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Tampered Tylenol Investigated As Homicide, Isolated Incident

February 12, 1986

YONKERS, N.Y. (AP) _ The death of a woman who took a cyanide-laced Extra-Strength Tylenol capsule probably was an isolated incident and is being investigated as a homicide, authorities say.

The death of Diana Elsroth, 23, of Peekskill, has spurred a withdrawal of the painkiller from stores around the nation.

Ms. Elsroth was found dead Saturday in her boyfriend’s home in this New York suburb.

″Everyone involved believes that this is a local situation,″ William Grigg, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokesman, said Tuesday.

Because the bottle was among a 200,000-unit lot shipped in August, most probably would have been sold within a month, he said. If other bottles in the lot were tainted, officials probably would have known before this week.

The cyanide would eat through a gelatin capsule in eight to 10 days, meaning it had been added since the Tylenol left the plant, added Dr. Millard Hyland, Westchester County’s chief medical examiner.

″We are dealing with a case of murder,″ County Executive Andrew O’Rourke told a news conference.

Although police have no suspects, ″we are not ruling anybody out,″ said Bruce Bendish, of the county prosecutor’s office.

The bottle was purchased sometime last week, police said, declining to say who bought it. Three other capsules in the bottle used by Ms. Elsroth were found to contain cyanide, Hyland said.

Although cyanide is used at the plant where the batch was manufactured, the bottle that contained the tainted capsule probably was not tampered with there, said Joseph Chiesa, president of McNeil Consumer Products Co., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson and manufacturer of Tylenol.

Cyanide is used for quality control at the plant, in Fort Washington, Pa., to test ingredients used in products, but no cyanide is missing there, he said.

The type of cyanide found in the capsules is used in photography and the manufacture of tools and dyes, Hyland said.

Johnson & Johnson officials said they would review their procedures at the plant as a precaution. Chiesa said the company was questioning employees and looking at the records of people who worked at the plant when the capsules were manufactured last April and May.

The Tylenol taken by Miss Elsroth was part of Lot ADF916, which was shipped to stores on Aug. 25. Chiesa said 200,000 containers, each with 24 capsules, were shipped to 31 states east of the Mississippi River.

Company officials said 95 percent of the lot in question has moved through stores and 50 percent to 60 percent of it has been consumed.

Johnson & Johnson Chairman James Burke said the company has withdrawn its Tylenol television advertising indefinitely because of the death and concern over copycat incidents.

No poison or tampering had been found in other bottles of Tylenol, said FDA Commissioner Frank Young.

The FBI was beginning a preliminary investigation under federal product- tampering laws, said FBI spokesman Joseph Valiquette in New York.

Johnson & Johnson has been sealing the necks and caps of Tylenol bottles and packing each bottle in sealed boxes since the unsolved 1982 case in which seven Tylenol users were killed by cyanide in Illinois. The packaging makes the product among the most protected in the industry, Grigg said.

There was no evidence to link Ms. Elsroth’s death with the others, said Bob Long, an FBI spokesman in Chicago.

The capsules were purchased at an A&P supermarket in Bronxville, officials said. Miss Elsroth, who was spending the weekend in the home of her boyfriend, Michael Notarnicola, felt ill and took two capsules early Saturday.

Notarnicola, 23, said he had opened the plastic container, which was ″brand new, apparently sealed,″ and gave Ms. Elsroth two capsules, according to O’Rourke. One capsule contained the poison and ″perhaps one″ had only acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, Hyland said.

She was discovered dead about 12 hours later, after failing to appear for breakfast or lunch.

Upon learning of the death, Notarnicola’s mother took one capsule from the same bottle and did not suffer any ill effects, said Marc Morna, a county government spokesman.

Tylenol was removed voluntarily from 1,000 A&P stores in 25 states and Washington, D.C.; from 1,493 Jewel and Dominick’s supermarkets in 40 states; and from 1,168 Walgreen and Osco drug stores in 28 states and Puerto Rico. In Chicago, capsules were pulled from 85 Dominick’s stores, and two California chains, Vons and Ralphs, removed Tylenol from more than 300 stores. Tylenol also was recalled from 337 Zayre stores and 1,200 Woolworth’s nationwide.

On Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson’s stock was the most actively traded on the New York Stock Exchange, closing at $50.625 a share, down $1.125 from Monday’s closing.

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