Remember back in the day when the hospitals offered to x-ray your Halloween candy to ensure safety? I remember vaguely, but no matter. I was willing to brave the dangers for free candy and the ability to wear a costume. I never did get razor blades, but I did get a box of raisins wrapped with some over zealous Christian screed. It turns out it was media guff anyhow.
Remember your mom sorting through your Halloween candy as a kid, looking for signs of ‘tainted’ candy laced with poison, needles or razor blades? It turns out, unless she was just using it as an excuse to steal the good candy before you got it, she was wasting her time. You are more likely to get attacked by a samurai sword wieldingbear while trick or treating than be poisoned by a stranger. Further, it’s more likely that your Halloween candy will be poisoned or otherwise tampered with by one of your parents or family members, than a stranger. Think about that while your mom is “checking out” your candy before letting you eat it.
So why all the worry? Because the news media needs something to talk aboutand there’s nothing better for ratings than saying something like “Is your child’s Halloween candy poisoned? Find out the deadly truth at 11!”
Further, while many children die directly after Halloween from non-candy related things (after all, people die every day), if there isn’t an apparent cause the week following Halloween, many-a-sensationalized story gets widely publicized with poisoned Halloween candy generally being blamed. (There are numerous instances of this happening.) This isn’t all bad in theory. I mean, if there is even a chance that some child’s death was poisoned-candy related, the police (rightly) encourage the news media to tell parents in the area to get rid of their children’s Halloween candy because it might be poisoned.
When it turns out the death had nothing to do with Halloween candy, most media outlets tend to have moved on from Halloween stories, so either don’t report a retraction or don’t make it the headline like when they claimed the death was from candy. Thus, the perception that poisoned Halloween candy is a rampant problem embeds itself in the popular psyche, going all the way back to at least 1970 when the New York Times reported “Halloween goodies that children collect this weekend… may bring them more horror than happiness,” which proceeded to tell parents all about how the candy could potentially be tampered with, even though there had never been an instance of this actually happening at the time.
So what about more recently? According to the author of Halloween Sadism: The Evidence, professor of sociology Joel Best from the University of Delaware who’s been studying this since 1985, he hasn’t yet been able to find one single instance of a child dying as a result of candy given them by a stranger on Halloween.
Certainly, such reports pop up every now and again (since 1958, he’s found about 78 such instances, including being connected to 5 deaths), but they were all debunked once the matter was investigated by police in each case, and most of them were simple hoaxes. For instance, one child, Best says, “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. Of course, the youngster had applied the poison himself.”
If you were paying close attention, you perhaps notice we said “dying as a result of candy given them by a stranger”. It has happened once before that someone poisoned candy and gave it out to children with one child dying.
In 1974, eight-year-old Timothy O’Bryan of Texas died after eating a Pixy Stix laced with cyanide after trick-or-treating. Clearly trick or treating is unsafe now, right? I mean, he trick or treated, then died from candy someone gave him. Case closed.
Except, it wasn’t candy a stranger gave him. O’Bryan’s dad, Ronald, was trying to kill his kids, so put the cyanide laced candy in their bags.
The senior O’Bryan was about $100K in debt and close to having his car repoed. His solution? Suddenly take out about $60,000 worth of life insurance policies on his two children, then given them both the poison candy to try to collect on the policies. What could go wrong? I mean, there’s nothing at all suspicious there.