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Urban Legends and Halloween Candy

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In this post, you’ll find a few urban legends about Halloween candy and a couple of true stories that’ll make you think twice about gorging on candy this Halloween.

Halloween has the feel of a full moon night times one thousand.  The air has a wild, untamed feel to it, and anything the veil between life and death seems thinner than usual. [Tweet this!]

I came of trick-or-treating age in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  By that time, there had been all sorts of scares about poisoned candy, razorblades in apples, and LSD on lick-n-stick tattoos.

Let’s take a tour of these scares and talk about which ones were true and which ones were false and how they originated.

Poisoned Candy

According to this Snopes.com article, poisoned candy being passed out at Halloween is actually a myth.

Several events, however, have given the myth wheels to roll on.

1964:

Mrs. Helen Pfiel of Green Lawn, New York passed out arsenic ant traps, metal mesh scrubbing pads, and dog biscuits to kids she believed were too old to be trick-or-treating.

She meant these as “tricks” and did not intend for the kids to eat them.  Mrs. Pfiel was committed to a psychiatric hospital for observation.  The uneaten “tricks” were recovered by police.

[From the Milwaukee Journal, November 2, 1964.  Click here to read article.]

1970:

Five-year-old Kevin Toston died after four days in a coma after eating heroin which had been made into capsule form.  The heroin had belonged to a family member.  Kevin’s family made an attempt to avert the blame saying Kevin got the candy while trick-or-treating.

[Story appeared in Jet November 26, 1970]

1974:

Ronald Clark O’Bryan of Deer Park, Texas was buried in debt.  He had to sell his house because of it.  A month before Halloween, Ronald purchased $20,000 life insurance policies on both of his children, Timothy and Elizabeth.

On Halloween night, Ronald O’Bryan took his children and their friends trick-or-treating.  While they were out, he handed them all cyanide-laced Pixy Stix and implied they came from a nearby house.  The Pixy Stix containers were stapled at the top.

Timothy ate his Pixy Stix and was dead by the end of that Halloween Night.  Fortunately, the other kids didn’t eat theirs.  Ronald O’Bryan, who became known as The Candyman, was convicted of murder in May 1975.  He was executed by lethal injection in March of 1984.

(For more on the Timothy O’Bryan murder check out this article at snopes.comthe wikipedia articlethis article from The Statesman.)

Razor blades and needles:

This Snopes.com article says razor blades and needles in candy and fruit are absolutely true.  This practice is known as Halloween sadism.

In Halloween and other Festivals of Death and Life, Jack Santino writes that by 1967, fear of razorblades and needles in apples had superseded fear of poisoned candy.

In “The Razor Blade in The Apple,” Joel L. Best notes that from 1966-1983 forty-nine of the sixty-four reports of Halloween Sadism included a sharp object.

The article from Snopes.com differentiates between the pins and razors in candy and poisoned candy.  The pins and razors are nasty tricks, but they are not murder attempts. The states of California and New Jersey passed laws passed against booby-trapping Halloween candy during this era.

LSD on Lick-n-Stick Tattoos:

(AKA Blue Star Acid)

This one is reported as a myth by snopes.com.

Temporary tattoos have come a long way, baby.  Back in my day, the didn’t look real no matter how closely you followed directions.  They often came as a freebie with various kinds of candy, including Cracker Jacks.

Lycaeum.org has an awesome set of articles devoted to this urban legend.

At Lycaeum.org, I learned that this scare probably comes from a misunderstanding of the way LSD is packaged for sale.  What follows is a short lesson of how LSD is packaged to be sold.

Blotter paper, divided into small squares, is soaked with a solution containing LSD.  These blotter paper squares might be marked with a cartoon image, which is printed onto the blotter paper.  Each of these squares is then sold individually for consumption.

In 1980, a bust by the Narcotics Division of the New Jersey State Police turned up a bunch of these blotter squares–which they called stamps.  They warned the public that children might ingest LSD by mistake thinking that the stamp was a temporary tattoo.

It is very possible the police information report below launched the whole LSD lick-n-stick tattoo urban legend.  A Seventh Day Adventist church began distributing the information report and the rest was history.

Though this myth is not necessarily associated with Halloween, it’s something I remember from childhood.  It was cited as a reason to never take candy from strangers and was trotted out at Halloween to discourage trick-or-treating.

It was rumored that drug dealers slipping the “tattoo” into candy to hook future customers on their wares.  It is, however, unlikely a drug dealer would use this method to attract customers. Who would enjoy an unexpected LSD trip and come back for more?

Jan Harold Brunvand has a chapter devoted to this myth in his book The Choking Doberman: and other Urban Legends.

Time to tell me what you think.  Did anybody you know ever get a trick instead of a treat?  Do you have a trick-or-treat story or Halloween story you’d like to share? 

Catie Rhodes is the author of the Peri Jean Mace series of paranormal mysteries. The newest, the novella Black Opal, is available now.

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1 Comment

  1. I remember the stories from growing up in suburban New York. Interesting to learn that there was sometimes more than urban legend behind these tales. Although I never received a TRICK when trick or treating, I remember having to throw out very appealing homemade popcorn balls distributed by an elderly couple who’d “missed the memo” when it came to suspicious treats.

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