Myth 28: Children Get Poisoned On Halloween

HalloweenThe story that children far and wide are being poisoned by unwrapped Halloween candy and home-baked Halloween cookies, that there was ever a razor blade in the apple is the very definition of an urban legend. It is a myth to the extent that NO American child is on record as EVER being seriously hurt by a contaminated Trick-or-Treat bon bon.

This guest post has been reprinted with permission from Lenore Skenazy, author of the book Free-Range Kids . Lenore’s hot-off-the-press book is about “Giving Our Children The Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry”. It is a fast, funny, full-of-facts, must-read book for all parents who remember a simpler time and want it for their children. After you have pieced together enough silent moments (in between cleaning up spills and tying shoes) to finish reading Lenore’s book you will feel a lot better about hustling the kids outside to play while you put your feet up to read your next book in peace. Here is an excerpt from Free-Range Kids that busts the myth about Halloween candy poisonings.


Heck, even I grew up being told not to eat candy that had been obviously unwrapped. But why? Was there ever really a rash of candy killings?

Joel Best, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, took it upon himself to find out. He studied crime reports from Halloween dating back as far as 1958, and guess exactly how many kids he found poisoned by a stranger’s candy?

A hundred and five? A dozen? Well, one, at least?

“The bottom line is that I cannot find any evidence that any child has ever been killed or seriously hurt by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating,” says the professor. The fear is completely unfounded. Now, one time, in 1974, a Texas dad did kill his own son with a poisoned Pixie Stix. “He had taken out an insurance policy on his son’s life shortly before Halloween, and I think that he probably did this on the theory that there were so many poison candy deaths, no one would ever suspect him,” says Best. “In fact, he was very quickly tried and put to death long ago.” That’s Texas for you.

And then there was a time in 1970 when a five-year-old died from ingesting heroin. But it turns out that in that instance, the boy got into his uncle’s stash and accidentally poisoned himself. Afterward, the family sprinkled heroin on some candy to make it look as if a stranger had done this hideous thing.

And, OK, there was one other time some kids were given poison on Halloween. “A woman in the 1960s was annoyed with children that she thought were too old to trick or treat, so she put ant poison in their bags,” says Best. “But it was labeled, ‘ANT POISON.’ She probably thought it was funny. Until the police arrived.”

So despite this wacky woman (who made her intentions pretty clear), we now have zero recorded instances of death by strangers’ candy. And yet look at all the things that have sprung up in response to this myth.

First and most obviously, we’ve killed the whole idea of, God forbid, baking treats for the local kids. Any cookie a kindly neighbor makes is going to be automatically dumped in the trash, so why bother? Ditto, most fruit. I’m not saying the candy companies concocted these scary rumors, but they sure aren’t knocking them down.

Then we have the concerned but misguided authorities reinforcing the fears that shouldn’t even exist. In 1995, for instance, no less a maven than Ann Landers warned her readers (basically everyone in America who wasn’t reading her twin sister, Dear Abby), “In recent years there have been reports of people with twisted minds putting razor blades and poison in taffy apples and Halloween candy.”

Reports? None substantiated. Rumors? Yes, indeed. Rumors like the ones she was spreading! And those rumors ended up actually changing the holiday. To this day, Nationwide Hospital in Columbus, Ohio — one of the biggest children’s hospitals in the country — offers free x-rays of any Halloween candy a parent is worried about. …says Pam Barber, the hospital’s spokeswoman, “We have never ever discovered anything questionable…It would be great to bring back some of those [Halloween] childhood joys.”


Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children The Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry by Lenore Skenazy is available on  Here’s the link to the book where there is even a charming little video featuring the author herself.  My favorite part is when she uses the expression “darn tootin'”.  She’s adorable.  The book is fantastic. Rush right out an buy it. It’ll change your perspective and you’ll never look back.

7 Responses

  1. I think the worst part about this myth is that it makes parents forget about legitimate dangers, such as being hit by a car or even tripping over a costume that is too long.

  2. Catgirl, I’m pretty sure parents are worrying about those things too. The best part about this myth is that it IS a myth. One less thing to worry about.

  3. I thought I had heard of one more case of a girl that was poisoned by her aunt. I don’t remember what year or which state, but again it was something targeted for a specific child by a family member.

    We’re lucky to have a neighborhood nearby where a TON of cops live and they ALL go out of their way to decorate their houses and replicate that safe old time Halloween feel. It was so much fun to go out there last year. I just can’t wait for my daughter to be old enough to appreciate it all. 😉

  4. Oh my gosh, I have been saying this for years! Where is the recorded evidence of any child ever being poisoned on Halloween? I remember the scare when I was a kid, that there could be drugs on the back of a stamp given out for Halloween. My friend and I were 12, we couldn’t wait to get ahold of a stamp!
    However, I do know a man who works at a hospital where they xray candy for free, he says they have stuff turn up all the time. I think, if that is true, that people are trying to see what they can get away with.

  5. I am 22 years old and i have 5 years old son, and the poisoning and other myths about halloween have been around since my parents were young there either to warn parents to mind there children dont give the them to much candy and stuff like that

  6. It wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I realized the real reason that parents insist on checking kid’s halloween candy to “make sure it’s safe”: They want first pick of the loot!

  7. Skyfire’s claim sounds about right to me 🙂 I do go through the candy once- just to make sure that nothing unsafe has wound up there. It might not be razors, for sure, but it could be something unsafe!

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