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September 18, 2019 Beyond The Dash

Remembering the Victims of the Chicago Tylenol Murders

Mary Kellerman, Adam Janus, Theresa Janus, Stanley Janus, Mary Reiner, Mary McFarland, and Paula Prince

Remembering the Victims of the Chicago Tylenol Murders
This year marks the 37th anniversary of the Chicago Tylenol Murders of 1982. (Getty Images)

There are some events that shape society in unprecedented ways. The Tylenol Murders shook the Chicago metropolitan area and the entire nation in the fall of 1982. Over the course of a few days, seven people died of cyanide poisoning after taking what they believed to be Tylenol. The incident sparked panic in Illinois, and ultimately led to widespread implementation of anti-tampering safety measures in over-the-counter drugs.


It has been 37 years since this calculated and heinous crime took the lives of seven people. In honor of the victims, we remember their lives and stories in hopes that a tragedy like the Tylenol Murders will never happen again. 


To this day, the murderer has not been caught. 


Remembering the victims



Mary Kellerman


September 29, 1982

The first victim was 12-year-old Mary Kellerman, a seventh grader at Addams Junior High School in Schaumburg and living in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. She enjoyed horseback riding and earned extra money after school babysitting for neighborhood children.


Mary woke up early in the morning hours of September 29, 1982. Feeling ill, she took an Extra Strength Tylenol to help with a runny nose and sore throat. At 7 am, her parents found Mary unconscious on the bathroom floor. Her parents rushed her to the hospital where Mary was pronounced dead by 9:30 am. Her death was first assumed to be a stroke, but the toxicology report and connection to other deaths soon proved it to be a murder. 


She left behind her parents Dennis and Jeanna M. Kellerman. Mary Kellerman was laid to rest in the Saint Michael The Archangel Catholic Cemetery.


Adam, Stanley and Theresa Janus


September 29, 1982

Twenty-seven-year-old Adam Janus was the next person to die after taking Extra Strength Tylenol. He was the father of two young children, and living in Arlington Heights. The day of his death, Adam thought he was coming down with a cold. He stayed home from work that day. On his way home from picking up his children from preschool, he stopped at a Jewel grocery store and purchased a bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol.



"After taking several capsules, he walked into his bedroom, collapsed and fell into a coma. He died in the emergency room at Northwest Community Hospital."


— SARA OLKON, The Chicago Tribune



After the death of Adam Janus, his family gathered at his home to mourn and begin making funeral arrangements. Stanley, Adam's brother, and his wife Theresa (Adam's sister-in-law), were visiting with family when they complained of headaches and looked for a nearby remedy. In Adam's bathroom cabinet, they found the same bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol. Moments after taking the disguised cyanide capsules, Stanley and then Theresa collapsed. 


Fearing carbon monoxide poisoning, the rest of the Janus family was taken to hospital for observation. They were given their last rites, but did not die. 


The Januses were survived by Janus parents Tadeusz "Ted" and Alojza Janus, niece Monica Janus, brother Joseph Janus, Theresa's brother Robert Tarasewicz, her mother Helena Tarasewicz, and a host of other bereaved family members and friends.


A joint funeral was held for the three Janus family victims on October 5, 1982, with the Archbishop Joseph Bernardun presiding. Adam Janus was laid to rest at Maryhill Catholic Cemetery & Mausoleum in Niles, Cook County, Illinois. Stanley and Theresa Janus were laid to rest at Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery in Naperville, DuPage County, Illinois.


Mary Reiner


September 29, 1982

Mary Reiner was happily married to her husband Ed, and the couple had just welcomed their fourth child into the world. She used Tylenol to relieve symptoms of post-birth discomfort. 


Like the other victims, Mary Reiner collapsed shortly after taking the fatally disguised dose of cyanide. Mary's daughter, Michelle Rosen, was just eight years old when she witnessed her mother's poisoning, collapse, and death. Mary's husband arrived at the scene shortly after:



"I came home right after she had fallen on the floor. An ambulance came [and rushed her to Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield]. I’m not gonna say a whole lot more than that."


— Ed Reiner, as quoted by Chicago Magazine


"Mary Magdalene Reiner grew up in Villa Park and was "100 percent Irish." Rosen remembers her being a good cook and preparing corned beef and egg noodles for the family. She also loved playing softball, the drums, and bowling."


— James Sotonoff, Daily Herald



Her death left husband Ed Reiner to mourn, and four children, including an infant son to grow up without a mother.


Mary McFarland


September 30, 1982

Thirty-year-old Mary McFarland was working at her job at the Illinois Bell in Lombard, when she felt a bad headache coming on. According to her brother Jack Eliason, Mary took Tylenol in the back room of her workplace, and died shortly after. He told the Associated Press:



"...she went in the back room and took I don't know how many Tylenol — at least one, obviously — and within minutes she was on the floor." 



She was a single mother, working and raising two young sons at the time of her death. Her two boys Ryan and Bradley McFarland, now grown, survive Mary McFarland. She was also survived by parents John and Jane Eliason, brother Jack Eliason and sister-in-law Nancy Eliason, and siblings. A granddaughter she never had the chance to meet was named Mary in her honor. 


Paula Prince


October 1, 1982

Paula Jean Prince, 35, was a flight attendant who worked for United Airlines. On the day of her death, she flew from Las Vegas to O'Hare International Airport. She purchased Tylenol from a Walgreens on her way home. An ATM surveillance camera captured the purchase. 


Exhausted from a long flight, Paula took Tylenol to relieve the symptoms of a cold as she got ready for bed. She was found dead in her apartment, and an open bottle of Tylenol was found on her bathroom counter. While other victims of the Tylenol Scare were from the suburbs of Chicago, Paula was the only victim to live in the city.


The deaths of Mary Kellerman, Adam Janus, Stanley Janus, Theresa Janus, Mary Reiner, Mary McFarland and Paula Prince shared many similarities. All turned to Tylenol, a trusted, safe and common over-the-counter drug, to relieve minor ailments, and lost their lives. Their stories are almost universally relatable. Who hasn't taken a Tylenol for quick relief from a headache, cold or other aches and pain? The ordinariness of the circumstances coupled with the heinousness of the crime created a wave of panic in the Chicago metropolitan area.


Paula's funeral was held in Omaha at the same time as the Janus family victims, on October 5, 1982. She was laid to rest at Calvary Cemetery in Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska. She was survived by her father Lloyd Prince, mother Margaret Prince, and siblings Carol Lisle, Margaret Conway and Robert Prince. 


Discovery 


Authorities first attributed the deaths to natural causes or carbon monoxide poisoning. After the deaths of three members of the Janus family, they began to suspect there was something else linking the deaths. When it was discovered that each of the victims had taken Tylenol shortly before their deaths, investigators examined the bottles and observed an almond smell. Cyanide is known to smell like bitter almonds. 


The drugs were produced in different pharmaceutical facilities, which meant that the bottles were tampered with in stores. Police believe that the person responsible may have taken bottles from stores in the area in the weeks or months leading up to the crime, replacing the Tylenol with cyanide pills. Each pill contained a lethal dose.



"On testing, each of the capsules proved to be laced with potassium cyanide at a level toxic enough to provide thousands of fatal doses."


Time Magazine



Two firefighters, Richard Keyworth of Elk Grove Village and Lt. Philip Cappitelli of Arlington Heights, should be praised for their action in this tragedy: they first developed the theory that Tylenol capsules were responsible. They passed their hunch to Dr. Thomas Kim, chief of critical care at Northwest Community, who handled the deaths of the Januses. Without the linking of Mary Kellerman's death to the Adam, Stanley and Theresa Janus, more people might have died. 


Reactions and panic


When news of the deaths broke, there was panic across the Chicago metropolitan area and the nation. Stores removed Tylenol from their shelves. Police issued warnings against using Tylenol  through loudspeakers in the streets. Crowds of people turned up at local hospitals, attributing unrelated illnesses to cyanide poisoning. Poison control lines were flooded. People who relied on Tylenol for regular pain management went without. 


Chicagoans weigh in on the panic that news of the murders caused in the city.


Johnson & Johnson public relations efforts


While there's no silver lining to the Tylenol Murders case, Johnson & Johnson's early reaction to the emerging crisis went down in history as a remarkable public relations reaction. As soon as the company was made aware of the poisoned capsules, Johnson & Johnson formed a strategy team with two questions to answer: "How do we protect the people?" and second "How do we save this product?" 


A warning was issued  to consumers via media outlets not to ingest any Tylenol products. A 1-800 line was established to directly handle calls from panicked customers, and a media line for communication with reporters. Stores were instructed to remove all bottles from the shelves. When two more poisoned bottles were identified, Johnson & Johnson initiated a massive nationwide product recall, urging all consumers to return the medication for a full refund. They offered $100,000 as a reward to anyone who could identify a suspect. In the aftermath of the scare, they introduced triple-seal packaging on Tylenol. In total, five poisoned bottles were lethal; three were identified in the recall, and did not result in loss of life.


The company lost over $100 million from the recall. Rather than being blamed for the murders, in lieu of having a real suspect, Johnson & Johnson emerged as another victim of the crime — and a hero:



"Marketers predicted that the Tylenol brand, which accounted for 17 percent of the company's net income in 1981, would never recover from the sabotage. But only two months later, Tylenol was headed back to the market, this time in tamper-proof packaging and bolstered by an extensive media campaign. A year later, its share of the $1.2 billion analgesic market, which had plunged to 7 percent from 37 percent following the poisoning, had climbed back to 30 percent."


— Judith Rehak, International Herald Tribune



Despite the good press, Johnson & Johnson wasn't entirely off the hook. Asserting that the pharmaceutical company should have been prepared for product tampering, the families sued Johnson & Johnson. In 1991, the families of all seven victims agreed to a settlement for an undisclosed amount. One of the provisions of the settlement was that "a portion of the settlement would be in the form of annuities to pay the college costs of the victims' eight children."


Copycat deaths


The panic of the Chicago Tylenol Murders also inspired hundreds of copycat poisonings in the years that followed. Though these crimes were not committed by the same murderer who killed seven people in 1982, the people killed in copycat crimes should be honored among the seven victims who perished in the original crime. 



Prevention


Seven lives were indiscriminately taken by a killer who planted poison in trustworthy products. It was a brutal attack that ended the life of a child, wiped out three members of the Janus family, killed hardworking Chicagoans, evoked mass panic, inspired copycat killers, and forever changed the way food, drugs and other ingestible products are packaged. 


However, actions were taken in the wake of the Tylenol Murders that protect consumers to this day. While nothing can bring back the lives that were taken, it may be comforting to remember that these deaths sparked a change in the way society thinks about medications and food tampering in general. From these deaths, we as a society learned about the dangers of food tampering and established practical means of prevention.


Tylenol set the standard in food and drug packaging following the Chicago-area murders, but the crimes made tamper-resistant packaging a mainstream and legislated safety requirement. 


Laws were also established in the aftermath of the Tylenol Scare. Later, copycat criminals were prosecuted using the laws enacted following the original crime. Most recently, a woman was arrested for licking ice cream in a grocery store, and returning it to the shelf. She was caught, and is facing charges on counts of food tampering—laws that may never have been enacted if not for the Tylenol Scare. 


Each safety seal, child-proof cap and piece of anti-food tampering legislation is a testament to the lives of Mary Kellerman,  Adam Janus, Stanley Janus, Theresa Janus, Mary Reiner, Mary McFarland and Paula Prince. Their loss of life means increased safety for all who lived after the Tylenol Scare, and their names must not be forgotten.


We asked Chicago residents what the lasting impact the Tylenol Murders had on the city. Here are their responses.


Remembering 


Even after 37 years, the Tylenol Murders case still attracts attention. Though this crime happened in Chicago, it is universally disturbing. A cold, calculated, murderous act left seven dead in Chicago, but this crime might have happened anywhere. Perhaps most chilling is the indiscriminate selection of the victims, and the knowledge that it could have happened to anyone. 


These are condolences and memories submitted by Chicago residents past and present.

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