Little Bits of History

What a Headache

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 29, 2012

Mary Kellerman

September 29, 1982: Twelve-year-old Mary Kellerman dies. Mary was from Elk Grove Village, Illinois. Adam Janus of Arlington, Heights, Illinois was next to die. Adam’s brother Stanley and his sister-in-law also both died. Next, Mary McFarland of Elmhurst, Illinois succumbed. Paula Prince of Chicago and Mary Reiner of Winfield died in similar incidents. Seven people died mysteriously and it was finally noticed that all of them had been taking Extra-Strength Tylenol. As soon as the link was noticed, urgent warnings were broadcast and police drove through Chicago neighborhoods yelling warnings over loudspeakers.

All seven had died from taking potassium cyanide laced capsules of the Tylenol product. After Adam died in the hospital, his brother and sister-in-law were grieving at his house when both of them took a capsule from the same bottle. They both died shortly thereafter. McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, manufactures the pills used for minor pain relief as well as fever control. They researched the containers and found that they came from different factories. It is theorized that the killer went around to local supermarkets and drug stores and tampered with the unsold bottles of Tylenol. It is thought they were taken, the pills adulterated, and then returned to shelves for unsuspecting people to purchase.

In the immediate aftermath, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) distributed warnings to hospitals and distributors. They pulled products from shelves and halted production and advertising. On October 5, 1982, they issued a country wide recall of Tylenol products. There were about 31 million bottles in circulation with a “street value” of about $100 million. When it was discovered that only capsules were affected, the company offered to exchange any capsules for solid pills containing acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. They also offered a $100,000 reward for the capture and conviction of what became known as the “Tylenol killer”. It has never been collected.

The FBI investigated the crimes using the code name TYMURS for the project. While there were some suspects, there has never been an arrest. James W. Lewis did serve time for attempted extortion – he wrote a letter to J&J demanding $1 million to stop the poisonings. He served time for extortion, but denies he actually did the poisoning and it was never proved otherwise. A conspiracy theory offers that the poisonings were done at a distribution center and J&J covered up the evidence. This has never been proven, either. The long term effect of these seven unsolved murders are the rigid anti-tampering laws now enacted in the US. There have also been many reforms in packaging of most consumable goods.

Johnson & Johnson has effectively demonstrated how a major business ought to handle a disaster. – from the Washington Post

We don’t believe the nation is smothered with tainted Tylenol. – Owen J. McClain

A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache. – Catherine the Great

I do not envy the headache you will have when you awake. In the meantime, dream of large women. – Cary Elwes

Also on this day:

Come Up and See Me Some Time – In 1650, the first documented dating service opens in England.
Physics – In 1954, CERN was established.
The Met – In 1829, the Metropolitan Police of London were formed.

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One Response

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  1. Dave Anders said, on September 29, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    The title “What A Headache” is misleading because none of the victims had headaches- another error because of Partricia Hysell’s wanting her prejudiced view of the world being more important than truth.


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