FBI drops 1982 Tylenol murders task force, local police to lead probe

September 27, 2013 12:33:15 PM PDT
Arlington Heights police say they'll take over the still-unsolved investigation into a series of deaths of people who took cyanide-laced Tylenol more than three decades ago.

The (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald reports local agencies will work together after the FBI decided to no longer lead the investigation into the 1982 Chicago area poisonings. A message left with the FBI wasn't immediately returned.

A task force examining the seven deaths once had 140 members, including federal, state and local investigators who were chasing down thousands of leads.

No one was ever charged.

The poisoned Tylenol was consumed over three days in Chicago and four suburbs, triggering a national scare and a huge recall. The poisonings led to the widespread adoption of tamperproof packaging for over-the-counter drugs.

Between September 29 and October 1, 1982, four women, two men and a child died before medical personnel determined the common link to their deaths was Tylenol.

"No one has claimed responsibility, and we won't know the motivation behind the crime until we identify the persons responsible," said Ross Rice, FBI spokesperson, last year.

The only known suspect identified in the case is James Lewis, who was convicted and served time for writing an extortion letter to Johnson and Johnson, the maker of Tylenol. But he was never charged with the murders.

The case had gone dormant until six years ago when the FBI and local police departments formed a task force. Four years ago, they searched the apartment Lewis shares with his wife in Boston, confiscating several possible items of evidence.

Retired Chicago detective Dave Ryan worked the extortion case against Lewis and believes he is also the killer.

"The fact that we weren't able to assemble or gather enough evidence to satisfy a court of law or even charge him is one thing, but kind of knowing who did it is another," said Ryan.

Lewis even provided detectives with sketches of how the killer could have put cyanide into the tablets. He's even written a book about it. But he has always denied any involvement in the actual killings.

Johnson and Johnson removed 30 million bottles of Tylenol from the shelves in 1982 and offered a $100,000 reward, which still stands. There is no statute of limitations on murder in Illinois.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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