Life started rough for James Lewis.
Born in Memphis in 1946, he was the only son of migrant workers Theodore and Opal Wilson. In 1948, while the family lingered in Waco, Theodore skipped town. Months later Opal left her toddler and two daughters, seven and nine, to fend for themselves in a transient motel outside Joplin, Missouri.
After a few days social workers discovered the brood and split up the siblings. Joplin’s Big Brothers agency took charge of little Theodore and granted custody of the three-year-old to Floyd and Charlotte Lewis, a childless couple from nearby Cave Junction, who renamed him James William Lewis.
The boy known as Jim grew up near a chemical plant that manufactured explosives. While Charlotte toiled in a shirt factory, Floyd sharecropped 20 acres and served as primary caregiver. It was a hardscrabble existence made more difficult by the child’s emotional problems.
“He was in a lot of trouble, a very mixed-up boy,” said Lewis’s cousin Lucille Mallatt in a 1982 interview. “He always did things that ordinary people wouldn’t. My aunt tried to give him back to Big Brothers because she couldn’t handle him, but they wouldn’t take him back.” Mallatt had always kept her distance, explaining, “You don’t play with rattlers.”
Floyd Lewis died of a stroke when Jim was 12. For the next five years, Charlotte and her son lived alone in the home without plumbing or electricity. In 1964 she married Glenn Nelson, a groundskeeper at the local golf course. But problems with the teenage Jim so frightened Charlotte she slept with a gun under her pillow.
Schoolmates saw Jim as sensitive and vulnerable. “He was a person whose feelings were rather visible,” recalled Jerry Dean, a Cave Junction police officer, to the Kansas City Star. “He was very accepting of other people. Maybe they weren’t as accepting of him. Because he was good-natured, people pulled pranks and did things to him that he wouldn’t have done to them.”
A double life was emerging. At school Lewis made good grades, played trombone in the marching band, and worked on the yearbook. At home he raged. When he was 19, Lewis reportedly chased his mother with an ax and was charged with assaulting his stepfather, breaking several ribs in a beating. Lewis overdosed on 36 Anacin tablets and was committed to a Missouri state mental hospital in 1966 with a diagnosis of catatonic schizophrenia. He later tried to explain the apparent suicide attempt and his brutality against his parents as an elaborate plan the family had hatched so he could avoid the Vietnam draft.
Lewis liked school. He attended the University of Missouri at Kansas City, where he met LeAnn Miller. The couple married on Thanksgiving Day 1968.
LeAnn became Jim’s rock. They were social misfits who fit together. A small, plain woman, LeAnn wore glasses like Jim. She too enjoyed working with numbers and discussing politics and technology. She admired the tall, soft-spoken man with piercing blue eyes. LeAnn listened to Jim–and deferred to him. She worked hard to see them through tough financial times.
In June 1969, LeAnn gave birth to a daughter, Toni Ann. Their joy was unaffected by the baby’s Down’s syndrome and health problems. They had each other.
Jim and LeAnn started working together as bookkeepers for Haley’s Instant Tax Service. They moved into its basement and managed the operation for a couple of years. Then one day Lewis exploded at its owner, Bob Haley. Haley told the Kansas City Star he wanted to take a desk calculator home and Lewis “just blew his stack.” Jim and LeAnn left to open their own business, Lewis & Lewis Business Tax Service, in a run-down part of Kansas City. They served their clientele from a storefront office with Toni Ann playing happily alongside them. The toddler would often sit in the window and wave at passersby on Troost Avenue.
One day an elderly man named Raymond West waved back. Enchanted by the little girl, West introduced himself to the Lewises and became their client as well as their friend. He tried to comfort them when Toni Ann had to have corrective heart surgery and when she succumbed to complications on December 10, 1974.
Grief stricken, the parents continued to talk about their daughter and show off her drawings to clients. But they carried on and in 1975 moved to a bungalow farther up Troost, not far from West’s home on Campbell.
West, a lifelong bachelor and former truck driver, had lived in the neighborhood with his mother since 1946. By 1977 his mother had died and West retired to a simple life of daily walks, reading the evening paper on his porch swing, and tending his flower garden. That September a freak flood swept away three area houses and West’s car, nearly killing the robust 72-year-old. Neighbors threw him a rope while he struggled against the raging waters. He survived and went right to work repairing his property.
Folks were used to seeing West. He liked to be helpful. He saved his newspapers and took them to a local florist every Sunday.
On Sunday, July 23, 1978, West went to the florist’s as usual. A neighbor said he called her later that evening. He reported feeling a little sick but talked mostly about getting his refrigerator fixed. That was the last anyone heard from him.
A longtime friend, Charles Banker, became concerned on Monday when he couldn’t reach West by phone. Banker and his wife drove over to West’s home to investigate. The couple found the doors locked and West’s car in the garage, but their knocks went unanswered. A bedroom shade was raised, revealing an unmade bed. They called police.
According to Kansas City police reports, the responding officer found the house secure and asked Banker about other associates of West who might know where he was. Banker mentioned a few neighbors, including the “tax man,” Jim Lewis.
The officer called Lewis, who reportedly said West had gone to the Ozarks for three or four days with his girlfriend. The information seemed to satisfy the police, but it didn’t satisfy Banker: West had never had a romantic involvement during their 30-year friendship and he never went anywhere significant without telling him. Banker filed a missing person’s report.
Banker returned to West’s home on Wednesday and saw a note stuck on the still-locked front door. Written on Lewis & Lewis letterhead, it read, “Ray is out of town until Thursday, for further call Jim.” Banker then checked around back and noticed that the previously raised shade was now pulled down. He again called police.
The police forced their way in and walked through the house with Banker. Everything appeared to be in order. Then they found a note on the living room coffee table. It said, “Please don’t disturb until after 1:00. Sleeping late. Raymond.”
Banker told police the handwriting was not West’s. He said West never signed anything “Raymond” except checks–he always went by “Ray.” Unnerved, Banker bought two new padlocks for the doors and gave police the second set of keys. Officers then left the scene.
According to Banker’s statement to police, Jim Lewis drove up as he and another friend of West’s, Jack Cook, were affixing the new hasps to the front door. Banker said Lewis ran onto the porch, asking, “What the hell are you doing?”
“What the hell does it look like I’m doing?” Banker replied. “I’m putting new locks on.”
Lewis seemed to calm down. The three men talked a bit, and then Lewis left in his car. But Cook and Banker noticed he’d parked again on the street, hidden behind a delivery truck.
Ten minutes later, the truck pulled away, leaving Lewis exposed. Banker said Lewis sat in his car for another five minutes before driving off.
Banker returned to the home on August 14. An awful smell greeted his arrival. He combed the house again. When he entered the spare bedroom, everything looked as it had two weeks earlier–neat except for a few bed linens and pillows lying on the floor. Banker picked up one pillow and found part of a horse harness that West used as a belt-loop key ring. He kicked the sheet and discovered dried blood. Once again, he called police.
It was 95 degrees, West had been missing for 21 days, and cops knew what that odor meant. They found a bloody lawn chair in the basement and a garbage bag containing West’s toupee and eyeglasses as well as bloodstained sheets.
Upon returning to an upstairs bedroom, officers noticed a foot-long stain running between the ceiling and the wall. They got a ladder and entered the attic.
A partially decomposed body was lying facedown, still dressed in a striped polo shirt and tan corduroy pants. Both legs had been severed at the hip joint. The right leg lay near the head on the right side; the other rested farther down on the left. Both feet wore black socks; both legs had been wrapped in sheets. The head was also wrapped with sheets and a cord, and the torso was partially covered with a garbage bag tied on with cotton rope. All the wrappings were saturated with blood and other bodily fluids, which had soaked through the insulation below.
In the attic’s corner, police found pruning shears, a baseball bat, and a pulleylike device along with more rope. They theorized the body had been hoisted to the rafters.
The corpse was so highly decomposed medical examiners were unable to determine the victim’s identity, age, or race. Taking fingerprints was out of the question. Hair samples would be tough to come by. Dental records, worse. West was bald and had dentures from a defunct dentist’s office.
Eventually examiners were able to match the body with a stray hair found in a cap downstairs. It was West, all right, but investigators still didn’t have a cause of death. There were no bullet wounds or signs of trauma. What authorities did have was a check for $5,000 drawn on West’s account. It was dated July 23, 1978. The payee: James Lewis.
Within hours of discovering the body, police went to Lewis’s home, handcuffed him, and took him downtown. They relieved him of his property and put him in a holding cell for an hour. He was then taken to an office and questioned for several hours.
Lewis explained that the check was a loan West had given him during a morning visit on Sunday, July 23. He also said he put the note on West’s front door so folks like Banker wouldn’t worry. He told police he didn’t know anyone who would want to hurt Ray. He submitted fingerprints and a handwriting sample and was released.
The following day police returned to the Lewis home asking again about the check. The bank had refused to honor it when West couldn’t be found to confirm its validity. Banker had told police that Ray was extremely tight with his money. He once gave a neighbor five dollars and they joked that he was turning into a big spender. Lewis said the $5,000 was a “business expansion” loan from West and produced a typed promissory note.
According to the police report, detectives asked Lewis if he had West’s checkbook and a key to his home. “I do not,” Lewis told them. He then agreed to sign a consent-to-search form allowing police to survey his home and office as well as his vehicles, saying, “I’ll sign it, but I don’t have the key and checkbook and I think you guys are fishing.”
In Lewis’s car detectives discovered–among other items–20 feet of knotted white rope, a black attache case with papers bearing West’s name, a trash bag, and a bundle of Raymond West’s checks.
The police again took Lewis into custody. Officers asked if he had killed Raymond West. Lewis said no.
In late August the Jackson County grand jury charged Lewis with capital murder. But days before the October 1979 trial date, prosecutor James Bell asked for dismissal of the case. He had no choice. Lewis’s defense attorney, Albert Riederer, had done his job well.
In pretrial motions, Riederer successfully argued police had no probable cause to arrest Lewis the first time. They also neglected to read him his Miranda warning. Every scrap of evidence collected thereafter fell away as inadmissable. Even the original indictment was ruled defective–it omitted the term “felonious.” Bell was left with a bag of bloody circumstantial evidence and a local coroner who couldn’t testify to a cause of death, let alone a homicide. Riederer had witnesses lined up to talk about West’s high blood pressure and potent medication regimen, which could have caused his demise.
“It’s one thing to kill somebody, it’s another thing to dismember them after they’re dead,” Riederer told me. “And while dismembering somebody after they’re dead is repulsive and repugnant, it’s not homicide.” He stands by his former client. “It was my impression that he did not do it. There really was no evidence of foul play prior to [West’s] death. There were no bullet wounds to indicate he would have died a violent death and had been dismembered.”
As Lewis left the courtroom a free man, Bell told reporters the case was “one of the most mysterious, confusing, befuddling, complex…and probably one of the most difficult cases I ever handled.”
The Lewises returned to their accounting practice and launched an additional business venture, Aljeev International, which they’d incorporated in 1975 with an Indian-born pharmacist named Viren Mehta to import industrial pill-making machines manufactured in India.
Lewis often bragged about his international business connections and impending deals. In the mid-70s, according to a police report, he even paid a Kansas City cop $50 to serve as a bodyguard during a transaction involving loose gems.
Nevertheless, Lewis’s sidelines floundered, as did his tax service. “He was reading books, but he wasn’t making any money,” an ex-employee explained to the Kansas City Star. “He was always doing busywork while his wife was doing the real work….In his mind, he was running the whole show.”
Kansas City law enforcement thought Lewis was running a criminal enterprise, falsifying credit-card applications and in one instance instructing the IRS to direct a client’s check to the account of a Lewis corporation. Former assistant U.S. attorney Jeremy Margolis summarizes Lewis’s method: “He would invent an address, pound [a mailbox] in the ground, pull [the mailbox] out of the ground, and move on to the next place.” It would later come out in federal court that Lewis also faced charges of swindling clients in a land deal in Jackson County.
Authorities searched the Lewis home on December 4, 1981, and found typewriter ribbons, mailboxes, credit-card applications, and enough other evidence to issue an arrest warrant for James Lewis. The couple beat it out of Kansas City for Chicago, taking only what their ’69 Rambler could carry.
Under assumed names–Robert and Nancy Richardson–the couple checked into the Surf Hotel at 555 W. Surf on December 10, 1981. A week later they moved into tiny Apartment 209 in a Lincoln Park rooming house at 549 W. Belden. LeAnn soon found bookkeeping work at Lakeside Travel, owned by Miller Brewing heir Frederick Miller McCahey.
According to neighbors, Lewis spent much of his first few months in Chicago studying books on economics, history, and computers. He also spent hours training the building manager’s dog, writing, and engaging fellow tenants in highbrow discussions.
“I thought he was the smartest man I ever spoke to,” said one neighbor. “He always talked about money. Not necessarily having some but…he used to go through the financial sections [of newspapers] all the time, and cut small pieces out.”
Lewis looked the part of a wayward executive. “It was like he went to the Salvation Army and bought his suits,” recalled another tenant. “He wanted to look dressed, to have a tie and coat on.”
He acted like he had places to go. Each day, he’d walk LeAnn to her bus stop. Sometimes he’d also meet her for lunch or stop by the office to show off a new set of fancy pens (he was proud of his handwriting). And devotedly he’d wait at the bus stop for his wife’s return. They’d walk, hands entwined, back to their room.
“Bob and Nancy” made friends at the building and through LeAnn’s job. They did the normal things: movies, afternoon coffee, bowling, window-shopping, helping each other move. While maintaining their aliases, the two never hesitated to talk about their daughter and how much they missed her.
In January 1982, Lewis found work at Chicago Tax Service on Broadway, but the position was short-lived. Lewis’s temper flared when the owner found a mistake on a return. Jim didn’t take the criticism well and was fired.
He then hooked up with the Loftus & O’Meara temporary agency. From April through August of 1982, he worked as a temp in various departments of the First National Bank of Chicago, where he claimed to notice a lack of security.
“He told me about how he could walk into any office without anyone asking him questions about what he was doing in there,” says Wanda Lu Brown, a friend from upstairs. “And he noticed on one table stacks of documents that contained vital information that could be used to transfer money from one bank account to another by a computer. And he mentioned that it would be something that would be embarrassing for that bank to have found out.”
That summer Lewis also became obsessed with Frederick Miller McCahey. Since taking over Lakeside Travel a year earlier, McCahey had experienced problems managing the business. LeAnn saw the end coming. Bank accounts were overdrawn, and airlines had pulled the agency’s ticketing privileges. In later courtroom testimony LeAnn’s supervisor, Barbara Vaitkus, recalled that coworkers gossiped about McCahey putting other enterprises out of business. Vaitkus said she discovered evidence that McCahey had diverted company funds to pay his personal bills and was not properly depositing Lakeside’s receipts.
Before she quit her job in the spring of 1982, LeAnn stamped a stack of blank envelopes with postage from a Pitney Bowes meter. The postmark said April 15, 1982.
The following Friday, Lakeside Travel went belly-up. Vaitkus issued 18 final paychecks, including LeAnn’s for $511.33. All the checks bounced.
The Lewises had cashed LeAnn’s check at a nearby currency exchange. On July 27, 1982, the currency exchange sued them to recover the funds. The exchange’s attorney, Anthony Fornelli, recalled the couple’s “agitated” demeanor during a subsequent visit to his office: “They appeared to be more upset than [anybody] else….They were very adamant in their position that they didn’t owe the money, that they had worked for it, and that McCahey was a crook…and should be made to pay.”
Jim Lewis had been working on an attack plan. He’d hit the law books and encouraged other disgruntled employees to file complaints with the Illinois Department of Labor’s wage-claim board. LeAnn called Vaitkus looking for a list of McCahey’s bank account numbers. Jim got on the line and took down the information.
Armed with a thick packet of documentation, Jim and LeAnn marched into the August 3 wage-claim hearing surrounded by several supportive, relief-seeking coworkers. McCahey didn’t attend, sending his attorney instead. Longtime Lakeside employee Evelyn Gold witnessed the meeting:
“We all sat around a big conference table and the…officer asked us how much we were each claiming for….Then McCahey’s lawyer said that there wasn’t any money in the account. All the accounts had been frozen by one of the banks because McCahey had owed them money….He passed around copies of the bank statements to show there was no money….All of us were arguing about it because our claim was, well, the salaries should have gone through before they were allowed to freeze.”
Jim Lewis served as the group’s principal advocate. “He was one of those who was most outspoken about it. He and Nancy had a full file full of papers….Jim said that there were accounts, personal accounts that McCahey had, that he thought that he had taken money out of Lakeside Travel to put in his personal account. Why don’t we look at the personal accounts as well? But the wage-claim officer said that was not part of his job.”
The officer rebuffed Lewis. “He asked Jim what he was doing there. He said, ‘You are not one of the employees, are you? Or a lawyer?’ And Jim said, no, he was the husband and he was concerned. So the wage-claim officer said, well, he shouldn’t be taking that active a part in it, and Jim got up…. He went and sat at another chair sort of by the wall.”
About 45 minutes later, the ruling came down. “[The officer] said there was nothing really that he could do about it because there was no money available to lay a claim against. And that was it.”
McCahey walked in as the meeting broke up. Jim and LeAnn confronted him, and a five-minute shouting match ensued. According to Barbara Vaitkus, the exchange ended with McCahey threatening LeAnn.
Determined, the Lewises convened a strategy lunch with other ex-employees a week later at the Loophole Restaurant on Randolph. Jim told the group he’d sent his files on McCahey to the Illinois attorney general and to the U.S. attorney, calling for an investigation into the Winnetka resident. (Officials would later testify they’d never received anything.) But while Jim and LeAnn were still fired up, the others’ enthusiasm had waned. Many had moved on to other jobs and didn’t hold out much hope for reparations. The group soon disbanded.
After paying back just $50 of the funds owed the currency exchange, Jim and LeAnn packed up and left 549 W. Belden on September 3, 1982, with three suitcases, one tote bag, a cardboard box, and a briefcase. How or where they spent that evening is unknown.
On September 4, 1982, using the aliases Karen and William Wagner, the couple paid $221 cash for one-way tickets on an Amtrak train headed for New York City. Two days later, they checked into the fleabag Rutledge Hotel in midtown Manhattan as Robert and Nancy Richardson, and paid $95 for a week’s rent.
On the morning of September 29, 1982, 12-year-old Mary Kellerman awoke with a sore throat. The Elk Grove Village girl opened the bathroom medicine cabinet and took two Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules. In seconds she collapsed to the floor. Paramedics thought her symptoms indicated a stroke or heart attack. Nothing they tried would bring her back.
That same day, Adam Janus, 27, stayed home from his postal job suffering from a chest cold. The Arlington Heights man reached for a Tylenol and fell into a coma at 11:54 AM.
That afternoon, Mary Reiner, 27, stopped in at Frank’s Finer Foods in Winfield to buy a bottle of Tylenol. She had recently delivered her fourth child and complained of aches. Forty-five minutes later, she too became comatose.
A hectic day at the Illinois Bell Phone Center in Lombard sent Mary McFarland, 31, looking for migraine relief. After a trip to the ladies’ room, she walked back into the office and, to the horror of her coworkers, dropped to the floor.
Around 5 PM the confused, bereaved family of Adam Janus gathered in his home to console each other and discuss funeral arrangements. Grief stricken, his younger brother, Stanley, and his sister-in-law, Theresa, both complained of headaches. Someone mentioned seeing a bottle of Tylenol in the bathroom.
Minutes later Stanley collapsed in the living room. As paramedics loaded him onto a stretcher, Theresa fell to the floor. Authorities evacuated the house and put the family and medical workers under quarantine, suspecting some sort of contagion or toxic gas.
That evening Paula Prince, a 35-year-old Chicago flight attendant, was exhausted after arriving late from a Las Vegas run. She drove to the Old Town Walgreens near her LaSalle Street apartment. An ATM surveillance camera captured her buying some Extra-Strength Tylenol around 9 PM.
Prince went home, put on a flowery nightgown, took some capsules, and collapsed shortly thereafter. Her body was discovered two days later, her face still half smeared with cold cream.
While Paula Prince was making her deadly purchase, two suburban firefighters–Richard Keyworth of Elk Grove Village and Phillip Cappitelli of Arlington Heights–were on the phone talking about the strange calls their departments had received that day.
Cappitelli said that his mother-in-law worked with Mary Kellerman’s mother at United Airlines, where everyone was upset by the mysteriousness of the girl’s death. Keyworth pulled the incident report and described it to him. Cappitelli remarked on its similarities to the three Janus deaths.
Keyworth then noticed a mention of Tylenol in the Kellerman document and said to his friend, “This is a wild stab, but maybe it’s the Tylenol.”
Following a mad series of phone calls, police officers found the Kellerman bottle tossed in a station desk drawer. Sirens screaming, they delivered it to Northwest Community Hospital, where doctors had already started to suspect that the Janus family had been poisoned.
As soon as investigators opened the capsules, the distinctive cyanide scent of bitter almonds confirmed the worst.
“It was just nuts,” remembers Richard Brzeczek, Chicago Police superintendent at the time.
Within 72 hours of Mary Kellerman’s death, an unprecedented army of federal, state, and local law enforcement agents were on the case. Product tampering had happened before, but never with such random, deadly results. An official Tylenol Task Force convened at a command post in Des Plaines while Brzeczek maintained his own crew out of Chicago Police Department headquarters.
In the 18 years since the murders, key investigators have come to disagree about how well coordinated and cooperative the effort really was.
Tyrone Fahner, then the Illinois attorney general, became the primary spokesman for the investigation. He held twice-daily press briefings and received plenty of TV time. He needed it–he was lagging behind in the polls in a run for reelection against Neil Hartigan.
“I was on TV every night,” Fahner says. “People who didn’t know who I was all of a sudden did.” He still bristles at accusations that political posturing had an adverse effect on the task force’s efficacy. “I wasn’t the only one who had true jurisdiction,” he says. “You don’t tell the feds what to do and they don’t like to be told what to do, OK? And the same is true of the local police chiefs out there.” All in all, Fahner concludes, “It was truly a decent and very good and fine effort.”
“Everybody fought for a little place in the sun,” remembers Jeremy Margolis, then assistant U.S. attorney. “You had literally hundreds of people working sometimes together and sometimes at odds under very difficult circumstances because nobody really knew what the heck was going on.”
Brzeczek adds, “People will withhold information so they can be the ones who solve the case. They want their names up on the marquee.” He recalls “some cooperation among a few chosen people, but the largesse did not extend to all participants.”
Particularly prickly was the relationship between local cops and the FBI.
“There is a general feeling of antagonism among local law enforcement against the FBI,” says Brzeczek. “We call them the one-way street: They want you to provide information but refuse to divulge their own.”
Monday morning quarterbacking aside, everyone agrees that no resource was spared in the hunt for the “madman” responsible for the poisonings.
Officials focused first on removing Tylenol from store shelves and recalling bottles from buyers. Mayor Jane Byrne called for the removal of all Tylenol products from Chicago during a dramatic press conference late on the night Paula Prince was discovered dead. The briefing, beamed nationwide, stoked a panic that soon became global.
Tylenol’s makers, Johnson & Johnson, reportedly didn’t want a total recall at first. But bowing to prudence and pressure, it asked the public to return their bottles and offered a $100,000 reward for information on the killings. The company then set up labs and began the painstaking process of testing capsules for contamination.
Law enforcement agents were pursuing the usual strategy: find the motive, get the killer. Multiple theories got play early on.
Investigators probed a possible manipulation of Johnson & Johnson stock prices by an imagined white-collar crime syndicate. They examined the Puerto Rican terrorist group FALN. Every disgruntled employee at every place where the contaminated Tylenol was manufactured, stored, or sold was interviewed and evaluated. Shoplifters arrested at these retailers got a second going-over. Investigators even picked over sales routes and custodial service rosters, seeking a common face.
Recently released inmates and mental patients in the vicinity were profiled and interrogated. Taking a page from the Son of Sam crime-solving book, police ran checks on every car receiving a citation in the areas around the poisoned stores during the week of September 29, looking for links. Agents listened to psychics and crackpots calling the task force hot line with tips about clues found in olive jars and messages about the murderer written with magic pens. They questioned every family member and intimate of each victim, thinking the killer may have had one intended target and camouflaged the crime with the other deaths.
To psych-out the killer, police used the media. They publicized and monitored funeral arrangements, hoping the murderer might attend or visit the grave sites. Task force members asked Mike Royko to write a heart-wrenching column about little Mary Kellerman, hoping to draw the perpetrator to her home. Royko refused; Bob Greene did the deed instead, to no avail.
By the end of the first week, officials’ optimism was beginning to dim. They had anticipated that physical evidence would emerge. It didn’t. The recall effort provided an excess of ten million capsules, which were tested for cyanide. More than 50 adulterated capsules were found in eight bottles–five from the victims’ bottles, two from consumers’ returns, and one recovered from a store shelf–all from the Chicago area. Yet none of the boxes, bottles, or capsules yielded usable fingerprints.
The theory remains that the killer visited each store and paid for the Tylenol, not wanting to risk a shoplifting arrest. He or she then emptied a handful of capsules, replaced the acetaminophen with potassium cyanide, recapped the capsules, sprinkled a few on top of each bottle to insure quick ingestion, and returned the box to its shelf sometime around September 28, the day before the first death. In 1982 store surveillance cameras and scanner databases weren’t as prevalent as today. There were no pictures, no debit card records, no witnesses, no evidence.
More infuriating was the missing motive. People kill for love or want of love, for money or lack of it, for power or its destruction. But who murders indiscriminately?
“One of the most sensational murder cases this century has gone unsolved because the person who did it randomly killed seven people,” says Dan Webb, the U.S. attorney during the investigation. “If you have no motive, if all you’re doing is killing people for no reason whatsoever, then that is likely to be the most perfect murder because there won’t be any ties back to you.”
For Webb, the Tylenol case was a crime unlike any other. “Human nature says that people will engage in acts of violence. We can’t change that–there’s almost always a motive of some type. This was a calculated murder where someone in a very smart, wise, preconceived way knew that he or she was going to kill God knows how many people–at random.”
While investigators spun their wheels in frustration, the press demanded to be fed.
“It really got to be almost laughable,” remembers Brzeczek. “Fahner would hold a press conference and then they’d all come running down to my place and say, ‘Fahner said this–what do you think about that?’
“There was so much pressure on the media people from the local networks, they were just going nuts,” he says, calling the Tylenol “circus” a precursor to the O.J. and Jon-Benet melees. “The station managers were tightening the screws, saying, ‘Get a scoop, get a scoop.'”
Despite filling more airtime with the Tylenol murders than with any other story since the end of the Vietnam war, reporters were also unsuccessful in their attempts to break the case.
In New York City, James Lewis was following the first week’s coverage and devising a plan to capitalize on the tragedy.
On the morning of October 6, 1982, photocopies of an unsigned letter got passed around an internal Johnson & Johnson strategy meeting. Handwritten in block printing it read:
JOHNSON & JOHNSON
AS YOU CAN SEE, IT IS EASY TO PLACE CYANIDE (BOTH POTASSIUM & SODIUM) INTO CAPSULES SITTING ON STORE SHELVES. AND SINCE THE CYANIDE IS INSIDE THE GELATIN, IT IS EASY TO GET BUYERS TO SWALLOW THE BITTER PILL. ANOTHER BEAUTY IS THAT CYANIDE OPERATES QUICKLY. IT TAKES SO VERY LITTLE. AND THERE WILL BE NO TIME TO TAKE COUNTER MEASURES.
IF YOU DON’T MIND THE PUBLICITY OF THESE LITTLE CAPSULES, THEN DO NOTHING. SO FAR, I HAVE SPENT LESS THAN FIFTY DOLLARS AND IT TAKES ME LESS THAN 10-MINUTES PER BOTTLE.
IF YOU WANT TO STOP THE KILLING THEN WIRE $1,000,000.00 TO BANK ACCOUNT # 84-49-597 AT CONTINENTAL ILLINOIS BANK CHICAGO, ILL.
DON’T ATTEMPT TO INVOLVE THE FBI OR LOCAL CHICAGO AUTHORITIES WITH THIS LETTER. A COUPLE OF PHONE CALLS BY ME WILL UNDO ANYTHING YOU CAN POSSIBLY DO.
Within hours, the FBI had lifted fingerprints from the original document, duly noting the envelope’s New York City postmark. Scratching away the postmark, investigators found metered postage with an identifying Pitney Bowes number and an old date: the meter was owned by Lakeside Travel, the envelope was stamped April 15, 1982. They then discovered the bank account belonged to Lakeside’s owner, Frederick Miller McCahey.
“See, he fancied himself a really brilliant guy,” Margolis says of James Lewis. “He said he knows how law enforcement works and he decided to wait and take advantage of the next natural catastrophe. It could have been a plane crash, a train wreck, whatever. It just happened to be the Tylenol killings.
“He left Chicago with these envelopes in his possession and the bank account number, knowing that something bad would happen someplace, and he would take advantage of it and put the heat on McCahey.
“He knew that the bureau would eventually figure out that McCahey hadn’t done whatever it was that he was claiming to have done in the letter–plane crash, train wreck, Tylenol killings, whatever. But during the course of the bureau’s investigation of McCahey, knowing as much as he claimed to know about how the bureau works, they’d work [McCahey] up one side and down the other and figure out what a horrible white-collar criminal he was and he would suffer his just desserts for the bouncing of the checks on employees. That was Lewis’s theory.”
Chicago authorities did grill McCahey. When he denied any involvement, they asked about possible grudge holders. Robert and Nancy Richardson, he replied. A quick check of employment records led the cops to Chicago Tax Service, where Bob Richardson’s old job application lay. With one look, agents knew who’d written the extortion note.
A little further digging into Richardson’s past revealed he’d published a freelance column in the Chicago Tribune back in July, complete with a bearded, bespectacled photograph. The “Point of View” column, titled “A slice of Chicago life,” inventories ten minutes spent “people-watching at State and Madison,” with the observations written in verse:
One well-dressed evangelist, bull horn blast-
ing promises of salvation….
A one-legged man, walking proud and alone….
One information booth in the middle of the
One blue-and-white police car sitting empty,
Four pairs of white shoes, one left shoe untied….
The task force went public with the letter on October 7, but Fahner downplayed its importance, saying, “It will not be relevant in solving the cyanide murders,” calling the extortion attempt “a side issue…a hoax.” It was, however, the first tangible development in the grinding investigation.
A week later, the FBI issued an arrest warrant and published the Richardson head shot. Kansas City police recognized the suspect and clued in the Chicago cops. The man they were after was really Jim Lewis, a suspect in the murder of Raymond West and an alleged tax-fraud schemer.
Suddenly Fahner changed his tune. He said, “Yes, this has great significance.”
Police had another suspect under close scrutiny: a 48-year-old dockhand named Roger Arnold.
A luckless laborer, Arnold liked to frequent Lincoln Park taverns and pontificate. One evening he made some barroom chatter about the Tylenol murders that gave observers pause. Someone dropped a dime.
Officers arrested Arnold on a four-month-old assault complaint brought by a bartender and used the opportunity to interrogate him about the poisonings. A series of coincidences raised eyebrows.
Arnold worked at a Jewel warehouse with the father of victim Mary Reiner. And according to the New York Times, police received a tip that Arnold’s ex-wife had been committed to the psychiatric ward of a hospital located across the street from the Winfield store where Mary Reiner purchased her Tylenol. In his apartment Arnold kept a stash of soldier-of-fortune magazines and how-to crime manuals. He took annual trips to Thailand. A skull and crossbones were tattooed on his forearm. And he was a closet chemist.
A search of his home revealed several unlicensed guns, a bag of chemical powder, and beakers and funnels. The powder turned out to be potassium carbonate, not cyanide. Arnold told reporters, “I’m not saying what the chemicals were used for, but it was nothing illegal.”
Arnold refused polygraph examinations, was charged with assault and weapons violations, and released on $6,000 bond, a very angry man. For months he fumed. He had allegedly told his interrogators, “I’d like to be in on the homicide of the guy that turned me in for what he did to me.”
Forty-six-year-old computer consultant John Stanisha probably knew nothing of the vengeful Arnold. He just happened to be leaving a Lincoln Avenue bar after last call on the morning of June 18, 1983. The heavyset Stanisha resembled the man Arnold believed had implicated him in the Tylenol case. Arnold had been stalking that man, and in a deadly case of mistaken identity, he approached Stanisha and yelled, “You turned me in,” shooting him at point-blank range.
Later tried, convicted, and sentenced to 30 years for the murder, Arnold is now out on parole. Investigators never charged Arnold with the Tylenol tamperings, nor do they mention his name today as a person of interest.
Not so, James Lewis.
Shortly after arriving in Manhattan, LeAnn found temp work as “Nancy Richardson” at a real estate firm called Abrams, Benesch & Riker. She showed up every weekday from September 20 through Thursday, October 14. But on Friday, October 15, she called in sick and disappeared, never returning to pick up the four days’ pay she was owed.
James Lewis didn’t hold a job in New York. He did, however, have regular contact with people at the Rutledge Hotel.
On Thursday, October 14, one of the hotel’s owners, Moshe Siri, encountered a bearded Lewis in the lobby. Lewis said hello, and Siri greeted him with questions: “Do I know you from someplace? Did you live maybe in another building of mine? 94th Street? 84th Street? 99th? 17th Street?” Lewis replied, “No, I am new. I’m from Missouri.” Siri left it at that. Only later did he realize where he’d seen Lewis’s face before–Nightline.
The couple didn’t wait for Siri to make the connection. LeAnn dropped off the key to Room 200, and Robert and Nancy Richardson ceased to exist.
By mid-October 1982, photographs of the Lewises were on television screens and front pages nationwide. On October 18, someone from LeAnn’s temp job notified the New York Police Department.
Buoyed by the tip, over a hundred cops and FBI agents combed Manhattan for days, block by block, but came up empty. The couple eluded the dragnet, which was surprising given their habit of boarding at transient hotels.
On October 18, a clean-shaven “Edward Scott” and wife “Carol” checked into another Siri establishment, Hotel 17, just 13 blocks from the Rutledge. An even more squalid accommodation–roach infested, shared bathroom, meals from a greasy electric frying pan–Room 169 slipped under authorities’ radar.
Much of the Tylenol coverage now focused on the fugitive’s character, and friends and acquaintances began to pop off to the press.
Some were of the opinion that James Lewis was a charming–if mischievous–genius:
“He could talk to you on any subject and convince you that no matter how much you knew, he knew more,” a Kansas City neighbor told reporters, saying Lewis’s interests included psychology, sociology, law, civil rights, and gay rights.
“He seemed to have a good heart,” remarked a resident of 549 W. Belden. That building’s manager told the Sun-Times, “He’ll be getting the kick of his life reading about himself and he’ll be five steps ahead of everybody. He’s that smart.”
Others had more sinister impressions.
The man who gave Lewis his first job in Kansas City said, “He has the most bizarre personality I’ve ever met in my life, and I’ve met thousands of them.”
A Chicago coworker remarked on Lewis’s strange manner and obsessive rants about impending economic ruin due to runaway inflation.
“He’d glare,” a former employee of Lewis & Lewis told the Kansas City Star. “He’d stare at you and not say anything.” The woman said that after a minor disagreement Lewis refused to talk to her for three months.
A ten-year acquaintance concluded, “He has ice in his veins.”
Jim Lewis’s plan wasn’t going well. When he sent the extortion note to Johnson & Johnson, he hoped Frederick Miller McCahey would get investigated. But by late October Lewis found himself prized prey instead of praised whistle-blower. To ensure swift justice, he had allegedly sent a death threat to President Reagan, hoping to lead authorities to his enemy’s Winnetka doorstep.
Though the exact contents of the presidential correspondence were never released, press reports said that its writer demanded changes in federal tax policy or else, one, the Tylenol killings would continue and, two, the White House would be bombarded with remote-control model airplanes that would jam Secret Service radio transmissions.
Increasingly desperate, Lewis began corresponding with newspaper editors. On October 27 the Chicago Tribune received a thick packet of documentation of the McCahey payroll affair along with a note written in cursive:
“As you have probably guessed, my wife and I have not committed the Chicago area Tylenol murders. We do not go around killing people. We never have and we never shall.
“Contrary to reports we are not armed, unless one means in the anatomical paraplegic sense. We shall never carry weapons no matter how bizarre the police & FBI reports.
“Domestically, weapons are for two quite similar types of mentalities: (1) Criminals & (2) Police.
“We are neither.
The week before Thanksgiving, Lewis sent the Kansas City Star a seven-page letter titled “A Moral Dilemma.” The letter, while never mentioning Tylenol, offered a series of ethical questions as well as some personal reflection.
“I grew up as a southern Missouri hillbilly. Then life was relatively simple. Values of right and wrong were clear cut black and white. The law was to be obeyed. The sheriff was to be obeyed and respected,” he wrote, segueing into a paragraph about Watergate felon John Mitchell and other corrupt government officials.
Lewis also used the correspondence to taunt Kansas City authorities who were trying to resurrect the charges against him for West’s death. “Reopen the Raymond West case? That sounds like a splendid idea!” he wrote. “Why have the police taken so long to come to their senses?”
Kansas City police had sent representatives to Chicago with boxes of West evidence for reexamination by the FBI. A November 16, 1982, FBI memo to the Kansas City Police Department reported an interesting finding: “One latent fingerprint present on a lift on card #7, marked ‘item 34 Pulleys and Rope in attic,’ has been identified as an impression of the right thumb of James William Lewis.”
During Thanksgiving week, Lewis sent yet another letter to the Tribune (and copies of it to the FBI and Department of Justice) taking on his Tylenol accusers while explaining his rationale for the extortion attempt: to bring the bare-bulb light of truth upon McCahey:
“It is my hope that by sending the information to the press, those powers which have prevented an investigation will acquiesce, so that the matter can be properly examined.
“I also remind you that these are the same investigators who engineered the placing of my wife’s name and my name on prime suspect lists without bothering to determine that we had both moved from the Chicago area nearly a month before the Tylenol poisonings began. After hearing those people on the news and reading the reports, it sounded like they already had us convicted and of something we could not have possibly done. We continue to respect the law as an institution and a concept….
“I have attempted to act as an informant, to act on the side of the law. But the FBI and their state associates have used their precious resources to terrorize, humiliate, ridicule, and speculate in public about the private lives of my family and me. Is this what a person who attempts to be a good citizen should expect from the United States Department of Justice?”
Lewis signed his real name and slapped a right thumbprint to the documents. He later talked about this period in a televised interview with WBBM’s Mike Parker.
PARKER: “What was it like to be on the run knowing every law enforcement agency in the country was looking for you?”
LEWIS: “It is terrifying, absolutely terrifying. Can you imagine trying to tell your wife, ‘Honey, I wrote a letter.’ Oh yeah? ‘There’s something else I need to tell ya, they’re talking about it on the radio and on TV.’ Just trying to explain that to your wife.”
PARKER: “How did she take that?”
LEWIS: “She just sat and stared at the wall for a while. ‘How could you have done such a thing?'”
PARKER: “So then you found yourselves running from the law.”
LEWIS: “Didn’t really run that much. We just moved to another hotel just a few blocks away. Didn’t really hide. We were out on the streets in New York every day. For example the Thanksgiving Day parade, the Macy’s parade at Herald Square, there were about 400 policemen standing around waiting to get their orders about where they were going to be stationed. My wife and I walked hand and hand through all of those people at the time this big manhunt was going on. We did not hide.”
The day before Thanksgiving 1982–Jim and LeAnn’s 14th wedding anniversary–LeAnn signed for a $140 money order from her father at a Manhattan Western Union office. Surveillance cameras captured the couple’s meek movements and the FBI inched closer.
They couldn’t afford to hunker down in Hotel 17 for long–they were broke. LeAnn ventured out and landed an $8.50 an hour bookkeeping job as “Carol Scott” at a luggage manufacturer.
Knowing James Lewis had been monitoring Chicago and Kansas City newspapers, FBI agents blanketed every newsstand and public library with wanted posters. On the afternoon of December 13, 1982, special agent Vincent Piazza got the call.
A reference librarian at a New York Public Library annex at 40th and Fifth had just handed Lewis two volumes: Newspapers of the Southwest and Largest Corporations in America. Piazza and partner Mike Falcone raced uptown. New York police covered the exits and Piazza proceeded to the fourth floor.
The librarian pointed to a man hunched over in a study carrel, his back turned. Piazza approached and tapped the man on the shoulder. The man rose, put on his glasses, and stood silent and still as the cuffs went on.
Following the arrest, Tylenol investigators played it both ways. Some called Lewis a prime suspect in the poisonings. Others stuck to the facts: Lewis was only charged with the extortion attempt; additional leads were still being pursued.
But after 100 days of fruitless legwork, the task force showed signs of capitulation. In January 1983–with Lewis awaiting trial in the Loop’s Metropolitan Correctional Facility–the team cut back its ranks to about 20 agents. By March, the tipster hot line had been disconnected.
Johnson & Johnson returned triple-sealed Tylenol to store shelves. An entire “tamper-evident packaging” industry sprang up in the wake of the poisonings, $100 million losses were suffered by Johnson & Johnson, and new regulations were instituted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Before 1982, only moisture- and temperature-sensitive medications had protective seals. The Tylenol killer changed all that.
Lewis pleaded not guilty at his extortion arraignment and federal prosecutors geared up for the trial.
LeAnn refused to assist them. She surrendered to authorities the day after her husband’s arrest, but declined to answer investigators’ questions. Federal prosecutors then charged LeAnn with misappropriating the social security number she used to become “Nancy Richardson” while working in Chicago. Despite the charge’s misdemeanor status, prosecutors asked for a $5 million bond. LeAnn spent that Christmas in jail, awaiting a bond reduction hearing.
Officials invited LeAnn to cooperate with the government’s investigation into any of the troubling circumstances surrounding her husband–the letter to Johnson & Johnson, the Reagan letter, the West death, and the Tylenol poisonings. LeAnn said nothing.
“Jim wrote the letter,” Michael Monico told jurors during opening arguments. Lewis’s defense attorney knew how to pick his battles. He didn’t quibble with the authorship of the extortion note, calling it a “vile and stupid letter.” Monico instead put the spotlight on Lewis’s intention when sending it.
The defense argument went like this: Jim Lewis had a pitiful start in life, but he and LeAnn developed an extremely close marriage. The death of their five-year-old daughter cemented, rather than tore apart, their lifelong bond. Jim Lewis became enraged at Frederick Miller McCahey’s treatment of LeAnn and other Lakeside Travel employees. He learned at the wage-claim hearing that McCahey’s bank accounts had been frozen, so he received no satisfaction. Despite his best efforts, no one in law enforcement would listen to his allegations against McCahey.
The defense maintained that Jim Lewis was the kind of man who became inordinately upset with real or perceived enemies. His personality and behavior patterns were admittedly bizarre. But when he wrote the letter to Johnson & Johnson, Lewis never intended for the company to pay the $1,000,000. They couldn’t. The referenced Continental Bank account was closed and Lewis knew that. He intended the letter only to draw authorities to McCahey, nothing more. He didn’t expect the money, he didn’t receive any funds, and therefore he did not commit attempted extortion–the felony charge against him.
“This case is simple and it is strange,” concluded Monico. “There is absolutely no question that he did what he did to expose McCahey….You may convict him of being stupid and being foolish and being reckless, but you cannot convict him of this crime on the state of this evidence.”
In his closing argument U.S. attorney Dan Webb tried to refute that “ridiculous” defense. He also planted the seeds of doubt that surround Lewis today.
“When Mr. Lewis found out that he had a warrant out for his arrest for attempted extortion…what did he do? He went underground….He changed his name, they changed the jobs, they did everything they could to avoid detection at that point in time.
“Now Mr. Monico said that it is because he read the newspaper, that people were speculating that he might have done the Tylenol murders. By the way, he confesses being the murderer in the letter. I mean, is that our fault that he, in order to play upon a tragedy, confessed to the murder, so somebody said, ‘Maybe he did it,’ since people who confess to things sometimes do it.
“But think about it….Why would you do what he did unless you had guilt on your mind?”
In a final, finger-pointing flurry, Webb said, “The man who wrote that letter was a premeditated manipulator of the fear of Johnson & Johnson. And the man who wrote that letter is an evil and depraved opportunist who was trying to turn a tragedy to his own benefit. That man was mean, he was vicious. That man, who was insensitive to human suffering. That man, who was a premeditated manipulator of fear. That man, who was an evil and depraved opportunist for his own benefit, that man is you, James Lewis.”
After the six-day trial, it took the jury just two and a half hours to find James Lewis, then 37, guilty of attempted extortion on October 27, 1983.
That didn’t stop him from trying to be helpful.
Lewis probably didn’t like working in the prison bakery while he awaited sentencing; his fellow inmates always refused to eat his pastries. Besides, he figured he was a man of keen intellect who could actually be of assistance to the Tylenol task force. In November 1983, Lewis called assistant U.S. attorney Jeremy Margolis, who had helped to put him in the pokey.
“He volunteered his services because he had time on his hands and was very smart,” remembers Margolis. Lewis told him “he’d love to sit and talk with me and solve the Tylenol killings. I accepted his offer.”
Margolis and Lewis subsequently met several times in Margolis’s office for “hours and hours and hours” of discussions and theorizing. According to Margolis, Lewis arrived armed with “probably hundreds of pages of manuscripts, diagrams, and theories…as to how these killings might have happened.”
Margolis still keeps one of Lewis’s drawings on display in his office. “The one on my wall is the ‘Drilled Board Method: Drawn on speculation at request of Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy D. Margolis’ so nobody could say it was his confession of what he did.”
In that drawing, Lewis delineates in great detail how the killer might have used an ordinary breadboard to turn an ordinary pain reliever into an agent of death. The poisoner could drill holes in the board; place separated, emptied capsule halves into the holes; fill them with cyanide and scrape off the excess with a knife; recap the capsules and put them back into their original containers. The entire process could be performed in a car at the store’s parking lot, allowing the killer to buy the Tylenol, contaminate the capsules, and return the bottle to the shelf minutes later. Nothing would appear out of the ordinary because the bottle would still bear the price tags and other identifying marks of that particular store.
During these meetings, FBI agents and state policemen took notes, hoping Lewis would get rolling and slip up. It didn’t happen. Lewis refused to submit to a polygraph.
“I wasn’t capable of generating a germ of information that could be corroborated to provide the physical evidence that would have been needed to build a case on him,” says Margolis.
Does he have a gut feeling about Lewis?
“I’ve never discussed that publicly and I won’t now. But I have strongly held views on the subject.”
James Lewis had strongly held views regarding defense attorney Michael Monico and the judge who convicted him, Frank McGarr. (Monico did not respond to numerous requests to be interviewed for this article.) By March of 1984, Lewis was demanding Monico’s case files in anticipation of representing himself at his upcoming sentencing hearing. Monico withdrew his representation after learning that Lewis had filed a pro se motion for disqualification of Judge McGarr.
In his pleading, Lewis asserted that Judge McGarr would be prejudicial in his sentencing judgment due to McGarr’s alleged relationships with corrupt Teamsters, affiliations with the same attorney general’s office that refused to investigate McCahey, and statements to the Federal Bar Association calling prisoners who acted as their own attorneys “psychopaths.” The motion was denied.
On June 14, 1984, Lewis argued before Judge McGarr why he shouldn’t receive a hammering sentence:
“I come before this tribunal this day convicted of a crime that I did not commit. In fact, convicted of three crimes that I did not commit. I do not lie, cheat, or steal. I am indicted and convicted solely because I am uncompromisingly honest.”
Lewis maintained he was a “political prisoner,” a “scapegoat,” and an “all-purpose monster…fathered by the wild-eyed hyperventilated imaginations of two brutal men, Tyrone Fahner and Daniel K. Webb,” who simply “blew” the Tylenol investigation thanks to “bureaucratic blundering incompetence.”
McGarr had already listened to Dan Webb reiterate Lewis’s biography: the violence toward his parents, the mental hospital commitment, the Raymond West murder charge, the Kansas City fraud schemes for which he was convicted in May of 1983 and sentenced to ten years, the fugitive flight, the extortion conviction, the breadboard schematic, the grandiose and quick-to-explode temperament, the innumerable aliases and deceptions.
“It is difficult for me to imagine anyone who would present, if released, a greater danger than Mr. Lewis based on his background and his history,” said Webb, characterizing him as a “walking crime wave.”
The government had a psychiatric report prepared for sentencing. Lewis asked for and got his own psychiatric evaluation from a doctor of his choice, who then drew conclusions and wrote a report as well. But Lewis instructed his doctor not to submit the report to the judge, and in the interest of fairness neither psychiatric opinion was admitted as evidence.
McGarr passed judgment: ten years in the federal penitentiary to run consecutively with the ten-year Missouri sentences for tax and mail fraud.
Lewis moved among different prisons, weathering three years of inmate taunts of “Hey, Tylenol Man!” In 1987 he filed a request for sentence reduction.
In his “Defendant’s Motion Under Rule 35,” Lewis wrote, among other claims: “Lewis was convicted, not because he committed any crime, but because the U.S. Attorney, Daniel K. Webb, in open court, threatened to kill the jurors with poison and with a gun. The defendant will never forget the fear in the jurors’ eyes. Mr. Webb committed the crime of extortion in open court, an act that amounted to extortionate jury tampering. No one can blame the poor jurors, when they themselves were the victims of such acts of terrorism.”
Lewis’s motion was denied.
During his incarceration, Lewis tried to be a model prisoner. He garnered exemplary ratings as a GED tutor; he painted murals with sports themes; he taught himself Latin while improving his French and Spanish skills by reading classics in the original languages; and he received no misconduct reports.
He tried to get paroled at every opportunity. But as he told WBBM’s Mike Parker in 1989, he wasn’t optimistic after his first eligibility hearing: “In their meeting here, two examiners indicated that they will extend my time in prison by construing the Tylenol letter as if it were a confession. The United States Parole Commission will, in effect, be accusing me of being the Tylenol murderer….
“Margolis and [then U.S. attorney Anton] Valukas have no more interest in protecting the public in this case than the Tylenol murderer himself did. They have become, with their actions, the best friend that the Tylenol murderer could ever have. By taking the actions that they’ve taken here, they’ve done the same thing as pinning the Congressional Medal of Honor, in absentia, on the Tylenol murderer’s chest.”
During another Parker broadcast, Dan Webb responded, “First of all, he’s the one that sent the extortion note, which would immediately at least raise into question whether or not he’s the one who committed the murders.”
Lewis remained defiant. “I could send a letter to the Roman senate saying give me one million gold pieces and I will stop the killing of Caesar, but that doesn’t mean that I killed Caesar.”
On October 13, 1995, Lewis walked out of the federal penitentiary at El Reno, Oklahoma, and went straight back to loyal LeAnn.
“Most of us thought he’d never see the light of day because of his mental instability,” says Tyrone Fahner. “We were surprised he was let out.”
He remains on supervised release until 2002.
With the help of private detective Jim Miller of the Investigative Services Agency, I located Jim and LeAnn Lewis in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Several interview requests mailed to the couple’s home on Gore Street went unanswered.
This past summer, I discovered the home page for James Lewis’s Web consulting firm, www.cyberlewis.com. He describes his quiet condo life, displays his artwork and personal photographs, and writes at length about his latest enthusiasm: artificial intelligence and the coming of a “post human” era when computers and people will become unified superentities.
The site also had a banner ad offering confections with the slogan “Chocolates to Die For!”
On August 4, 2000, I phoned Jim Lewis and identified myself.
“I really don’t want to talk to you, ma’am,” he said.
Not at all?
“No, not at all.” Click.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Gene Pesek-Chicago Sun Times/CORBIS-Bettmann/AP-Wide World Photos/Robert A. Davis-Chicago Sun-Times/Nathan Mandell.