Unsolved: Chicago Tylenol Murders (1982)

Reading Time: 17 minutes

The Tylenol murders occurred in the Chicago Area in the autumn of 1982. This was one of the most horrific unsolved crimes, not because Chicago is known for violence, but this had never been seen before. The person/persons that were involved in this horrific crime never actually came face to face with their victims, they never even knew in fact who would fall victim to their evil plan of violence. The person/persons had tampered with bottles of one of the most popular over the counter pain medication in the United States, Tylenol, they were filling the capsules with lethal does of cyanide, potassium cyanide and putting them back on the shelves in numerous stores across the Chicago area.

I did some research on potassium cyanide poisoning and found this from the CDC, the toxin starts by destroying the body’s mechanism for processing oxygen and suffocates a person. The central nervous system gets shocked by the poison, which causes a whole slew of mild symptoms, ranging from nausea to lightheadedness and later could possibly cause seizures, cardiac arrest, pulmonary Edema and then death. There is an effective treatment when knowing if you had been poisoned, but it must be administered either immediately or shortly after ingesting cyanide since death occurs rapidly, the victims ingested more than a lethal dose and no treatment would have been able to save their lives in time.

On the morning of September 29, 1982, 12-year-old, Mary Kellerman awoke and complained that she felt unwell to her parents that she felt sick, like any parent would they gave her an over-the-counter pain relief as she complained of a sore throat and runny nose. Her parents gave her the extra-strength Tylenol.

Shortly after or right around 7 AM, Mary was found by her father, Dennis Kellerman, found Mary laying on the bathroom floor. They lived in Elk Grove, Illinois. Dennis immediately called for an ambulance and Mary was rushed to a nearby hospital, Alexian Brother Medical Center. Tragically, at 9:56 AM, Mary Kellerman was pronounced dead. The doctors at the hospital believed that the 12-year-old had died from a stroke. Dennis Kellerman, Mary’s father, told Chicago Tribune, “I heard her go to the bathroom, I heard the door close, then I heard something drop, I ran to the door and I called, “Mary, are you OK?” There was no answer, I called again, “Mary, are you ok?” There was still no answer. So, I opened the bathroom door, and my little girl was on the floor unconscious and still in her pajamas.”

Could you imagine what this father was thinking standing outside the bathroom door hoping his daughter would answer? His heart must have been racing, hoping his poor sick daughter was ok, and then when no response came, he opened the door and found his daughter laying lifeless on the ground. He had to have been shocked, wanting to help her any way that he could.

At 12:00 PM on the same day, 27- year – old, Adam Janus, had taken a sick day from his job, he was a postal worker in Arlington Heights. Helen Jensen, Public health Nurse for Arlington Heights stated, he had stayed home from work because he had felt like he was getting a cold. He went and picked up his kids from preschool and stopped at the Jewel Osco to get some Tylenol. He came home and they had some lunch and said, “I’m going to take 2 Tylenols and lie down.” A couple minutes later, he came staggering into their kitchen and collapsed.

Adam’s wife, Teresa, called the ambulance where Adam was rushed to Northwest Community Hospital and placed into the ICU. Thomas Kim, the medical director of the ICU at Northwest Community Hospital stated, “Our first job is to resuscitate, and we couldn’t even do that. His heart just would not resuscitate. I signed (Adam) out as probably cardiac death. I was talking to his family, explaining – well trying to explain – what had happened. Its hard even if you know the diagnosis. I was trying to tell them we did not know why. Teresa was there. His parents were there and a whole slew of other people, and they did not go back to their; they went back to Adam’s house in Arlington Heights. Adam died at 3:15 PM.

Now I was thinking, Elk Grove and Arlington Heights is not that far apart, only 6.2 miles in fact, would the same paramedics or some same coroner been called for both deaths? Would the links start being put together? Did they have any reason to start question if the deaths were related? They probably did not, on an average 1.78 people die per second in the world. This would be 107 per minute and 6,390 per hour. This is a lot of people. They probably did not think anything of it. Or at least I would not at the time.

At 3:45 PM, Mary “Lynn” Reiner, a 27-year-old, is at home in Winfield, Illinois. She had just recently given birth to her 4th child. She was not feeling well and takes some Tylenol and collapses. Ed Reiner, Mary’s Husband stated, I cam home right after she had fallen on the floor, the baby was a week old, I called or an ambulance and rushed her to Central DuPage Hospital.

The Janus’ family was had all came to Adam’s house at around 5 PM that same day as Adam’s death, they were planning his funeral and mourning together. Adam’s younger brother, Stanley and his wife Theresa both were at the house, Stanley had chronic back pain and asked his wife Theresa to get him some Tylenol, she gave him two, and then she took 2 herself for a headache, he went down and then she went down.

Charles Kramer, A lieutenant with the Arlington Heights Fire Department pulled up to the Janus’ house, there was cars and people everywhere, all 8 of his men were working 4 on Stanley and 4 on Theresa. Everything that would happen to the Stanley would happen to Theresa just moments later.

At around 5:30 PM, Dr. Kim, the one would work on Adam was about to head home for the day and stared to put on his jacket, a nurse came up to Dr. Thomas Kim and told him that they were bringing the Janus family back. Thomas Kin was just thinking that it was going to be Adam’s parents wanting to speak with him and he told the nurse that, but the nurse had other news. “No, its his brother. “Dr. Kim was confused at this time, he saw him last, and he was a healthy about 5’11, 6-foot man, would have happened, he asked the nurse, “Well, what happened, did he faint? “The nurse stated, “they are doing CPR and they are working on his wife also.” That is when Dr. Kim knew it was serious and took his jacket back off.

Nurse Jensen receives a phone call around the same time that Stanley and his wife Theresa had arrived at the hospital from Chuck Cramer, he told her “there’s something going on here. We had a death this morning and now we brought in two more from the same house. They want a public health person here, and you’re the only public health person I know.” Jensen drops everything that she is doing and went to the hospital.

I have a feeling this is where the links are going to start connecting. But how far does this actually go and how many more people are going to be affected by this? Hundreds? Thousands? What was happening to these people?

At this time, word was starting to get out and the links were starting to connect with individuals that had worked on the individuals that were collapsing and dying. Deputy Medical Examiner Donoghue lived just 2 blocks from his office and had to go back and pick something up, one of his men said, “Doctor, we’ve got something unusual going on. We had this family in Arlington Heights where one person died, and then the brother and sister-in-law came over and now the brother is dead, and the sister-in-law is in profoundly serious condition and not expected to live.”

Nurse Jensen, the public health nurse arrived at the hospital where the Janus’ were around 6 PM that night, Jensen found Teresa, Adam’s wife, standing in one of the corners and asked Teresa if she could tell her exactly what happened that morning with Adam and what had happened with Stanley and Theresa.

While Jensen was speaking with Teresa, trying to get answers for what happened during the morning and afternoon accidents, investigator Pishos arrived at the hospital, nobody could really say what was happening, Investigator Pishos asked Dr. Kim what he thought it could have been, Kim stated “We don’t know.” Pishos decides that they would get answers if they went back to the house to hopefully find some answers and if anything was out of the ordinary.

Its now 6:30 PM, this still on September 29th, so far 3 people have been killed and 1 in critical condition and they have only taken Tylenol, but no links to the 4 people have been made yet. Mary McFarland would be the next victim, she was at work, Illinois Bell in Lombard Illinois. She was 31 years old and lived in Elmhurst. She tells her coworkers that she had a bad headache, heads to the breakroom and takes an extra -strength Tylenol.

Jack Eliason told the Associated press; she was on the floor within minutes on taking the Tylenol.

At 8 PM, Nurse Jensen, Investigator Pishos, and police officers arrived at Adam Janus house. They were expecting to walk in and be like there is the problem instantly, but that was not the case in this house. Nothing looked contaminated. There was shelves full of over-the-counter medications and some prescription drugs but nothing out of the ordinary. Nurse Jensen then finds the Tylenol, 6 capsules missing – 3 people dead, this was not a coincidence she thought. She thought the Tylenol had to have something to do with it. There was no protective sealing on this bottle or in fact any over the counter drugs at this time, all they had was a piece of cotton tucked down in the bottle. So, Nurse Jensen and Investigator Pishos went back to the hospital and took the bottle with them.

At 8:15 PM, Stanley Janus is pronounced dead at Northwest Community Hospital.

So, we have 3 people dead, and 1 person in critical condition, back then, over the counter drugs, all over the counter drugs in fact did not have the protective sealing on them that you see today, it was not common, there was no reason to have protective sealing when no problems have occurred. Well…. that is not the case now.

Paula Prince, a 35-year-old Flight attendant arrived at O’Hare Airport from Las Vegas at 9:30 PM and stops at the Walgreen on North Wells street and buys some Tylenol.

Nurse Jensen, Investigator Pishos and a police officer sit down in a closed off room from the ER and start to preserve the chain of evidence, Nurse Jensen sits the bottle of Tylenol down and states that it is the cause, but nobody believed her. That got Investigator Pishos thinking, from earlier in the day another bottle of Tylenol was inventoried from a little girl that had died, for some reason the paramedics had inventoried it, that’s when Pishos had somebody from the Elk Grove Village Police department bring it down to him at the hospital.

Once the bottle from Elk Grove arrived, Investigator Pishos examined the bottle and noticed that both bottles had the same control number on them. MC2880. He then reported back to the medical examiner’s office, Deputy Donoghue told Pishos to open the bottles and smell them, and there was strong smell of almonds, and the weird thing is, only half the population can smell cyanide. The deputy was incredibly lucky his investigator could smell it as that was the only way it was different. Everything looked the same and ordinary, except the smell in both the bottles, it was at that time they both knew it was Cyanide.

Donoghue stated, cyanide does not get picked up int eh red blood cells which causes you asphyxiate, it causes brain damage and cardia arrest and happens very quickly.

It is now Thursday, September 30th, at 1 AM Dr. Kim gets the lab results from the Tylenol bottles found in the homes of Mary Kellerman and Adam Janus, it had massive amounts of cyanide, 100 or 1,000 times more than necessary to kill them.

At 3:15 AM Mary McFarland, the worker from Illinois Bell, is pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.

Mary Reiner, the mother of 4 from Winfield is pronounced dead at 9:30 AM.

As of now, Theresa Janus is still in critical condition, how were they able to keep her alive? What did they do differently if they took her husband and herself in at the same time, they even took the pills at the same time how was she able to survive, yes, she is in critical condition but what was different?

Bill Rizer, a sergeant with the Winfield Police Department stated, “We weren’t quite sure at the time exactly what had happened. We knew she was dead, but I don’t think initially we realized until the other investigations came to light with the other towns that we had a connection.”

At about 10 AM Deputy Donoghue and an attorney from Johnson & Johnson they took care of the Tylenol’s manufacturing, show up in hospital. They went up to the lab and the toxicologist explained what they had found. The attorney from Johnson & Johnson was there for half an hour and then left, he could see once they found cyanide in the Tylenol, there was no way they could not release this information to the public. Roy Dames, the CEO of the Cook County Medical Examiners Officer states “Let’s make sure there’s no other connections between these deaths before we go public and tell people not to take Tylenol.” Once they proved it to him, He was ready to tell the public. Roy Dames talked to the CEO of the company that made Tylenol and that there was going to be a press conference his first reaction was “Do you have to?” Dames exclaimed, “Well, do you have a better idea?” CEO then said, “No.”

Hold up, the CEO of the maker of Tylenol was worried about what? Somebody possibly in his company purposefully killing people. And he was worried that would get out? He was going to let hundreds maybe thousands of more people get sick and die because he didn’t want a press conference to be held and his name and company go up in flames?”

Roy Dames says, the press conference was simply to tell people in the area that we had found cyanide in Tylenol and to warn them there might a danger if they had any, it would be a good idea to not take them at least for a while, we were not saying it should be recalled at this time, but we thought the community needed to be warned.

Nurse Jensen is terribly upset by this and decides to call the police department and tells them that Tylenol needs to be taken off the shelves, but they tell her they can not do that, it was not until the deputy chief got wind and, in the office, and he said to go ahead and do it.

At 3 PM on September 30th, Johnson & Johnson announces a recall of all Tylenol from the lot MC2880.

Friday, October 1st, at 11 AM, Attorney General Fahner was in a conference room at the Attorney’s generals office in Chicago, with the state police, the local law enforcement people, the chiefs of police, the director of Illinois state police, pretty much anybody who might have a hand in law enforcement was in there and they also got the Feds involved too, they were trying to get ahead of it because they didn’t know how many bottles were out there that had been purchased and they didn’t know how big this was going to get.

At 1:15 PM, Theresa Janus is taken off life support and is pronounced dead. Then at 5 PM, Paula Prince the flight attendant, was discovered dead in her apartment on LaSalle Street. She was the only one that was in Chicago and not in the suburbs.

Paula’s sister, Joan Ahern, states, she was supposed to meet her for dinner, and she was not answering her phone which raised an alarm that something was not right, and from what Ahern understood, she was due to fly back out that Friday and was a no-show for the flight.

Richard Brzeczek, Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department told the Chicago Mag that when Paula’s family could not reach her, they called the police department to do a well being check on her. When police arrived, they found a Tylenol bottle sitting open on the vanity that was in her bathroom, by the time she got to the doorway of the bathroom door she was dead. They also have a security camera picture of Paula purchasing the Tylenol that would soon be her death sentence. Walgreens unfortunately did not have security cameras in the aisles to see if there was anybody putting the bottles back on the shelf.

Deputy Donoghue stated Paula took them on Wednesday night, and he remembers thinking that she was already dead when the press conference was released.

At 8 PM, Jane Byrne, the Mayor of Chicago, was out for 3 nighttime engagements when she got a message from her driver after walking out of her first engagement a retirement party, “There is an urgent message for the mayor- call the office.” The driver told her, Superintendent Brzeczek told the mayor the preliminary thoughts on what could have been or what at the time was a disaster. They knew Paula had been out and came in with a headache, took some Tylenol and died. The Mayor did not know what to think at this time just that Chicago had millions of people in its population.

At 11 PM, Mayor Bryne was all set to make a press conference about the finding of Paula Prince. It was at the press conference that the announcement was made that the city of Chicago was going to pull all Tylenol off the shelves. On October 4th, Mayor Byrne and the Chicago City Council passes an ordinance requiring tamper-resistant packagain for all drugs sold in stories, and on October 5th, Johnson & Johnson recalls ALL Tylenol products nationwide, that would be 31 million bottles valued at more than $100 million. The investigation continues in the following days and weeks.

Over the next few days, you had everybody, and when I mean everybody, I mean law enforcement agencies from DuPage County, Cook County, Chicago Police, you even had the FBI involved, the US attorney general was involved, when they say everybody was involved, they meant everybody.

There was also copycat crimes that the world was dealing with now, this was not just in Chicago area, this became a nation crisis, and they had a copycat killer on the loose now. A man in California was sickened after taking Tylenol laced with Strychnine. The investigators did not believe this related to the Chicago Killings.

At one point in time Attorney General Fahner had hundreds of people actively seeking leads and running leads, there was over 1,200 things they thought were leads, and when they say leads, this is not calls, this is actual leads they would go out to the community and investigator.

Detective Herb Hogberg was with the Elmhurst Police Department he stated, he went out to Des Plaines with investigators from other departments, the state had all the leads they would pass the information down to the investigators then they would follow up with interviewing people from various areas.

Could you imagine, all these investigators, running around the state of Illinois following up on thousands of leads, I am sure all these investigators, the police officers, everybody involved was exhausted, they were probably 15-16 hours shifts and then sleeping for a few hours and going back out and doing it all over again, but they had to find something to put anybody behind these awful and horrific poisonings.

The bottles that contained the cyanide-laced capsules were in the following stores:

  • Jewel Foods Store, 122 North Vail, Arlington Heights (1 Bottle)
  • Walgreen’s Drug Store, 1601 North Well, Chicago (1 Bottle)
  • Frank’s Finer Foods Store, Winfield Road, Winfield (1 Bottle)
  • Jewel Foods Store, 48 Gove Mall, Elk Grove Village (1 Bottle)
  • Osco Drug Store, Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg (2 Bottles)
  • Unnamed Location (2 Bottles)


The bottles other than containing cyanide filled capsules differed greatly. The number of capsules replaced in each bottled varied as did the quality in which the capsules had been stored. Some were immaculate while others had clearly been tampered with. This led to speculation from some over the years that more than one person was involved in the Tylenol Murders.

Would individuals know the difference in the capsules, they state that you could clearly tell it had been tampered with, if that is the case why did they take them? Did they just think it was normal discoloration? Or did they think it was something from the production line. In 1982, nobody would have thought to question the bottles or pills, they were probably thinking if they are on the shelves, they are fine, they would not put something out that could harm the public right? But what was the actual motive to the person/persons involved in this? Why would they want to poison possibly hundreds of people?

Detective Hogberg had a series of people that they had talk to Johnson & Johnson that had been terminated from the company. They were maybe thinking that an ex-employee was upset with them and this was there way of getting back at them. Detective Hogberg did find something interesting; Johnson & Johnson had had a problem with the talcum powder. Green stuff was growing in it and mothers were getting upset. The greens stuff later was determined to be mold that grows in damp oak, and the pallets that were in the mine were oak and on that team was a guy who had gotten terminated.

On Wednesday, October 6th, Johnson & Johnson receive an extortion letter demanding $1 million to stop the killings. The police eventually traced the letter to a James Lewis in New York City, and for the investigation is focused directly on him. But he was later apprehended.

In 1995, after serving 13 years of his 20-year sentence for extortion, Lewis was released from prison.

Unsolved Casebook articles does state that they had suspects in the Tylenol murders. One suspect was Roger Arnold. In January 1984, the 49-year-old was sentenced to 30 years for second degree murder. He was convicted for the shooting of 46-year-old John Stanisha. The murder was direct result of aftermath of the Tylenol murders. 1982, he worked as a dockhand for Jewel foods warehouse and found himself a suspect and under investigation in relation to the Tylenol murders. Roger Arnold was said to be a DIY chemist, but was soon cleared of any involvement, but the brief glare of the media was something Roger Arnold did not cope very well with, because of all the media spotlight, Arnold had a nervous breakdown and decided to take revenge on the man he believed had named him to authorities, Marty Sinclair, he approached the man he believed was responsible and shot him at point blank range, but John Stanisha was the innocent victim of mistaken identity.

Roger Arnold served 15 of his 30-year sentence and died in 2008.

With hoping the FBI can use modern technology and hopefully getting somewhere in this case, the families have no closer, they will continue to have no closure until the person or persons involved have been named and captured. These families deserve closer, with no leads or suspects, this investigation is stalled and has been for 39 years. The case is still currently in status open but may remain that way for some time. The families do not have closure, they are living with torture every day, hoping, one day that they will get that phone call and are told they have somebody that has been linked to the murders of the 7 victims.


Revisiting Chicago’s Tylenol Murders – Chicago Magazine

The Tylenol Murders | Unsolved Casebook

CDC – The Emergency Response Safety and Health Database: Systemic Agent: POTASSIUM CYANIDE – NIOSH

How Many People Die In A Second? – Blurtit

The Chicago Tylenol Murders: Strange, Sad, and Still Unsolved | by Jennifer Geer | CrimeBeat | Medium