Seven people in the Chicago area died in 1982 after taking Extra Strength Tylenol capsules. Investigators soon discovered the deaths were due to cyanide poisoning. A massive search began for the person or persons who added cyanide to the capsules that the victims unwittingly took, but as of May 2011, the case remains unsolved.
Extra Strength Tylenol has long been a trusted pain reliever for adults and older children. Mary Kellerman, a 12-year-old girl from the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village, took a Tylenol capsule on September 29, 1982 after awakening that morning feeling sick. A short time later, her parents found her collapsed on her bathroom floor. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful, and she died that day. Doctors suspected a stroke, rare for someone of her age, but possible.
On the same day, in Arlington Heights, another suburb of Chicago, 27-year-old Adam Janus also died unexpectedly. Like Kellerman, Janusí death was also initially thought to be natural-a heart attack in his case. Events soon turned authoritiesí suspicions towards more sinister causes.
As the Janus family gathered that evening to make Adamís final arrangements, his brother and sister-in-law both complained of headaches. Twenty-five-year-old Stanley and his wife Theresa, 19, both took an Extra Strength Tylenol to alleviate their pain. Shortly thereafter, both collapsed and were rushed to the hospital. Stanley died that day, and although Theresa outlived her husband, she also passed away two days later.
Tests on the Janus family members confirmed their deaths were due to cyanide poisoning, although the source was unknown. Kellerman was found to also have cyanide in her system, ruling out the possibility that the cyanide was present only in the Janus home. The deaths were too similar to have no connection, but the families lived in different suburbs and were not known to each other. Firefighters, paramedics and investigators discussing the Kellerman and Janus cases soon discovered the link, however-each victim had taken Tylenol just before his or her death. The bottles of Tylenol were removed from each home for testing. The results showed that each capsule in the bottles contained enough cyanide to kill 10,000 adults.
Authorities issued a recall of Extra Strength Tylenol capsules on October 5, 1982. Some stores removed only bottles with the same lot numbers as the Janus and Kellerman bottles, others removed all Extra Strength Tylenol capsules regardless of lot number and still others cleared their shelves of all products bearing the Tylenol brand name. Police and the manufacturer of Tylenol hoped this action would prevent any more deaths from tainted capsules, but the Tylenol killer had not yet claimed his or her last victim.