Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Murderers have tried to pass off their crimes as copycat Tylenol poisoners.
Origins: Complicating what people want to "remember" about Halloween poisoner stories are the
Seven people died of cyanide poisoning between
Even though many instances of tampering and outright poisoning followed the Tylenol murders, not one of them fit the profile of a Halloween poisoning; that is, there was no one instance of poison being secreted in candy and then handed to unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. From a 1982 magazine article:
The Food and Drug Administration in Washington countsNo one has ever been charged with the Tylenol murders although James Lewis was convicted of attempting to extort
The main concern was a spate of incidents involving candy that had been tampered with. In the Long Island suburbs of New York City, two women discovered straight pins in Candy Corn and Baby Ruth bars. Another straight pin turned up in a KitKat bar in Norwalk, Conn., and a sewing needle in a candy bar in Pensacola, Fla. In Chicago, three children became ill after eating KitKat bars.
But copycats seem to be turning to food products too. In Minneapolis, 14-year-old Marlon Barrow fell ill after drinking chocolate milk from a carton that proved, on analysis, to contain traces of sodium hydroxide, a caustic chemical. In Juno Beach, Fla., Policeman Harry
Mr. Lewis denied any responsibility for the poisonings, and investigators said they lacked evidence to file murder charges against him.Lewis was originally scheduled to be paroled in 1989. His parole was turned down at the last minute:
A four-member panel of the [U.S. Parole] commission ordered Lewis, convicted in 1983, to serve his entireNew information had apparently been presented to the commission whereupon it withdrew the earlier parole date. According to United Press International, the commission "did not reveal the nature of the new information."
There have been incidents of copycat Tylenol poisonings concocted to make the death of one individual appear accidental rather than premeditated. In one such case from 1993:
A former insurance salesman was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without parole for the Sudafed-tampering deaths of two people and for trying to poison his wife for $700,000 in insurance money. JosephAn older case is that of Stella Nickell of Auburn, Washington who tried to conceal the murder of her husband, Bruce Nickell, by killing a random stranger with cyanide-laced Excedrin. After heavily insuring her husband's life and trying to poison him various ways, she remembered the unsolved Tylenol murders. As a result, Bruce died on
Prosecutors said Meling tried to kill his wife, Jennifer, with a cyanide-filled capsule he put in a package of Sudafed decongestant. He put similar capsules in five other Sudafed packages on store shelves to divert suspicion from himself, the court was told. Jennifer Meling survived the
At some point, Stella opened a number of containers of Extra-Strength Excedrin andThe 1982 Tylenol murders kicked off a lot of nastiness. It's as if evil-minded people were just waiting for that particular door to hell to swing open so they could rush through. Some chose to randomly insert foreign objects or dangerous substances into formerly trustworthy products, while others tried to use the senselessness of the Tylenol murders to cover up specifically-targeted crimes of their own.
In the nation's first death-by-product-tampering trial, Nickell was sentenced to
We live with the Tylenol legacy even to this day; you have only to visit a local supermarket or pharmacy to see evidence of this. Tamper-proof packaging has become the norm and safety seals on even the most innocuous items are to be expected. As a nation, we lost our innocence in 1982.
Barbara "fools paradise lost" Mikkelson
Last updated: 2 September 2006
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