Possible Breakthrough in Tylenol Poisoning Case

In a potential breakthrough in a 27-year-old case, the sole suspect in the poisoning of Tylenol capsules that led to the deaths of seven people was subpoenaed this week to attend a court hearing that would order fingerprint and DNA samples.

James W. Lewis and his wife, LeAnn, of Cambridge, Mass., attended a closed hearing at the Middlesex Superior Court on Wednesday, where according to local reports, a judge may have ordered the couple to provide their fingerprints and DNA samples.

The criminal defense lawyer representing Lewis, 63, declined to confirm to the Boston Globe that the hearing took place.

However, an unnamed law enforcement official told the paper that FBI agents and representatives of local police attended the couple's hearing.

The hearing was first reported by the Somerville News and Cambridge News Weekly.

"Proceedings such as that reported by the Somerville News, to the extent that they occur, are supposed to be secret precisely to protect the reputations of innocent people like James Lewis and his wife," Lewis' attorney, David Meier, told the Globe.

Lewis served more than 12 years in prison for sending an extortion note to Johnson & Johnson demanding $1 million to "stop the killing."

Police began to reinvestigate the sensational murder case a year ago as a result of advances in DNA testing and other forensic technologies. Wednesday's reported proceeding marks one of the first known recent developments in the investigation.

The review began in part because of publicity and tips that arrived after 25th anniversary of the deaths in 2007, according to the FBI. It has not resulted in any criminal charges.

The victims, four women, two men and a 12-year-old girl, died in 1982 after taking the pills purchased from Chicago area drugstores and markets.

The killer was never found, but Lewis, an out-of-work accountant, was arrested in December 1982 at a New York City library after a nationwide manhunt. At the time, he gave investigators a detailed account of how the killer might have operated and described how someone could buy medicine, use a special method to add cyanide to the capsules and return them to store shelves.

Lewis later admitted sending the letter and demanding the money, but said he never intended to collect it. He said he wanted to embarrass his wife's former employer by having the money sent to the employer's bank account.

In a 1992 interview with The Associated Press, Lewis explained that the account he gave authorities was simply his way of explaining the killer's actions.

"I was doing like I would have done for a corporate client, making a list of possible scenarios," said Lewis, who maintained his innocence. He called the killer "a heinous, cold-blooded killer, a cruel monster."

Lewis also served two years of a 10-year sentence for tax fraud. In 1978, he was charged in Kansas City with the dismemberment murder of Raymond West, 72, who had hired Lewis as an accountant. The charges were dismissed because West's cause of death was not determined and some evidence had been illegally obtained.

In 2004, Lewis was charged with rape, kidnapping and other offenses for an alleged attack on a woman in Cambridge. He was jailed for three years while awaiting trial, but prosecutors dismissed the charges on the day his trial was scheduled to begin after the victim refused to testify, according to the office of Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone.

In 2007, Lewis was interviewed on a local-access television show, "The Cambridge Rag," by host Roger Nicholson. In segments available online, Lewis asserted his innocence in the Tylenol and West cases. He turned aside Nicholson's suggestion that he take a lie-detector test, saying they are unreliable and unscientific.

Lewis moved to the Boston area after getting out of prison in 1995 and is listed as a partner in a Web design and programming company called Cyberlewis. In a posting last year on its Web site, there is a tab labeled "Tylenol" with a written message and audio link in which a voice refers to himself as "Tylenol Man."

"Somehow, after a quarter of a century, I surmise only a select few with critical minds will believe anythng I have to say," the message says. "Many people look for hidden agendas, for secret double entendre, and ignore the literal meanings I convey. Many enjoy twisting and contorting what I say into something ominous and dreadful which I do not intend.

"That my friends is the curse of being labelled the Tylenol Man. Be that as it may, I can NOT change human proclivities. I shant try. Listen as you like."

The deaths in 1982 took place over three days. Johnson & Johnson had its sales force remove 264,000 Tylenol bottles from Chicago-area stores, and consumers were urged to exchange any Tylenol they had for a safe bottle.

The poisoning led to the introduction of tamperproof packaging that is now standard. Bottles of the pain reliever were triple-sealed and warnings against taking capsules from damaged packages prominently displayed. J&J also sealed the bottle caps to the neck with a tight, plastic band and stretched a tough foil membrane over the bottle's mouth.

In 2007, 25 years after the deaths, survivors of the victims said they remained haunted by what happened and frustrated that nobody was convicted.

"I will never get past this because this guy is out there, living his life, however miserable it might be," said Michelle Rosen, who was 8 when her mother, Mary Reiner, collapsed in front of her after taking Tylenol for post-labor pains.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.