• Code Amber Ticker

    The Tylenol Poisonings

    This was the first time that terrorism had struck into American homes. The nation's trust in it's favorite painkiller was about to be destroyed. On September 29th, 1982 a girl whose name was Mary Kellerman from Chicago, and who was 12 years old at the time, complained to her parents, who were in their bedroom, that she wasn't feeling well. Her parents gave the girl an extra strength Tylenol capsule and sent her back to bed. By lunchtime she was dead. The same day a woman, who was 27 at the time and from the nearby town of Winfield Illinois, took two Tylenol capsules to relieve a headache. Within hours she too was dead. A 27 year old suburban Chicago man was the next victim. He was followed quickly by his 19 year old wife and 25 year old brother. The three members of the family all took capsules from the exact same Tylenol bottle.

    A few days later some firefighters in the Chicago area were discussing the oddity of these people keeling over and they detected the fact that all of these people had taken Tylenol immediately before their death. The authorities examined the remaining pills in the Tylenol bottle and discovered the capsules had been laced potassium cyanide, a deadly chemical poison. The amount in each capsule was 10,000 times the amount necessary to kill an average person. Cyanide is a chemical compound in various kinds of industrial products. Basically it shuts down the metabolic machinery of a person's system. Once that amount of cyanide is ingested a person will be dead from within seconds to minutes. Meanwhile, the makers of the pain reliever, Johnson and Johnson, issued a recall, not only in the Chicago area, but nationwide as well.

    They felt that their number one responsible was to the consumer and they wanted to contain the problem immediately. However the death toll continued to rise. There were seven victims in 72 hours. Almost from the beginning the authorities ruled against a manufacturing problem with the product. It was determined rather quickly that someone was taking the capsules apart, lacing them with cyanide and putting them back on the shelves. Ultimately more than 30 million capsules were recalled costing Johnson and Johnson an estimated $100,000,000. But the question remained who could commit such a crime and why? The only answer was people who commit crimes like this are sick. Some people do it because there is a revenge motive, perhaps being angry at the company. Some people do it for the kicks to see if they can watch the havoc they have caused on TV while being undetected.

    After a six month investigation authorities had no viable leads. New tamper proof packaging was introduced, packaging that is now the norm for most all consumable products so to this day we all have to struggle getting our medication out of it's packaging because of this one incident. The incident also led to the 1983 Tylenol Bill which makes it a Federal offense to tamper with any kind of consumable product. In 1986, after yet another death, Johnson and Johnson stopped manufacturing their products in capsule form. Then they withdrew all capsules and destroyed them. Sometime later they began marketing what is still on the market today, called caplets, which are tamper proof. The identity of the person responsible for the Tylenol poisonings remains a mystery to this day.

    more info