Is Halloween Candy Tampering a Myth?

Is Halloween Candy Tampering a Myth?
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Is Halloween Candy Tampering a Myth?

All parents worry about the risk of candy tampering during Halloween, but how worried should they be? Discover the truth behind Halloween candy tampering stories, and find out if you or your kids should think twice about trick-or-treat loot.

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In literature, the practice of giving contaminated candy to children while trick-or-treating is termed Halloween sadism.

A 2011 SafeKids study on Halloween safety found 24 percent of parents with children ages 12 and under were concerned about poisoned treats; in comparison, only 15 percent were concerned about abduction.

There have been two well-known cases of harm occurring to children due to Halloween candy-tampering.

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In 1974, a father killed five children with tampered candy. This turned out to be an insurance scheme. The culprit was nicknamed "The Man Who Killed Halloween" and was executed for the crime.

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In Detroit, a five-year old boy named fell into a coma and days later died from heroin overdose. His Halloween candy tested positive for heroin. It was later discovered that the boy had found heroin stashed in a relative's home. To protect the relative, the boy's family sprinkled heroin on the Halloween candy to throw off the police.

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Several more cases of children passing away while trick-or-treating or eating Halloween candy immediately fueled speculation of poisoned candy, but later medical examinations revealed the causes of death to be natural causes.

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According to Time, one postal employee accidently passed out marijuana packaged like mini Snickers bars to kids in 2000. It turned out that a drug dealer had mailed the "candy", but the package ended up at the dead letter office where its claim period expired. The employee, who thought the candy was real, brought the sweets home to pass out on Halloween.

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Dr. Joel Best, a professor of sociology at the University of Delaware, has been studying press coverage of Halloween sadism for more than two decades. In 1985, he published an article in the Los Angeles Times that studied 78 reported incidents and two deaths linked to Halloween sadism in the press. The two cases resulting in death (O'Bryan and Totson) were revealed not to be random poisonings, and almost all of the 78 reported incidents turned out to be pranks.

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Best says that in his research, he has "been unable to find a substantiated report of a child being killed or seriously injured by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating." His analysis of the medical literature revealed that ingestion of foreign objects leading to injury that are attributed to Halloween sadism is extremely rare.

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Every year during Halloween, candy tampering becomes a topical issue. There are warnings of poison, drugs and sharp objects like razor blades and needles on or inside chocolate bars, candied apples and other treats, the ingestion of which could lead to bodily harm and even death. How concerned should parents be about candy tampering?

One of the earliest reported incidents of Halloween candy tampering occurred in 1964 when Helen Pfeil, a Long Island, NY housewife who was tired of older trick-or-treaters asking for free candy, handed out packages of inedible treats to teenagers that included dog biscuits, steel-wool pads and arsenic-laced ant-poison buttons as a joke. The packages were clearly marked "poison," and the woman informed recipients that it was a joke as a precaution. No one was harmed, but she was charged in the court of law for endangering children and received a suspended sentence.

What other acts of candy tampering have been reported? How concerned should parents be? Have there been any documented incidents of random poisonings or death by tampered candy?

Regardless of the infrequency of candy tampering, parents should still be cautious when allowing kids to take candy from strangers.

Check out the slideshow above to discover the truth about candy tampering on Halloween and whether you should think twice about your trick-or-treating loot.

We are showing you how to eat, drink and be scary this Halloween season.
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