True crime has become one of the most popular niche hobbies for people looking to kill some time (no pun intended). From true crime docuseries to murder podcasts to books like I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Search for the Golden State Killer, there is an entire genre dedicated to people who just love learning about murder.
While the thought may be bothersome initially, once you delve into the actual stories, it’s hard not to become engrossed in the details (or lack thereof) of each mystery. TikTok has been known for users celebrating their weird fascination with murder and crime, and a new sound on the app brought back an old unsolved crime from the early eighties called the Chicago Tylenol murders.
True crime TikTok has brought the Tylenol Murders back into the spotlight.
Not only have some TikTokers dedicated entire videos to the Tylenol murders, but others have also made a hilarious sound go viral on the app that starts with an upbeat pop song and a caption like, “What my husband thinks I’m listening to when I clean the house..” which then transitions into a sound clip from a murder podcast that says, “Tonight we’re talking about the Tylenol murders…”
The sound now has over 150 videos dedicated to others bonding over the fact that they are true crime obsessed. The top video for the sound has over 250k likes and 1.9 million views.
The Chicago Tylenol Murders were a series of poisoning deaths in 1982.
On a September day in 1982, several people, all in good health, suddenly died for inexplicable reasons in the hospital. Mary Kellerman, Adam Janus, Stanley Janus, and Teresa Janus all died on the same day mysteriously, while Mary McFarland, Paula Prince, and Mary Reiner also died in the following days. Doctors and nurses were baffled at the cause of death in these seven people.
Investigators into the deaths were confused and suspicious about an entire family passing away suddenly. They soon learned that all three Janus family members became ill after taking the popular over-the-counter painkiller Tylenol. Investigators tested the bottle at their home and found the remaining capsules to be laced with cyanide, a highly toxic chemical. The other victims were also found to have cyanide-laced bottles of Tylenol.
Johnson & Johnson soon released a nationwide recall.
The New York Times reported, “A second batch of cyanide-contaminated Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules was found in the Chicago area yesterday and the manufacturer, the McNeil Consumer Products division of Johnson & Johnson, expanded its recall to include more than 264,000 bottles of 50 capsules each.”
“The recall, one of the largest ever ordered in the pharmaceutical industry, involved all bottles of Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules from throughout the nation with the lot numbers MC2880 and 1910MD, which were linked to the deaths, and all bottles of Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules of any lot number from throughout the Chicago area,” they continued.
They issued a nationwide recall of Tylenol products; an estimated 31 million bottles, with a retail value of over $100 million (equivalent to $265 million in 2019). The company also advertised in the national media for individuals not to consume any of its products that contained acetaminophen after it was determined that only these capsules had been tampered with. Johnson & Johnson also offered to exchange all Tylenol capsules already purchased by the public for solid tablets.
The Chicago Tylenol murders remain unsolved.
One main suspect in the Tylenol murders James William Lewis sent a letter to Johnson & Johnson demanding $1 million to stop the murders. Police were able to identify him using fingerprints from the letter. However, he was found not guilty of the crimes.
Though he wasn’t convicted for the murders, he did go on to serve 13 years for extortion. He still remains a favorite suspect for investigators, though they could never find the evidence. He now denies responsibility for the poisonings.