A groundbreaking new documentary from WBBM Films/CBS Chicago and See It Now Studios investigates the chaos of one of the nation's most notorious crimes: the 1982 Tylenol murders.
PAINKILLER: THE TYLENOL MURDERS will premiere exclusively on Paramount+ on Oct. 10. Using hours of exclusive archival footage, the five-part docuseries transports viewers back four decades to the moments after a twisted killer laced Tylenol pills with cyanide and killed seven people in the Chicago area. Fear and panic shot across the country, with no one knowing how widespread the poisonings were.
Who was the killer?
The documentary dissects how the string of murders forever changed over-the-counter medicine. While the person responsible was never arrested, the journalists behind the film believe they know who did it. They also explore missteps by law enforcement in the investigation of the prime suspect – and the real possibility that had he been caught sooner for previous crimes, the murders in Chicago would've never happened.
The documentary took nearly two years to produce and is the first comprehensive film about the poisonings. The episodes feature in-depth, present-day interviews with the few remaining witnesses 40 years after the crimes were committed. As a nurse and paramedic rush to piece together the deaths and police frantically pull Tylenol bottles off store shelves and out of homes, a murderer is slipping farther away from their grasp.
"This was the kind of murder no one in that room had ever worked," said David Williams, a criminal investigations commander with the Illinois State Police at the time of the murders. "This is nuts. Who would do a thing like this, to this magnitude?"
"It has to be the Tylenol"
It took days for officials to determine that cyanide-laced Tylenol was the cause.
"I went into the bathroom and found a bottle of Tylenol," remembered 85-year-old Helen Jensen, the nurse who played an integral role in figuring out the deaths were linked to poisoned Tylenol. "And I brought it out to the kitchen with one of the police officers. I opened it and counted the pills, and there were six pills missing and then three people dead. I said it has to be the Tylenol."
But she said police and the medical examiner refused to believe her at the time.
"They're not going to listen to me," Jensen said. "I am a nurse. A woman. In shorts. Why would all the men standing back there listen to me?"
The film unravels the dark, complicated mystery of the crime in real time. It investigates the suspects along the way, including tracing the steps – and missed clues – of longtime suspect James Lewis. The production team behind PAINKILLER: THE TYLENOL MURDERS takes the viewer inside Lewis' chilling mind and on the journey as they try to track him down.
Family's mission for answers
The film also centers on the gripping stories of generations of families still carrying the horror of the crime. Could past clues and cutting-edge DNA technology spur justice decades later?
In the documentary, 13-year-old Isabel Janus, whose aunt and two great uncles died within one day after being poisoned, said she is committed to getting closure and keeping her family's story alive.
"If not in my mother's time, I will continue to try and help my family find answers to this horrible tragedy," she said. "I truly believe that justice will be done, if not in this lifetime, then in the next."
From WBBM Films/CBS Chicago, PAINKILLER: THE TYLENOL MURDERS is executive produced by Jeff Harris; Samah Assad, Rebecca McCann and Kara Olney as supervising producers; Carol Thompson as associate producer; reporting by Brad Edwards, Dave Savini, Dorothy Tucker, Samah Assad, Rebecca McCann, Kara Olney and Carol Thompson; editing by Reed Nolan, Alfredo Roman, Robert Thompson and Tim Viste. From See It Now Studios, Susan Zirinsky and Terence Wrong are executive producers; Aysu Saliba and Cara Tortora are supervising producers.
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