Primary suspect in 1982 Tylenol murders dead at 76

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 14: Tylenol, which contains acetaminophen, is shown on April 14, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. New research has shown that acetaminophen, which is found in many over-the-counter painkillers, can dull feelings of pleasure. Previous research found that the medication had a similar effect with feelings of dread. (Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
(Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

OAN Roy Francis
11:31 AM – Tuesday, July 11, 2023

James Lewis, the prime suspect in the cyanide-laced Tylenol poisonings that killed seven people in 1982, died on Sunday at 76-years-old.


Lewis was pronounced dead in his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Sunday after medics responded to a 911 call of an unresponsive person around 4:00 p.m., police said that his death was not suspicious.

Lewis was the prime, and only, suspect in the 1982 Tylenol murders that changed the way pharmaceutical companies package their products.

In September 1982, within three days, seven people, including a 12-year-old girl, died in the Chicago area after taking cyanide-laced Tylenol. The murders caused a nationwide recall of the product, and the adoption of tamperproof packaging for all over-the-counter medication.

No one was ever charged in the murder of the seven people. Lewis was arrested in 1982 and served over 12 years after he had sent an extortion letter to Johnson & Johnson demanding that they pay him $1 million in order to “stop the killings.”

After his arrest, Lewis denied any role in the murders, and claimed that he had never intended to collect the money, but instead wanted to embarrass his wife’s former employer by having the money deposited into his account.

Although Lewis had given investigators a full detailed account of how the killer might have operated, he was never formally charged with the murders. In a 1992 interview with The Associated Press, he explained that the account he gave authorities was his way of explaining the killer’s actions, and still denied his involvement.

“I was doing like I would have done for a corporate client, making a list of possible scenarios,” Lewis told the outlet.

Lewis had had previous trouble with the law as well. In 1978, he was charged with the dismemberment murder of 72-year-old Raymond West, who had hired him as an accountant. The charges were dismissed, however, because some of the evidence had been illegally obtained and the cause of death of West was unknown.

He had also been convicted of six counts of mail fraud, and a 1981 credit card scheme in which he used false information to open 13 credit cards.

In 2004, Lewis was charged with rape, kidnapping and related charges after allegedly assaulting a woman in Cambridge. He spent three years in jail awaiting trial, however, the case never went to court after the victim refused to testify, and Lewis was released.

Helen Jensen, a nurse who had helped treat the victims in Chicago in 1982 said that she hoped his death would be a final coda to a tragedy that has haunted her and the victims’ families for four decades, and that it would bring them all closure.

“His death is a conclusion. Not necessarily the conclusion everyone wanted,” said Jensen, who is retired. “But it is an end. I’m 86 now. And I am glad I got to see the end before I die.”

Jensen said Lewis, who she holds responsible for the murders, “changed the world because of what he did.”

“We lost our innocence,” she said. “We have become less trusting of everyone else. We can blame it all on him. He was a terrorist and we have suffered from his terror for 40 years.”

Stay informed! Receive breaking news blasts directly to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

Share this post!