New leads lead nowhere in 1982 Tylenol poisonings

ABC7 I-Team Investigation

Chuck Goudie Image
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
New leads go nowhere in Tylenol poisonings
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New leads in the infamous 1982 Chicago Tylenol poisoning compelled suspect James Lewis to submit DNA, but both the DNA and the new information went nowhere.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- New information about an old murder mystery: the infamous Tylenol killings in Chicago. Seven people died after taking cyanide-laced Tylenol in 1982 and no one has ever been charged with the murders.

The sole suspect, James Lewis, spent 13 years in prison for an extortion scheme related to the Tylenol case, and he has always been the prime suspect in the actual poisoning murders. Five years ago federal law enforcement officials said that they had new leads and that DNA samples were needed from Lewis and his wife. A judge ordered the Lewises to turn over DNA and fingerprints. Five years later those new leads have gone nowhere.

In 2009, federal authorities walked out with loads of potential evidence from James and Leann Lewis' apartment near Boston.

Investigators said new leads had prompted search warrants in the 1982 case. Seven people died that year after ingesting Tylenol capsules filled with cyanide and placed on Chicago area store shelves.

Lewis spent 13 years in prison for sending a million-dollar extortion letter to Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Tylenol, and law enforcement always considered him the prime suspect in the killings as well, especially since he provided authorities with detailed explanations of how cyanide could end up in pain capsules.

So in 2010, a judge ordered Lewis and his wife to comply with grand jury subpoenas requesting DNA. At the time Lewis seemed optimistic.

As of Tuesday, Lewis was correct. Law enforcement sources say there was no DNA match. Cook and DuPage County prosecutors couldn't make a murder case; there was "insufficient evidence to charge anyone," said one source, and "no new or promising leads."

Late last year, when top assistant federal prosecutor Gary Shapiro retired, we talked about the Tylenol case.

"I think I know what happened," Shapiro said. "Do I think we will ever be able to prove it? Um, I'm not sure. I'd like to think someday we will but that may be a forlorn hope."

Lewis, who has written books about poisoning death, didn't respond to an email about the latest developments.

But no doubt he still believes what he said in a jailhouse interview more than 20 years ago: "The Tylenol murderer is still dancing in the streets."