January 9, 2010 in Nation/World

DNA taken in Tylenol case

Boston man is chief suspect in string of 1982 deaths
Jeff Coen And Matthew Walberg Chicago Tribune
 

CHICAGO – In a sign that authorities are still pushing to solve the 1982 Tylenol murders, investigators sought and obtained DNA samples and fingerprints from the longtime suspect in the infamous case.

Sources familiar with the investigation said James William Lewis of suburban Boston provided the samples Wednesday on the orders of a Massachusetts judge. Lewis’ mouth was swabbed for DNA purposes and his fingerprints were taken, the sources said.

Investigators hope to compare the samples to physical evidence collected during the long investigation into the murders of seven Chicago-area residents who ingested Tylenol laced with cyanide, the sources said. Samples also were collected from his wife, LeAnn, they said.

Grand juries in both Cook and DuPage counties are weighing evidence in the case, sources said. This week’s action in Middlesex Superior Court in Massachusetts resulted from a subpoena by DuPage authorities.

Sources have said charges are not believed to be imminent, but the case remains a top priority for investigators in both counties and the Chicago office of the FBI.

The court action in Massachusetts is the first indication the investigation remains active since last February, when FBI agents searched Lewis’ apartment and storage locker in Cambridge, Mass., hauling away a computer and several boxes of records and belongings.

When Lewis’ residence was searched last year, the Tribune reported that investigators were looking into whether he may have kept a souvenir from the crimes or written anything incriminating stored on his computer.

At the time, the FBI said it was conducting a full review of all the evidence in the case in part because the 25th anniversary of the murders had generated publicity and new tips.

FBI spokesman Frank Bochte on Friday said the bureau has continued to field tips on the case over the past year.

Investigators have looked at hundreds of suspects and followed thousands of leads over the years, but Lewis had remained the chief suspect in the minds of many involved in the probe.

Lewis, now 63, was convicted of extortion for writing Tylenol’s manufacturer just after the Chicago-area deaths and demanding $1 million to “stop the killing.” He was released from prison in 1995 after serving more than 12 years.

Tylenol investigators’ interest in Lewis was piqued after a suburban Boston neighbor alleged in 2004 that he had abducted and drugged her. Testing showed traces of ethanol and acetone in her system.

Some investigators saw the drugging as a sign that Lewis could be familiar with pharmacology and a possible parallel to the use of cyanide in the Tylenol murders, sources have said. Lewis spent about three years in jail on rape and kidnapping charges, but the case was dropped on the eve of trial when the alleged victim refused to testify.

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