Every year, authorities tell parents/legal guardians to check their kids candy after trick-or-treating to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with. While most of the time, this isn’t the case, it’s actually based on a true-crime case from 1974.
On Halloween night of that year, Timothy O’Bryan, 8, died en route to the hospital within an hour after consuming a big Pixy Stix that he reportedly said tasted bitter. Timothy and his sister, Elizabeth, had been taken by their father, Ronald Clark O’Bryan earlier that evening trick-or-treating in a Pasadena, Texas neighborhood. They had lived in the nearby Deer park, Texas but instead went with a neighbor and his two children.
It was reportedly raining that night so they didn’t go to many homes sticking to only two residential streets. One of the houses they went to was unresponsive when the kids knocked on the door. So, the kids went to the next house but Ronald had come up behind them with five Pixy Stix that he said the resident had given him. Ronald had said he never saw the resident’s face just a hairy arm extend out five of the Stixs.
Ronald gave all four kids a Pixy Stix each and then passed the fifth one off to a church member’s child he saw while out. When police questioned Ronald on which house it was, they became skeptical especially when they questioned Courtney Melvin, who was the resident of the house Ronald claim. Melvin wasn’t at home at the time when the kids came through. He was an air traffic controller at Hobby Airport and was on duty until 11 p.m. CST.
Regardless, police asked many parents in Pasadena and those who went trick-or-treating there to turn in their children’s candy so they can examine it, which they did. Fortunately, none of the candy turned in was discovered to be tampered with. However, the Pixy Stix Ronald claimed he received had been stapled. It was one of the child’s inability to open it that saved their life. Testing of all Pixy Stix concluded that Timothy’s had enough potassium cyanide to kill two adults. The other fours contained enough cyanide to killed three or four adults.
As police began to dig deeper in their investigation, they discovered that Ronald, only 30, had held 21 jobs. He was suspected of theft of Texas State Optical where he was currently working and was close to being terminated. He was $100,000 in debt. (That would be about $600,000 in 2022 dollars.) He had also taken out insurance policies on Timothy and Elizabeth totally $60,000 together. Ronald’s wife claimed to not know of the insurance policies as authorities felt it was odd a parent would take out so much on children that age.
Ronald had called the insurance company the morning after Timothy’s death and inquired into how he could collect. He had also entered into a chemical supply store shortly before Halloween inquiring on how to purchase cyanide but reportedly left without purchasing any. It didn’t take much more for police to realize that Ronald was behind Timothy’s death. On Nov. 5, 1974, he was arrested and later indicted on one charge of capital murder and four counts of attempted murder.
Ronald maintained his innocent and pled not guilty to all charges and his case went to trial in Houston the following March. It was never proven how Ronald may have purchased or acquired the cyanide. But testimony at the trial hinted that as early as the summer of 1973, Ronald may have been planning this as a chemist had testified Ronald had asked then how much cyanide would be fatal.
Relatives also said that Ronald had been talking about using the insurance money to buy things and take a vacation shortly after Timothy’s death. His own wife, Daynene, said that Ronald had told Timothy to choose the Pixy Stix to take shortly after they returned home. He had even helped Timothy take the staple off the end. On June 3, a jury deliberated for 46 minutes before returning guilty verdicts on all counts. An additional 71 minutes was taken as they deliberated on his sentence before determining he should get the death penalty.
Daynene later filed for divorce and remarried. The media dubbed Ronald “The Candyman” and “The Man Who Killed Halloween.” He was transferred to a prison in Huntsville, Texas where he would remain until March 31, 1984 where he was put to death by lethal injection. Ronald maintained his innocence the whole time he was in prison and several of the other inmates expressed their hatred of him for killing Timothy and willingness to poison four other children to cover it up. They even went as far as to petition a demonstration on the day of his execution to express their hatred of him.
Texas had tried to execute Ronald as early as 1980 but his attorney successfully petitioned a stay of execution. The second date was scheduled for May 25, 1982 but postponned. The third date he was scheduled to die would be Oct. 31, 1982, eight years to the day, which would’ve made Ronald the first person in Texas to die by lethal injection. Yet, this date was delayed as the Supreme Court overturned it as Ronald had petitioned to seek a new trial. But no new trial would be ordered and the fourth and final date was scheduled for March 31, 1984.
Despite the attempts by Ronald’s attorney for a fourth stay, it was rejected by a federal judge. Just after midnight on March 31, died by lethal injection. About 300 demonstrators, both for and against the death penalty protested outside the prison, chanting “Trick or Treat.” Ronald was 39 at the time of his death.
Sadly, Ronald’s greed and no regard for human life only further perpetuated the urban legends about razor blades and poisons in candies at Halloweens. While it is very wise to only trick-or-treat at houses and neighborhoods in which you are familiar, the hysteria still continues to this day with people spreading lies about people passing out edible cannabis and rainbow fetanyl to kids. And while some law enforcement agencies do offer to X-ray scan bags of candy, it’s a sad reminder of the world we live in today where something as innocent as kids enjoying a fun holiday has to be taken very seriously.
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