Episode 220: Dollop: Tylenol Man

Hello, the name’s Red. Red Herring.



Before I get to going on this spooky-ass before and after event of my childhood, only seconded by the airing of the soul-scorching TV movie The Day After (weirdest school bus ride that next day EVAR), and the airing of the childhood-stealing TV movie (sensing a pattern here) Adam

The Day After bus ride was dead silent; the Adam bus ride was whispery-gossipy, with the volley of


“No way!”

“Yes way!”

sent back and forth.

But first, after I already wandered over there…

Lemme say hi to my new friends from My Favorite Murder and In Sight podcasts and their Facebook groups! Hiyeeee. Just for you, and my peeps from the Generation Why Facebook group, I scooped together a tag group of your interests. Consider it an early digital murder Valentine:


The tag group is editable live on-the-fly throughout the site, so I will add to it at 3 am when I awaken, sweaty and racked with guilt, with forgotten tags beating under my floorboards.

Kudos to you who got that joke without hovering over the link. My tribe.

Now on with the mayhem.


I completely remember the Tylenol murders. The first death was September 29, 1982: I was ten–so that was the beginning of my fifth grade year.

List of victims:

  • Mary Kellerman: the youngest at twelve years old, just a little older than I was
  • Adam Janus
  • Stanley Janus
  • Theresa Janus
  • Mary McFarland
  • Paula Prince
  • Mary Reiner

Plus: John Stanisha — shot by Roger Arnold, a poisoning suspect who killed Stanisha after having a professed breakdown from media and legal pressure.

I cannot express how much of a before and after event this was.

See–PBS agrees with me: How the Tylenol murders of 1982 changed the way we consume medication, by Dr. Howard Markel

We now are all so jaded and/or prepared for catastrophe and cruelty at any moment–in the news, down the street. In 1983, there was One Event At A Time. Iranian Hostage Crisis, 1979-1981. Ended. Hinckley tried to shoot Reagan. Handled. Achille Lauro hijacking in 1985. Fixed. In-between? Like the guys said: cats stuck in trees; President Reagan said blah; congress voted on blah blah. We were able to take breaths in the interims, and the events were predictable: hostages, presidential assassination attempts, hijackings had all happened before.

it’s all connected, I will keep whispering into the void until the void agrees with me

Product tampering was some Wonderland shit. I remember pill bottles being naked on drugstore shelves–not only not sealed, or childproofed, but sometimes not even boxed either, depending upon the market. What were we thinking? Let’s be honest–people aren’t just violent, we’re jerks. We were just asking for boogers in our Midol.

Putting on my M.Ed. counselor hat: Theodore Lewis-James Lewis-Jim Lewis was misdiagnosed with catatonic schizophrenia. Completely. How so, person on the internet know-it-all? A schizophrenic with subtype catatonic has very limited movement and communication with others. The physicality is called “waxy flexibility”, meaning that one could pose the patient as a Barbie doll (remember the bendable knees?), and they will stay that way until moved into another position, with little to no response to outside stimuli.

I think Lewis had plenty of response to outside stimuli, don’t you?

Yeah, me, too.

From my experience with clients sharing similarities in background with Lewis, my Spidey senses tingle toward reactive attachment disorder. RAD explains much of his obsessive and vindictive behavior in adulthood. Said similarities:

  • abandonment:
  • both birth parents walked away
  • foster father died (experienced as further abandonment to a child)
  • foster parents tried to return him to the foster agency
  • more than one step-foster father–lots of power turnover in foster family
  • fuzzy identity:
  • foster parents changed his first name

So…he grew up with a hard-knock life. That engenders songs, hope, and becoming rich, right? Nope. Nope as a verb, adverb, noun, rejoinder, expletive.

Adulthood symptoms of RAD:

  • provocative and passive-aggressive behaviors
  • impulsivity above the norm
  • destructive, excessively argumentative anger
  • resistance to guidance, leadership
  • control issues
  • jealousy, obsession
  • irresponsibility
  • vindictiveness
  • confusion with regards to problem-solving

Ring my bell, baby. We have a winner.

(I have never seen Lewis as a client disclaimer I have never read any of his legal or psychological files disclaimer disclaimer yah yah yah doing the disclaimer dance)

I am interested in Lewis as a suspect. The above behaviors demonstrated by him year after year, plus one thing mentioned in the episode by Dave:

When Lewis and his wife were playing the jack of all trades career game, before the Tylenol poisonings, Lewis obtained a pill manufacturing machine. Yeppers. And this was before the days of drunken impulse Ebaying.



And here’s the special rabbit hole I usually provide, one of the reasons you love me:

A woman tried to get away with killing her husband by mimicking the Tylenol poisonings. Let me introduce you to the Bitter Almonds case:

1986: In Washington state, Susan Snow and Bruce Nickell died, poisoned after consuming Excedrin. Susan dropped to the floor in front of her fifteen-year-old daughter. Everyone, naturally, freaked; it had only been three years, and no one had been brought to justice for the Tylenol poisonings.

The medical examiner caught the distinctive smell of bitter almonds, the tell-tale sign of cyanide. Why? Let’s chem out for a minute, shall we? Thank you, pedia of Wiki:

The bitter almond is slightly broader and shorter than the sweet almond and contains about 50% of the fixed oil that occurs in sweet almonds. It also contains the enzyme emulsin which, in the presence of water, acts on soluble glucosidesamygdalin, and prunasin, yielding glucosecyanide and the essential oil of bitter almonds, which is nearly pure benzaldehyde, the chemical causing the bitter flavor.

Bitter almonds may yield from 4–9 mg of hydrogen cyanide per almond and contain 42 times higher amounts of cyanide than the trace levels found in sweet almonds. The origin of cyanide content in bitter almonds is via the enzymatic hydrolysis of amygdalin.

Too long; didn’t read? Shame on you, that’s rude. There’s cyanide in almonds. Lazy bastard.

So how was Stella caught? Hint: don’t use the same mortar and pestle that you use for household crafts and/or chores. Don’t Modpodge with your watercolor brushes, people. I am only trying to help.

Thanks to the Tylenol case, by the time Stella was found guilty, product tampering was a federal crime, so Stella received 90 years. Buh-bye. You can read all about this case in my friend Gregg Olsen’s book Bitter Almonds: Mothers, Daughters, and the Seattle Cyanide Murders. Do it. It’s fabulous. He’s fabulous.

the book referenced in the episode, written by a Johnson & Johnson whistleblower: The Tylenol Mafia: Marketing, Murder, and Johnson & Johnson by Scott Bartz


Let’s end with something not erratic nor murderous: a bit player from this episode, the ’69 Dodge Rambler. You know you want one:

source: momentcar.com

Oh, yeah. Vroom.

Band names from this episode:

  • Transient Motel
  • Toupee and Eyeglasses–dirty blues, first hit: “No Legs Lewis”
  • The Advillers–first charting hit was their concept album a song-by-song answer to Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” album
  • Closet Chemist
  • Tiny Airplanes
  • Cyanide Empanadas
  • Calculator Fights–one-hit wonder “A Moral Dilemma”
  • Looking at the Wall–first number one “The Disappointment Song”

Cultural references from this episodes:

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