30-Year Anniversary of Tylenol Murders: How Would Tylenol Terror or Similar Terror Play Out Today?

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If more than a small number of Extra-Strength Tylenol bottles were contaminated or were about to be contaminated in 1982, there’s one very important occurrence in the Tylenol murders case that prevented tens or hundreds more people from being killed by cyanide poisoning, which is known to have started on Wednesday, September 29, 1982. Unknown deaths may have occurred prior to September 29, but deaths following September 29 were prevented because of the quick discovery of cyanide after a coincidence in Arlington Heights and Elk Grove Village. That quick discovery was enhanced because an off-duty Arlington Heights Fire Department lieutenant was listening to his police/fire scanner — and had a hunch about medical emergency calls he knew about that fateful day.

Three people (Adam Janus, 27, Arlington Heights; Stanley Janus, 25, Lisle; Theresa Janus, 19) died a sudden death in the same house in Arlington Heights within six hours (12 noon and 5 p.m.). That raised the alarm. Was there something in the house? A gas? A biological contaminant? A poison? It was contaminated Tylenol purchased at a Jewel grocery store at 122 North Vail Avenue in Arlington Heights, but nobody new about that yet.

The same day Elk Grove Village resident Mary Kellerman, 12, had died sometime after 6:30 a.m. at Alexian Brothers Medical Center. Her parents had given her Tylenol for a sore throat and runny nose, and found her lying on the bathroom floor. Unusual by itself — based on the age of the victim — but nothing to raise the alarm that a mass murder was underway. Nobody suspected the Tylenol as a problem.

Also the same day, Mary “Lynn” Reiner, 27, was at home in Winfield after she had recently given birth to her fourth child. She was not feeling well and took Extra-Strength Tylenol and collapsed and died about 3:45 p.m. — again, unusual because of her young age, but nothing to raise the alarm of mass murder. The Extra-Strength Tylenol she took came from Central DuPage Hospital where she received the capsules during her stay at the hospital during the birth of her child. She did not take capsules from a bottle of regular Tylenol as was reported by the media — capsules that were reported to have been purchased at Frank’s Finer Foods in Winfield (Hint: Manipulated media?).

While medical professionals at Northwest Community Hospital, including then Intensive Care Unit Director Thomas Kim, M.D. and then village nurse Helen Jensen, R.N. were trying to piece together evidence to investigate the three suspicious deaths in Arlington Heights; it was a dedicated off-duty Arlington Heights Fire Department Lieutenant, Phil Cappitelli who lived in Elk Grove Village, who was listening to a police and fire scanner, and a dedicated Elk Grove Village fire investigator Richard Keyworth, who was also listening to his public safety radio that started to have a hunch about a connection of the deaths in Arlington Heights and Elk Grove Village to Tylenol. They communicated with authorities at Arlington Heights Fire Department and at Northwest Community Hospital who were working on the case. They urged authorities to check the Tylenol. Nurse Helen Jensen bravely went into the home where the victims died in Arlington Heights (against the advice of some, in case there was a danger inside the house). She had no personal protective gear — no mask, no self-contained breathing apparatus. She grabbed the Tylenol at the home and brought it to the hospital.

Hours later seven people would be dead after taking Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules. The victims of cyanide poisoning were Mary Kellerman, 12, Elk Grove Village; Adam Janus, 27, Arlington Heights; Stanley Janus, 25, Lisle; Theresa Janus, 19, Arlington Heights; Paula Prince, 35, Chicago; Mary “Lynn” Reiner, 27, Winfield; and Mary McFarland, 31, Elmhurst.

Lab results at about 1:00 a.m. Thursday, September 30, 1982 concluded that cyanide was mixed in with the Tylenol. Cyanide is a poison that blocks cellular respiration and metabolism. It competes with oxygen for the molecules that use oxygen and energy stored in food to extract energy that the body uses for all functions. The entire body painfully shuts down like the hardest workout you’ve ever had because the cyanide shuts out the oxygen, and has none of the beneficial effects of oxygen.

A Thursday morning press conference recommended people not take any Tylenol. Police in Arlington Heights drove through the streets warning with their vehicles’ built-in public address systems that people should not take Tylenol. The City of Chicago printed flyers in multiple languages. On Friday night Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne announced that all Tylenol would be pulled off the shelves in stores in Chicagoland. Then Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne called a press conference on Sunday morning to announce that she ordered police and health officials to remove all Tylenol products from all 2,000 stores throughout the city by 6:00 p.m. Sunday evening.

Today communications would be quite different. Messages about a poisoning would be sent by citizens and communities via Facebook, Twitter, cell phone text messages, e-mail and phone calls. Authorities would probably use reverse 9-1-1 and post information on their official websites and Facebook pages. The process would be much more efficient in 2012 than in 1982.

While the Department of Homeland Security didn’t exist in 1982, it is set up to respond today — in many ways that the general public and even some authorities aren’t aware. However, the problem of connecting the dots is still a major problem in this kind of terror or murderous act. If those three deaths in Arlington Heights had not occurred or would not occur today in the same place in a short time frame, the identification of a problem is delayed, and more people die. In fact, some believe many more people did die before the events of September 29, 1982. These people and some independent investigators believe that these other undiscovered Tylenol deaths are possible because the deaths were sporadic and not identified as anything else but an unusual death of unknown cause. One of those people is the daughter of Winfield victim Mary “Lynn” Reiner. Michelle Rosen was a child when her mother collapsed, and her Dad, Ed Reiner, told her to go upstairs. She suffered the trauma of witnessing her mother’s death by cyanide poisoning, and then suffered the trauma of discovering that her father was a suspect for a short time in the murder of her mother. She’s also suffered the media coverage of the Tylenol murders — that is the media’s early chasing of false leads and then later failing to communicate the strange twists and troubling details that point to protection of Tylenol manufacturer Johnson and Johnson from liability and, according to the book The Tylenol Mafia by Scott Bartz, failing to illuminate an “investigation corrupted by well-connected corporate executives and politically motivated government officials who buried the truth inside a shadow legal system inaccessible to everyday Americans.”

Investigators pressured Michelle’s father, Ed Reiner, with a lie detector test on the theory that he murdered his wife with the help of two or three other people, and murdered others in a Tylenol contamination scheme that killed the other victims, too. Later investigators said Reiner was never a suspect, but that statement came after NBC implied he was a suspect.

Tom Brokaw opened NBC’s Monday evening news broadcast by saying, “Chicago authorties now believe they know the real story behind the Tylenol murders. They’re working on a substantial lead, but they’re not yet prepared to make an arrest. However, the investigation, which has involved false leads and sensational development which turn out not to be true does now appear to be going in one direction.”

Jim Cummins, reporting for NBC in Chicago, said “Investigators now believe the seven Tylenol murders were the work of two men, including the relative of one of the victims. Investigators believe the two men conspired to kill a member of the relative’s family and cover up that crime by planting poisoned Tylenol in stores, killing other people to make it look like the work of a madman.”

NBC showed video footage of an unmarked car parked in front of Ed Reiner’s house. According to the book The Tylenol Mafia, investigators from the Illinois Department of Law Enforcement (IDLE) tipped off reporters the day after Mary “Lynn” Reiner’s death that Ed Reiner was a suspect. Reporters camped outside the Reiner’s house hoping to get pictures and video of Ed Reiner’s arrest. Later, the head of the Tylenol Task Force and Illinois Attorney General Tyrone Fahner announced on October 26, 2012 that Ed Reiner was never a suspect, and that “No Reiner family member is a suspect in the Tylenol murder or any other investigation.”

Was the Reiner issue just a distraction while law enforcement and Johnson & Johnson put together a line of defense of the company by hiding information and producing other false information? The story the public received from media was that the Tylenol was contaminated by a madman that opened bottles on shelves and returned them contaminated with cyanide. But how did the Extra-Strength Tylenol from Central DuPage Hospital that killed Reiner get contaminated? Some believe the Tylenol was contaminated at a more central location — in a manufacturing plant.

Boxes of Tylenol were also discovered by Kane County Sheriff’s police deputies at a Howard & Johnson’s diner on September 28, 1982 — the day before the first Tylenol murders were discovered. Two Kane County Sheriff Deputies Al Swanson and Joseph Chavez came across a suspicious package in the parking lot of a now-defunct Howard & Johnson’s hotel and diner at Route 25 and Dundee Avenue in Elgin. The deputies arrived at the parking lot to park their police cruisers at 2:32 a.m., September 28, 1982 and planned to have a meeting and bite to eat during their shift. About 30 feet away on a grassy strip the deputies noticed two boxes with the words “EXTRA-STRENGTH TYLENOL CAPSULES” on the boxes. In between the boxes was a pile of white powder, and hundreds of capsules strewn about nearby. Swanson and Chavez scraped up some of the powder and rubbed it between their fingers. They assumed a drug dealer cutting cocaine or some other illegal drug dumped the suspicious items. Suddenly both Kane County Sheriff’s deputies became violently ill with nausea, dizziness and vomiting (cyanide can also be absorbed through the skin). They rushed away — leaving the dangerous packages. One couldn’t finish his shift. The other finished his shift incapacitated.

In press briefings, Fahner said preliminary lab tests found no trace of cyanide in the fragments of Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules and powder discovered in the Howard & Johnson’s motel parking lot. When law officers returned to the Howard Johnson parking lot to retrieve the Tylenol evidence, the boxes, bottles, and powder were gone. Only a few empty capsule remnants remained that had been run over by car tires. This lead has never brought any further discovery.

Crucial to stopping the crisis in its tracks is connecting the dots. If information doesn’t flow freely, dangerous patterns aren’t detected.

Today, if the murders occurred in Des Plaines or Park Ridge or Naperville, no word of the deaths would reach the media unless a press release was released hours later. Media and citizens, and even adjacent police agencies cannot monitor public safety communications in these suburbs because they use encrypted or proprietary technology. Even police from another agency might not be aware in real time of something happening in those communities because they can not listen in. Off-duty police officers can not even monitor there own community’s police communications. The secure radios are too expensive to have extras for officers take them home. Before the new systems, less expensive scanners could be used by off-duty officers.

The ‘secure’ radios also make it impossible for the media to monitor public safety communications and detect when a major problem is developing in real time. Media can eventually get a press release from the police agency, but it could be too late to inform the public, or sterilized. Or if you read “The Tylenol Mafia” book, perhaps you’d believe a corporation controlling politically motivated government officials could be calling the shots on the press release. How long might it take for community leaders to face a lawsuit because they didn’t warn citizens in real time?

Yesterday Chicago Fire Department announced that their new radio system is schedule to be in service in January 2013. The department’s Chicago Fire Media tweet announced that their radio communications will be IN THE CLEAR — meaning it can be monitored by public citizens and the news media.

According to Michelle Rosen, the only “evidence” authorities have ever announced to the public on the Tylenol murders is that people went to the store, bought Tylenol, and they died. The real evidence the authorities have is under seal and has never been revealed to the general public.

As Michelle Rosen has learned and declares, “Local and live is the only truth in media during a catastrophe.”

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