Today we are very used to the typical pill blister. 40 years ago it was not so common. However, something happened that radically changed the way medicines were packaged. We might think that some drug was spoiled before its expiration date indicated. Or that users demanded more comfortable alternatives. But no, what happened was something much more gruesome, since the use of the blister came into our lives because of a succession of murders.
It all started on September 29, 1982 in the United States, in the Chicago area, with the mysterious death of a 12 year old girl and a young man of 27. But those were only the first deaths. Then, as far as is known, five more arrived. To this day we do not know who the murderer was, but we all have the consequences of his crimes in our medicine cabinets.
The murders that prompted the use of the blister
The first victim was Mary kellerman. The 12-year-old girl woke up one morning with a sore throat and a runny nose. When he told his parents, they gave him a tablet of Tylenol, a brand of paracetamol.
All victims died from cyanide poisoning
At the same time, on the other side of the city, a 27-year-old man named Adam Janus he also took one of these pills, for an unknown reason. Soon after, both he and Mary died for what would later be confirmed as a cyanide poisoning.
Initially, no one linked the two cases. The suspicions began after Adam’s funeral, when his entire family gathered at his home. His brother and sister-in-law, stunned by the situation, began to feel headache and they went to the Tylenol bottle. They took one tablet each and two days later they suffered the same bad luck as their family member.
This, together with three other deaths that occurred in the same area, finally led the police to understand that it was the drug. It was made known to the manufacturer of the same, Johnson & Johnson, to check if there could be a contaminated batch. But that didn’t seem to be the problem. The medicines were being sent in correct condition to the pharmacies. It was there, in several establishments in the Chicago area, where someone was injecting the poison into the drugs, which at that time were not sold in the typical blister we know today, but loose in cans. Some boats that smelled of bitter almonds, the typical aroma of cyanide. The only thing missing was to know who the murderer was, but no matter how hard he put into it, they never managed to find him.
In search of the murderer
In an article about this story published in IFLScience, they say that in a desperate attempt to find the perpetrator of the murders, the police even leaked to the press the place where the woman was. grave of the first victim. However, no one out of the ordinary went to visit the place where little Mary was resting.
The pharmaceutical company received threatening letters, but their author turned out not to be the murderer
There was a moment when they believed they had finally found the murderer. It happened when J&J started receive letters asking for a million dollars in exchange for stopping the murders. The author of the letters had not been careful when handling them and the police were able to find fingerprints that led to him. It was about a man named James W. Lewis. But curiously, he was not asking for the money to be paid to him, but to a now defunct company where his wife had worked. They soon discovered that what he wanted was only to incriminate the former head of the police for the crimes. He was tried and convicted for it, but not for the murders, as he had nothing to do with them.
And that was the last suspect. No one else could be found, so it was the Tylenol manufacturing company itself that took action. First they removed all the boats that they had been sent to pharmacies and advertised a $ 100,000 ransom to anyone who had clues about the perpetrator. But it was of no use.
The next measure was to change the container of the paracetamol pills for another one that was more difficult to manipulate. On the one hand, they changed the typical bottle for a triple sealed box, glued and closed with an aluminum seal. Inside was already the bottle, which contained a plastic ring that had to be broken to access its contents. Thus, consumers could know if it had been tampered with. But that was not all, they also began to include the use of pill blister how widespread it is today. By going these individually in each of its bubbles, they are not only protected from breakage. If someone tried to inject something into them from the outside, the bubble would be smashed and what had happened could be detected.
Notably the blister is not a J&J invention. In fact, it is believed that the first containers of this type for pharmacological use were those that were used in Germany in the 60s, for the commercialization of contraceptive pills. However, it was still hardly used.
Soon this format spread throughout the United States and the rest of the world as well. The criminal was not found, but the killings stopped, as he no longer had a way to proceed without detecting the wrongdoing. Now, the next time you open a sealed medicine box or pill blister, remember that there is a chilling story behind its use.