medication must have been bought by the culprit, contaminated at their home, and then returned to the store shelves.
Police never did catch the person responsible.
However, there has been one suspect ever since: James William Lewis.
Lewis had sent a ‘ransom’ to Johnson & Johnson for $1 million to stop the attacks. He later served 13 years for extortion.
He has denied all responsibility for the attack ever since his release, though he remains the most likely culprit.
The investigation sparked a huge change in the manufacturing and packaging of Tylenol.
The capsules were reintroduced, as well as solid pills, and a new tamper-proof package.
In addition to new tamper-proof seals, tampering itself was made illegal.
This resulted in one individual being sentenced to 90 years in prison for a copycat crime of the Tylenol murders.
Though the initial response to the scare was to stop purchasing Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson quickly turned the scare into a rebranding, and the company’s response was widely heralded as one of the best responses to a corporate crisis ever.