Halloween Poisonings and Razor Blades
Becks points to the emergence of something called “Trick or Trunk,” wherein parents stock the trunks of their cars with candy on Halloween and the neighborhood kids traipse by.
This, of course, all started because of parental hysteria about theoretical child murderers that could be lurking behind a bush somewhere that would snatch your child from your grips as you were walking through the neighborhood after dark.
What’s particularly baffling about this is that the danger is all but nonexistent. Snopes found numerous cases of Halloween poisonings going back to 1964 but all of them were cases of people trying to kill specific people and relying on the myth to cover up their crime.
By far the most famous case of Halloween candy poisoning was the murder of eight-year-old Timothy Mark O’Bryan at the hands of his father, Ronald Clark O’Bryan, in Houston, Texas. The child died at
10 p.m.on 31 October1974, as a result of eating cyanide-laced Pixie Stix acquired while trick-or-treating.
To make his act appear more like the work of a random madman, O’Bryan also gave poisoned Pixie Stix to his daughter and three other children. By a kind stroke of fate, none of the other children ate the candy.
The prosecution proved the father had purchased cyanide and had (along with a neighbor) accompanied the group of children on their door-to-door mission. None of the places visited that night were giving out Pixie Stix. Young Mark’s life was insured for a large sum of money, and collecting on this policy has always been pointed to as the motive behind this murder.
Though the case was circumstantial (no one saw the father poison the candy or slip the Pixie Stix into the boy’s bag), Ronald O’Bryan was convicted of the murder in May 1975. He received the death sentence and was executed by lethal injection on
31 March1984 (not on the poetically-just 31 Octoberas is often recounted in off-the-cuff retellings of the case).
The O’Bryan murder was an attempt to use a well-known urban legend to cover up the premeditated murder of one particular child. (Note that for this explanation of the boy’s murder to have been believed, the legend had to have been in wide circulation by 1974.) Though cold-blooded and horrible to contemplate, this crime still does not qualify as a genuine Halloween poisoning because there was nothing random about Timothy O’Bryan’s death. (The spectre of the mad poisoner from the 1982 Tylenol murders was similarly employed by various murderers attempting to cover their tracks.)
It is true, however, that there have been cases of foreign objects placed in Halloween candy. Snopes again:
Professor Joel Best reported that he’s been able to track about eighty cases of sharp objects in food incidents since 1959, and almost all were hoaxes. Only about ten culminated in even minor injury, and in the worst case, a woman required a few stitches.
I suppose even an infinitesimal risk is something that parents understandably wish to mitigate. Still, kids are more likely to get hurt skateboarding — or doing just about anything, really — than trick-or-treating. Indeed, they’re far more likely to suffer health problems from eating all that candy than from any theoretical toxins or objects that someone might have hidden therein.