Candy Tampering: Fact or Fiction?

Is your Halloween Candy safe? Let's take a closer look at this myth of tampered candy

Are there really drugs and needles hidden inside Halloween Candy? Dearden takes a closer look at the myth. Flickr CC: Steven Guzzardi SGPhotography77

By: Melissa Dearden  

For generations, parents have been warning their children of the monsters who poison the candy given to trick-or-treaters. I remember having to fork over my loot on Halloween night so my parents could inspect every single piece. Would some stranger really try to kill me by putting poison or razor blades in my Snickers bars? Is candy tampering a terrifying truth or is it an elaborate myth some parents came up with to in order keep their children on their toes?

The answer is simple: people do not randomly hand out tampered candy. The number of cases that have anything to do with candy tampering is almost nonexistent and the ones that do exist weren’t committed by complete strangers but were oftentimes family or friends.

In New York State, 1964, a middle-aged housewife named Helen Pfeil was accused of handing out ant poison, steel wool, and dog treats to trick-or-treaters. The New York Times reported that Mrs. Pfeil said she was only joking and giving the rotten treats to teenagers who she thought were too old to be trick-or-treating. Luckily, no one was hurt or injured during her little Halloween “prank.”

The first real case of poisoned candy that shocked America was the death of little Timothy O’Bryan. On October 31, 1974 after trick-or-treating with his little sister and friends the children each had a large pixie stick from their Halloween loot. Soon after Timothy began to convulse and foam at the mouth. All the other children complained of severe stomach pains, but luckily they didn’t seem to be in as bad a shape as their friend Timothy. After being rushed to the hospital little Timothy O’Bryan was pronounced dead; he was only 8 years old.

When the autopsy came back the police were horrified to find out the boy had died from cyanide poisoning. Police and parents were frantic in finding the culprit. They went to every house that was handing out pixie sticks but came back with nothing. It wasn’t until a few days later that they found the person who did it, Ronald O’Bryan, Timothy’s father, known colloquially as “The Candyman.” Almost a week before Halloween Ronald took out a giant life insurance policy on both of his children. Thankfully his 5-year-old daughter didn’t finish her pixie stick, but poor Timothy wasn’t as lucky.

Since then there have been no real reported cases of candy tampering. Every case has been either a so-called “prank” pulled by a friend or a family member trying to cash in on the tragedy.

So if this is true then why is everyone so scared that his or her children may be poisoned on Halloween night? A big factor has to do with safety. Parents want to keep their child safe and are aware there are some awful people out there who may try to harm them. 

Parents who used over-the-counter-prescriptions, for instance, may have been caught in the Halloween hysteria. In 1982 Chicago was terrorized with cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules. Several people died from the tampered pain relief medication, which lead to widespread panic. Tylenol was taken off the shelves immediately, but the terror ran rapidly through the streets. Those who lived during the murders can recall the horror of it all. No one was sure what was safe to take, how it became tainted, and who did it. The person responsible for the Tylenol Murders was never caught. The hysteria spread nationally, and people may have gone hysterical over Halloween candy. However, there is no direct correlation. 

There are a lot of things to be scared or worried about on Halloween, but tampered candy shouldn’t be one of them. 

Nonetheless, the Boston Globe reports of sewing needles inside Twizzler from the Ocean Bluff-Brant Rock area after Halloween this year. Two separate packages of Twizzlers were found with sewing needles inside them, police said on Nov. 1 in a tweet. The Marshfield Police Department is warning residents in the area to throw away any Twizzlers received while trick-or-treating.

Although Halloween should be just sweets, treats, and spooky feasts, time shows that we should still cautious during Halloween. Maybe candy tampering isn’t so much of a myth after all.


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