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It comes up every year around this time – stories of precious kiddos (always in another state) tragically being injured or killed by poisoned candy, parents finding razor blades in apples and broken glass or needles hidden inside candy bars. But is the fear of deranged homeowners passing out fatal tricks instead of treats something parents need to worry over, or is it just hype?
Let’s look at a little history.
In 1970, 5-year-old Kevin Toston accidentally stumbled across his uncle’s heroin stash. He ate it, went into a coma and died after four days. The family tried to protect the uncle by sprinkling some heroin on Kevin’s Halloween candy bucket to make it seem as though the drug had come into their house through the machinations of a madman.
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One of the biggest cases of candy-tampering was in 1974. An 8-year-old in the Houston area named Timothy O’Bryan died after eating a cyanide-laced Pixy Stix. Initially, the crime was attributed to a deranged homeowner but the truth came out that the real source of the evil was Timothy’s own father, Ronald Clark O’Bryan. He had taken out life insurance policies on his children, intending to kill them and collect the money to ease his own financial troubles. He was eventually convicted and executed for his crime in March of 1984 and, while tragic and disturbing, the case is hardly the kind that parents should fear.
In fact, many deaths are linked to Halloween only circumstantially. For example, in 1990, a California girl named Ariel Katz passed away while trick-or-treating. The media attributed her death to poisoned candy, but what was not widely circulated was the investigation, during which her parents told police that Ariel suffered from a medical condition – an enlarged heart – and that this was the real cause of her death.
There are many more since-debunked stories of children being lethally dosed with poisoned candy. Snopes has an impressive collection of just such stories, but if the legends aren’t true, why does the myth continue?
It’s easy to see why parents worry; we spend 364 days every year telling our children not to accept candy from someone they don’t know. But on Halloween, all that goes right out the window as we give them the green light to run up and down streets or visit trunk-or-treat parties and get enough candy from strangers to last until Christmas. The fear also comes from real stories of poisoning, as in the 1982 case of the so-called Chicago Tylenol murders where six adults and a 12-year-old girl died after taking Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules that had been purposefully laced with cyanide. While the “Tylenol Terrorist” was never found, Johnson & Johnson, the parent company for Tylenol, began making tamper-proof packaging which had been nonexistent before the tragic deaths.
Mostly we can chalk it up to the 1980s media reporting on stories before full investigations have come out, including unsubstantiated claims with no follow up on the story to allow the truth to come forth. By 1985, the paranoia had reached a frenzy with some 60% of parents polled claiming to believe their children would be injured or killed by poisoned candy. With columnists like Ann Landers weighing in as well, it’s also easy to see why many parents today are abandoning the traditional door-to-door method of trick-or-treating and moving to community events, trunk-or-treats, or pumpkin festivals.
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But should you be concerned about some lunatic trying to murder your children on Halloween? Hardly. What would be a good use of your time, however, is screening what candy your kids have picked up, checking for open packaging that could be unhygienic or crushed, sticky messes waiting to happen. Don’t forget to collect your share as candy tax!
Have a safe and happy Halloween, everyone!
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