Before Michael Myers terrorized the big screen in John Carpenter’s Halloween. Before Jason returned to wreck horror at Camp Crystal Lake. Before Freddy and Chucky.
There was the Candy Man. Not a fictionalized character brought to us by Hollywood, but a real-life, honest-to-goodness boogeyman.
I don’t remember what I dressed up as that Halloween night. It was too long ago to remember. I was only a 12-year-old boy that autumn night in Houston, Texas. Like everyone else that age, I circled that date on the calendar. My favorite day of the year arrived. I remember running the neighborhood streets with a large group of kids. Running from house to house in a joyful bliss in search of free candy. We were a pack of wolves, racing into the night to satisfy the sugar fix of all sugar fix nights. The plastic pumpkins we carried overflowed with candy. We raced on to the next house our loot spilling over.
I will always remember that night, October 31, 1974. It was the night the Candy Man struck. It was the night that Halloween came to an end.
Halloween was over after that night. Not just for me. Not just for the kids in my neighborhood. It was the end for every kid in the entire city. The nation’s fourth largest city. News spread fast over the television and in the newspapers. Families huddled in living rooms as the horror unfolded. Like a hard kick to the stomach, we heard the news. Halloween was over. No more tricks. No more treats.
The following year on Halloween night the streets were empty. The night passed just as any other night. There were no pirates or devils or skeletons to be seen. Batman and Speed Racer costumes hung on the shelves in the local stores, unwanted. A generation of naïve children were to discover the evil truths that lurked in this big, mysterious world. Our wide-eyed innocence was lost that night. Taken away from us by the Candy Man. Evil in its truest form found us that night as a darkness of fog encased the city and its youth.
We were scared. Our parents were scared. The unimaginable became imaginable. We were living in a nightmare.
Hard to believe it was 37 years ago tonight. A night when an eight-year old boy living in the Houston suburb of Deer Park was murdered. Timothy O’Bryan died that night after eating trick-or-treat candy laced with cyanide. The Pixy Stix was given to him by his father. It was the only piece of candy his father allowed him to eat that night before heading off to bed. Only Timothy didn’t head to his bedroom and dream of ghost and goblins. He stated the candy tasted bitter. Within minutes, he was vomiting and lost consciousness. He was rushed to the hospital. It was too late.
The young boys death sent shock waves of fear throughout our streets and neighborhoods. I remember my parents receiving calls from relatives and friends. They wanted to make sure the boy who died was not me. They knew the last name was spelled different, yet still sought reassurance.
A few days later police arrested Ronald Clark O’Bryan, 30, the boy’s father.
For a $30,000 life insurance policy, a father murdered his son.
Detectives learned that O’Bryan was deep in debt. It was reported he was eight months behind on his car payments and was almost $100,00 in debt. He had boasted to co-workers that his financial troubles would soon be over. O’Bryan had given several other children, including his five-year-old daughter, the poisoned candy. No one noticed the staples he had used to refasten the candy. It was reported that an 11-year-old boy who also had one of the poisoned Pixy Stix was found asleep in his bed later that night, holding the plastic tube of poisoned candy in his arms. He was unable to remove the staples O’Bryan had used when resealing the candy.
A few days after the funeral service for Timothy, detectives were tipped off by an insurance agent who told police that the father, unknown to his wife, had taken out life insurance policies on his two children only weeks before Halloween.
The jury took one hour to convict O’Bryan and hand down the sentence of death. On March 31, 1984 Texas Department of Corrections Death Row inmate No. 529, nicknamed by prisoners as “The Candy Man” was executed by lethal injection.
Halloween is back now. Enough years have passed since that horrific and senseless tragedy. The man who killed Halloween in now dead himself. Tonight, our streets will once again fill with cute, little ghosts and goblins, star wars characters, zombies, vampires, and various other scary creatures. The screams of “Trick or Treat” will fill the air along with the sounds of children laughing and playing. Tonight, the children will still possess their wide-eyed innocence and joyful bliss as they scurry from house to house. I’ll take my kids out tonight as well, and we will stand at the door passing out treats.
Halloween may live on tonight, but for me, I will never forget the night the boy with the same name died. Halloween has never been the same for me. I have never enjoyed this night. Not since 1974. I’ll be happy when my children outgrow the door-to-door custom. I’m glad parents are more aware of their children’s safety now. We have strict rules in our house of what candy you may open. If the wrapper even looks slightly opened I throw it in the trash. Every year we play out this ritual and every year I think back to 1974.
Happy Halloween to all the little ghosts and goblins tonight. May your parents keep you safe. And may you long keep the joy of innocence in your hearts.