Tylenol victims' families wait for break, again

By: By DON BABWIN, Associated Press Writer
By: By DON BABWIN, Associated Press Writer

CHICAGO (AP) - Michelle Rosen hoped a Boston-area FBI raid this month meant she might finally be able to stop wondering if the grocery bagger or the gardener down the block could be responsible for killing her mother and six others who swallowed cyanide-laced Tylenol decades ago.

But in the three weeks since the raid, nothing.

Not a word from law enforcement or a news conference to discuss possible evidence seized from the Cambridge, Mass., apartment belonging to James W. Lewis - long considered the main suspect in the Chicago-area crime that terrified the nation in 1982.

Despite a flurry of speculation that the case could be verging on conclusion, Rosen fears she's no closer to answering the question that's plagued her since her mother collapsed in front of her when she was 8 years old.

"You find yourself thinking if they had anything, he'd be locked up by now somehow," Rosen said. "I would have thought by now, with the whole world watching, you would have made an arrest immediately if you had something."

At the time of the Feb. 4 raid, officials were telling family members for the first time in years that they may be onto something.

"I was hoping, I really was," said Rosen, of the Chicago suburb of Winfield. "This was the first time they'd knocked on anybody's doors."

On Tuesday, FBI Special Agent Frank Bochte in Chicago said agents are examining evidence in the case, but there were no arrests or developments to announce.

It's been a tough month for families given a glimmer of hope in the case that triggered a nationwide scare and prompted dramatic changes in the way food and medical products are packaged.

The spotlight's return to Lewis is reminiscent of the months after the slayings, when he was charged with sending a letter to Tylenol's manufacturer demanding $1 million to "stop the killing." He was convicted of extortion, but never charged in the slayings. Combined with a mail fraud conviction in an unrelated credit card scheme, Lewis spent 12 years in prison.

Many family members had long ago given up on their loved ones' killer ever being brought to justice.

"I was hoping this was not just something to stir up a lot of interest and lead to nothing," said Robert Tarasewicz.

Tarasewicz, who was 17 when his 19-year-old sister died along with her husband and brother-in-law after all three took pills from the same Extra-Strength Tylenol bottle, conceded he didn't necessarily expect a quick arrest after the raid on Lewis' apartment.

"This isn't a one-hour TV show," said Tarasewicz, of Lisle, outside Chicago. But "if something doesn't happen in the next couple of months, I will start to wonder what's happening."

At the same time, Tarasewicz said he is not going to get his hopes too high only to find himself, like his father, devastated again about his sister's death.

"They never recovered," Tarasewicz said of his parents. "My mom passed away and my dad is still alive. It doesn't take much for him to think about it and get some tears."

Jack Eliason - whose 31-year-old sister, Mary McFarland, was among those killed - is trying to take an equally measured approach.

"I think a month or two is reasonable," Eliason said of how long he might wait before this chapter in the story starts to feel as empty as those that marked the slayings' many anniversaries.

Like Tarasewicz, Eliason had come to believe he would never learn who killed his sister. Then he watched as FBI agents marched across his television screen, carrying boxes and a computer from Lewis' home.

Eliason said he always was skeptical Lewis was responsible, thinking it was more likely he was a con man.

But now, "I'm sure just to get a judge to allow them to go and actually have a search warrant and seize whatever they took out (of Lewis' home) they had to have something, probable cause," he said.

Eliason was further encouraged when the FBI called him after the search to ask him if he'd be interested in getting updates.

He's still waiting for his first one.

"I got the initial letter and haven't heard anything since," he said.

When investigators do contact him, no matter what they say, Eliason now knows there is a chance me might someday learn the truth.

"If they say no evidence, the search goes on," he said.

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