James Lewis, longtime suspect in Tylenol poisoning of seven people in 1982, dies in Cambridge, officials say – The Boston Globe

James W. Lewis, long suspected of poisoning bottles of Tylenol in the Chicago area in 1982, a crime that killed seven people and forever changed the way thousands of products are packaged and sold, died in the apartment building of Cambridge where he had lived since the mid-1990s, police said.

Lewis, 76, was found unconscious at his Gore Street home at 4pm on Sunday, police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene. His death is not considered suspicious, Cambridge police said. The state coroner’s office will be investigating the cause of Lewis’s death, a spokesman said.

Lewis’s wife, who was out of town, had asked a friend to check on him, police said.

In 1982, seven people in the Chicago area died after ingesting Tylenol mixed with cyanide, and Lewis was the longtime suspect in their deaths. He was never charged with poisoning, but was convicted of attempting to extort $1 million from pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson and sentenced to 12 years behind bars.

James W. Lewis was escorted through Logan Airport in Boston after being released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma on October 13, 1995. Lewis served more than 12 years for attempting to extort money from manufacturers of Tylenol during the murders of 1982 cyanide tampering. CARLO KRUPA

In interviews with law enforcement and reporters over the decades, Lewis has flatly denied being responsible for the murders, but provided details about how someone could have added poison to Tylenol capsules without customers discovering the tampering, he said. the Globe.

The Chicago Tribune, which reported Lewis’s death on Sunday, said federal investigators interviewed Lewis last fall in Cambridge. According to the Tribune, Lewis spoke with three Illinois detectives for several hours, a conversation they recorded. The conversation did not lead to any charges against Lewis.

The seven victims, four women, two men and a 12-year-old girl, died in 1982 after taking capsules that had been purchased at drug and grocery stores in the Chicago area. Someone had opened the capsules and replaced some of the acetaminophen with cyanide and put them back on the shelves.

Lewis was an unemployed accountant at the time of the murders and has been widely described as the prime suspect. He insisted he had nothing to do with the tampering and subsequent deaths and said he was living in New York City at the time.

Lewis and his wife lived in the Cambridge apartment building for years, which detectives searched in 2009.

Lewis set up a website where he claimed his innocence and discussed his notoriety.

Search the Internet for these three words James Lewis Tylenol. You will receive thousands of visits. Please read some of the other nasty comments, so you can see firsthand how I’ve been defamed and called mass murder[er], and worse, for over 40 years, without a shred of evidence, he wrote. Since I lived in New York, and NOT Chicago, it was absolutely impossible for me to have committed those murders. This means that the FBI and Illinois authorities should, by law, drop any interest in me and leave me alone.

In 2004, Lewis was indicted in Middlesex County on charges of aggravated rape, drugging a person with intent to impress or overpower for sexual intercourse, and four other charges. He was held without bail until 2007, when the victim refused to pursue the charge, court documents show.

The Commonwealth cannot prove the allegations in the complaint without testimony from the complaining witness, prosecutors wrote in the court records.

Lewis served about 12 years in federal prison after being convicted of trying to extort Johnson & Johnson for $1 million in connection with the Tylenol poisonings. He was released in 1995.

Bottles of Extra-Strength Tylenol were tested with chemically treated paper that turns blue in the presence of cyanide at the Illinois Department of Health in October 1982 in Chicago. JOHN SWART

His death left Chicago-area law enforcement agencies frustrated that they were never able to charge Lewis in connection with the poisonings.

I always hoped justice would be served, and that’s a short circuit, former FBI Special Agent Roy Lane, who worked on the case for decades, told the Tribune.

Last year, the Chicago Tribune published a multi-part investigation into the Tylenol murders that traced Lewis’s personal story, which included a 1978 allegation that he killed an elderly client while working as a tax accountant. The charge was dropped due to a police procedural error.

The Tribune also detailed law enforcement’s 40-year efforts to solve the Tylenol murders. According to the FBI’s Chicago office history, Tylenol poisonings led to the enactment of the federal Tampering Act in 1983.

Jeremiah Manion of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.

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