Chicago Tylenol murders: What will it take to get a break in the case?

Thursday marked 40 years since the first of seven Chicago area residents suddenly died after unknowingly taking cyanide-tainted Tylenol capsules. 

While two task forces have come and gone, no charges have been filed in this case. 

"With this case hitting its 40-year mark, people want answers," said Sgt. Joe Murphy, one of the Arlington Heights police officers assigned to this case. "Victims’ families want to know what's been happening with the investigation over the years."

The Arlington Heights Police Department is one of several Illinois law enforcement agencies continuing to investigate the 1982 Tylenol murders.

Three of the seven deaths happened in Arlington Heights.  

"Currently, we are still looking at different avenues of investigation," said Murphy. "Specifically, we are looking into where DNA technology advances can assist — same thing with fingerprint advances." 

While it may seem like not much has happened with this case since the FBI began reinvestigating it in the early 2000s, Murphy says that is not the case. 

"I think that’s one of the common misconceptions. When the second task force dissolved in 2013, that didn’t mean investigators stopped working on the case," said Murphy. "It just meant there was no formal task force, so there are still multiple law enforcement agencies working on this."

While he says that’s understandable, Murphy showed us two files from the Tylenol investigation.  

He says they are just a fraction of the information investigators have gathered over the last four decades.


"I've heard of estimates consisting of over 500,000 documents," said Murphy. "We’re actively working on this. There are some things we have to keep guarded."

Murphy says that’s to maintain the integrity of the case.

FOX 32 Chicago confirmed that law enforcement investigators were in the Cambridge, Massachusetts area last week regarding the Tylenol case.

That is where they searched the home of James Lewis in 2009.  

Lewis was convicted of sending an extortion letter to Johnson and Johnson in 1982, demanding a million dollars to stop the poisonings.  He was never charged with those seven deaths.

MORE: Chicago Tylenol murders: A look back 40 years later

"I think we can say we pieced together a fairly good mosaic of evidence that points to a particular subject," said Rob Grant, former Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Chicago field office. 

Grant was the one who initiated the 2009 reinvestigation of this case.

In 2012, he and the task force shared their results with DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin, and then Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez. 

It is now 10 years later, and still, no charges.

"We’re satisfied – the task force is satisfied. There is enough of a case here to at least throw it to a jury, and let a jury decide whether we’ve made a case or not," said Grant.

But that is a decision only a prosecutor can make.

MORE: Chicago Tylenol murders: A look back 40 years later Pt. 2

Generally speaking, most don't like to charge a case unless they think they can win at trial — except for maybe former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

"Pat would always say there are some cases so compelling for the public need that even if you risk losing the case, you owe it to the public to see that evidence," said Grant.

FOX 32 contacted both Berlin and Alvarez about the story, but have not heard back from Alvarez. 

Both the DuPage and Cook County State's Attorneys offices told us this case is still an open and ongoing investigation.

At this point, what is it going to take to get another break in the case?

One of the former investigators we spoke with says there could still be a break in the case because there are still witnesses out there who have information, but it will require a prosecutor to get that information put on the table. 

So, in the meantime, Arlington Heights police are hoping increased media attention will help push someone who has information on the case to finally come forward.

They can be reached at 847-368-5300.