Suspected 1980s Serial Killer James Lewis Dies At 76

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James Lynch Investigative Reporter
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James Lewis, the suspected 1980s serial killer who allegedly used Tylenol medicine to poison seven victims in the Chicago area, died in Massachusetts at age 76, authorities said Monday.

Lewis was found dead in his Cambridge, Massachusetts home Sunday when authorities responded to a report of an unresponsive person, Cambridge Police Superintendent Frederick Cabral said in a statement, according to the Associated Press (AP).

“Following an investigation, Lewis’ death was determined to be not suspicious,” the statement reads. (RELATED: DNA From Bryan Kohberger’s Cheek Allegedly Matches That Found On Knife Sheath At Idaho Murders Site)

Lewis served more than 12 years in prison for trying to extort Johnson & Johnson out of $1 million to “stop the killing,” but nobody was charged for the seven deaths that resulted from cyanide-laced Tylenol, the AP noted. He said the extortion plot was an attempt to embarrass his wife’s former employer.

In September 1982, seven people died within three days from poisoned Tylenol, causing a national recall of the popular pain medication. Following the poisonings, companies adopted tamper proof packaging for over-the-counter medications to prevent similar scenarios from happening in the future, according to the AP.

When Lewis was arrested in 1982, he gave investigators detailed information about the killer’s modus operandi and admitted to the extortion scheme, the outlet noted. He denied playing a role in the Tylenol killings and sent the FBI DNA samples in 2010 to try to prove his innocence when Illinois reopened the case in 2009.

“I was doing like I would have done for a corporate client, making a list of possible scenarios,” he told the AP in a 1992 interview. He said the killer was a “a heinous, cold-blooded killer, a cruel monster” while maintaining his innocence.

Lewis was described in 1983 as a “chameleon” who lived in multiple states and had several aliases. He was previously charged with murder in 1978 when his boss, Raymond West, was found dead in Kansas City, Missouri. The charges were dropped because some evidence was obtained illegally, and West’s cause of death was not determined, according to the AP.

He spent three additional years in jail awaiting trial for an alleged attack on a woman in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prosecutors dropped charges against Lewis for rape, kidnapping and other offenses when the alleged victim refused to testify.