A book called "The Tylenol Mafia," written by a former eight-year employee of Johnson & Johnson, will contend that the murderous Tylenol capsules from the 1980s were prepared from within the company rather than at the retail level as popularly believed.
Subtitled “A True Story of Marketing, Murder and Johnson & Johnson,” it has been written by Scott Bartz, who worked at J&J as a sales rep and at J&J facilities from 1999-2007.
He is seeking a publisher for his 320-page book but said he will publish it himself if necessary.
His view is that Tylenol capsules were contaminated in 1982 and 1986 at J&J facilities and not at the retail level as claimed by J&J and others.
He cites statements by FBI personnel, medical doctors and police officials that the cyanide used in the Chicago area and Yonkers, N.Y., murders could be invisible in the capsules for an indefinite period and was not necessarily placed in Tylenols at the retail level.
J&J contended that the cyanide would cause the capsules to visibly deteriorate in less than a month.
J&J’s removal of Tylenol capsules from the market in 1982 has been cited numerous times in recent weeks as admirable corporate behavior.
Tylenol Called 'Gold Standard' of Crisis PR
Tylenols have been in the news lately since more than 60 million bottles of Tylenols and other J&J products have been recalled because of alleged irregularities.
The Food & Drug Administration in late April charged lack of quality control in the production of J&J children’s drugs and said punitive actions could include criminal penalties.
Media writing about the latest recalls expressed surprise at such failings in a company whose handling of the murders in 1982 was said to have set the “gold standard” for crisis management.
The Motley Fool website said May 6 that “J&J has always been the poster child for how to correctly handle a crisis” while the April 10 Economist called J&J’s behavior in 1982 “the gold standard of crisis management.”
Advertising Age columnist Al Ries wrote May 3 that the Tylenol brand was so strong that even seven murders could not inflict much damage on it. He did not mention the murder of 23-year-old Diane Elsroth of Peekskill, N.Y., in 1986 via poisoned Tylenols.
Fault Was not Adjudicated
Whether J&J was at fault in selling Tylenols in vulnerable capsules, as charged by the families in 1982, was not settled because the case did not come to trial.
J&J fought the families for eight years, only settling out of court on May 13, 1991 in Cook County Circuit Court just as jury selection was to begin.
Bruce Pfaff, lawyer for the families, said J&J did not make its first offer until a week before the trial was to begin.
Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
Also kept secret were certain documents and pretrial testimony. J&J had obtained a court order allowing it to keep such materials secret unless the case went to trial.
J&J Only Offered $100,000 Reward
Almost never mentioned in articles about the 1982 recall is that J&J only offered $100,000 for evidence leading to the conviction of the murderer or murderers.
Critics called this an “astoundingly small sum” especially in view of the fact that J&J spent $300 million in advertising and PR to revive the Tylenol brand after 1982 (Time magazine, Feb. 24, 1986).
Critics said that if J&J truly wanted the killer or killers found it would have offered $10 million or $20 million.
Case Still Open
The case was declared “still open” in February 2009 by the Yonkers police after the FBI re-opened the case in Chicago.
The Elsroth family sued J&J but lost on Nov. 16, 1988. Federal Judge Gerhard Goettel said J&J could not be held liable for “a wrong that they did not truly commit.”
Bartz, who operates the website americanfraud.com, contends that the Tylenols were poisoned at some point in the manufacturing process. He notes that the capsules that poisoned Elsroth came from the same Jewel Food facility that handled the poisoned Tylenols in 1982.
Testimony: Seals Not Broken
Michael Notarnicola, in whose house Elsroth was staying, testified that the flaps to the Tylenol box were glued shut, the shrink seal on the bottle did not appear to be disturbed, and the foil seal further securing the capsules had not been broken.
J&J spokespeople claimed cyanide had to be introduced at the store level because the poison would cause the capsules to deteriorate “in less than a month.”
But americanfraud.com quoted FDA Commissioner Dr. Frank Young as saying the cyanide in the capsules that killed Elsroth could have been put there months previously and that there were “no time restrictions” on when the capsules would show deterioration.
Westchester District Attorney Carl Vergari on Feb. 18, 1986 said Federal investigators found no evidence that the triple seals on the bottles had been broken after they left the factory.
Notamicola had purchased a bottle of Tylenols from an A&P in Bronxville and another bottle with five poisoned capsules was found in a nearby Woolworth store several days after Elsroth died.
Milt Ahlerich, chief of PA of the FBI, on Feb. 19, 1986 said it had found “no evidence of tampering” with the bottles or their packaging.
FBI Reversed Finding
However, the FBI then reversed this position on Feb. 27.
Said Ahlerich: “Previously undetected signs of tampering have now been discovered using sophisticated scientific examinations. Our examinations have further determined it was possible to invade the bottles after packaging was complete without detection through conventional means of examination.”
He refused further explanation.
A NYT story that day by Michael Norman said, “It was unclear from the brief FBI statement whether all three of the Tylenol seals—the adhesive on the box, the heat-shrunk band around the cap, and the foil seal on the lip of the bottle—had been tampered with.”
Burke Identified with Capsules
James Burke, who became CEO of J&J in 1976, led the move to market Tylenol to the public in capsules starting in 1975. Previously Tylenol was only used in hospitals.
Capsules were used because tableting acetaminophen was very expensive, says the website of Bartz.
A massive ad campaign with PR supplied by Burson-Marsteller helped establish Tylenol as the No. 1 analgesic and the source of about one-third of J&J’s profits.
Burke apparently was loath to give up such a profit engine even after seven people lost their lives to the easily corrupted capsules. They could be opened and new contents added or compromised by a hypodermic needle.
Foster, Gorney Recalled Tragedy
Articles on the 20th anniversary of the 1982 murders by J&J VP-PR Lawrence Foster and Prof. Carole Gorney of Lehigh University do not mention the reward. The articles appeared in the Fall 2002 Strategist of the PR Society of America.
Foster said the Tylenol murders and how they were handled by J&J marked “the birth of crisis management and its quick adoption by PR as a service at which to become skilled.”
He felt that not all PR pros had learned the “simple lessons for success.”
He listed them as:
--“Take actions that serve the public interest.”
--“Do so in a timely way.”
--“Tell the truth.”
J&J made “the right decisions when it counted most” and “The public, with its intrinsic sense of fairness, later rewarded the company’s actions by again making Tylenol the nation’s best-selling pain remedy.”
Foster said the company “took immediate action” upon learning of the poisonings.
It took initial steps for recalling the product in the Chicago area and then extended the recall to seven Midwestern states, he wrote.
Foster says the recall was then extended “nationally” but does not mention the date—Oct. 5 or five days after the murders were first discovered.
Gorney wrote that J&J acted “ethically” and communicated “honestly in the public interest.”
“Early in the Tylenol crisis,” she wrote, “it was clear that the deaths were caused by outside tampering by a person or persons unknown.” She also praises the “quick decision…to remove all the popular painkillers from the shelves nationwide to protect the public…”
The PR Society gave J&J a special Silver Anvil in 1983 (after it had lost to Hygrade in the crisis category). The Society in 1989 gave Foster its highest award, the Gold Anvil, and praised him for his “pivotal role” in saving the Tylenol brand.
J&J was a major advertiser in Society media for several years and in 1998 the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation gave $2.6 million to the “Kids in a Drug-Free Society” started by the Society Foundation and the Partnership in a Drug-Free Society.
A full page article in the March 2008 Tactics of the Society said, “J&J’s handling of Tylenol-related deaths…has become an enduring example of crisis management done right.”