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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.

(page 3 of 5)

Friday, October 1

11 a.m.

Attorney General Fahner
In a conference room [at the attorney general’s office in Chicago], I pulled together the state police, the local law enforcement people, the chiefs of police, the director of the Illinois State Police—basically anyone who might touch it from a law enforcement angle I got the feds involved, too, because we didn’t know how big this was. You start to think, Wow, is this not only in Illinois but elsewhere?

1:15 p.m.

Theresa Janus is taken off life support at Northwest Community Hospital and pronounced dead.

5 p.m.

Police discover the body of Paula Prince in her Old Town apartment at 1540 North LaSalle Street.

Joan Ahern
United flight attendant and friend of Prince
Her sister was supposed to meet her for dinner, and she wasn’t answering her telephone. That sort of alerted her sister that something’s not right. And what I understood is that she was due back out that Friday and she was a no-show for a flight.

Richard Brzeczek
Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department
Her family couldn’t reach her, and they called the Chicago police to do what we call a well-being check. And I’ll tell you what they found. The Tylenol bottle was still sitting open on the vanity. She took it in the bathroom, and by the time she got to the threshold of the door, she was dead.

Deputy Medical Examiner Donoghue
She took them on Wednesday night. And I remember thinking that she was dead by the time we went on television for our press conference.

Superintendent Brzeczek
There was a security camera [at Walgreens] taking still photos of Paula Prince walking up to the cash register and making her Tylenol purchase—you know, buying her death warrant right there. They were eerie. But there weren’t security cameras in the aisles to see if someone was putting it up on a shelf.

Flight Attendant Ahern
Paula was blond, vivacious, had a gorgeous smile. That guy stole all her dreams, her life, her future. He just destroyed it all. Just poof, one pill. What makes a man do something like that?

8 p.m.

Jane Byrne
Mayor of Chicago
That Friday I had three nighttime engagements. One was a rather big retirement party for a police officer. That was at Navy Pier, followed by a very social type of evening at Symphony Center. I did a Lincoln reading there, and that was to be followed by a black-tie dinner. These things were not similar. So I started out my evening, and the only thing on my mind at that point was, Well, what would I wear?

Superintendent Brzeczek
I happened to be at a social function with my wife when I got the call. So I called the mayor and said, “They tell me we’ve got a Tylenol death in Chicago.”

Mayor Byrne
When we walked out of the retirement party, the driver of the car came up and said, “There is an urgent message for the mayor—call the office.” So I got in the car, we called the office, and they explained the preliminary thoughts on what could have been—what was—a disaster. They knew at that time that [Prince] had been out and came in and had a headache and took Tylenol and then died. And it was like, Oh my God—there’s a million people out there.

Deputy Medical Examiner Donoghue
With the Janus family, we got the toxicologist out of bed. It was the first time in the history of the office that he had come in overnight and done analysis. And when they found Paula Prince, he was called back to do it again.

Mayor Byrne
What was on my mind was, How many others? [We called] the superintendent of police, the commissioner of the fire department, and the doctor in charge of the board of health. We had them meet me at Symphony Center in a backroom. I thought, Well, we’ve got to prepare. We ordered fliers printed, particularly in foreign languages. We planned everything to make sure that the public was notified. That was phase one. So I went down to my office. We were waiting on all these different sources to give us information. More and more was coming in, and there was no doubt that somebody had tainted the Tylenol.

11 p.m.

Superintendent Brzeczek
Mayor Byrne was all set to make a press announcement about finding Paula Prince. And it was at that press conference that the announcement was made that we were going to pull all the Tylenol off the shelves in Chicago.

Mayor Byrne
It created quite a furor. I don’t think I had done anything like that before.

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