The terrible case of the 1974 Halloween poisoning by little Tim O'Bryan's father to collect a big insurance policy wasn't in our neighborhood, but it was awfully close.
[And, as a kid, I would have sworn this was the Candy Man killer. But no, that distinction goes to Dean Corll, the Houston serial killer of young boys during this time who had absolutely nothing to do with Halloween, but the stuff of much, much darker nightmares.]
Timmy remains the only child ever documented to have died from poisoned Halloween candy, and it was given to him by his father.
There was one other case of Kevin Toston from Detroit in 1970 whose candy tested positive for heroin. But the investigation revealed that his family had put it on there after he got into his uncle's stash and died, hoping to blame it on some stranger.
But every year someone somewhere swears they're sure that can't be right.
There had to have been menacing strangers hiding razor blades in apples and drugs in chocolate.
After all, you hear it on the news all the time.
in 1975 Marie Flickinger wrote a piece on the change in the area to keep kids from the traditional door to door trick or treating: "Partly due to the Deer Park tragedy of last year, and also because of an increase of drugs in the area, many residents, civic organization, and school are planning alternatives to "trick or treat" for this Halloween. "
I found this little gem from 1977 that repeats the same scary warnings: it's happened to other children, don't let it happen to you! (It's also just a hoot to revisit 1977.)
The local hospitals would put your candy through the xray machine to make sure it didn't contain needles. This HAD to have actually happened!
In 1989 The Los Angeles Times attempted to trace all news stories of Halloween poisoners through the prior three decades:
Well, they found a total of 78 cases and two deaths. [The two deaths Best was referring to were the O’Bryan murder and the accidental poisoning of Kevin Toston.] Further checking proved that almost all of the 78 cases were pranks. The deaths were tragically real, but they, too, were misrepresented in the beginning.
The pranks, he said, were all of kids — after years of hearing similar stories — inserting needles or razor blades into fruit, not realizing (or maybe realizing) how much they frightened their whole town.
“My favorite,” Best says, “was the kid who brought a half-eaten candy bar to his parents and said, ‘I think there’s ant poison on this.’ They had it checked and, sure enough, there was ant poison on it — significantly, on the end he had not bitten.” Of course, the youngster had applied the poison himself.
Best has tried mightily over the years to destroy this particular myth, but obviously to no avail. “It’s the old problem of trying to prove a negative,” he says.
If you're interested, the above is quoted from a breakdown of every news story that contributes to the continued urban myth that strangers are out there trying to poison your children on Halloween: Halloween Non Poisonings
Every time there was mass hysteria over a child being poisoned from Halloween candy given to him by a stranger, it's never held true.
But the myth persists.
And, if you were a kid like me, going to a private Baptist school with very fundamentalist beliefs, this all fed into the idea that Halloween was a Satanic holiday we could not participate in. No, really. Don't believe it? Check THIS out.
So, full disclosure, I never got to dress up or trick or treat.
But, making up for lost time, my kids sure did!
Shameless inclusion of personal kid photos here. (They're both grown now, so we're all good.)