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The Chicago Tylenol Murders took place in 1982, where a series of random killings, not only resulted in seven innocent people throughout the Chicago suburbs dying under mysterious circumstances but also changed the way the entire country handles and packages medication to this day. On September 28, at 7 a.m., 12-year-old Mary Kellerman woke up in her Elk Grove home complaining about a sore throat and runny nose. Her parents let her stay home from school that day and told her to get some rest.
However, before going back to bed she went to the bathroom after a few minutes her father knocks on the bathroom door. He checks on her only to hear a loud thud on the other side. When he opened the door he found his daughter collapsed on the ground. Her parents immediately called 9-1-1 and the paramedics start treating her mere seconds after they arrive. The paramedics said nothing was working and she appeared to be in massive cardiac arrest. They took her to the hospital hoping that there was something or someone that could help but by 10 a.m. Kellerman was pronounced dead.
Hours later at 12 p.m. in a neighboring suburb, Arlington Heights, 27-year-old postal worker Adam Janus wasn’t feeling good so he took a Tylenol and laid down for a nap. It was his anniversary and he was planning on cooking a nice steak meal for his family, so he wanted to rest to make sure he was feeling up to it later. A few minutes after he laid down his daughter went into his room, saw him turning blue, and she went and told her mom who in turn called 9-1-1. Adam was then rushed to the hospital for what appeared to be a heart attack and like Kellerman he was pronounced dead a few hours later.
Four hours later at 5 p.m. that same day Stanley and Teresa Janus, Adam’s brother and sister-in-law, arrived at the house to console his family. Unfortunately, all the emotions and stress, both ended up getting headaches so they took Tylenol. Stanley’s niece Monica, who was a child at the time, described what happened next. She said Stanley stepped out of the bathroom grabbed himself by the chest, said “oh my god, my heart,” and collapsed to the ground foaming at the mouth.
The same paramedics responded. They were bewildered at the fact that the same exact thing happened a second time at the same house. Just when they thought it couldn’t get stranger, Stanley’s wife Teresa collapsed on the ground in the middle of them treating him. Stanley was pronounced dead that same day and Teresa died two days later.
At first, they were unsure why these people died. They believe that it was some kind of new virus because three people all from the same household died within 72 hours of each other. So they quarantine the rest of the Janus siblings in the hospital and observe them. However, while all this went down even more people are falling victim to these mysterious deaths.
Paula Prince who was a 35-year-old flight attendant staying in Chicago for a few days and died alone in a hotel room after taking Tylenol she bought at a Walgreens. Her body wasn’t found until after she missed her next flight two days later.
Another woman named Mary Reiner who was 27 years old was at her home in Winfield with her mother-in-law after giving birth to her fourth child when she suddenly got violently nauseous and collapsed to the floor. By the time the paramedics arrived, she was already unresponsive. She was pronounced dead at the hospital a few hours later.
Mary McFarland who was 31 years old originally from Elmhurst. She was working at the Yorktown mall when she started to complain about a headache and took some Tylenol. She collapsed on the ground a few minutes later a co-worker called 9-1-1. McFarland was taken to the hospital and she died around 9 p.m. that same night.
In the span of less than one week seven people, many of whom were unconnected, died under mysterious circumstances and investigators were baffled. However, thanks to some rather astute investigators and medical staff an explanation was found before too long, which resulted in panic sweeping the entire country.
They found that cyanide was involved. This was discovered because one of the paramedics who went to the Janus’s, called up former nurse Helen Jensen asking if she could investigate their house to find a possible cause. While searching the home she found a receipt in the trash for Tylenol and then found the bottle of Tylenol counted out all the pills and noticed that only six were missing. The exact amount the three people would take. An intuition established that this was the cause of the deaths.
The containers of Tylenol were given to the police for testing. Due to the symptoms of the victims, the medical examiner already had a feeling that cyanide was involved before the results came back. Cyanide is an asphyxiant, meaning it cuts off your respiratory system, victims usually report headaches, dizziness, and confusion minutes after being poisoned and this lined up exactly with what happened to the victims. The examiner called the investigator that night and told him to smell the Tylenol in all the containers, and when he said they smell like almonds they both knew what it was; cyanide smells like almonds.
More tests were done and traces of cyanide were found in all the victim’s bodies as well as in the Tylenol containers. Investigators soon found that each pill the victim took contained 1,000 times the dose necessary to kill someone. After this, the public had to be informed which caused mass panic. Authorities used news outlets to share the warnings. Police officers also went door to door collecting people’s Tylenol. Both fire trucks and police cruisers drove down the street with loudspeakers ordering people not to take Tylenol.
The manufacturer of Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson, handled the situation well, offering a $100,000 reward for information about who could have done it. They recalled 31 million bottles of Tylenol and tested 1.5 million bottles themselves. In total, the event cost Johnson & Johnson over $1 million, but in the end, it was worth it. They found three more unopened bottles that had cyanide in them, one of them was in a person’s home, one still on a store shelf, and the third was bought but then returned. They also made the new bottles of Tylenol tamper-proof.
Forty years later, the investigators who originally worked on the case reopened it; they believe they might have found out who did it. However, they refuse to have the information released to the public.
By: Zaylah De La Torre
FOX 32 CHICAGO: Chicago Tylenol murders: A look back 40 years later By: FOX 32 News
Crime Museum: CHICAGO TYLENOL MURDERS
Chicago Tribune: At Will Media and the Chicago Tribune to launch ‘Unsealed: The Tylenol Murders’ By: Chicago Tribune
Featured Image Courtesy of of Katy Warner Flickr – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of R Boed of Flickr – Creative Commons License