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posted: 9/23/2012 8:00 AM

Has Tylenol case gone cold again?

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The story originally ran in August 2009.

By Jamie Sotonoff

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jsotonoff@dailyherald.com

Six months ago today, the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the suburban Boston apartment of Tylenol murder suspect James W. Lewis. Saying they had new forensic technology to help their investigation, officers carried boxes and computers out of Lewis' home in February. It seemed, at the time, there had been a break in the cold, 27-year-old case in which seven Chicago-area people died after taking Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules tainted with cyanide.

Today, Lewis -- who has always been the prime suspect -- remains a free man. Some of the items confiscated in the raid have been returned to him, FBI spokesman Ross Rice said. Does it mean the investigation has gone cold again?

FBI spokesman Ed Rossbach warned against drawing that conclusion, saying the length of time that's passed is no indication the investigation has stalled. Rice added the task force assigned to the case -- which includes investigators from Arlington Heights, Elk Grove, Schaumburg, Lombard and Chicago -- is still working on it full time.

"The actual killings remain unsolved, and the investigation is ongoing," Rice said. "Everyone's innocent until proven guilty, so yes, (Lewis is) an innocent man. He's a free man, and he can come and go as he pleases."

The suburban police agencies involved in the investigation represent areas where the victims either lived or died or where evidence of pill-tampering was found. Prosecutors in those jurisdictions also are working with their federal counterparts. For example, DuPage County sent at least one prosecutor to Boston several months ago.

In Arlington Heights, where three of the seven deaths occurred and at least one tainted bottle was found on a store shelf, the police department committed two investigators to the task force but will pull one out this month, Cmdr. Ken Galinski said.

Galinski insists it's a manpower

issue in Arlington Heights and not a sign that the person isn't needed on the task force. He agreed with the FBI's assertion that six months without an arrest doesn't signal that the investigation is fizzling out.

"It's not like TV where you submit (forensic evidence) one day and get it right back," Galinski said. "We're trying to keep everything low key until we get some of the evidence processed. We're keeping our fingers crossed."

Elk Grove Village Deputy Police Chief Mike Kirkpatrick declined to talk about his department's involvement, other than to say they're "involved and still committed to it."

Lombard Police Chief Ray Byrne has a strong track record of solving cold cases, and led the task force that solved the 1978 double homicide of a Downers Grove couple.

He believes the Tylenol mystery is solvable.

"You never know when a new witness is going to emerge or if old witnesses who once wouldn't cooperate change their minds," Byrne said. "Clearly, technology also has come a long way, as well."

Johnson & Johnson, the parent company for the makers of Tylenol, is still offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Meanwhile, the victims' families continue to wait for answers, some frustrated and others resigned to the fact that the killer may never be caught.

Michelle Rosen of Winfield, whose mother, Mary Reiner, was among the victims, said news of the break in the case "turned my world upside down" and raised her hopes of getting answers to lifelong questions about her mother's murder. Her hope has since turned to a mix of disappointment and anger.

"(The investigators) should have never brought it up," she said. "It's irresponsible of them. They shouldn't be treating families like this."

Rosen questioned how there could be new DNA evidence in Lewis' apartment in 2009, and still feels confused about who committed this crime.

"We'll see how this all pans out," she said.

Jack Eliason of Elmhurst, and Bob Tarasewicz of Lisle, who both lost sisters in the Tylenol poisonings, said they had a glimmer of hope in February, but then quickly became pragmatic and wrote it off to "media hype."

"When you wait that many decades," Tarasewicz said, "you know things don't change that quickly."

• Daily Herald Legal Affairs Writer Christy Gutowski contributed to this report.

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