25th Anniversary Of Unsolved Tylenol Tampering Case

Medicines have tamper-proof seals for one reason: A 25-year-old case involving cyanide-laced Tylenol that killed seven people in the Chicagoland area during September of 1982.

From USAToday:

Helen Jensen can still picture the bottle of Tylenol perched in the medicine cabinet. She feels the receipt she pulled from the wastebasket. She hears the pills she poured onto the kitchen table.

And she recalls the absolute certainty, even before she finished counting, that pills from the bottle in her hand killed the 27-year-old man who lived there, as well as two of his relatives.

“Six capsules were missing, and there were three people dead,” she recalled thinking.

It has been exactly 25 years since Jensen, then a nurse for the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights who accompanied investigators to the home, played her role in a story that sent shock waves all over the country.

In a space of three days beginning Sept. 29, 1982, seven people who took cyanide-laced Tylenol in Chicago and four suburbs died. That triggered a national scare that prompted an untold number of people to throw medicine away and stores nationwide to pull Tylenol from their shelves.

The case is still unsolved. Nobody was ever charged.

Tylenol tampering case remains unsolved, in 25 years [USAToday]
(Photo:Charlie Knoblock, AP file)


Edit Your Comment

  1. stevemis says:

    Anyone notice the “feel good” Tylenol ads running lately? “I’ll never forget what I make goes into people’s bodies” or some such. I guess, even 25 years later, they’re still suffering some after effects.

  2. Parting says:

    Maybe police should re-open the case and use new technology to find the culprit?

  3. Daemon_of_Waffle says:

    @chouchou: Forensic Files…

  4. swalve says:

    I’m 32 and I still don’t use tylenol for this reason/perception.

  5. @stevemis: “I guess, even 25 years later, they’re still suffering some after effects.”

    I teach this case in business ethics and the main aftereffect is vastly increased consumer confidence and dominance in the baby market. After how Tylenol handled the recall (it was swift, total, vastly overbroad, and extremely public), parents simply have a lot of confidence that if there IS a problem, Tylenol will jump all over it with overwhelming firepower.

    The conventional wisdom when Tylenol began the recall was that it was the end of the brand and everyone was advising them NOT to issue a general recall (at a cost of over $1 billion including discarded product loss, replacement product cost, advertising of the recall, etc.). They shut down and retooled the factories, created the caplet and the triple safety-seal. Market share collapsed from 35% to 8% during the recall, but rebounded within a year. In the aftermath of the recall, Tylenol went on to become the most popular OTC painkiller on the market.

    If you’re a parent and you’re given a choice between some random drug company and a company that took out full-page ads in major metro dailies and national prime-time commercials warning you NOT to buy its product because there was a tiny chance they might not be safe, which company are YOU buying from?

    I think the part about “I’ll never forget that what I make goes into people’s bodies” is from their Credo, considered one of the best in business.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I have often considered that cases like these, where the victims are seemingly random, may be covers for someone who is targeting a specific victim. The other victims truly are random, but there is one victim that was intended.

  7. edrebber says:

    Tylenol is dangerous even when not tampered with. For adults, the maximum daily dose of Tylenol is 4 g. Acetaminophen comes in 325-mg tablets; however, the 500-mg tablets are more common. Simply taking 2 Extra Strength Tylenol tablets more than 4 times a day will produce an overdose. It only takes a few days of exceeding the maximum dose to cause liver damage.

  8. allthatsevil says:

    @edrebber: But any drug is dangerous when not used properly. That’s why they say, “Do not exceed X pills in X hours” on everything.

  9. Anonymous says:


    Do you think you might have heard about the case of that actually happening? [en.wikipedia.org]

  10. Raziya says:

    @Daemon_of_Waffle: YES. Forensic Files for the epic win.

  11. pegr says:

    A friend of mine is a pharmacist and he insists that if Tylenol was a new product coming out today, it would never be approved by the FDA due to liver damage.

    Don’t take Tylenol for a hangover…

  12. forever_knight says:

    @pegr: i asked my pharmacist friend the same thing and he said the opposite.

    many of the otc pain killers cause serious “issues” with the liver and kidneys. look for big news to be made in a few years when a rather large sample longitudinal study provides further evidence of this link.

  13. woertink says:

    All compounds are potentially toxic it is just a matter of dosage. People have died from drinking too much water.

    • lincolnparadox says:

      @woertink: People have died from eating too many eggs. There is a difference between 30+ eggs or 2 gallons of water and a handful of Tylenol.

  14. hapless says:

    Most drugs aren’t likely to kill you when used at the recommended dose. APAP is.

    The other NSAIDs can cause damage to your stomach that could result in a dangerous upper GI tract bleed, potentially requiring surgery. Tylenol can blow out your liver, requiring you to seek a transplant within 24-48 hours.

    Regular drinkers should never consume more than 1000 mg daily, no matter what the back of the bottle says.

  15. frogman31680 says:

    Someone mentioned the commercials about the people that supposedly “care about what goes into our bodies”

    Did anyone pay attention to the fact that the people saying all that stuff are mostly packagers and handlers. Not chemists, scientists, and the such.

    Of course they care, only enough not to get fired.