Chicago Tylenol Murders: An Oral History

TERROR IN A PILL: In 1982, seven Chicago-area residents were killed after taking cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules. Three decades later, in exclusives interview, the principal players in that drama relive what some consider the first act of domestic terrorism.

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Today

Thirty years after the seven deaths, the Tylenol murders remain unsolved.

Attorney General Fahner
In all the time I was a relevant part of the investigation, I always thought that it would have been resolved. I would have bet anything on it. I didn’t see how we could have that kind of manpower, that much analysis, [and] that it wouldn’t be solved. I just didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now.

Superintendent Brzeczek
My opinion is that this was an initial homicide where the bad guy knew the victim and that was it. And then to cover it up, the bad guy went and contaminated the other ones. That motive makes the most sense to me.

Firefighter Keyworth
I personally think that the person or persons involved in this—my gut feeling was that their purpose was to bring the United States to its knees: “Look at the power we have. We can shut down the entire economy. We can control the world.” And for a short period of time, they did. In today’s world, it would be domestic terrorism. We didn’t have that terminology back then. But it was actually the first case of domestic terrorism in the country.

Attorney General Fahner
I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but it was kind of the first act of terrorism, in that there was no intended victim, just random victims. Not unlike what happens in the world today when people throw pipe bombs. Up until that time, when you had mass murderers like Richard Speck, these were people who had selected victims and decided what they were going to do or not going to do. But this really was random. And that’s what terrorism is to me—to frighten or kill indiscriminately.

Flight Attendant Ahern
I swear to you, there were no over-the-counter pills in my house for over two years. No aspirin; no Tylenol. I lost my trust in humanity. I was afraid to give my kids milk because there were no safety caps on milk. I was worried about cereal. I kept thinking to myself, If they can open up a pill bottle and put cyanide in there, what’s to stop them from poisoning all our food?

Director Zagel
You see a lot of terrible things in this business. You see a lot of terrible things even as a judge. And your mind sort of puts them away. But there are some things that you simply can’t close the book on, and what you can’t close the book on is not the investigative stuff and the various things you did. It’s the human parts of it, and the inhuman events that caused them, and it sticks with you.

Flight Attendant Ahern
I can bring myself to cry thinking about everything Paula didn’t get to see. People from the Tylenol poisonings didn’t get closure. They didn’t get to slam the door on the guy who did this.

Mayor Byrne
It was a very sad moment for my administration. I can’t think of a thing I’d have done differently. We did the best we could under the circumstances. But there was a young girl with a headache and she’s dead. It was just a terrible thing.

Attorney General Fahner
I feel very sorry for the families. I feel very badly. I think emotionally they want to know some justice has been done.

Investigator Pishos
The FBI came and talked to me not too long ago because they reopened the case. They were going back and swabbing everyone for DNA because I believe they still have the bottles with the capsules, so they are ruling out anyone who was in contact with those bottles.

Dr. Kim
The FBI called me six months ago asking me to do a DNA test. I asked them what was happening, and they said, “Well, we’re reopening the case.”

Rick Kappelman
Sergeant with the Arlington Heights police
Without divulging any more than this, the investigation is at this point open and active. They are actively pursuing leads even at this late date.

Royden “Ross” Rice
Special agent in the FBI’s Chicago office
The FBI is helping to coordinate a reinvestigation or a continuing investigation of the 1982 Tylenol poisonings. If evidence is developed which links a person or persons to that crime, they will in all likelihood be charged with violating state murder statutes in DuPage and/or Cook Counties. Because it’s still ongoing, we can’t discuss the case.

Ed Reiner
Husband of victim Mary Reiner
It’s still pretty rough. And it’s hard to talk about. This kind of thing doesn’t go away.

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