It’s two years since I wrote about Halloween but I thought I’d return to it today because, thanks to the wonder that is Twitter, I think I’ve found how the idea of toxic sweets being handing out to children came about.
It began with the American Association of Poison Control Centres tweeting its annual warning about poisons in the sweets given out to children knocking on neighbourhood doors as part of the ‘Trick or Treat’ ritual. That Tweet was Re-tweeted by others and then @ToxTalk, the Twitter identity of ToxTalk ‘a toxicology podcast produced by the Division of Toxicology, Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School’ provided a link to an archive of a 1984 story.
That piece, explains how Ronald Clark O’Bryan fed his 8-year old son cyanide and made it seem that the poison had been in a sweet collected when the family made its Trick or Treat round earlier in the evening. Like William Palmer before him, who is believed to have murdered several of his children, O’Bryan had taken out life insurance on his son and hoped that the pay-out would resolve his financial difficulties.
And, like others, he managed to give poisoned sweets to a number of other children in the hope of remaining above suspicion. It was only by luck that the other children did not eat their lethal sweets before Tim O’Bryan’s poisoning led the police to go door to door collecting any sweets that had been given out in the area the O’Bryan’s had covered.
I’ve noted a number of times that there is a romance to poisoning in the public mind and that is why the notion that poisonous candy was handed out has survived the reality that a desperate father was willing to murder his own child.
Because I’m an aging curmudgeon who deplores the whole business of Halloween (and you only have to visit any supermarket or corner shop in October to see just how much of a business it is), I almost wish the poisoned sweets story were true as it might help to reduce the number of beggars on the street this evening.
But, because I try as hard as I can to put facts ahead of my prejudices on all issues, I thought I’d pass on this origin of a myth. I can give you plenty of reasons why I think you should not take your children out ‘Trick or Treating’ this evening but an epidemic of poisoned sweets is not one of them.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and take the battery out of the doorbell.
You can send comments via the contact page but please be sure to say what blog entry you are commenting on.