1974 “Candy Man Murder” Sheds Light On The Dangers Of Trick Or Treating

Photograph of convicted killer, Ronald OBryan

Photograph of convicted killer, Ronald O’Bryan

Clay Arnold, Editor

Ronald O’Bryan lived in Deer Park Texas with his wife Daynene and their two children, Timothy and Elizabeth. Ronald worked as an optician at Texas State Optical in Sharpstown Houston. He was also a deacon at the second Baptist church where he sang in the choir. He appeared to be a great man in his community. On October 31st, 1974 Ronald took his children and their neighbor’s two children trick or treating in Pasadena, Texas. This neighborhood was known for being higher income and therefore, would supply better candy. This was at least what Ronald’s children were thinking. Amid their Halloween fun, the children approached a house that seemed to not be supplying candy. The front lights were off which is a classic sign that the house wasn’t participating. This did not deter the children from knocking. They received no reply. To their disappointment, they moved on to their next house with Ronald staying back.
A few moments later, Ronald catches up to the group with five 21-inch pixie sticks in hand. He claimed they were from the house they had just left. Giving each child a pixie stick, he goes on with the night normally. As Ronald and his children returned home, they too received trick or treaters. Recognizing one of the children as a ten-year-old boy who attends his church, Ronald also gives the boy a pixie stick. Ronald allows his children to eat only one piece of their candy that night. His son, timothy, happens to choose to eat his pixie stick. After struggling to properly pour the sugar into his mouth, as many children do seeing as pixie sticks are iconic for closing up at the end, timothy eats his candy.
Timothy immediately notices that something is off with his treat. He notices that the pixie stick is extremely bitter and nasty. When he mentions this to his father, Timothy is given a glass of Kool-Aid to get the taste out of his mouth. A few minutes later, Timothy began vomiting uncontrollably and soon after, fell to the ground and began convulsing. When Ronald came to his aid, he claimed timothy just went limp in his arms. Despite ambulance efforts, timothy died before he made it to the hospital.
Of course, word spread all over town about so-called poisoned Halloween candy. Parents quickly confiscated all candy from their children trick or treat bags out of fear that they too would end up like timothy. Police were accepting candy from these parents in hopes to deduce where this poison was coming from. They soon noticed that the culprit had to be very sloppy with their job.
The pixie stick timothy had was stapled shut meaning that whoever did this simply opened the original candy, placed a substance inside of it, and stapled it back together. Ronald was questioned by authorities who requested he take them to the house he claimed gave him the deadly treats. Ronald claimed he had no memory of which house it was which immediately set off alarms to detectives that Ronald had something to do with it. They soon noticed many inconsistencies and obvious falsehoods in his story. It was only after police stated they suspected him, that Ronald brought them to the house. Immediately police arrest the man living in the said house thinking they had found their culprit. Sadly, this suspect had a solid alibi saying he was working the night of Halloween. At this point, Timothy’s autopsy came back showing insane amounts of cyanide in his system proving that he was poisoned.
Investigators became impatient with Ronald once he stated frustration with family members for not watching a broadcast of him singing a song about his song joining the lord in heaven. As one can imagine, this is not how you would expect a grieving father to behave. Investigators found that Ronald was over one hundred thousand dollars in debt, had foreclosed the family home, and had recently taken out life insurance policies on his two children worth forty thousand dollars total. Not only that, but Ronald’s phone records came back showing he called about the said policy the morning after Timothy was pronounced dead. Investigators began building their case against Ronald.
When Ronald’s home was searched, a pair of scissors with plastic residue was found. This plastic residue was the same as what was found on the cyanide given to timothy. Ronald’s community college professor came forward staging he recalled Ronald asking which poison was more lethal. Following that statement, another witness stated they saw a customer at their store purchasing cyanide. They said the customer was wearing a blue smock. Ronald happened to wear the same thing at his optometrist job. These pieces of evidence led to the press naming Ronald “ the candy man” and on June third, 1975, a jury took forty-six minutes to find Ronald O’Bryan guilty of one count of capital murder and four counts of attempted murder. It took the jury seventy-one minutes to sentence him to death. It is said that Ronald was shunned and despised by his inmates leading up to march 31st, 1984, Ronald’s execution date. A crowd of over three hundred people cheered outside of his execution.
This case is remembered not just as a heart-wrenching story of a cold-hearted father and a young life taken too soon, but also as an eye opener to the public on the dangers of trick or treating. Surely, today’s youth is not surprised when they hear of parents carefully checking their children’s Halloween candy before allowing them to partake. Although this was not the first time a child fell victim to tainted candy, it was the first time the story got so much attention in the media and so much mass support for a resolution. This also sparked the inspiration for public trick-or-treating events in hopes to minimize the number of dangerous activities claiming the lives of young trick-or-treaters. On a personal level, after hearing this case it is hard to understand why someone would do such a thing to their child but equally difficult to grasp the reality of how risky Halloween activities can be. With “ spooky season” right around the corner, be sure your plans are safe, and if you plan on participating in trick or treating ( be that receiving candy or handing it out) make sure your offerings are secure.