Had James Lewis really killed seven strangers?
Over a few days during autumn 1982, people started dying in neighbourhoods across Illinois, in the States.
Schoolgirl Mary Kellerman, 12, was the first to die. Then postal worker and father-of-two Adam Janus, 27, collapsed at home.
Tragedy struck again for the Janus family, when Adam’s brother, Stanley, 25, and sister-in-law Theresa, 19, died suddenly as they planned Adam’s funeral.
Soon after, new mother Mary Reiner, 27, air stewardess Paula Prince, 35, and mum-of-two, Mary McFarland, 31, died in similar incidents.
And police discovered a link. Each victim had taken an over-the-counter painkiller called Extra-Strength Tylenol. A run-of-the mill drug for headaches and minor niggles, it was available in pharmacies and grocery shops.
But something deadly had been stashed in those little capsules. Cyanide powder. Blood tests on the victims confirmed this.
Other bottles of Tylenol, also laced with cyanide, were found still on the shelves. The bottles had been tampered with after leaving the factory.
The drug’s manufacturer offered a reward for information. Then, they received a handwritten note, demanding $1million should be wired to a Chicago businessman to ‘stop the killing’ – a confession?
After questioning the businessman, the FBI concluded that he hadn’t written the note. Instead, suspicion fell on James Lewis, the disgruntled husband of one of the businessman’s former employees. The man’s handwriting matched…
Lewis, 35, was an accountant with a murky past. He’d spent the last few years drifting with his wife LeAnn, staying in hostels under false names. Lewis was already wanted for credit-card fraud, but that wasn’t all….
Years earlier, Lewis had been charged with a grisly murder, but the court case had fallen apart on legal technicalities and he’d walked free.
Now police found a motive for James Lewis tampering with the Tylenol bottles – he’d wanted revenge on his wife’s former boss.
Finally, the police arrested him, yet he still insisted he was innocent.
Refusing to take a lie-detector test, Lewis denied attempting to extort $1million from the drug’s manufacturer, and swore he had nothing to do with poisoning the pills that had killed seven.
The police investigated further. Had they caught a mass killer…?