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Razor Blades in Halloween Candy: History Of The Myth That Never Happened

Culture | October 23, 2019

1968: Booby-trapped apple with razor blade concealed inside is examined by policewoman Carol MacKay. It was given as Halloween handout to a 7-year-old child in the neighborhood around Carlton; Sherbourne streets. (Photo by Don Dutton/Toronto Star via Get

No child has ever been killed by eating Halloween candy from a stranger. Even though stories and urban legends of death from poisoned candy and razor blades secreted away inside of apples have long surrounded Halloween, this isn’t something that actually ever happened. While no one’s ever died from chowing down on an apple filled with razor blades, there have been minor injuries stemming from pranks or parents trying to get a lawsuit going, these cases were blown out of proportion and added to the urban legend that reminds children to not take candy from strangers, or really anyone. 

Parents have been worried about poisoned candy for generations

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Parents freaking out about their kids eating candy that’s been tampered with by local psychos isn’t a recent occurrence, it’s been a fear since the Industrial Revolution. This was the first era in history that food production was taken out of the home and moved to a factory, often out of town. No one knew who was making their food, which not only led to distrust in the product but the people behind the material coming out of the factory.

After children got sick from eating the factory-produced candy, parents initially blamed the people who produced it, although it’s important to note that no cases of death were ever substantiated. An investigation into these illnesses showed that there was no poison, industrial waste, or anything untoward in the candy aside from massive amounts of sugar. It’s believed that anyone who got sick from eating this early era mass-produced candy did so because of overeating. 

Tylenol tampering led to a fear of trick or treating

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While stories of industrial revolution fear show a parallel to our urban legends about poisoned candy, the case that jumpstarted America’s fear of adulterated Halloween snacks was the Chicago Tylenol Murders of 1982. Before ’82 stories about deadly Halloween candy were contained to small pockets of the country and only occurred every once in a while, but after seven people lost their lives due to a mysterious person placing cyanide in bottles of Tylenol across the Chicago area. The incident led to a huge jump in stories of crazy people tampering with Halloween candy. It’s likely that the Tylenol murders never occurred that the media and the authorities wouldn’t have treated the poisoned candy claims with the same seriousness. 

Less than 100 cases of candy tampering occurred in the 20th century

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Even though everyone knows about poison candy and candy bars filled with pins and needles, there were less than 100 cases of legitimate candy tampering throughout the 20th century. Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, studied the urban legend of neighborhood monsters poisoning trick or treaters and found that even though there were plenty of newspaper articles warning parents about this urban legend, there were less than 90 instances of what actually can be considered as candy tampering between 1958 and 1983.

Best discovered that most cases of candy tampering had less to do with someone trying to cause harm to random children and more to do with someone trying to get a lawsuit going or for children to get attention either from their parents or the media. 

False claims of poisoned candy inspired family members to tamper with Halloween sweets 

Source: (pinterest.com)

Stories about random crazies poisoning trick or treaters may not be true, but those stories have inspired parents to poison their own kids as a way to make a point. Parents poisoning their own kids is an unfortunate side effect of the news reporting on this nonexistent crime spree.

Most famously, On October 31, 1974, Ronald O’Bryan poisoned a collection of Pixy Stix with cyanide and handed them out to children in his neighborhood as well as his son Timothy and daughter Elizabeth after taking out expensive life insurance parties. The only kid to actually tear into the Pixy Stix was his son, Timothy, who died shortly afterward. 

When people think of people randomly poisoning candy on Halloween this tends to be the story they're thinking of. Although, it's just as likely that they're thinking of someone who they heard about from the friend of a friend. 

Pins and needles have rarely been used in Halloween pranks

Source: (AADL)

As rare as it is for trick or treaters to find poison in their candy, they have a higher risk of biting down on a needle hidden in a candy bar. Once again, those who’ve discovered these painful objects hidden for them are getting the candy from their parents or someone they know, not a random stranger. It’s definitely painful to bite down on a needle, but it’s not likely that anyone is going to die from this kind of thing, although if this happens to you or someone you know please go to the hospital.

People who hide pins and needles in candy bars tend to do so in order to prank someone they know or teach them a twisted lesson. However, in 2000 an incident occurred that goes against all rational thought when 49-year-old James Joseph Smith placed needles in Snickers bars and handed them out to children on Halloween. Only one boy bit into the adulterated candy, but no medical attention was required. 

Razor blades in candy apples are almost always a hoax

Source: (pinterest.com)

Who was it that first brought the idea of razor blades hidden in candy apples? The Misfits? Was there a single event that gave people this idea or is it just something we all dreamt up? The New York Times that most cases of children discovering razor blades in their apples come from the kids placing the blades inside the apple themselves. In some instances the children were attempting to prank their parents, in other cases, the Times surmises that they were just trying to get attention.

Snopes relates that between 1972 and 1982 pretty much every report of a child finding a razor blade in a candy apple was a hoax. It seems that this is an instance of an urban legend growing out of a series of hoaxes that were taken seriously, adding further nuance to the legend. 

Even though there are a few cases of candy being tampered with by adults, the chances of anything actually happening are so slim that you'd be a fool not to go out and try to strike it big with a king-size candy bar. 

Tags: Halloween | Urban Legends

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.