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How Did the Tylenol Murders Influence Medicine Packaging Today?

Back in 1982 there were several deaths in Chicago. After further investigation, medical personnel were able to identify that the victims died of cyanide poisoning. But how did it happen?

The common denominator of the deaths were linked to the consumption of Tylenol. Back then, medicine was just packed in the containers without a safety seal. When the Tylenol murders happened, companies took precaution and added the foil seals.

How Did the Murders Happen?

In 1982 an unknown person tampered with Extra-Strength Tylenol being sold in Chicago. The capsules were laced with cyanide which ultimately lead to the death of 7 people.

Mary Kellerman

Mary was a 12-year-old girl from Elk Grove. She was feeling unwell with a sore throat and runny nose. Her parents gave her one Extra-Strength Tylenol. By the next morning, she was dead. It was discovered later on that the Tylenol she had consumed was laced with potassium cyanide. (Source: PBS)

Adam, Stanley and Theresa Janus

On the same day Mary had passed, a 27-year old postal worker by the name of Adam Janus died of a massive heart attack. Further investigation also lead to cyanide poisoning.

Adam’s brother, Stanley, and his wife, Theresa went to Adam’s house to console his loved ones. They both experienced throbbing headaches and took the Extra-Strength Tylenol Adam had consumed that day.

Stanley died the same day, and Theresa passed two days later. (Source: PBS)

Mary McFarland, Paula Prince and Mary Weiner

After the first four deaths, three more followed days later. Mary McFarland, Paula Prince, and Mary Weiner were all found to have taken Extra-Strength Tylenol before passing. (Source: PBS)

What Did the Manufacturer Do?

The Tylenol murders really affected the trust between Johnson & Johnson and the American consumers. But the corporation was quick and took swift control of the situation.

Alan Hilburg, the communications and branding consultant for J&J said “We concluded we were never going to be judged by what caused the problem, we were always going to be judged on how we responded to it.”

Six weeks after the first death, the company changed their packaging. The new bottle had all sorts of safety elements: cotton wad inside, the foil seal, childproof screw cap, with a plastic strip. The capsules were also replaced with caplets by the next year.

Other pharmaceuticals and corporations followed their footsteps. (Source: NY Times)

Did They Ever Find the Tylenol Killer?

The Tylenol Murders have inspired hundreds of copycats across the United States. According to The Food and Drug Administration, there were about 270 incidents related to product tampering.

The Police was never able to make an arrest for the original Tylenol murders.

A certain James Lewis, a tax consultant wrote a letter to the manufacturer of Tylenol that he would stop the killings if they paid him $1 million. Lewis had a strange past, he was charged of murder after the Kansas police found the remains of his former client in a bag in his attic. The charges were dropped when the judge ruled the search of Lewis’ house illegal.

Lewis could never link the Tylenol murders to him, and he ended up denying the murders too. But he was convicted for extortion and spent 12 years in federal prison.

To this day, we are still unsure of who the original Tylenol killer is. The tainted Tylenol are still in police custody. They are hopeful that some DNA may be recovered and can be tested to finally convict the killer. (Source: Time)

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