This column was originally published in the Chicago Tribune October 18, 1982.

If you are a Tylenol killer, some of these may be important to you. Or it might make no difference at all.

If you’re a Tylenol killer, your entire killing might look beautiful in its flawless execution. You tampered with the capsules, people died, and you terrified the entire nation. If you’re a killer, the success of your mission may support you.

But if you’re a Tylenol killer, you might just have the vaguest curiosity about the people on the other end of the plan: those unfortunate enough to buy the bottle you touched.

If you’re curious, come to the tiny house on a quiet winding street in Elk Grove Village. Come to 1425 Armstrong Lane. The people who live there, Dennis and Jenna Kellerman, feel like you’re already in there anyway.

Maybe these names mean nothing to you. You killed their daughter. She was 12; her name was Mary Kellerman, and her crime was a cold.

You might be interested to hear what you did to her parents. They are still numb and at home alone. Jenna Kellerman blamed herself. You see, the day before her daughter died, she was coming home from get off work, and on the way she stopped to get some medicine. Mary was a child who didn’t like taking medicine; when her mother gave her cough syrup, she was “nauseous”.

So that afternoon, Mrs. Kellerman bought a new bottle of cough syrup, a taste that Mary probably preferred. She also picked up a bottle of Tylenol. At first she planned to buy a small bottle; then, because she had arthritis, she thought she might need medication soon, so she changed her mind and bought the next larger size.

She bought your bottle.

You should see her by now, crying, with empty eyes, as she sits in the family living room, talking about what her life would have been like if she had stuck with her first bottle that afternoon.

You might also be interested in Mary’s father. The next morning he woke up and went into Mary’s room. She told him her throat was sore. He said he wanted her to stay home after school.

He remembered clearly:

“I heard her walk into the bathroom. I heard the door closing. Then I heard something fall. I went to the bathroom door. I called, ‘Mary, are you okay? No answer. I called again:” Mary, how are you? “Still no answer. So I opened the bathroom door and my little girl fell unconscious on the floor. She was still in her pajamas.”

You might be interested to know that when Mary’s parents came back from the hospital – no Mary came back, as you know Mary is dead – they looked in the fridge. There is a brown paper bag in the fridge with a sandwich and a piece of pie. Mary had packed her lunch the night before. She thought she was going to school, so she made herself sandwiches. She can’t know you.

In the front of that refrigerator are many fun little furry creatures with magnets tied to their backs. They are used for sticky notes on refrigerator doors. Maybe you care: Mary made it for her mom. They are gifts.

If you’re wondering if Mary’s parents are talking about you, you don’t have to wonder anymore. They are so. You’ve never been in their house, but they walk into a room without feeling you’re there. You don’t know them, but you change their lives forever; they feel as if they can’t get rid of you. If you just want to steal their car, they will; if you just want to burn down their house. anything; they would say yes to anything. Anything but this.

Do you want to know what they think of you? “If someone who does this walks up to my door now, I’m willing to pay anything,” Mary’s father said. “I’m willing to give everything I have. Because once he walks through that door, he’s mine.”

In fact, you should know that Mary’s parents were so heartbroken they couldn’t even visit the cemetery. Mary was buried in St. Michael the Archangel in the Palatine, and they wished they could go to her tomb. But they can’t; the hurt is so deep that you even keep them away.

One more thing you should know if you’re a Tylenol killer:

Mary’s mother can no longer have children. Mary was her only child; you might wonder that Mary was born a month premature, and when she came into this world, her mother was terrified because she didn’t cry. But the doctor smiled and said, “It’s okay; she’s just sleeping.” She was; she was a quiet child, and because the Kellermans knew she was going to be their only child, she was especially precious to them.

Vintage Chicago Tribune


The Vintage Tribune newsletter delves into the Chicago Tribune’s archives, featuring photos and stories about the people, places and events that shaped the city’s past, present and future.

You should know that Mary’s mother has not been in Mary’s bedroom since her daughter’s death. Her clothes are still there, her textbooks and papers are still there. That door was closed; Mary’s parents passed it every time they went upstairs. Mary’s father went in, but only once; he went in to pick out the clothes for Mary’s funeral.

If you’re a Tylenol killer, you might be wondering what Mary’s parents always thought were overprotective. Mary always had to be home before dark; even when she was out with friends, she had to constantly call home just to say she was okay.

Mary’s parents did that because they knew something that a 12-year-old girl couldn’t. They know that the world can be a cruel place at times, and that parents have a responsibility to protect their children from dangers that their children may not know about.

They thought they knew all the dangers that might touch Mary.

But they don’t know you.

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