Early on the morning of September 29, 1982, Marie Kellerman woke up with a headache and a runny nose. The 12-year-old complained to her parents, who told her to stay home and take a few Tylenol pills, a popular drug with mild anti-inflammatory effects used to treat the symptoms of some of the most common ailments.
“I remember him going into the bathroom and closing the door. A little later, a loud noise was heard,” said Dennis Kellerman, Marie’s father. “I stood outside the bathroom and asked, ‘Marie, are you okay?'” I got no answer. I asked once more than opened the door. Then I saw my little girl lying unconscious on the floor,” says Dennis through tears. He immediately called an ambulance, but it was too late. His daughter died, and doctors could not determine the cause of her death.
A few hours later, in one of the suburbs of Chicago, located near the home of the Kellerman family, 27-year-old postal worker Adam Janus also felt ill. He took the day off, and after complaining to his wife that he had a bad headache, decided to take two Tylenol pills. A few minutes later, the man fainted, and the doctors his wife called were unable to save him. They concluded that Janus died of a heart attack.
After learning about what happened, many relatives and acquaintances of the young man flocked to his home to express their condolences to his wife. Two of them, shocked by the unexpected loss, asked her for Tylenol. A little later, they also died. Within two days, a total of seven people in the Chicago area died under mysterious circumstances. Among them was a mother of four, as well as a flight attendant, who was found with an open pack of Tylenol next to her body.
Poisoned with a can of potassium
— CNN (@CNN) August 26, 2018
Investigators and toxicologists quickly determined the cause of what happened – the deceased people swallowed Tylenol capsules in which someone had placed lethal doses of potassium.
How the still-unsolved Tylenol murders changed the packaging of consumer products https://t.co/wLBwUisTO4 pic.twitter.com/iKbyecKRjF
— CNN (@CNN) August 26, 2018
The news became a media sensation and led to the outbreak of mass panic on the eve of Halloween. The reaction of the manufacturers of the drug was not long in coming. They removed a total of about 31 million packs of Tylenol from pharmacies, which is still the largest product recall in American history. Later it became clear that several more packages contained canned potassium, but luckily no one was hurt by them.
The federal authorities, in turn, immediately took measures to prevent the recurrence of similar tragedies. Stricter rules were imposed that all drug manufacturers had to follow. The prescribed punishments for non-compliance were extremely severe and reached up to 20 years in prison.
“The events of 1982 became a turning point in the history of pharmaceuticals. They have had a huge impact on the way drugs are manufactured and packaged,” notes Prof. Alan Wolfe of Harvard University.
Since the Tylenol murders occurred a few weeks before Halloween, many people began to fear that poisonous substances may have been placed in other products, such as candies and chocolates.
Her father, uncle, and aunt died 40 years ago after taking poisoned Tylenol. Now she’s sharing her story for the first time https://t.co/O9dKwysFG9
— CNN (@CNN) September 24, 2022
Joel Best is a professor of sociology at the University of Delaware and has spent many years researching so-called “Halloween sadism,” the alleged practice of giving lethal treats to children. He believes that it is an urban legend that first appeared in the 1950s. Gradually her popularity grew significantly.
In 1970, the New York Times even published an article warning that some apples had razor blades inserted into them, and chocolates were being replaced with laxatives or sleeping pills.
In 1985, Prof. Best published the results of his research on “Halloween Sadism”. It turned out that there is not a single credible testimony of a child being harmed as a result of ingesting such a dangerous delicacy.
The only case of candy poisoning in the days surrounding Halloween was that of 8-year-old Timothy O’Brien. The subsequent investigation revealed something shocking. His father, who put cyanide in the candy in question, was responsible for the boy’s death. What was his motive? He tried to get money from insurance he had made a little earlier. Because of his act, the man received a death sentence.
An unsolved mystery
Not surprisingly, the Tylenol murders caused the greatest panic in the Chicago area. Journalist Bob Greene wrote the following in the Chicago Tribune newspaper: “If you are parents and have any sense, you will ban your children from going outside on October 31st… it is a great folly to let your sons and daughters roam the streets and collect candy from strangers.
Major developments surfaced Thursday int the 40-year-old investigation into the Tylenol murders in the greater Chicago area. https://t.co/TrKre1MdEG
— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 23, 2022
Chicago’s city hall distributed more than 1 million leaflets urging local residents to give out small toys instead of treats on Halloween. Some have proposed an even more unconventional solution – giving children coupons for candy to be redeemed at grocery stores.
Eventually, Halloween celebrations were canceled not only in Chicago but also in other parts of the US – such as New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.
According to Prof. Best, in 1982 the authorities received 12 reports of threats containing dangerous substances or objects. It is important to note that the authenticity of the signals in question has never been confirmed.
As for the Tylenol murders, their perpetrator remained unsolved.