It’s time for ghosts, goblins, and gremlins, but if seeking still further imaginary fright, consider some Halloween urban legends and hysterics.
First we have the time-dishonored account of poisoned candy. Even before the Internet and 24-7 news channels, these dark tales made the rounds and almost everyone knew about them. Ann Landers, notorious for passing off urban legends as fact, helped spread the terror. I remember presenting my candy to my parents for inspection and losing one piece because it seemed to be an off-brand, although the neighbor’s long hair, being affixed to a 20-something male in 1974, may have been another factor.
Police departments and hospitals offered free X-rays of the confectioneries, with the uniformly negative results being inconsistent with the panic that the candy from strangers was causing. The munchies madness hit its peak in the mid-1990s when Halloween parties began being held in lieu of neighborhood knockings. Surprisingly, the transformation of the Internet from relative novelty to ubiquitous entity over the last quarter century has not pushed the alarm to greater heights and, in fact, it has tempered somewhat, though warnings still abound.
Fortunately, such advisories are based on fear, not facts. Only one person is confirmed to have died from poisoned Trick or Treat candy, and the victim was targeted by his father, who slipped his son cyanide-laced Pixy Stix. He did the same to his daughter and four of his children’s friends, hoping to make the event seem random, but none of the four other intended victims ate the tainted treat.
While the granular candy was not passed out by a neighbor answering the door, the murderer was trying to take advantage of the myth that such occurrences had been happening nationwide for decades. Ironically, his attempt to emulate an urban legend helped to spread it. But this was not a case of a homeowner handing out lethal candies. The killer did not pass them out at his door, nor were the Pixy Stix put in his son’s plastic Jack-o-Lantern by someone else.
There are still periodic reports of children dying after ingesting laced confectioneries, but investigations have always concluded there was another cause. It should be noted that razors, pins, and needles have been found in Halloween candy multiple times so caution against this occurrence is justified.
But as to toxic treats, the Los Angeles Times quoted Cal State sociology professor Joel Best, who said, “We checked major newspapers from throughout the country from 1958 through 1988, assuming that any story this horrible would certainly be well reported,” and his research group found no cases of intentional, random Halloween candy contamination.
With that, we move from poison to pedophiles to satisfy our All Hallows Eve hysteria.
According to Reason’s Lenore Skenazy, each October the website Patch publishes maps that show where registered sex offenders live. This is publicly available, accurate information, but the insinuation is that residents of these homes pose a specific danger on Halloween. However, those persons are prohibited from handing out candy on this date and a study of 67,000 child molestation cases showed no increase in such incidents on Oct. 31. Besides, the great majority of crimes against children are not committed by strangers; an infinitesimal amount are committed by a stranger on Halloween; and probably zero have been committed by a stranger passing out Halloween candy on his doorstep. Parents should protect their children and they do so by accompanying them as they seek sugary snacks on these nocturnal excursions.
Patch defends its actions because a Wisconsin child was raped and murdered on Halloween in 1973. But such tragedies can occur on any date and this one taking place on Halloween was coincidental. Besides, almost all persons convicted of raping and murdering a child are still in prison or have been executed. The killer in this case had not struck before and would not have been on any registry had those existed at the time.
While such a person should be locked away for life, it is a myth that all sexual offenders are incapable of redemption. In fact, sex criminals have the second-lowest recidivism rate, after murderers. Also, public urination, soliciting a prostitute, and teen sex all land people on the list that Patch distributes.
It promotes this as a public good, so I will counter with my own such public service map. Any red dots below indicate cases where persons already on sex offender registries attacked another child who was Trick-or-Treating: