The Tylenol Killer is a mass murderer who killed seven Illinois civilians with cyanide-filled Tylenol pills on September 29, 1982.

Case History

On September 29, 1982, Mary Kellerman, a 12-year-old girl living in Elk Grove Village, complained to her parents of having a runny nose and a sore throat. Her parents decided to give her one Extra-Strength Tylenol capsule to combat the symptoms. A few hours later, during the morning, her parents found her lying on the bathroom floor and immediately took her to the hospital where she was pronounced as dead. Meanwhile, in Arlington Heights, postal worker Adam Janus was taken to the hospital, his breathing labored and his blood pressure alarmingly low. Despite paramedics' best efforts, Adam did not survive in the end. During Adam's funeral, his brother Stanley, along with his wife Theresa, began suffering from headaches induced by their tragic loss. To combat the headaches, they each took a capsule of Adam's Extra-Strength Tylenol. Shortly afterward, they both collapsed on the floor and died at the hospital. Suspicious of the deaths of three family members, all one by one, police began investigating. Meanwhile, two firefighters talked about the deaths of Kellerman and the Januses, and they traced a connection: all four victims had ingested Tylenol before dying. An examination of the Tylenol pills taken by the victims immediately found approximately 65 milligrams of cyanide. McNeil Consumer Products, manufacturer of the Extra-Strength Tylenol, was immediately alerted and a recall of the medicine was initiated. However, it was too late, for three more people were killed by the poisoned Tylenol: Mary Reiner, Paula Prince, and Mary McFarland.

When the seven deaths made national news, widespread fear emerged in the country, especially the whole of the Chicago area. The situation was so serious that some state health departments banned all forms of Tylenol products, not just the Extra-Strength Tylenol brand. Tylenol products were promptly removed from the shelves of stores everywhere. No one had anymore intention of purchasing Tylenol products. The company's reputation was temporarily ruined from the terrible incident. The following month, several more contaminated Tylenol bottles were discovered in stores situated in the Chicago area. A heated manhunt for the perpetrator was initiated, and investigators eventually found their first suspect: James W. Lewis. The search for him started when Lewis sent a letter to Johnson and Johnson, demanding $1 million to end the cyanide poisonings. On December 13, 1982, FBI agents apprehended Lewis, while Lewis's wife LeAnn turned herself in. Simultaneously, a threatening letter stating the writer's intention to blow up The White House and "create more Tylenol deaths" has been sent to The White House; it also stated that the threats will be averted if Ronald Reagan didn't change his tax-based policies. Though Lewis is credited for writing the letters due to the similar handwriting, he had an alibi for the fatal poisonings: he was with his wife in New York City. Lewis wasn't convicted of the Tylenol murders, but he was found guilty of extortion and mail and credit-card fraud. In addition to Lewis, there were two other suspects in the case: Roger Arnold and Laurie Dann. However, both were cleared of any involvement. The case remains unsolved and the killer has never been caught.


James W. Lewis

James W. Lewis.

  • James W. Lewis:
    • Worked as a tax accountant
    • Also known to be a con artist
    • Handwriting was positively matched to that of two letters sent to Johnson & Johnson and The White House, the Johnson & Johnson letter demanding an end to the poisonings, The White House letter threatening to bomb it and continue the Tylenol poisonings
    • Was at New York City with his wife during the time of the murders
    • Sentenced to 20 years in prison for extortion and letter and credit-card fraud, but served only 13 years of the sentence and was paroled in 1995
  • Roger Arnold:
    • Contracted a nervous breakdown after being suspected of the murders
    • Shot and killed whom he believed to be a bar owner who allegedly turned him in, but in actuality, he mistook a random pedestrian for said bar owner
    • Sentenced to 30 years in prison for second-degree murder, but served only half of the sentence
    • Died in June 2008
  • Laurie Dann:
    • A mentally-ill patient with a history of poisoning attempts
    • Went on a shooting rampage at an elementary school, killing one boy and injuring five other students
    • Committed suicide after taking a family hostage and wounding a man

Modus Operandi

According to authorities, the Tylenol Killer would pick up bottles of Extra-Strength Tylenol from shelves, fill them with approximately 65 milligrams of toxic cyanide (10,000 times over the average amount to kill a person), and then return the bottles to the shelves.


John Douglas and Marl Olshaker's book Journey into Darkness describes the Tylenol Killer as a loner motivated by rage that was focused on overall society. He might have received some kind of psychiatric treatment to help deal with negative emotions, like anger and depression. He also could've complained about how society was wronging him, and probably tried contacting a person of power by some means; however, said person presumably refused to listen to him, further fueling his anger and leading to the murders. "The Tylenol Killer" also most likely lives in the Chicago area, as he seems to have knowledge of the region, especially the local stores. He also owns a car or truck, which he would drive the distances between the stores where the contaminated bottles were left. It is also likely that he works in a job that allows him access to cyanide, like the gold- or silver-mining industry, film processing, or chemical manufacturing. If so, that job would be menial and with low wages.

Known Victims

Tylenol Killer's victims

The deaths caused by the Tylenol Killer.

  • September 29, 1982, Chicago metropolitan area, Illinois:
    • Elk Grove Village: Mary Kellerman, 12
    • Arlington Heights: The Janus family
      • Adam Janus, 27 (survived the initial ingestion, but later died at a hospital)
      • Stanley Janus, 25 (Adam Janus's brother)
      • Theresa Janus, 19 (Stanley Janus's wife)
    • Winfield: Mary Reiner, 27
    • Chicago: Paula Prince, 35
    • Elmhurst: Mary McFarland, 35


There have been a number of attacks copycatting "The Tylenol Killer". Two notable copycats are:

Stella Nickell

Stella Nickell.

  • Stella Nickell:
    • Lived in Seattle, WA
    • Filled capsules of Excedrin with lethal cyanide
    • Targeted her husband Bruce, poisoning his medicine, before leaving contaminated bottles at stores, hoping to poison others in order to reclassify Bruce's death as accidental so she can receive his insurance money
    • Attacks killed 40-year-old Susan Snow and also poisoned Snow's husband, but he was rescued
    • Failed a polygraph test that she continuously rebuffed
    • Sentenced to 90 years in prison
  • Joseph Meling:
    • Spiked Sudafed decongestants with cyanide
    • Tried to poison his wife with the medicine in order to collect insurance money
    • Two people were killed from the attacks
    • Sentenced to life in prison

On Criminal Minds

The Tylenol Killer was mentioned in the Season One episode Poison when the BAU compared the Tylenol deaths to the case at hand. The killer was mentioned again in the Season Eight episode Brothers Hotchner, again as a comparison to the case at hand. In the latter reference, Rossi erroneously states that the poisoning incidents occurred in 1986, not 1982.