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FBI reopens investigation into the 1982 Tylenol killings

Authorities search the Boston-area home of a man convicted of extortion in connection with the unsolved deaths and say 'a complete review of all evidence' compiled over the years would be done.

February 05, 2009|Jeff Coen and Gary Marx

CHICAGO — The FBI searched the Massachusetts home of a man convicted of extortion in connection with the unsolved 1982 Tylenol killings, saying Wednesday that the bureau had reopened the investigation because of advances in forensics and tips to law enforcement.

The announcement was the first indication that authorities hadn't given up on solving the seven Chicago-area killings, which terrorized the nation and led to tamper-resistant packaging. Tylenol capsules had been filled with cyanide and returned to stores, where random consumers purchased them.

The FBI said federal, state and local authorities were conducting "a complete review of all evidence" compiled over the years, but it was unclear whether authorities were close to charging anyone.

After searching the Boston-area home and storage locker of longtime suspect James William Lewis, the FBI issued a statement saying the renewed investigation was prompted in part by publicity surrounding the 25th anniversary of the killings and the resulting tips.

"My two innocent children left this world," a weeping Alojza Janus, 80, of suburban Chicago, said in Polish after the announcement. "I hope they find the person who did it."

Her sons Adam, 27, and Stanley, 25, died of cyanide poisoning, as did Stanley's wife, Theresa.

The first victim was 12-year-old Mary Kellerman, a seventh-grader who took two Tylenol for her cold before going to class Sept. 29, 1982. Before anyone could help her, she was dead. The others were Mary Reiner, 27; Mary McFarland, 31; and Paula Jean Prince, 35.

"We owe it to the victims' families to bring modern technology and current cold-case homicide investigation techniques to this case in the hopes of solving it once and for all," FBI spokesman Tom Simon said.

Investigators have long suspected Lewis, a tax consultant who had moved from Chicago to New York in September 1982. He was convicted of extortion after admitting that he wrote a letter to Tylenol's manufacturer the week after the deaths, demanding $1 million "to stop the killing."

Lewis served more than 11 years in prison and was released in 1995.

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jcoen@tribune.com

gmarx@tribune.com

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