Why did the urban myth of tainted or poisoned Halloween candy become so prevalent?

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Other topics: Halloween
Short answer:

There are two major theories that make poisoned Halloween candy become so prevalent:

  • An opinion piece was published in The New York Times on October 28, 1970, it was proposed that outsiders might use the Halloween custom of "trick-or-treating" to poison kids.
  • In October 1974,  a man in Texas, Ronald O'Bryan distributed pixie sticks laced with cyanide to five youngsters, one of them was his own son.
Disney - Poisoned (Explored) Source: Flickr

Many individuals in positions of power are persuaded by a string of rumors, which are only very loosely founded on a small number of sad acts, and this leads to such hysteria.

The study that W. Scott Poole conducted on American politics and horror stories reveals that such anxieties may have been prompted, at least in part, by the variety of difficulties that the United States was confronted at the time. The years 1970–1975 were a time of significant cultural change, not just in the United States but also internationally. A child dressed as a skeleton trick-or-treating in Redford, Michigan on October 31, 1979

Theories that made poisoned Halloween candy popular[edit]

Helen Pfeil's arrest in 1964 for handing out poison[edit]

Helen Pfeil, a resident of New York at the time of her arrest in 1964, was accused of giving children various items, including ant poison and dog biscuits. The housewife said that she was kidding when she was questioned about her actions and that she had given the gifts to children who she believed were too old to be trick-or-treating. Even though there were no reports of any children being poisoned as a result of the event, the local authorities did not think her actions to be humorous.[1]

Newsweek magazine's unsourced article further flourished poisoned Halloween candy rumor[edit]

In 1975, Newsweek magazine published an article in which it claimed that "over the past several years, several children have died and hundreds have narrowly escaped injury from razor blades, sewing needles, and shards of glass put into their goodies by adults." However, strangely the publication did not provide any evidence to support its claim.[2]

1980's communities banning tricks around Halloween candy[edit]

By the 1980s, some communities banned “trick-or-treating” while hospitals in some metropolitan areas offered to X-ray Halloween candy. In 1982 the governor of New Jersey signed a bill requiring a jail term for those tampering with candy. In an advice column “Ask Ann Landers”, of a popular newspaper called Landers warned in 1983 of “twisted strangers” who had been “putting razor blades and poison in taffy apples and other Halloween candy.”[3]

Abigail Van Buren's advice article[edit]

Advice columnist Abigail Van Buren, well known by her pen name "Dear Abby," issued a column with a Halloween-related topic on October 31, 1983, headlined "A Night of Treats, not Tricks." She intended to "remind readers that," among other things, "somebody's kid would fall extremely sick or die after eating poisoned sweets or an apple that contains a razor blade." She expressed this desire in the column that she was writing.[4]

Ann Landers's advice article[edit]

The tainted Halloween candy worry was echoed in an essay by advice columnist Ann Landers. The title of her piece was "Twisted brains make Halloween a perilous time." According to what Landers stated, "Recent years have seen instances of individuals with sick imaginations placing razor blades and poison in taffy apples and Halloween sweets." It is no longer a safe practice to allow your youngster to consume goodies that have been purchased from unknown sources.[5]

Research about the real truth for tainted Halloween candy[edit]

Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, has been looking at reports of anyone other than the children's parents poisoning their Halloween sweets for close to 30 years. Until 2013, he has not uncovered a single verified instance of an outsider, having committed this kind of homicide against a kid.

Best identified additional incidents of individuals mistakenly sending out poisoned candy or, in one case, passing out ant poison as a joke present to teens; but, no one was wounded in any of these instances; thus, the bogeyman of dangerous people making trick-or-treating hazardous is a canard.[6]


  1. "L.I. Children Get Poison 'Treat'; Accused Housewife Committed". The New York Times. 1964-11-02. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-10-23.
  2. "Strangers aren't poisoning kids' Halloween candy". The Incidental Economist. 2011-10-31. Retrieved 2022-10-23.
  3. Poole, W. Scott. "When Halloween became America's most dangerous holiday". The Conversation. Retrieved 2022-10-23.
  4. Taylor, Traci TaylorTraci. "Strangers Poisoning Kids' Halloween Candy - Fact or Fiction?". 98.1 The Hawk. Retrieved 2022-10-23.
  5. Conversation, W. Scott Poole,The (2019-10-30). "A brief history of poisoned Halloween candy panic". CNN. Retrieved 2022-10-23.
  6. "Joel Best - Halloween Sadism". www.joelbest.net. Retrieved 2022-10-23.