Tylenol Killings Unsolved

January 23, 2018
By , Morristown, NJ

In 1982, a series of deaths occurred when 12 people ingested Extra Strength Tylenol, purchased at local convenience stores. Investigations show that inside the capsules potassium cyanide, a colorless powdery chemical substance with a similar appearance to sugar, which when ingested is highly lethal. Authorities never caught the person who did this, leaving the case unsolved. The minimal use of technology is the main setback. If this were to happen today, the case would have a higher chance of being solved due to better surveillance in public places, stronger analysis systems, more effective witness questions, and background knowledge on the suspects. With today’s technology, a great deal of these setbacks could have been avoided. 

Video cameras are set up in millions of public spots throughout the entire world. It’s crazy to think that during the time of these killings, no hard evidence whatsoever was captured on camera in any of the stores. Which is surprising because, in the 1980’s, cameras were beginning to become quite popular. For some unknown reason, the only security footage available to the police was, one woman was seen purchasing the fatal bottle of Tylenol. Since surveillance was becoming more and more popular in stores and small businesses, and cameras also have visual evidence of people buying the tainted medication, why is it that there is no hard evidence to who replaced the bottles? The recordings didn’t last as long as they do now, however, “The cyanide potassium would have eaten through the capsules, given time, so these pills were all purchased and consumed in a relatively short time after they were put on the shelves” (Associated Press).  With that being said if they have proof of the victim purchasing the pills, why is there no proof of the “killer” stocking the shelves? If what the experts say is true, the bottles would have to have been purchased within 1-3 days of them being made and put on the shelves. Today, video surveillance lasts up to 90 days after it is recorded, in stores and businesses, 2- 7 days in home security systems, unless the footage is manually saved onto a computer or hard drive, which would keep it for as long as the person needed. Within a 90 day period, there should have to be at least one suspicious person captured on camera, making this case a little less difficult to solve due to the physical evidence that would be saved into the computers.

Different types of analyzers have been created and upgraded since the initial crime was committed.  Scientists can take a single saliva sample and process it, and it would give them a match in about 24 hours, which is much faster than in the 1980’s. People had just started using a new form of DNA analysis in the 80’s making it very shaky and weak compared to today. If there was a vast situation where the evidence had to be analyzed and reported back fast, authorities would be out of luck, considering that the average time to get DNA evidence from something was about 12 days. “However currently this test is not performed routinely because of the amount of DNA required for testing (about 1 microgram) requires a blood sample and the long turnaround time required for testing (10 – 14 days)” (Willow Dawn Becker). Forensic scientists no longer use this strategy because of the amount of blood that was needed to test, and also the time it took to complete the testing. Today, all that is needed to complete a test is a single skin sample or even a sample of a surface someone sneezed on. The process takes about 24 hours to complete, which is very helpful to cases that are being rushed. On these pill bottles, how is it that there were no traces of DNA? Today, with the technology, if there was any trace of DNA on those bottles, there is a very high chance that the forensic scientists would have found something.

The fingerprint analysis process has changed slightly but is still similar to what experts use today. Back in the 1980’s they had just introduced the computer-based/ saved fingerprints. With this feature being quite new, there were still some kinks to work out to make sure everything ran smooth, but would be close to perfect with today’s technology. With this in play, it was so much easier to identify a fingerprint because of the organization. Authorities still use this system today, but there have been quite a few advances, making it even easier to identify a single person. “First computer database of fingerprints was developed, which came to be known as the Automated Fingerprint Identification System” (Willow Dawn Becker) That took place in the early 1980’s, allowing many new advances to take place not long into the future. Forensic scientists can identify a person, even if they are only provided a smudge or a semi-legible print.

It is speculated that the authorities did not ask enough questions while investigating. The worker in the store or even the family members should have been asked more questions to try and find more evidence. The public was not available to the exact questions the authorities asked, but it is assumed that the questions were not as thorough as they needed to be. The public was lead to this belief because of how serious and severe this case was, it shocked everybody how almost nobody had any information to help. Today, authorities will usually take in witnesses and question them in private, allowing the witness to feel safe with what they are sharing. Even the suspects were believed to be questioned lightly, making it easier to lie and try to cover themselves up.
The authorities had a lead on one specific person but it didn’t end well. The main suspect, James Lewis was let go very early in court, not allowing the authorities try to further prove that he was responsible. The authorities had vital evidence to prove him guilty such as his compliance and eagerness to help solve this case, the book he wrote, and his and his intelligence on this specific subject. Lewis wrote a book describing a criminal case, almost identical to the Tylenol murders. He also provided detailed sketched of how someone would go about committing this crime. During an interview, Lewis was known to say, “I could tell you how Julius Caesar was killed, but that does not mean I’m the killer.” Today, it would be fairly similar, due to the fact that he was proven not guilty in court. Although, there are different strategies or approaches experts could take to stealthily pry at the person in question, but there would be minimal change

Overall, with technological advances in today’s world, there is a very high chance that the Tylenol murders would have been solved if they occurred today. Video cameras have come a very long way since 1982, making the security in public places more stable, and allowing the videos to last longer. DNA analysis is faster, easier to use, and more accurate, giving the current advances. Fingerprint analysis has had slight changes to make the program/ filing easier to follow, allowing more accurate readings in a shorter period of time. Witness questioning today covers more areas and are more through altogether, allowing the case to have a much higher chance of being solved.

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