Will smudge on '82 Tylenol bottle be Lewis link?

January 9, 2010 9:42:48 AM PST
CSI-style evidence technology that was unavailable to police during the cyanide-Tylenol murders 28-years ago will now be used on a smeared fingerprint that was found on a tampered bottle of capsules, according to law enforcement sources. Authorities will compare the recovered print to fingerprints taken this week from prime suspect James Lewis, who once served a lengthy prison sentence for a related extortion attempt in the Tylenol case.

The revelation of a "smudge left on tampered medicine recovered after the 1982 Tylenol murders" was made by the Daily Herald, ABC7's newspaper partner, in Saturday's editions.

The Daily Herald quoted an ex-state official involved in the original investigation of the seven Tylenol murders, who spoke only with a guarantee of anonymity.

"The retired Illinois official who spoke about the 'smudge' evidence is no longer involved in the investigation" reported the Herald. "The official said advances in DNA and fingerprint technology may make that 'smudge' evidence relevant today."

According to the report, the former official-a supervisor of the 1982 investigation-had focused on Lewis as the probable killer. "We were always convinced he did it," the official told the Daily Herald.

On Wednesday, Lewis turned over DNA, fingerprint and samples following a subpoena from a DuPage County grand jury, according to investigators familiar with the 28-year-old case.

Law enforcement sources say Lewis and his wife, LeAnn, appeared before a Massachusetts judge on Wednesday to determine whether they both had to abide by the grand jury order.

After a Middlesex County Superior judge told them they had to obey the subpoena, both Lewises complied before leaving the courthouse.

"I will have no comment on that," DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett told the ABC7 I-Team when reached by phone on Friday afternoon. "I just won't comment," said Birkett, whose office could prosecute any murder charges brought in the case because several of the killings occurred in DuPage.

The cases could also be brought in Cook County, where poisoning murders also took place.

In Cook County Friday afternoon, a spokesman for State's Attorney Anita Alvarez told the I-Team, "the cases remain open." State's Attorney spokesman Andy Conklin declined to discuss the Tylenol killings cases, including whether Chicago prosecutors will share the DNA and fingerprint samples provided by the Lewis'.

There is no federal murder statute but the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been aiding and assisting metro Chicago law enforcement for nearly 28 years, attempting to solve the haunting crimes.

"The investigation into the 1982 Tylenol killings is still ongoing," said FBI Special Agent Ross Rice in response to reports that Lewis and his wife had been served subpoenas for their DNA and fingerprints.

Agent Rice, assigned to the Chicago FBI field office, announced a year ago that a team of law enforcement officers was executing search warrants on the Lewis residence outside Boston.

"No arrests have been made and no criminal charges filed," Rice told the I-Team on Friday, neither confirming - nor denying - that there has been a new turn in the investigation.

Investigators working on the case, who asked not to be identified because of grand jury secrecy laws, said that the case is focused on returning state murder charges in Illinois. The investigation is complicated by the passage of time and the distance between Chicago - where the crimes were committed - and Boston, where the prime suspect and his wife reside.

That has resulted in cumbersome court arrangements and numerous jurisdictional hurdles, say law enforcement sources.

The first report of the Lewises' court appearance was in a small suburban Boston newspaper.

"The couple arrived in the front corridor of the courthouse at 8:45 a.m. and were briefly interviewed by one of our Somerville News/Cambridge News Weekly correspondents and later by FBI agents as well as by local authorities, who escorted the couple to the hearing room," stated the story.

The Lewises were cooperative with agents a during last year's search of their home but providing fingerprints and DNA samples would reflect a sharp escalation in tactics by the authorities.

James Lewis, 63, has a Boston lawyer who declined even to confirm that the hearing took place.

"Proceedings such as that reported by the Somerville News, to the extent that they occur, are supposed to be secret precisely to protect the reputations of innocent people like James Lewis and his wife," attorney David Meier told the Globe. Meier, the former long time head of the homicide unit of the Suffolk district attorney's office said, "to comment further would be irresponsible, unprofessional, and unethical."

Poisoned medicine killed four women, two men and a child during the random spree. The dead included a 12-year-old Elk Grove Village girl, an Arlington Heights postal worker and his brother and sister-in-law from Lisle, a Chicago flight attendant and an Elmhurst woman.

Lewis was sentenced to prison in June 1983 for demanding $1 million from Johnson & Johnson, parent of Tylenol manufacturer McNeil Consumer Products Co., "to stop the killing.''

In interviews with the I-Team over the years, Lewis has admitted sending the extortion demands but has always denied the killings. In one interview with us he said that the "Tylenol murderer is still dancing in the streets."

After Mr. Lewis was released from prison in the Tylenol extortion matter, he was not free of trouble with the law. In 2004, after moving to the Boston area, Lewis was charged with rape and kidnapping for an alleged attack on a woman in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The charges were dropped three years later.