Cyanide and Pixy Stix

Halloween time at my elementary school rocked. We dressed up in costumes, ate candy in the classrooms, and told spooky stories with the classroom lights out. Then, a few minutes before dismissal, the teachers would warn us not take any homemade candy, any unwrapped candy, or any candy from anyone we did not know.

I never understood that last bit. Unless you know everyone in your neighborhood, and you trick-or-treat in that neighborhood, you are going to take candy from strangers on Halloween. I grew up on a busy road, sort of a rural deal. Trick-or-treating involved walking along a gravel shoulder where the speed limit was 50 m.p.h., not a good idea. So Mom and Dad would pack my brother and me in the car and take us to the rich neighborhoods, the ones all the town’s kids descended on. Granted, they did check the candy when we got home, and we weren’t allowed to sneak any beforehand, but they seemed cool with allowing their brood to encounter candy-dealing strangers.

I always wondered why the paranoia. Were there really wackos out there poisoning kids? Did the sales of razor blades shoot up in the days before Halloween? How did this start?

I did a bit of digging; you’re welcome. In 1970, a 5-year-old Detroit boy died after ingesting heroin; tests on his Halloween candy revealed that it was sprinkled with the drug. The police did a bit more digging and questioned the family further, and they finally admitted that they’d sprinkled the drug on the candy after the boy’s overdose. The boy, it turned out, had gotten into his uncle’s heroin stash, and the family had tampered with the candy to throw off investigators.

All right, but that was candy tampered with after the fact. Sad tale, but not the tale of a demented Milky Way-fiddling freak. We must go a bit further into the future, to 1974, and Deer Park, Texas. (Sigh.)

Eight-year-old Timothy O’Bryan had been trick-or-treating when he ate a Pixy Stix that had been intentionally laced with cyanide. He died, and everyone thought it was the work of a demented murderer. Police soon discovered that Timothy’s sister, Elizabeth, had also been given poisoned Pixy Stix, although she hadn’t eaten any of it. Then they discovered that dear old Daddy, Ronald Clark O’Bryan, had recently taken out life insurance policies on his children.

this is what father of the year looks like.

Oh yeah, he also gave two other children Cyanide Stix to cover his tracks. They didn’t eat any of it either, fortunately.

O’Bryan found himself on Huntsville’s Death Row, where he acquired the nickname “Candyman.” On March 31, 1984, he found himself strapped to a gurney while lethal injection was administered.

His last meal included a T-bone steak, french fries, iced tea, and Pixy Stix.


Crowd outside Huntsville the night of O’Bryan’s execution.

6 thoughts on “Cyanide and Pixy Stix

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    1. Yeah . . . that made me rethink my complaints about my parents, too.

      Although I’m fairly certain my dad was trying to kill me when he was showing me how to catch grounders in our games of backyard baseball. Our yard was rather bumpy. Those baseballs bounced weird. I had to duck a few times.

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