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Prison Releases Extortionist in Tylenol Deaths

October 14, 1995|From Associated Press

EL RENO, Okla. — A leading suspect in the 1982 tainted-Tylenol killings was freed from federal prison Friday after serving more than 12 years.

Seven people were killed by cyanide-tainted Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules purchased from drugstores and groceries in the Chicago area in 1982. The killer was never identified.

James W. Lewis, an out-of-work accountant, was a prime suspect but never was charged with the deaths, which prompted dramatic changes in the way almost all food and medical products are packaged.

He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in June, 1983, for demanding $1 million from Johnson & Johnson, parent of Tylenol manufacturer McNeil Consumer Products Co., "to stop the killing." He also served more than two years of a 10-year sentence for an unrelated tax-fraud charge.

Lewis, 49, arrived at Boston's Logan International Airport wearing a purple sweat suit and sporting a full beard similar to the one he had when he began his sentence. He was accompanied by his wife, Leanne, and an unidentified woman.

He appeared frail and shaken, but stared straight ahead and remained silent despite a half dozen TV cameras and a barrage of questions from reporters, then was driven away in a gray four-door car driven by an unidentified man.

Lewis told the Associated Press in 1992 that he planned to live on the East Coast with his wife once he was released.

Lewis was arrested in December, 1982, at a New York library after a two-month manhunt.

He gave investigators a detailed account of how the killer might have operated, describing how someone could buy the medication from stores, use a special method to add cyanide to the capsules and then return them to store shelves.

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