James Lewis, the suspect in the 1982 Tylenol poisonings that killed seven people in the Chicago area, caused a nationwide panic, and led to an overhaul in the safety of over-the-counter medication packaging, has died at 76. Cambridge, Ma., Police Superintendent Frederick Cabral said the death was determined to be not suspicious. No one was charged in the deaths of seven people who took the over-the-counter painkillers laced with cyanide, the Associated Press reports. Lewis served more than 12 years in prison for sending an extortion note to manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, demanding $1 million to "stop the killing." He and his wife moved to Massachusetts in 1995 after his release.
When Lewis was arrested in New York City in 1982 after a nationwide manhunt, he gave investigators a detailed account of how the killer might have operated. Lewis admitted sending the letter and demanding the money, but he said he never intended to collect it. He said he wanted to embarrass his wife's former employer by having the money sent to the employer's bank account. Lewis, who had a history of trouble with the law, denied any role in the Tylenol deaths, but remained a suspect and in 2010 gave DNA samples to the FBI. He created a website in which he said he was framed. Lewis said the account he gave authorities was simply his way of explaining the killer's actions. The FBI seized a computer and other items from Lewis' home in February 2009 after Illinois renewed the probe. In three days beginning Sept. 29, 1982, seven people — including a 12-year-old girl — who took cyanide-laced Tylenol in the Chicago area died, prompting a nationwide recall of the product. The poisonings led to the use of tamperproof packaging for over-the-counter medications.