The Tylenol Murders of 1982

Lori Johnston
10 min readJul 18, 2020

It’s hard to imagine now for younger people out there but back in 1982, there was no such thing as a tamper-proof bottle. Drugs, like Extra Strength Tylenol, were sold off the shelf in the bottle with a cotton ball tucked under the lid. No boxes glued shut and no protective foil seal across the lid. What happened in Chicago in the autumn of 1982 led to a change in the pharmaceutical industry and the packaging industry.

Mary Kellerman was only 12, the first and youngest victim of the poisonings. She woke around 6:30 on the morning of Wednesday, September 29, 1982 feeling sick with a cold; her parents elected to keep her home from school. She took Tylenol to help ease her symptoms. Her father Dennis would tell the Chicago Tribune that he heard his daughter go into the bathroom, close the door and then heard something drop. He called out to her, asking if she was okay, but got no response. After calling out again, he opened the door to find Mary, still in her pajamas, unconscious on the floor.

Paramedics arrived at the Kellerman home in Schaumburg and tried every drug they had to resuscitate her, with no success. She was transported to the Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove, where she was pronounced dead at 9:56 a.m.

Because of her age, an autopsy was ordered. It was noted that she took Tylenol that morning but nothing seemed out of sorts . . . at least not yet.

Around noon on that same Wednesday, postal worker Adam Janus, 27 years old and from Arlington Heights, was at home, also under the weather. He was worried that he was coming down with a cold. He picked up his kids from preschool and stopped off at the store to pick up some Tylenol. After eating lunch with the children, he took two Tylenol and went to lie down. A few minutes later, he staggered into the kitchen and collapsed.

Adam was taken to Northwest Community Hospital, where the attending physician believed he had a cardiac arrest. Despite efforts, like Mary Kellerman, his heart would not start beating again. He was pronounced dead around 3:15 p.m.

At 3:45 p.m., 27-year-old Mary Lynn Reiner is at home in Winfield and not feeling well, as she had given birth to her fourth child a week earlier. She took some Tylenol and collapsed. Her husband returned home to find her on the floor. An ambulance rushed her to Central DuPage Hospital.

At 5 p.m., the family of victim Adam Janus gathered together at his home to mourn and make funeral arrangements. Adam’s younger brother Stanley, suffering with chronic back pain, asked his wife Theresa to bring him some Tylenol. She gave him two, which…

Lori Johnston

Writer, reader, margarita drinker. Currently looking for a “dare to be great” situation.