CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The suspect within the 1982 Tylenol poisonings that killed seven individuals within the Chicago space, triggered a nationwide panic, and led to an overhaul within the security of over-the-counter treatment packaging, has died, police stated on Monday.
Officers, firefighters and EMTs responding to a report of an unresponsive individual at about 4 p.m. Sunday discovered James W. Lewis useless in his Cambridge, Massachusetts, dwelling, Cambridge Police Superintendent Frederick Cabral stated in an announcement. He was 76, police stated.
“Following an investigation, Lewis’ death was determined to be not suspicious,” the assertion says.
Nobody was ever charged within the deaths of seven individuals who took the over-the-counter painkillers laced with cyanide. Lewis served greater than 12 years in jail for sending an extortion be aware to producer Johnson & Johnson, demanding $1 million to “stop the killing.” He and his spouse moved to Massachusetts in 1995 following his launch. Listed numbers for his spouse weren’t in service.
When Lewis was arrested in New York Metropolis in 1982 after a nationwide manhunt, he gave investigators an in depth account of how the killer may need operated. Lewis later admitted sending the letter and demanding the cash, however he stated he by no means meant to gather it. He stated he needed to embarrass his spouse’s former employer by having the cash despatched to the employer’s checking account.
Lewis, who had a historical past of bother with the regulation, all the time denied any function within the Tylenol deaths, however remained a suspect and in 2010 gave DNA samples to the FBI. He even created an internet site wherein he stated he was framed. Though the couple lived briefly in Chicago within the early Nineteen Eighties, Lewis stated they have been in New York Metropolis on the time of the poisonings.
In a 1992 interview with The Related Press, Lewis defined that the account he gave authorities was merely his means of explaining the killer’s actions.
“I was doing like I would have done for a corporate client, making a list of possible scenarios,” stated Lewis. He known as the killer “a heinous, cold-blooded killer, a cruel monster.”
The FBI seized a pc and different gadgets from Lewis’ dwelling in February 2009 after Illinois authorities renewed the investigation.
The FBI’s Chicago workplace on the time cited “advances in forensic technology” and stated it, together with the Illinois State Police and native police departments, was conducting a “complete review of all evidence developed in connection” with the killings.
In a span of three days beginning Sept. 29, 1982, seven people — including a 12-year-old girl — who took cyanide-laced Tylenol in the Chicago area died, triggering a nationwide recall of the product. The poisonings led to the adoption of tamperproof packaging for over-the-counter medications.
Helen Jensen, a nurse who helped treat the first victims at a suburban Chicago hospital, said in a phone interview Monday with the AP she hoped Lewis’ death would be a final coda to a tragedy that has haunted her for four decades. She also hoped it would bring victims’ families some closure.
“His death is a conclusion. Not necessarily the conclusion everyone wanted,” stated Jensen, who’s retired. “But it is an end. I’m 86 now. And I am glad I got to see the end before I die.”
Jensen said she was the first to figure out that a bottle had been tampered with. Investigators laughed at her.
“I was a woman and I was a nurse,” she said. “I understood the attitudes of that time. But I was proven right by the next day.”
Jensen said Lewis, who she accepts was responsible, “changed the world because of what he did.”
“We lost our innocence,” she said. “We have become less trusting of everyone else. We can blame it all on him. … He was a terrorist and we have suffered from his terror for 40 years.”
Lewis had prior run-ins with the law.
In 1978, he was charged in Kansas City, Missouri, with the dismemberment murder of Raymond West, 72, who had hired Lewis as an accountant. The charges were dismissed because West’s cause of death was not determined and some evidence had been illegally obtained.
He was convicted of six counts of mail fraud in a 1981 credit card scheme in Kansas City, accused of using the name and background of a former tax client to obtain 13 credit cards.
Lewis was charged in 2004 with rape, kidnapping and other offenses for an alleged attack on a woman in Cambridge. He was jailed for three years while awaiting trial, but prosecutors dismissed the charges on the day his trial was scheduled to begin after the victim refused to testify, the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office said at the time.
Police in 1983 described Lewis as a “chameleon” who lived in several states, used at least 20 aliases and held many jobs, including computer specialist, tax accountant, importer of Indian tapestries and salesman of jewelry, pharmaceutical machinery and real estate.
The lack of accountability in the case has long frustrated victims’ families.
Monica Janus, who was 8 years old when three members of her family died after taking the tainted medication, told CBS Chicago in 2022 that she thought the investigation was “really sloppy.”
Lewis’ wife was out of town and contacted a neighbor when she could not get a hold of her husband, and the neighbor contacted police, Cabral said.
Related Press Author Michael Tarm in Chicago contributed to this report.
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