Poisoned Halloween Candy: The Truth Behind the Legends

Anne Marble
8 min readOct 19, 2021

If you grew up trick-or-treating, you heard tales about strangers giving out tainted candy. But nobody could believe that a father might poison his son and blame a mysterious stranger.

Trick-or-Treating in the 1970s

In the 1970s, I lived in the suburbs, so my friends and I would go trick-or-treating in our neighborhood every October 31. We dressed up as ghosts, princesses, clowns, and the like or as pop culture characters.

Accompanied by a parent or older sibling, we walked from house to house with a bag to hold the candy. Participating neighbors (those with the porch light on) handed out treats. We got shocking amounts of candy.

After we came home, our parents checked the candy to make sure it was safe. They looked for things like unwrapped candy or items that were easy to tamper with. Like many, they’d heard tales about poisoned candy; sociologist Joel Best refers to these cases as “Halloween sadism” and shines a light on the truth.

When I was a child, the worst thing that ended up in my treat bag was a cough drop. I think that neighbor ran out of candy and gave out cough drops rather than turning out the light. They weren’t trying to poison kids. Unlike Ronald Clark O’Bryan.

Ronald Clark O’Bryan: The Man Who Ruined Halloween

On Thursday, October 31, 1974, eight-year-old Timothy O’Bryan was out trick-or-treating the city of Pasadena, Texas (near Houston).with his father, optician Ronald Clark O’Bryan; neighbor Jim Bates; five-year-old sister Elizabeth; and Jim Bates’ son.

I’m sure everything seemed fine and the kids were happy. Harold Nassif, one of the detectives remembers the evening as cold and misty. But that wasn’t enough to stop the kids from trick-or-treating.

When one of the neighbors didn’t answer the door, the kids went on to the next one. But Ronald O’Bryan stayed, and soon, he rejoined his group with five Giant Pixy Stix. The kids were probably ecstatic. Most neighbors would give one or two small pieces of candy. Not a 22-inch-long “straw” full of powdered sugar and flavoring.

A Vintage Pixy Stix Ad. (Source: View From the Birdhouse blog article Did You Know Tuesday: 5 Fun Facts About Pixy Stix.)

O’Bryan said, “You must have some rich neighbors!” He handed the Pixy Stix out to the kids. There were a couple…

Anne Marble

I’m a writer and a copy editor with experience in editing science and engineering articles. Click Lists to find my most popular articles. And hidden gems.