The Tylenol murders

January 15, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: history, podcasting, Women writers and journalists, writers.

Forty years ago, you could walk into a grocery store or drugstore and grab a bottle of Tylenol off the shelf. The only thing that stood between you and the medicine was an unglued carton, screw-on bottle cap, and a small wad of cotton.

Today, if you grabbed that same bottle off the shelf, you would have to break through several seals to get to the medicine.

It would be the same for almost every over-the-counter, consumable product that you would buy anywhere.

The change is the result of the fact that in late 1982, seven people died because the Tylenol in their bottles had been poisoned with cyanide. They all died within a few hours of one another. Three of those who died were in the same family—two brothers and the wife of one of those brothers. Another victim was a 12-year-old girl. All of the victims lived in the Chicago area.

Their deaths caused a nationwide panic and an unprecedented search for the persons who had caused these tragedies. No one has ever been convicted of these murders, and their deaths still haunt those who investigated the crimes.

Two recent podcasts from excellent sources review much of what we know about the 1982 Tylenol murders. The most detailed is the eight-episode Unsealed: the Tylenol Murders podcast reported by two journalists from the Chicago Tribune, Christy Gutowski and Stacy St. Clair. If you want a quick one-episode summary of the Unsealed podcast, take a look at episode The Tylenol Murders in the This is Criminal podcast with Phoebe Judge. This is Criminal is about as good a podcast as you can find if you are looking in the true crime genre.

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