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posted: 1/9/2010 12:01 AM

Tylenol investigators focus on 'smudge'

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  • James W. Lewis in 1995

    James W. Lewis in 1995
    Associated Press


A "smudge" left on tampered medicine recovered after the 1982 Tylenol murders yielded no help then, but may be pertinent now that technology has advanced, a retired state official involved in the original investigation told the Daily Herald Friday.

That evaluation of the smudge evidence comes as the lead suspect in the decades-old case on Friday reportedly gave DNA evidence to authorities based on a subpoena from a DuPage County grand jury.

James W. Lewis and his wife, LeAnn, of Cambridge, Mass., reportedly appeared before a judge in the Boston area this week as authorities attempted to get permission to take DNA and fingerprints from both, according to The Boston Globe. Reports indicated that the judge sided with authorities and ordered both Lewis and his wife to provide the DNA and fingerprints.

The retired Illinois official who spoke about the "smudge" evidence is no longer involved in the investigation and spoke with the Daily Herald on a condition of anonymity.

The official said advances in DNA and fingerprint technology may make that "smudge" evidence relevant today.

"We were always convinced he did it," said the official, who served as one of the supervisors for the 1982 investigation.

While a DuPage County official confirmed a subpoena seeking the DNA and fingerprint evidence, representatives from the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and the FBI's Chicago division declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

News that DNA and fingerprint evidence is being taken is the first movement in the case, which changed the way over-the-counter medicine is packaged and sold across the United States. The investigation was renewed a year ago to take advantage of new ways to track evidence to crimes, such as DNA.

The poisoned medicine killed four women, two men and a child, including a 12-year-old Elk Grove Village girl, an Arlington Heights postal worker and his brother and sister-in-law from Lisle, a Chicago flight attendant and an Elmhurst woman.

The FBI is coordinating the renewed investigation of the unsolved slayings, said Ross Rice, an FBI spokesman in Chicago. But any potential murder charges would be brought by the state of Illinois, not the federal government, because the killings predated federal anti-tampering laws.

Last Feb. 4, FBI agents and state police investigators searched the Lewis home for evidence and were seen carrying out five boxes and a computer.

Lewis, an unemployed accountant at the time of the killings, was widely described as a prime suspect. He consistently said he had nothing to do with the product tampering and said he was living in New York City at the time.

Lewis was sentenced to prison in June 1983 for demanding $1 million from Johnson & Johnson, parent of Tylenol manufacturer McNeil Consumer Products Co., "to stop the killing." Johnson & Johnson was his wife's former employer. Lewis admitted sending the letter demanding money, but said he never meant to collect it.

The task force working to solve the case includes investigators from several suburban departments, including Arlington Heights, Elk Grove, Schaumburg, Lombard, as well as Chicago.

The various departments are involved based on where victims lived or died or where evidence was found.

Three of the seven deaths occurred in Arlington Heights and at least one of the bottles containing poisoned pills was found on a store shelf there.

Daily Herald staff writer Lee Filas contributed to this report.