The Man who Ruined Halloween: The Real-Life Story of the Candyman

Image Source: NY Daily News

Image Source: NY Daily News

Analise Bruno, Editor-in-Chief

Halloween is the one time of year most people enjoy being exposed to frightful fears. Whether it be witches, monsters, demons, or goblins, the scary thrill the holiday invokes is one many Americans tend to enjoy. Yet, it is when the horror stories presented in many films like Stephen King’s It, or Michael Jackson’s Thriller, does the novelty of Halloween becomes all the more ominous. This was the case for a small town in Houston where a father’s greed for money turned into something far more sinister.

It was 1974 on Halloween night when Ronald Clark O’Bryan took his son, 8-year-old Timothy O’Bryan trick-or-treating in the Pasadena area. Like any normal kid on Halloween, Timothy made his rounds from house to house collecting all the good stuff; Twizzlers, Milky Way, Twix, M&Ms, Reese’s cups, starbursts, etc. However, by the end of the night, the young boy was found to be dead. 

What could have turned a healthy little boy who was trick-or-treating mere hours ago into a lifeless shell of his former self? The answer: a pixie stick. On Halloween night Timothy had unfortunately consumed a pixie stick laced with cyanide resulting in his death. 

Timothy’s death suddenly spawned a new problem: who or what could have contaminated the candy with something as deadly as cyanide? Investigators were sure it was some sick person in the surrounding neighborhoods handing out candy, however, a few days after Timothy’s burial, his insurance revealed that a policy worth $20,000 had been taken out on his lifeless than just thirty days prior, with a fine-print policy that would allow him an additional $40,000. Quickly, the dots seemed to connect as Ronald O’Bryan was revealed to be in over $100,000 worth of debt and unable to hold a job. O’Bryan’s was on the verge of being fired by his current employer, his car was about to be impounded, and his home was about to be foreclosed upon- giving him great motive to commit the unthinkable. What ultimately tied him to the crime was a local Texas chemical salesman who testified that O’Bryan had asked him about places he could find cyanide. 

When put on the stand, the true story unfolded: Driven by greed, O’Bryan encouraged his son Timothy to eat a pixie stick he had given to him on Halloween night. When Timothy ingested the candy, he remarked it had a bitter taste and attempted to toss it out. However, O’Bryan firmly insisted he finish it, and gave him Kool-aid to wash down the aftertaste. Less than an hour later, Timothy was rushed to the hospital by ambulance but died en route. Three other neighborhood children also got the laced pixie sticks to cover up the murderous motives of O’Bryan, but did not consume them. After the chilling details were revealed, it took the jury less than an hour to come up with a guilty verdict. The judge presiding over the case ultimately sentenced him to death, and he died on March 31, 1984.

While stories of monsters and witches may be fictitious, this sinister case was unfortunately very real. The reality of a father being so greedy that he would be willing to murder his own son to make a quick buck is perhaps what makes this case far scarier than the urban myths we read about. The notion that people deliberately try to poison children during Halloween each year has become far more prominent following Timothy’s death. Each year, news headlines now flood with warnings to check children’s candy for open packaging, razor blade, and pins among other things. Police departments all across the country have even begun offering to screen bags of Halloween candy for free. However, as reported by the US Food Inspection Agency, only about 200 cases of Halloween candy tampering have occurred from 1950 to 2018, with most being confirmed hoaxes. Only one real case involving a dentist in 1959 has ever been able to hold a candle to the crime O’Bryan committed. The dentist was later jailed for causing up to thirty children to get sick after handing out candy laced with laxatives in “protest” of Halloween. Nonetheless, it seems like there is no other case that has truly put genuine life or death fear into the holiday in the ways Ronald O’Bryan’s heinous actions did.