CHICAGO -- Richard Keyworth said Friday that a casual conversation and a little luck led to him and another suburban firefighter discovering the cyanide-spiked Tylenol connection in the mysterious deaths of a 12-year-old girl and two brothers.
'It's really a coincidence,' Keyworth said in a telephone interview.
Keyworth, 39, lived several blocks from Mary Kellerman, 12, of Elk Grove Village, the first of five victims who died after swallowing Extra-Strength Tylenol laced with cyanide.
He was talking -- as he frequently does -- to his friend, Arlington Heights firefighter Philip Cappitelli. Two brothers, Adam Janus, 27, and Stanley, 25, had died hours later Wednesday in that suburb.
'I had heard the call about the Kellerman girl who had died here in Elk Grove,' Keyworth said. 'It was just another one of the ambulance calls we have. I didn't pay too much attention to it.'
Later Wednesday evening, Cappitelli called Keyworth and said his mother-in-law had worked with the Kellerman girl's mother.
So Keyworth, who was on vacation at the time, called his fire station and had the radio operator read the ambulance report to him.
'One of the things the paramedics put on the ambulance report was that the child had just recently ingested Tylenol,' Keyworth said.
He called Cappitelli, who told him: 'That's strange. We've got a couple of deaths over here, too.' Cappitelli said the station was quarantined 'because we don't know what caused it.'
'The cases sound strangely familiar,' Cappitelli told him.
They were 'looking for at this point, anything -- something that the people might have ingested such as food, alcohol and drugs, such as Tylenol or so forth,' Keyworth said.
'I said 'Wait a minute, I just talked to Elk Grove and the girl had taken Tylenol.'
Arlington Heights police contacted Northwest Community Hospital, which confirmed that one of the Janus victims had ingested Tylenol. They later found cyanide in the capsules.
'It was just by coincidence that Phil's mother-in-law worked with this woman. He called me to get information on the call.'
'Everybody was real concerned about this young girl -- and with reason. I guess I put it in the back of my mind and didn't pay much attention to it at the time.
'At that point, it was just another call that we responded to. When Phil called me later that night and we started talking about it and discussing the symptoms, things started to match up that maybe we had a connection here.'
Asked how he felt about his discovery, Keyworth said: 'Real proud.'
'I've been involved in the investigation of fires for about 15 years,' Keyworth said. 'Having an inquisitive mind, when we started talking and the symptoms started matching up, I said, maybe...'
'I never in my wildest imagination thought in the line of poisoning. I was thinking more in the line of bad drugs or a Tylenol overdose.'