40 years after Tylenol poisoning murders, investigators interview suspect in Cambridge

CHICAGO (CBS) — Major developments surfaced Thursday into the 40-year-old investigation into the Tylenol murders in the greater Chicago area.

CBS 2 Chicago learned Thursday that investigators travelled to Massachusetts this week to re-interview the man considered a suspect in the seven deaths.

James Lewis was never charged with the murders, but he was convicted of trying to extort $1 million from Johnson & Johnson in the days after the cyanide-laced pills showed up on store shelves.

The CBS 2 Chicago Investigators began re-examining the case back in April, with a reporter travelling to the Boston area last month to try to track down Lewis. They found him at the very same Cambridge apartment he moved into after being released from prison.

In 1982, seven people in the greater Chicago area died after taking Tylenol laced with cyanide. Next week marks 40 years since that event, which terrified the city and country.

Soon after, a man wrote an extortion letter to Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, the maker of Tylenol — demanding $1 million to stop the killings. The man who wrote that letter was James Lewis. He would later spend a dozen years in prison for the attempted extortion.

Forty years later, Lewis remains a person of interest in the actual killings. He is really the only living known person of interest.

When the CBS Chicago Investigators went looking for him last month, Lewis had not been seen or heard from in more than a decade.

In early September the station showed their entire exchange with Lewis to Arlington Heights police Sgt. Joe Murphy. At the end, Arlington Heights police asked for a copy of it.

Sgt. Murphy is the default head of a task force investigating the murders, which includes numerous agencies, Illinois State Police, and the FBI. He was unable to comment Thursday, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.

However, CBS 2 Chicago was able to confirm that individuals investigating the Tylenol murders were in the Boston area in recent days – furthering investigative efforts that included interviewing Lewis. 

Sources at the FBI released this statement:

“No interviews on the subject of the 1982 Tylenol Murders have recently been authorized. Any opinions expressed by former employees are solely their own and do not constitute official statements attributable to the FBI. The presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of the American legal system, and standard Department of Justice policy prevents the FBI and its employees from expressing opinions regarding a private citizen’s guilt except as appropriate based on court proceedings. Department of Justice policy also prevents the FBI from commenting on the nature of ongoing investigations. For additional comment, we will need to refer you to Arlington Heights Police Department as the lead investigative agency.”

Over the past six months, CBS Chicago has interviewed dozens of people connected to the case – from former police officers to emergency personnel and relatives of some of the victims.

Investigators go Boston to re-interview person of interest in Tylenol murders


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