CHICAGO (CBS) — “When I see this bottle, it brings me back to the most tragic moment in my family’s life,” said Monica Janus.
She was only 8 years old when a killer or killers deliberately mixed Tylenol capsules with cyanide and placed the contaminated bottles on the shelves of Chicago-area stores.
CBS 2 investigator Dave Savini asked Monica’s father, Joe Janus, if he thought the crime would ever be solved.
“I hope so, before I die,” Joe said as he broke down. “I hope I will see the person.”
A total of seven people – including Joe’s two brothers and sister-in-law – were killed by the contaminated Tylenol.
On September 29, 1982 – 40 years ago on Thursday – 12-year-old Mary Kellerman of Elk Grove Village collapsed and died after taking extra strength Tylenol for a head cold. Six other people died a few days later, including the three members of the Janus family.
As the death toll increased, so did the fear. With no social media or easy way to communicate the information en masse at the time, the police circled around and shouted through megaphones, “Don’t take Tylenol.”
“It was everywhere, because Tylenol is something that everyone uses,” said Isabel, Monica’s 12-year-old daughter.
“It was very scary and sad to think, wow, our family is falling and dying,” Monica added. “It was just scary because everyone was sobbing and crying.”
Isabel recently wrote an essay for school about how the Tylenol murders destroyed her family. She said only “an evil person, a person who just doesn’t care about people” could commit such a crime.
Adam Janus was Isabel’s great-uncle. The healthy 27-year-old postman wasn’t feeling well when he woke up for work 40 years ago on Thursday, so he unknowingly bought contaminated Tylenol from a Jewel Osco store in Arlington Heights – and s later collapsed at home.
“So when they told my family he died of a heart attack, they couldn’t believe it,” Monica said. “They were like, why would he die of a heart attack?”
At first, the family was told that Adam’s heart had failed. After crying over his body, they left the hospital.
Isabel’s other great-uncle, Stanley Janus, then 25, and newly married wife Theresa, then 20, then went to Adam’s house. The tainted bottle of Tylenol was still there, and they weren’t feeling well, so they took pills, not yet knowing what had caused Adam’s death.
“Then Stanley and Theresa took it because they had a headache – later [they] past,” Isabel said.
Joe said his family came to Chicago from Poland for a better life.
“My brothers were everything to me,” Joe said. “We all loved each other.”
He said they all had good jobs. Joe and Stanley owned an auto parts store.
“Everything we try so hard in this country was going right for us, and one day it all falls apart,” Joe said.
Joe was with Stanley at home when the poison hit.
“He just fell,” Joe recalled, “and when he fell, his mouth – this white stuff was coming out of his mouth. His eyes went back, I saw, you know – so they called the ambulance.”
When the ambulance arrived, Theresa also collapsed.
“Just awful,” said Chuck Kramer, a lieutenant with the Arlington Heights Fire Department at the time, who was working on Stanley when Theresa grabbed him and collapsed. “One of the worst calls I’ve received in my life.
“And as soon as I turned her around — a second ago she was holding my arm, and now she’s there and her eyes are staring and dilated and not reacting to the light,” Kramer continued.
“The amount of cyanide she had in her would have killed 26 elephants,” Monica added.
“He’s a, he’s an animal,” Joe said of the killer. “He kills people without fear.”
CBS 2 covered the funeral of Theresa and Stanley Janus in 1982. Their caskets were moved to the same church where they were married just three months ago, CBS 2’s Camilla Carr reported at the time.
“I remember my dad approaching Adam’s coffin, and he just couldn’t stand it. He literally threw his body at my uncle, and the coffin almost tipped over,” Monica said. Janus. “I’ll never forget that. It was terrible just to see that.”
In his interview with Joe, Savini asked him what he was thinking at the time.
Joe’s response was, “I don’t want to live anymore.”
Kramer said when he talks about the victims, he talks about them like his family.
“That was really difficult,” he said as his lip quivered.
Three more died in the days that followed – new mother Mary Reiner, 27, of Winfield; Mary McFarland, 31, employee of the Lombard telephone centre; and flight attendant Paula Jean Prince, 35, of the Old Town district, also died.
The Janus murders were the key to discovering that all seven deaths were caused by tainted Tylenol.
Kramer was part of a team that quickly made this historic discovery – leading to the immediate removal of Tylenol from stores and homes, and saving an unknown number of lives.
“I’ve seen a family come to an end,” Kramer said. “I don’t know how anyone could do something like that.”
But the killer or killers were never caught, and the Janus family said after all these years, detectives have never contacted them with updates.
In a recent interview about the case, Arlington Heights Police Sgt. Joe Murphy did not say if the police department specifically contacted the Janus family, but said vaguely that he had recently spoken with family members.
“With cold cases, it’s a difficult balance between when to contact families and if it’s appropriate. And the family is always looking to see if there’s new information out there, and there’s always information. limited that we can provide to families,” he said. “Whenever anyone contacts me or contacts other detectives, it’s a priority to fulfill that request.”
Murphy acknowledged there may have been “communication breakdowns” as the case moved from one investigator to another over the years.
“And it’s on an agency. We’re going to have to own it,” he said. “But I recently spoke with members of my family and I try to give them as much information as possible.”
But Monica said her dad deserved some answers.
“He deserves to know,” she said. “I just see him cry all the time.”
Joe moved his family from Chicago to the Wisconsin Dells area. He started a new life with his daughter, Monica, and now his grandchildren, including Isabel.
But the family never escapes the continuing toll and pain of the murder of their loved ones 40 years ago.
“It’s hard for me to live,” Joe said. “But I still have my daughter, my son, my grandchildren. I have to live for them.”
Isabel read on CBS 2 the conclusion of the essay she wrote for school:
“I truly believe that justice will be served – if not in this life, at least in the next – in memory of Adam Janus, Stanley Janus and Theresa Janus.”