Tylenol and Violence – Chicago Headaches That Persist

Aches, pains and headaches are combatted by a readily accessible over-the-counter painkiller industry. As a society, we consume aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen like they’re the collective holy grail of peace and serenity. If only the containers weren’t so devilishly difficult to open. That damned protective seal is often more of a headache than the headache we seek to quell.

In 1982, pill containers were not tamperproof; they were neither sealed nor boxed. Taking advantage of the ease of tampering, someone removed Tylenol bottles from a store shelf, replaced the capsules with cyanide-laced capsules, and returned the bottles to the shelf for unsuspecting customers to purchase. Seven people died after ingesting the poisonous capsules. All were from the Chicago area and between 12 and 35 years of age. The murderer was never brought to justice. Fear of such random acts of violence led to the widespread packaging phenomenon that now seals everything for our protection and, as one comic noted, requires scissors to open the packaging of a new pair of scissors. As such, the Tylenol murders present a notorious cold case and the genesis of an iconic cultural phenomenon.

After 30 years the case is again active with a specialized task force and local police agencies trying to identify and prosecute the perpetrator. The FBI is leading the task force that includes investigators from the Illinois State Police and regional police departments from Arlington Heights, Elk Grove Village, Lombard and Schaumburg, with assistance from the Chicago Police Department. The task force continues to look at all aspects of the long-dormant investigation, including re-interviewing witnesses, computerizing and protecting documents and exhibits, and subjecting physical evidence to cutting-edge forensic examinations. To date, hundreds of interviews have been conducted and several thousand pieces of potential evidence re-examined.

William C. Monroe, acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago FBI, notes that the task force is working tirelessly to solve this horrific crime and bring closure to the friends and family members of the victims.

As WCHI reports on Chicago‚Äôs violence it is important to observe the 30th anniversary of the Tylenol murders in the broader context that threats to our personal sense of safety and security come in many forms. A sense of perspective is required. It isn’t all about guns and gangs. Even guns and gangs aren’t all about guns and gangs.

The Mayor has called on Chicagoans to consider ways to curb violence in our community, and narrowed his focus to guns and gangs and our ideas to 140-character tweets. We wonder if the issue as presented shouldn’t be more broadly considered and engaged. As young people who choose to make Chicago our home and our future, we share the Mayor’s desire to openly and actively discuss the perception and reality of violence. However we hope he will treat the complex matter more appropriate to the nature of its complexity.

As it pertains to guns and gangs, we note not only the differentiating bedrock of socio-economic issues among the various communities that comprise the community of Chicago. We also consider the diaspora of statistical violence in the displacing aftermath of lost government-subsidized housing communities and, on a similar but microcosmic level, the diaspora of gang activity as a function of decentralizing tactics such as removing leaders and neutralizing gathering spots. It is as if the strategy were to manage the threat of rainstorms; better to understand the conditions precedent of water and uplifting warm air than the quixotic destruction of clouds.

The Chicago Crime Commission has recommended adding 1400 police officers, ramping up strategic policing, and empowering prosecutors to succeed in cases where guns are involved. Certainly the Chicago Police Department needs better resources to adapt to the nature and reality of violent crimes across our city, yet the Mayor’s budget – by its failure to provide for additional police officers – did not accept the CCC’s recommendation. But the discourse needs to coordinate the need for policing with the greater need to uplift the fabric of our community to provide, first, a centralized sense of optimism that Chicago is evolving to a better place to live, work and commune and, second, that the optimism is coordinated with concrete well-funded policies, practices and actions to ensure the optimism is not misplaced.

We are all Chicagoans. None of us is more or less than another – by our existence we all count. We are, after all, better, stronger, more resilient, more insightful, more creative and more productive than we give ourselves credit. It is time for us to stop differentiating the nature and extent of our existence in Chicago and join in group-engineering a rising tide. As a society we might consider the possiblity that we have met the enemy and he is us.

Now, if only we can get that damned bottle open. Anyone got scissors?