The Paramount+ docuseries “Painkiller: The Tylenol Murders” is a gripping five-part exploration of the 1982 poisonings that tragically resulted in the loss of seven lives in the Chicago metropolitan area. These victims unwittingly ingested Tylenol-branded acetaminophen capsules tainted with deadly potassium cyanide, setting off an extensive nationwide investigation that unfolded over several decades. While no one was ever charged, the authorities always suspected James Lewis and hoped his wife, LeAnn Lewis, might divulge some information after his July 2023 death. If you’re curious to learn more about LeAnn, here’s what we know.
Who Is LeAnn Lewis?
James William Lewis and his wife, LeAnn Lewis, lived in Kansas City, Missouri, for several years. During the late 1960s, he was a student at the University of Missouri and was self-employed as a “tax preparer” during the 1970s. The couple moved to Chicago in December 1981 and assumed the names Robert and Nancy Richardson. He started working at Chicago Tax Service in late January 1982, preparing tax returns. He also worked for a week as a word-processor operator at the A.G. Becker Investment Company in March 1982.
James was temporarily employed at the First National Bank of Chicago from April to August 1982, primarily performing secretarial services. The computer system to which he had access contained information about corporate accounts. He was assigned to several sections of First National, including its worldwide banking system, the international financial institution section, and the retailing companies division. LeAnn assumed employment in Chicago at Lakeside Travel, owned and operated by Frederick McCahey, in January 1982.
She worked as a bookkeeper under the supervision of Barbara Vaitkus. In early 1982, Lakeside was in grave financial trouble and ceased doing business on or about April 23. Court documents state Barbara prepared approximately 18 employee payroll checks for about $8,000 on the same day. However, the checks were rejected for insufficient funds when presented for payment. LeAnn had cashed her Lakeside payroll check for $512 at a currency exchange. But the check defaulted, with the exchange filing suit against her in late July 1982.
Court records state LeAnn subsequently agreed to provide reimbursement and paid $50 or $100. James was bitter and resentful that his wife was required to make repayment. Reports note that currency exchanges sued other Lakeside employees also, with most making good on the dishonored checks. The employees filed claims with the Wage Claim Division of the Illinois Department of Labor. Court testimonies claim that Barbara had allegedly informed James that Frederick was diverting company funds to pay personal bills.
While seeking information about the Lakeside affairs, James also learned that Frederick was allegedly not depositing receipts correctly. He also secured one of Frederick’s account numbers — 8449597 — at the Continental Illinois National Bank & Trust Company of Chicago. On August 3, 1982, several former Lakeside employees, including LeAnn, attended a wage-claim hearing. The hearing officer and Frederick’s attorney explained the lack of funds in the Lakeside accounts to satisfy the payroll claims.
Where Is LeAnn Lewis Now?
The court proceedings concluded that Frederick could provide no recovery for the former Lakeside employees and that their only recourse was to file a court action. An argument developed between James and Frederick, and the latter allegedly threatened LeAnn. On or about September 3, 1982, the couple, traveling under the names of William and Karen Wagner, took a train from Chicago to New York City and moved into a low-rent hotel upon their arrival. Under the name of Nancy Richardson, LeAnn secured temporary employment at a Manhattan firm.
She worked there from September 20 to October 14, 1982, and phoned in sick on October 15. James also called the firm on October 18 and said that his wife had a tumor on her kidney. LeAnn never returned to work at the firm or to pick up her paycheck. The couple also left their hotel before their weekly rental period had expired and checked into another low-rent hotel in New York on October 18 under the names of Edward and Carol Scott. From November 26 to December 13, 1982, LeAnn worked as a bookkeeper in another Manhattan business.
On September 29, 1982, seven persons died in Chicago, Illinois, due to the ingestion of cyanide placed in Tylenol capsules. The manufacturer — McNeil Pharmaceutical Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson — received a letter asking for $1 million to stop the Tylenol deaths. The correspondence mentioned one of Frederick’s account numbers, and authorities quickly traced the postage stamp to one of Lakeside’s postage machines. James was charged with attempted extortion on October 13, and a warrant for his arrest was issued.
Shortly after the charge, the arrest warrant and one of James’ photographs had been made public in October 1982. Meanwhile, James and LeAnn, under the last name of Scott, moved to another low-rent New York City hotel. Following a massive search, James was arrested on December 13, 1982, at a New York City public library, convicted of extortion, sentenced to two decades, and released in 1995 after serving 13 years. He and LeAnn settled in a Cambridge, Massachusetts, condo and remained under scrutiny by federal agencies.
Cambridge police sources state LeAnn was out of town on July 10, 2023, and contacted a neighbor after failing to reach her husband. When the neighbor called 911, the authorities found James dead inside his home due to natural causes. Chuck Walsh, the former Elk Grove Village’s police chief, noted LeAnn might have refused to open up because of James’ “dominant personality.” He added, “I hope she realizes now is her time to speak up and do the right thing.” She, now in her 70s, is presumed to be in the couple’s Cambridge condo.