40-year-old ‘Tylenol Murders’ investigation continues; could charges be filed?

It has been 40 years since seven people were killed by taking tainted extra-strength Tylenol, but could charges be filed against the person whom police say is the prime suspect in the case?

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In the fall of 1982, someone had put lethal doses of potassium cyanide into bottles of extra-strength Tylenol, which at the time was the best-selling pain reliever in the U.S., WGN reported

Police officers in Arlington Heights outside of Chicago still have the evidence — pills, bottles, boxes and more — waiting for a break in the case, saying it was still an active homicide.

“We still receive tips that are being evaluated and investigated. We also are still – we’re looking at emerging forensic technology,” Sgt. Joe Murphy told WMAQ in an interview last year.

Murphy said his department has been working on the case with multiple agencies over the last four decades. Even federal law enforcement has been part of the investigation since the beginning.

“Those of us involved in this were absolutely consumed by a relentless sense of mission to figure out who did this, how do we stop them and how do we then bring justice to them,” former federal prosecutor Jeremy Margolis told WMAQ last year. “Every conceivable theory, every conceivable motive, virtually every possibility that one’s imagination could conjure up was looked at.”

Police believe they know who tampered with the medication and he has already served time in Massachusetts for trying to extort $1 million from Johnson & Johnson, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Police said they have a “chargeable, circumstantial case” against James Lewis, who had lived in Chicago before the killings occurred, the newspaper reported.

Investigators said they don’t have physical evidence, but what they have found links him to the product tampering, the Tribune reported.

At one point in 2007 and 2008, Lewis said it took him three days to write the letter he sent to Johnson & Johnson saying he could “stop the killing” if he got $1 million from the company.

Through new technology, officials said the letter had an Oct. 1, 1982 postmark hidden under the ink, meaning he started writing the letter before people knew that it was poisoned Tylenol killing the victims. Lewis changed the timeframe in a later interview, saying he had “faulty memory,” the newspaper reported.

Police said that Lewis had a book about poisoning in his home in Kansas City before he moved to Chicago in 1981. Experts said they found his fingerprints inside, including on a page where it describes how much cyanide is needed to kill someone.

However, there is still no physical evidence linking Lewis to the murders. He had moved from Chicago to New York about three weeks before the bottles were believed to have been placed in stores, the Tribune reported.

Lewis served 13 years in federal prison for attempted extortion of Johnson & Johnson and for mail fraud in a 1981 credit card scam. He was released from prison in October 1995 and now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

For more on the Tylenol murders and the decades-long investigation, the Chicago Tribune has launched a podcast called “Unsealed: The Tylenol Murders.”

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