14 Jul 2022


The Tylenol Murders: What Happened in Chicago in 1982

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  The Chicago Tylenol Murders of 1982 were tragedies that occurred in a metropolitan region of Chicago and involved an alarming amount of recorded deaths. It was suspected to that the deaths were caused by drug tampering. It caused the death of seven individuals from the original report but was purported that they caused more demise than reported (Pusey, 2017). This escalated as some duplicated crimes were reported. The case was highlighted when an eleven-year-old girl, Mary Kellerman, was found dead after consuming an extra-strength Tylenol capsule. On the said day, September 29th, a middle-aged man around the same area passed away because of the same issue. After a few more cases, the deaths were linked to Tylenol, and it was discovered that the drug was laced with potassium cyanide. The bottles of Tylenol recovered, were linked to the same manufacturing company Johnson and Johnson. However, the deaths were concentrated in one area, and this proved that the contamination had occurred at the distribution point. 

The organizations involved were mostly the authorities and Johnson and Johnson Company. The police showed ethical values and integrity by conducting thorough investigation instead of merely blaming Johnson and Johnson. The company also took the initiative by instantly suspending the production, distribution and advertisement of Tylenol. They also advised people not to consume any medicine without acetaminophen as a component. This was an ethical challenge as these actions resulted in a loss, but the company gave priority to the public's health. Johnson and Johnson faced an ethical challenge, where a man, James William Lewis, sent a letter to the company, claiming that he was the one involved with the tampering of the drugs. He claimed a payment of one million dollars to stop this action and distribution. However, the company did not heed this, and the man was charged with extortion and received a sentence of thirteen years in jail.  

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation took the necessary steps to investigate this crime. The team was led by the criminal analyst John Douglas who suggested that the Chicago Tribune should publish the story concerning the youngest victim, Mart Kellerman. This was done as bait, hoping that the culprit would show up in their home or on the burial site, where cameras were installed. The FBI was also involved with Lewis's investigation, and they managed to find him through the fingerprints left on the used envelop. They concluded that Lewis's claim was false, as at that time, he lived with his wife in New York. 

In order to initiate a clean-up, Johnson and Johnson was honest with the public and collaborated with the FBI, Chicago Police Department and the Food and Drug Administration to conduct thorough investigations. The company also offered to replace all purchased capsules. Later the company introduced a new model of the capsule with triple-sealed packaging that prevents tampering. They also doubled promotion to increase their sales. The Food and Drug Administration introduced stricter pharmaceutical rules, such as tamper resistance packaging and an improvement in quality control. Social responsibility is an ethical undertaking that prompts one to collaborate with other people and organizations to benefit society. Integrity refers to the ability of being honest and strong moral and ethical values (Polowczyk, 2017). Simple business ethics are a definition of what is morally correct in the business industry. 

This tragedy has upgraded the United States' ethical structure as it teaches the importance of integrity and honesty, especially in the business setup. The example that businesses should follow is Johnson and Johnson, who were honest to the public, and in the end, they recovered their losses. It has also taught society the value of collaboration and working together as the authorities and companies involved did. 


Polowczyk, P. Ł. (2017). Organizational ethical integrity: good and bad illusions.  Palgrave Communications 3 (1), 1-11. 

Pusey, A. (2017). 7 Deaths Point to Cyanide-Laced Pain Reliever.  ABAJ 103 , 72. 

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