Sunday, June 13, 2010

Uncooperative J&J Fuels Dissident 1982 Tylenol Murders Theory

Johnson & Johnson, trusted maker of baby shampoo and medicine cabinet staples including Tylenol, is currently under investigation by Congress.
The feds question the company's manufacturing quality-control processes, transparency with the public regarding safety concerns, and accountability, given several recent recalls. For a recap of the charges/stonewalling, read this NYT piece.
What's intriguing about this situation is how it connects to the infamous – and still unsolved – Tylenol poisoning murders of seven Chicago-area residents in 1982.

A decade ago, I published an investigative profile of the prime suspect, a man who is still being questioned as the possible "madman" who, according to the official story, either purchased or stole bottles of Tylenol capsules from retail locations, inserted capsules filled with potassium cyanide into these bottles, put the bottles back on store shelves and then waited to see who would eventually purchase and ingest the deadly poison.

A former J&J employee, Scott Bartz, has a decidedly different theory, one that's becoming more credible in light of J&J's evasive behavior of late.

Bartz believes the 1982 contamination likely happened during the repackaging and distribution of Tylenol capsules, not at retail.

On his exhaustively detailed Web site, Bartz explains how a J&J-affiliated employee would have had the opportunity to slip the cyanide-laced capsules into the supply chain without detection. He further shows how – in his opinion – J&J deftly kept investigators obsessed with finding a "madman" haunting stores, rather than probing its less-than-pristine manufacturing facilities and its many middlemen "contractors" who handle all those over-the-counter medicines you think are carefully monitored, tested and secured.

I've followed this case for a long time, and the more I dig, the deeper the rabbit hole seems to go. I didn't know the "repackaging" industry even existed until I met Bartz. I find his research fascinating, but frustratingly difficult to verify.

One unequivocal fact remains:  the victims and their families have yet to receive justice.
Perhaps the heat coming down on J&J will thaw their cold case.
Turn up that sunshine, Congress.