James Lewis, longtime suspect in the 1982 Tylenol murders, died aged 76


James Lewis – the longtime suspect in the Tylenol cyanide poisoning poisoning that killed seven people in the Chicago area in 1982 – died at his home on Sunday.

Lewis was pronounced dead by medics at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts after they responded to an 911 call from an unresponsive person around 4 p.m., police said. He was 76.

Police said his death was not suspicious.

Lewis was the prime – and only – suspect in the Tylenol murders that shocked the country and changed drug packaging forever.

He was never charged with the murders and the case remains open, but he was convicted on the lesser racketeering charge related to the deadly plot.

Lewis served 12 years in prison for sending a letter to Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Tylenol, asking the company to pay over $1 million “to stop the killing.”

James Lewis has repeatedly denied being the Tylenol killer.

After his release from prison in 1995, Lewis and his wife moved to Massachusetts, where they have lived ever since.

Lewis was arrested in 1982 after seven people – including a 12-year-old girl – died in the Chicago area after taking cyanide-filled Tylenol tablets for three days. The painkillers were recalled nationwide, and the country later made tamper-evident packaging standard for over-the-counter drugs.

After a frantic manhunt across the US, Lewis was caught in New York City, where he gave investigators a detailed account of how the killer might have gotten the poisoning.

Years later, he told the Associated Press that the report he provided justified how the mass murderer could have handled the complex plan.

Lewis, who was once a prime suspect in the 1982 murder of seven people who swallowed poisoned Tylenol, holds documents in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri on June 5, 1984.
Lewis holds documents in federal court on June 5, 1984 in Kansas City, Missouri.

“I did what I would have done for a corporate client and made a list of possible scenarios,” Lewis told the magazine in 1992.

He called the killer “a vile, cold-blooded killer, a cruel monster” and has maintained his innocence for the rest of his life – but admitted to having written the blackmail letter. He said he was living in New York City at the time of death, although he and his wife briefly resided in Chicago in the early 1980s.

The Tylenol poisonings weren’t the first time Lewis – whom investigators dubbed a “chameleon” con artist – has been investigated for murder.

Years earlier, in 1978, he was charged with murdering the dismemberment of 72-year-old Raymond West, who hired him as an accountant, in Kansas City, Missouri. However, the charges were dismissed as some evidence had been obtained illegally and West’s cause of death was unknown.

Lewis is escorted through Boston's Logan Airport on Friday, October 13, 1995 after being released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma.
Lewis is escorted through Boston’s Logan Airport on October 13, 1995 after being released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma.

He was also convicted on six counts of mail fraud in the same city as part of a 1981 credit card fraud in which he used the name and information of a former tax customer to open 13 credit cards.

His alleged crimes continued even after his release from prison on racketeering charges.

In 2004, Lewis was charged with allegedly assaulting a woman in Cambridge on rape, kidnapping and similar charges. He spent three years in prison while awaiting trial, but the case never made it to trial and prosecutors dismissed the charges after the victim refused to testify.

Family members of the victims of the Tylenol murder have long expressed frustration at the lack of justice for their loved ones.

In 2009, investigators reopened the case, and the FBI confiscated a computer and other items from Lewis’ home in February of that year. The following year, he provided DNA samples to the FBI, but still no charges have been filed.

Helen Jensen, a nurse who helped treat the first victims at a Chicago hospital, said she hopes Lewis’ death would bring some closure to the families — even if it doesn’t mean a conviction and jail time.

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

With post wires

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