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Poisonous Halloween Candy: Myth Or Fact?

Christina Pecoulas |
October 21, 2013 | 10:11 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Uncontaminated Halloween candy (Jeffery Turner / Flickr).
Uncontaminated Halloween candy (Jeffery Turner / Flickr).
Have you ever really wanted to eat a delicious piece of candy over Halloween but didn’t for fear that it might be contaminated?

Did your parents ever sort through your candy after a night of trick or treating to find any “suspicious” treats?

Have you ever thought that the apples given to you while trick or treating might contain razors? 

If you said "yes" to any of these questions, you’re not alone. Tales of maniacs poisoning Halloween candy to unsuspecting children have been around for decades. As Halloween seasons rolls in, a surge of TV, radio, and newspaper reports issue alarming warnings about tampered candy. 

But are these just myths? Has anyone really ever died from poisoned Halloween candy? 

At least to our knowledge, no one has. Reports of tampered candy are almost all myth. According to University of Delaware sociologist, Joel Best, who has been investigating allegations of poisonous candy for 30 years, there has not been a single confirmed example of a stranger murdering a child in this way. 

Though there has been one case where a child has died due to contaminated candy, the incident was not at the hands of a stranger, but rather, the child’s father. 

On Halloween 1974, 8-year-old Timothy O’Brien consumed a cyanide-laced Pixie Stix acquired while trick or treating. That night, O’Brien died. Although the poisoning initially appeared as the work of a stranger, the investigation soon centered on Timothy’s father, Ronald Clark O’Brien. 

Investigation proved that a few days prior to the death, the father, took out $40,000 life insurance policy on Timothy. To even further cover his tracks, the father gave his other two children the cyanide-laced Pixie Stixs. Fortunately, the other two children never actually ate the Stixs.   

Eventually, Ronald O’Brien was prosecuted and executed for the murder of his son. As tragic as the crime was, it confirms University of Delaware sociologist Best’s theory of poisonous candy as a myth. 

This Halloween, indulge in knowing the truth to the infamous superstition. Of course, always be cautious. But, if you’re participating in trick or treating, eat what you want. And, if you’re a parent, attempt to not worry so much. Judging from history, chances are your child will not die due to a poisonous Snickers bar.  

Contact Staff Reporter Christina Pecoulas here.



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