Tylenol… the perfect murder weapon

Sweet home, Chicago

Mystery Mob!!

How often do you take an anti-flammatory or an NSAID? Once a month? Once a day? Well, let’s be grateful for the safety seals on those bottles, as this week’s mystery is the reason those seals exist!

Before we get into (gasp) poison, let’s see how everyone did on this week’s riddle:

The more of me you take, the more of me you leave behind

What am I?

Answer: Footsteps!!

Were your puzzle solving abilities up to the task? Your ability to solve riddles and ciphers will be KEY in our Private Detective virtual series. (The beta goes out this week to all those who responded to our testing email!) 

Now let’s take the non-drowsy red pill and let’s see how far the rabbit hole goes...

That girl is poison

In 1982, a series of deaths caused absolute havoc in the city of Chicago. It started on September 29th, when 12 year old Mary Kellerman was the first to die after taking a capsule of extra-strength Tylenol. Disaster struck an entire family as Adam Janus (27), his brother Stanley (25) and his sister-in-law Theresa (19) all died after taking Tylenol from the same bottle. 

After three more incidents occurred in the following days, the Tylenol connection was finally made. Tests were carried out and the results weren’t… great. Cyanide was present in the capsules, and the blood tests of all the victims revealed that they had taken a dose 100 to 1000 times the lethal amount. 

Not the normal corporate/government approach

To protect the public, warnings and announcements were issued throughout Chicago via media and loudspeakers, encouraging everyone to discontinue the use of any Tylenol products. Sabotage during production of the drug was ruled out, as all of the occurrences had happened only in the Chicago area. 

Police concluded that the source of the poisoning had most likely taken place at supermarkets or drug stores, over a period of several weeks, meaning the culprit most likely added the cyanide to the capsules, then returned the bottles back onto public shelves. 

To reassure the public (sure), Johnson & Johnson halted all Tylenol production and advertising, eventually recalling an estimated 31 million bottles of the drug (a retail value of over 100 million dollars.) They even offered to exchange all Tylenol capsules already purchased to solid tablet forms of the drug.

Who would commit such a crime?

There was, of course, a huge incentive to catch the culprit behind these murders. At one point, a $100,000 reward was posted for anyone who could provide any information. 

The confusion was not helped by the a handful of copycats, as well as some wrongly accused suspects and wrongly claimed responsibility for the poisonings, resulting in further deaths, nervous breakdowns and, in one case, accidental revenge (see the deep dive for more.)

At one point, DNA samples were taken from the “Unabomber” Ted Kacyznski, considering the first four Unabomber crimes had occurred in Chicago just years prior. But there was no evidence to connect him.

To this day, no suspect has been charged or convicted of the poisonings.

Theories, safety standards, and the future…

Johnson & Johnsons response was positively received, applauded for its honesty with the public, and was rewarded with strong relationships with both the FBI and the FDA. 

The company’s market share fell from 35 percent to 8 percent at the time of the poisonings but, in less than a year, the company rebounded and Tylenol had regained the highest market share for an over the counter analgesic in the United States. 

Needless to say, there are plenty of theories out there claiming J&J was responsible for the poisonings in order to push their economic and relational agenda. 

In happier news, product tampering became a federal crime, causing the pharmaceutical, food, and consumer product industries to develop tamper-resistant packaging, such as induction seals and improved quality control methods.

Rabbit hole not deep enough?

Try one of these podcasts for a bigger nibble (a chomp, perhaps?)

As always, 

Stay ‘spicious 

-Andy & Mark

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