Friday, December 28, 2007

Unsolved murders: 1982 Tylenol and 2001 Anthrax

The Tylenol murders of 1982 involved tampering with containers in the Chicago area.
... As the tampered bottles came from different factories, and the seven deaths had all occurred in the Chicago area, the possibility of sabotage during production was ruled out. Instead, the culprit was believed to have entered various supermarkets and drug stores over a period of weeks, pilfered packages of Tylenol from the shelves, adulterated their contents with solid cyanide compound at another location, and then replaced the bottles. In addition to the five bottles which led to the victims' deaths, three other tampered bottles were discovered....
There was no known communication from the murderer, so it didn't qualify as a terrorist attack. The killer was never caught, he (or she) might be alive today.

In 2001, seven days after the 9/11 attacks, another murderer sent anthrax contaminated letters from a mailbox in Princeton New Jersey. Again, wikipedia is the place to go for an update (something traditional media can't do):
2001 anthrax attacks - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States, also known as Amerithrax from its FBI case name, occurred over the course of several weeks beginning on September 18, 2001. Letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two Democratic U.S. Senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others...

...As of 2007, the anthrax investigation seems to have gone cold.[25][26] Authorities have traveled to six different continents, interviewed more than 9,100 people, conducted 67 searches and have issued over 6,000 subpoenas. The number of FBI agents assigned to the case is 17. The number of postal inspectors investigating the case is ten.[27] There are no reports that the investigators have identified the lab used to make the anthrax powders.
The failed Tylenol investigation is a discouraging precedent for the anthrax investigators.

We've mostly forgotten the anthrax attacks, and we've completely forgotten the Tylenol murders. Except, of course, for the survivors, the friends and families of the victims, Wikipedia contributors, and the investigators (do they contribute to the Wikipedia articles?).

The Tylenol murders led to some packaging changes; but I don't think they had a major impact on the American psyche.

The Anthrax murders, however, had a huge impact. Coming after 9/11 they were a part of the package that led to the invasion of Iraq (remember Saddam's mobile bioweapon facilities -- that turned out to be nothing at all?) . I suspect the direct attack on the Senate played a role in the powers the Senate freely granted Bush. If the Anthrax attack had not occurred, Bush's wartime status might have had a built-in renewal requirement.

Sadly, the vast impact of the Anthrax attack probably pleases the murderer.

Maybe forgetting is not the wisest thing to do. Maybe we should try to learn some lessons. How ought we to have responded? Why was such a high impact attack never replicated by a terrorist organization? Did the Senate lose its collective mind because of personal involvement? How could we prevent that happening again?

It would be marvelous to catch the killers of 1982 and 2001. Failing that, the best revenge would be to learn from our mistakes. We learned from the 1982 attacks, but I don't think we've learned enough from the 2001 murders.

Update: This post reminded me of one I wrote in 2003 about the Bush-Cheney smallpox fraud. That con job wouldn't have worked nearly as well but for the anthrax attacks.

1 comment:

alanbooker said...

Another great post. Thanks, Alan