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updated: 9/27/2013 5:41 PM

FBI bows out as lead in Tylenol murder investigation

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

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

  • Tylenol murder victims were, from left, Mary Reiner, Mary Kellerman, Theresa Janus, Paula Prince, Stanley Janus, Adam Janus and Mary McFarland.

      Tylenol murder victims were, from left, Mary Reiner, Mary Kellerman, Theresa Janus, Paula Prince, Stanley Janus, Adam Janus and Mary McFarland.

 
 

The FBI says it's no longer leading a task force that unsuccessfully attempted to identify the person responsible for the deaths of seven people who ingested cyanide-laced Tylenol more than 30 years ago.

According to an Arlington Heights Police Department news release issued today, the FBI is turning over coordination of the open murder investigations to authorities in the suburbs where most of the deaths occurred.

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"The change in leadership in the task force is not to be interpreted that the FBI is withdrawing from the investigation," said FBI Special Agent Frank Bochte. "There comes a point in any long-term investigation where a fresh approach is needed."

The task force once consisted of 140 federal, state and local law enforcement officials who chased down tens of thousands of leads over the years. Most recently, investigators used new DNA technology to process old evidence. However, no one was ever charged with the crime.

The release called the investigation "ongoing and active," adding that the FBI would continue to "provide resources in areas of expertise as needed to support the investigation."

Local police departments have agreed to group together to continue to look for the killer, Arlington Heights Police Cmdr. Mike Hernandez said.

"We have some logistical issues to work out, but agencies have agreed to work together," he said.

Until the new arrangements have been settled, Arlington Heights has volunteered itself as the temporary lead agency, Hernandez said.

"Someone has to take the lead on this so you don't have six or seven agencies going in opposite directions," Winfield Police Chief Stacy Reever said. "You need a coordination of efforts." The department has one detective assigned to the task force, she said.

Schaumburg police Sgt. John Nebl said his department remains committed to assisting Arlington Heights and all the other agencies in whatever way possible as the task force carries on without the FBI's leadership role.

Paul Darrah, a spokesman for DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin's office, said the change in the FBI's involvement won't affect the investigation.

"The FBI's decision to turn over the lead role to local prosecuting agencies does not change anything with this investigation," Darrah said. "We'll continue to work with and assist local police departments as they proceed."

Bochte said the FBI has "always looked upon the investigation as a state murder case" and that FBI "investigators who were part of the task force ... will continue to be available."

The announcement comes just days before the 31st anniversary of the crime that shocked the nation and changed the way medicine and, eventually, other consumable products are packaged. In all, six adults and one child were killed after ingesting the poisoned pills between Sept. 29 and Oct. 1, 1982. More than 30 million Tylenol products were pulled from the shelves following the discovery of the link between the deaths of the seven Chicago-area people.

Mary Kellerman, an Elk Grove Village seventh grader at Addams Junior High School in Schaumburg, was among the first victims. Adam Janus, a postal worker from Arlington Heights, died next. His death was followed by his grief-stricken brother and sister-in-law, Stanley and Theresa Janus of Lisle, who ingested pills from the same container. Chicago flight attendant Paula Prince, Elmhurst resident and Illinois Bell Phone Center in Lombard employee Mary McFarland and Mary Reiner, a Winfield woman who had just given birth to her fourth child, also died.

Michelle Rosen, Reiner's daughter, was sad but not surprised by the news.

"After 31 years, we still do not have any answers," she said.

Rosen doesn't like to have the story drudged up in the media when there's no sign of progress and, for a variety of reasons, she fears solving this crime seems "impossible."

"I only hope the local police will bring new energy and light to the case to steer it in a new direction," she said.

Wally Tarasewicz, brother of victim Theresa Janus, said that despite the change to the task force, he hopes someone with information will step forward and provide the type of break that helped solve the 1993 Brown's Chicken murders in Palatine nearly a decade after they occurred.

"It's nowhere near the same effort, but I understand it's a cold case," Tarasewicz said. "You can't have 200 people working the case forever."

Tarasewicz said the FBI has provided at least yearly updates to the families of the victims, and he would expect the same from the new lead agencies of the task force.

Bochte said that despite the FBI taking a less active role in the investigation, no suspects have been cleared.

"Not at all," Bochte said.

Hernandez said Friday he could not comment on the current status of any suspects involved in the investigation.

• Daily Herald Staff Writer Jamie Sotonoff contributed to this report.

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