By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 22 October)
There is plenty of media-fueled paranoia regarding Halloween candy spiked with sharp objects or poison, but candy tampering is actually extremely rare, and no child has ever died from Halloween candy given out by a stranger.
Razor Blades, Pins, Needles, and Other Sharp Objects in Halloween Candy
Reports of sharp objects in candy are very uncommon, and the objects are usually discovered without anyone being hurt. Cases have included the following:
- A razor blade was found in a candy bar in Maiden, North Carolina. The child was not hurt.
- A Pennsylvania teenager discovered a razor blade in a candy bar wrapper. This blade was not hidden, but just loose in the wrapper. The teen was not injured.
- A woman in Buffalo reported finding glass in tootsie pops. There was no mention of in the report of anyone being hurt.
- In Wetaskiwin, Alberta, a mother says she found a pin in her son’s candy when she took a bite and it pricked the inside of her mouth.
- A teenage girl found a needle in one of her candy bars in Auburn, Maine. There was no mention in the report of anyone being hurt.
In Minneapolis, a man stuck needles into Snickers bars and handed them out. A teen was pricked when he bit into one of the bars, but the injury was minor and did not require medical attention, and the perpetrator was found and charged.
Reports of sharp objects found in candy are usually either hoaxes or pranks, which is why spiked treats are typically isolated cases. The few incidents that have occurred have nearly always involved a single piece of candy.
In some cases, bored children may add things to their own candy or make stories up for attention or other reasons (these sorts of hoaxes were the cause of the 1960s paranoia regarding razor blades in apples). In other cases, someone has spiked the candy to play a prank on a particular individual (often a friend or family member).
Poisoned Halloween Candy
No stranger has ever murdered a child with poisoned Halloween candy. A little boy was killed by poisoned candy in 1974. However, upon investigation it turned out that he had been murdered by his own father. The perpetrator in this sad case took out a life insurance policy on his children and then fed his eight-year-old son Pixy Stix poisoned with cyanide. To make it look like an accident, he also gave poisoned candy to several other children, but none of the others were harmed because the authorities responded quickly and the one child who did try to eat her Pixy Stix before they were taken away wasn’t able to remove the staples with which the murderer had resealed the package. The killer, Ronald Clark O-Bryan, was executed by the state of Texas in 1984.
Tainted candy was also blamed for a Halloween death in 1970 in Detroit. In this case, a five-year-old boy named Kevin Toston died of a drug overdose after reportedly eating Halloween candy sprinkled with heroin. However, it turned out that the boy had found his uncle’s heroin stash and consumed some of it, after which the family had sprinkled heroin on the child’s Halloween candy to make it appear as though a stranger had poisoned him. Another drug-related case occurred in 1994 in Connecticut, but although the child died of cocaine poisoning, tests yielded no evidence of drug residue on his candy, so it is likely that he found some cocaine elsewhere and accidentally poisoned himself.
There was one case in which a woman deliberately gave out ant poison to teenagers on Halloween night. Annoyed that older children were coming to her door asking for candy (she felt that the teens were too old to be trick-or-treating), she gave them packages of steel wool pads, dog biscuits, and ant poison buttons (clearly labeled with the word “poison”). She told the teens that the packages were meant as a joke when she handed them out and none of them were harmed. Because she had not intended to hurt anyone, she received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to endangerment.
There have also been a number of false or mistaken reports, such as that of the young Detroit resident who became ill on Halloween. His doctor made an error when interpreting his test results, and an erroneous report of cyanide poisoning went out to the media. Subsequent investigation found no evidence of contaminated candy. Another unfortunate case occurred in 1991 when a 31-year-old man coincidentally died of heart failure after he consumed some of his child’s Halloween candy. Additional coincidences have included children who died of a bacterial infection and a pre-existing heart condition after eating their Halloween candy.
A particularly strange case was that of the marijuana candy bars in Hercules, California, in 2000. Parents contacted the authorities after their trick-or-treating children were given small bars of marijuana disguised as Snickers bars. It turned out that the hidden marijuana packets had ended up in the local dead letter office because the attempted smuggler had either addressed them incorrectly or affixed insufficient postage. A bewildered postal employee, who had brought home what he thought were normal candy bars to distribute on Halloween, was found innocent.
There have also been false reports made for attention or other reasons. In one case, a child claimed that his candy bar had been tainted with ant poison. Ant poison was found on the bar, but only on the end the child had not eaten, because he had put the poison on it himself.
Despite the lack of poisonings by strangers, the media continues to stir up paranoia from time to time, and as a result, many parents have a distorted impression of Halloween dangers and no longer allow their children to trick-or-treat.
For more on Halloween, see:
- The History of Halloween
- Why Do We Trick or Treat on Halloween?
- Why Do We Carve Pumpkins on Halloween?
- Halloween Party Activities for Adults and Teens
- Halloween Recipes
- Quick, Easy, Inexpensive Halloween Costumes
- How Did Black Cats Become Associated with Halloween?
- Black Cat Sacrifices on Halloween – Real Danger or Urban Legend?
- Lewis, D. (2013). Where did the fear of poisoned Halloween candy come from? Smithsonian.com.
- Snopes.com. (2013). Pins and Needles. (2014). Halloween Poisonings. (2014). Tainted Halloween Candy.
- Trex, E. (2014). A Brief History of Sick People Tampering with Halloween Candy. MentalFloss.com.
- Wikipedia.org. (2015). Poisoned Candy Myths.