I grew up in the Pasadena/South Houston, TX area with its muddy bayous, caustic smell from the paper plant, and great Tex-Mex restaurants (Does anyone even remember Monterrey House?). We moved to Almeda, TX when I was thirteen. Back then it was true country, or as I thought of it, the edge of nowhere.
Growing into a teen out there had its merits. My neighbors had horses. I loved horses. What could be more fantastic?
My brothers and I relished Halloween. We would spend a lot of time thinking up great ways to scare the little kids of the neighborhood on that night. I was the witch with a caldron made from the horse’s water barrel while one of my brothers would throw the straw zombie from the roof. Scared the living daylights out of those little ones. Heh. Heh.
Our church, which was very conservative, encouraged a Halloween get-together for the youth (that would be us-uns). My Uncle and Aunt had a barn that they would turn into a fantastic haunted house complete with a maze, glow-in-the-dark spooks, and wet noodle-filled troughs we youth had to crawl through. It was the seventies. There wasn’t more fun to be had short of drugs and we didn’t do drugs.
The night of October 31, 1974 a little boy named Tim O’Brian swallowed some powdered sugar from a giant pixie-stix and went into convulsions. He was dead before the ambulance got him to the hospital.
It wasn’t long before investigators put the truth together. Tim’s father had laced the pixie-stix with cyanide and handed them out to his two children and two of their little friends after having taken out a $30,000 out on his two children.
Ronald O’Brian was the “Candy Man”. The man who killed Halloween.
It was horrible. And especially shocking because it took place in Deer Park very near where we were little kids and went trick-or-treating.
Pandemonium. In the eighties there were some deaths related to taking cyanide-laced Tylenol. More pandemonium. Halloween was definitely filled with danger. Don’t trick-or you’ll get treated to the offerings of sickos. Hospitals offered to x-ray candy for needles and razor blades because rumor had it that these had been found in apples and snickers bars.
Then Satan stepped in.
Halloween was invented by Satanists. It is evil. Don’t you put on that mask, child! It is evil.
Why else would the night before be celebrated in Mexico as the night of the dead? And Halloween was in reality All Saint’s Eve with pagan leanings and rife with witches.
Not so in other parts of the world as All Hallow’s Eve, if you lived in Scotland or England would be celebrated with prayer and doughnuts.
In America, churches no longer had spook houses. They had harvest celebrations.
It’s been a long time since The Candy Man murdered his son. Things have calmed down a little.
The decades-old idea that depraved strangers are targeting children with tainted Halloween candy, however, is more fiction than fact, says a sociologist who has studied the phenomenon for 20 years. University of Delaware Professor Joel Best said he has yet to find a case in which a stranger deliberately poisoned trick-or-treaters.
“This is a contemporary legend that speaks to our anxiety about kids,” Best said. “Most of us don’t believe in ghosts and goblins anymore, but we believe in criminals.”
Thirty years ago, after Timothy’s death, the idea of a madman poisoning children with Halloween candy was all too real.
“We were all shocked that someone would kill their own son, their own flesh and blood, for a lousy … $30,000 life insurance policy,” said former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Mike Hinton, who prosecuted the case.
O’Bryan apparently was willing to go further, passing the poisoned Pixy Stix to at least four other children, including his 5-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. Miraculously, officers were able to retrieve the remaining tampered candy before any other children ingested it.
An 11-year-old boy who was given one of the tainted Pixy Stix was found asleep in bed later than night, cradling the tube of poisoned candy in his arms. He had been unable to pry out the staples O’Bryan had used to reseal the plastic container.
“He didn’t have enough strength to get it open,” Hinton said. “It just sends shivers down your spine.”
We know the world is filled with crazy people who would kill complete strangers for very little or no reason. We don’t live in a nice space. We are surrounded by danger. We don’t let our children eat food off the floor (I hope) or eat something they’ve dropped in line at the supermarket. We examine candy wrappers to make sure they are sealed. Every package we buy – be it aspirin or gas-aides – is strangled with nearly impossible-to-open wrapping. But then the neighbor gets mad at his wife and in the process of running her off the road with his vehicle, bumps another car and kills the mother and her two-year old inside. (True story from two weeks ago in the Pasadena area.)
So this is what I know. We don’t know our end.
Meanwhile, Halloween is back in style again. Go trick-or-treating. Eat candy. Laugh a little. It’s high time.