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updated: 9/26/2011 4:33 AM

Book pushes new theory on Tylenol poisonings

New book suggests cyanide was put into pills at distribution facility

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  • Chicago City Health Department workers test Tylenol medication for the presence of deadly cyanide a week after poisoned capsules killed seven people in 1982.

      Chicago City Health Department workers test Tylenol medication for the presence of deadly cyanide a week after poisoned capsules killed seven people in 1982.
    Associated Press

  • "The Tylenol Mafia," a self-published book by former Johnson & Johnson employee Scott Bartz, is being released today. It claims the Tylenol cyanide poisonings, which killed seven people in the Chicago area in 1982, took place in the Johnson & Johnson production and distribution channels.

      "The Tylenol Mafia," a self-published book by former Johnson & Johnson employee Scott Bartz, is being released today. It claims the Tylenol cyanide poisonings, which killed seven people in the Chicago area in 1982, took place in the Johnson & Johnson production and distribution channels.

  • Former Johnson & Johnson employee Scott Bartz, 50, who lives in New Jersey, spent 3 years researching his new, self-published book, "The Tylenol Mafia."

      Former Johnson & Johnson employee Scott Bartz, 50, who lives in New Jersey, spent 3 years researching his new, self-published book, "The Tylenol Mafia."
    Photo courtesy of Scott Bartz

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A new book by a former Johnson & Johnson employee suggests the Tylenol poisonings, which killed seven people in the Chicago area in 1982, took place in the company's production or distribution channels, and says company executives and federal agencies steered the investigation in the wrong direction to avoid liability.

New Jersey resident Scott Bartz, 50, spent the past 3 years researching his self-published book, "The Tylenol Mafia," which will be released today.

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Johnson & Johnson declined to comment on the book, and in a statement said the allegations have "no merit."

In recent years, investigators -- at least publicly -- have focused on "lone madman" suspects like the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, and extortionist James Lewis.

But Bartz claims in his book that the person who put cyanide in Extra Strength Tylenol capsules in 1982 likely worked in Johnson & Johnson's distribution chain. "The Tylenol Mafia" doesn't pin the crime on a specific person, but it does lambaste authorities for dropping the investigation of a suspect who worked in the channel of distribution, owned cyanide, and had threatened to poison people.

"The evidence I've uncovered, and meticulously documented, debunks the madman-in-the-retail-stores theory, and points instead to a repackaging facility in the channel of distribution as the location where the tamperings occurred," said Bartz, who backed up his research with 104 pages of endnotes, which also are published at tylenolmafia.com.

The FBI declined to discuss the book or Bartz, who insists he's not a disgruntled employee but acknowledges he was laid off by the company on "not the best of terms."

Johnson & Johnson spokesman Bill Price offered only this statement: "We believe the premise in Mr. Bartz's book has no merit. The facts of this case have been shared with the appropriate authorities over the years, and we defer any comment on the investigation of these poisonings to the appropriate legal authorities."

Chicago FBI spokesman Ross Rice also would not comment on Bartz's book, nor would he confirm Bartz's claim that he spoke to an FBI agent and shared his theory.

Rice said Bartz is one of many people with whodunit theories about the Tylenol case over the years.

"You can have theories, but you need evidence to support those theories. No one has come forward with enough evidence to file criminal charges," Rice said. "There's no evidence to support it, otherwise someone would have been charged."

Rice wouldn't say how many people are currently investigating the case on the Tylenol Task Force, for which he is the spokesman, but says their investigation remains active.

This week marks the 29-year anniversary of the Tylenol poisonings, which took the lives of Elk Grove Village middle school student Mary Kellerman, Chicago flight attendant Paula Prince, single mom Mary McFarland of Elmhurst, Winfield mother Mary "Lynn" Reiner, and three members of one Arlington Heights family -- Adam, Stanley and Teresa Janus.

Reiner's daughter, Winfield resident Michelle Rosen, believes what she read in "The Tylenol Mafia" and said she confirmed the facts with her own research. She's disappointed investigators haven't followed up on what Bartz says he's found.

"We've been on such a dead road for 29 years, is this not worth looking into?" Rosen said. "It would be irresponsible of them not to legitimately look deep into this. What facts do they currently have? The only evidence that authorities have ever given us to their theories is, 'People bought Tylenol and died.' Well, that isn't enough anymore."

Other theories

Bartz isn't the only person who believes they've cracked this infamous murder mystery. Case-watchers from unazod.com have long argued that the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, who had lived in Evergreen Park and Lombard, was responsible. In May, federal investigators requested a DNA sample from Kaczynski, but he has not been charged with anything related to the case.

A few investigators who worked on the case in the 1980s feel strongly that James Lewis, the man convicted of extorting money from Johnson & Johnson after the poisonings, is likely responsible. Police raided Lewis' home outside Boston two years ago and confiscated some items, but no charges followed.

Bartz was familiar with the inner workings of Johnson & Johnson because he worked there from 1999 to 2007, selling a prescription antipsychotic drug.

Bartz currently has two pending lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, he said. One accuses the company of inflating the price of a prescription drug, causing Medicaid to overpay. The other was filed under the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act, which prohibits retaliation against whistle-blowers. Both were filed in 2005, before Bartz was terminated.

A spokesman for Johnson & Johnson declined to comment on the pending litigation, or confirm Bartz's employment.

"There's no vendetta. I really have no anger at Johnson & Johnson," Bartz said in a phone interview last week. "Any anger I have is toward the Justice Department. They do not enforce the law, and they do not investigate criminal behavior within corporations."

Bartz has written extensively about the Tylenol poisonings over the years on his website, americanfraud.com. He says he stumbled onto the topic in 2008, while researching a blog on whether Johnson & Johnson was truly the gold standard in crisis management, as it was hailed after the Tylenol poisonings. Bartz said he immediately started uncovering facts about the case, and became consumed with piecing it all together and figuring out what really happened.

"I just fell into this and it all started snowballing," he said.

His 511-page book is filled with details about Johnson & Johnson's drug production and distribution process, the relationships and backgrounds of company executives, and newspaper and television reports about the crime.

The book opens with a story about two Kane County Sheriff's deputies who, on the night before the poisonings began, found two cardboard McNeil boxes (the company that manufactured Tylenol) filled with Extra Strength Tylenol capsules in an unincorporated area near Elgin. The deputies became ill after examining them, which the sheriff's department verified did occur.

The book also raises suspicion over dozens of incidents, including a bottle of cyanide-laced Tylenol turned in a month after the poisonings by the wife of a DuPage County judge, and a cyanide poisoning death that occurred in New York in 1986.

"Almost every chapter solves a little mini mystery, or debunks a myth," Bartz said.

Bartz said he hopes his book will change the way people think about this case. "They got it wrong from the start, and targeted the wrong suspects," he said.

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