CHICAGO (CBS) — CBS 2 has obtained previously unreleased video interviews with James Lewis, the prime suspect in the 1982 Tylenol murders, who describes in chilling detail how he believed the killer would have committed the crime.
This comes nearly a month after Lewis died of natural causes at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The 76-year-old was never charged in connection with the murders.
Officials said they are still actively investigating the 40-year-old unsolved case. Before Louis’ death, the policeof the investigation, but this is the first time police have released interviews with Lewis. CBS 2 obtained the videos and other records from the case through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Tune in tonight at 10pm for CBS 2’s full story with additional footage from the interviews.
In September 1982, seven people in Chicago were killed after taking Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide. At the time, the capsules were not sealed and the boxes did not have tamper-proof packaging.
, Lewis was a prime suspect from the start. He was convicted of attempted extortion after he sent a letter to Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Tylenol, saying he would stop the killings if $1 million was transferred to a specific bank account. But police were never able to locate Lewis in Chicago shortly before the murders, and he repeatedly denied being the killer.
Together, the newly released video and documents paint a picture of how authorities worked for decades to build a case against Lewis. The records also show how the man so closely connected to the case had a pattern of researching, theorizing and demonstrating to investigators how he thought the killer could get away.
Officials met or had phone conversations with Lewis at least 34 times, starting around the time officials reopened the investigation in 2007 through 2009, records show. The meetings took place at several hotels and restaurants in the Boston and Cambridge areas where Louis lived. They were all “consensually recorded” and each meeting was attended by retired FBI Special Agent Roy Lane, as well as an undercover agent, the records said.
Video footage of a February 6, 2008 hotel meeting was provided to CBS 2 through a FOIA request. In that video, Lewis speculates to Lane that he believes someone as young as a teenager, potentially 15, could come up with a plan that left no traces of DNA on the bottles or cyanide pills when they were placed on store shelves.
“[He] he could have bought a bottle a month earlier and played with it until he got it right,” Lewis said.
“Sounds to me like someone did a pre-mix,” he continued. “Open the bottle, throw it away [the capsules] c, go to the next shelf, or the next store, or whatever. That would cut their shelf time down an awful lot.”
“I want to picture in my mind what you just said, a guy taking it out of his clothes and… taking capsules out of his clothes?” Lane said.
“Capsules in some form, or loose capsules from the pocket, from the envelope, or…” Lewis said.
In the video, Lane asked Lewis if a 15-year-old could carry out a plan involving cyanide and avoid being seen in stores.
Louis replied, “How do you know the man wasn’t wearing gloves? Just because no one has seen—reported seeing someone with gloves?”
“That’s right,” Lane said.
“Surgical gloves, sandwich bag gloves, I don’t know what they actually are, but they’re made of the same material as plastic gloves,” Lewis said.
“You can’t use your fingers for all that, can you?” Lane asks.
At this point in the video, Lewis began to demonstrate.
“It depends on how tight the glove was, how much finesse he did. Just to dump her… How much sophistication do you need?” he said. “Disposal, throw it in the pocket, pour more from another place and put the bottle [cap] On.”
Lewis also speculated that the killer may have used a paper clip to lift both the paper lid of the Tylenol box and the cotton to avoid leaving DNA behind.
“Everybody has paper clips,” he said.
“The clip goes under it, you lift up… the lid is like this, it hooks on the end, take the paper clip, put it in there, lift it up,” Lewis demonstrated. “In real life, it’s a much easier way to open a bottle, a box like this, than with [finger]nail.”
“I think the guy could do it in less than a minute right there in the store,” Lewis added.
In another undated videotaped meeting, Lewis spoke at length about the timeline of two scandalous letters he sent: one demanding $1 million from Johnson & Johnson and another threatening to attack the White House unless then President Ronald Reagan did not change his tax policy.
“I still imagine — I still have a very vivid image of my hand when I’m writing it and I see it in my hands as it unfolds, but I don’t remember the timeline,” Lewis said.
“I had to rewrite it several times. I had to read it out loud and make sure it was legible and pretend you’re reading it to a 5-year-old and the 5-year-old understands it.”
In the video, Lane tried to determine what day Lewis wrote the letter to Johnson & Johnson. That day is critical because if investigators could prove Lewis wrote it before the murders, it could implicate him.
But in the conversation with Lane, Lewis said it’s hard for him to remember exactly when he wrote it.
tape: “Take Reagan’s letter and go back three days?
Louis: “Probably not that much, but at least two days.
tape: “So you would have written, starting to write it, about September 30?
Louis: “If this is, uh…”
tape: “This is the postmark. So on Thursday you were going to start writing…”
Louis: “Probably Wednesday or Thursday.”
Louis: “I see what your predicament is. My memory seems to be like that [inaudible]. Maybe I didn’t work on it for three days, it just looked like I worked on it for three days because that’s how I usually do things. But uh… that’s what I told you, but it couldn’t have happened because I [inaudible]. Until you pointed this out I had no idea that uh… that uh… I’ve been telling myself for 25 years that I’ve worked on it for 3 days… I don’t know but it’s impossible [inaudible].”
tape: “That’s the predicament, so that’s what I’m trying to say.”
Louis: “I see what your big puzzle is now, because you clearly meant it. I didn’t mean that. I didn’t know it was a conflict in my memory until he pointed it out.”
tape: “Yes, yes. Because basically he would have written his letter on the same day they were dying.”
Louis: “Yeah, well, that didn’t happen. A hazy memory and 25 years. If you asked me this and pointed this out. I would stand by that under oath. I’d swear it took three days, and that’s impossible.”
At that same meeting, Lewis also said he tried to avoid leaving evidence when he sent the letters because he “knew they could be traced.” He said he was worried about being caught on security cameras and chose to drop off the letters at a post office “quite a long way” from where he lives.
“I didn’t want them to know exactly what part of town I lived in,” Lewis continued. “There might be a mailbox right outside my apartment. I knew I shouldn’t use it.”
Records obtained by CBS 2 also show Lewis gave investigators several items as part of those conversations, including a folder containing articles related to the Tylenol murders, as well as original artwork titled “Tylenol Suspect 4 Life.” .
Those meetings weren’t the first time Lewis had speculated about how the murders happened. In an interview with CBS 2 last year, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Margolis, who prosecuted Lewis for racketeering, said the man first offered his help to the FBI after he was convicted of writing the letter to Johnson & Johnson.
“He did a lot of drawings, a lot of pen and ink drawings, suggesting how the killer might have filled these capsules with [cyanide] that killed these people,” Margolis said.
This includes an illustration made by Lewis called the ‘punched board method’. The process involved drilling holes in a plywood contraption and placing the bottoms of the capsules in the holes. After placing cyanide on the board, Lewis said the poison could be scraped out with a bread knife before putting the tops of the capsules back on and placing them in the Tylenol bottles.
And in 2010, about a year after the FBI raided Lewis’ Cambridge home, investigators found his fingerprints on a book titled “Poisoning Handbook,” according to police records.
investigators interviewed Lewis again 40 years after the murders, but did not publicly release information about that interview.
When Lewis died in July, sources told CBS 2 it was a frustrating day for law enforcement, who had been investigating the case for decades.
“I was hoping to see justice,” one source told CBS 2.
CBS 2 revealed officers believe they have enough circumstantial evidence to charge Lewis. But prosecutors have never charged him and have not publicly commented on why.