Cautionary Tales – The Halloween Poisoner

28th October, 2022

Candy laced with cyanide and needles in marshmallows, we’ve long been warned to be suspicious of the sweet treats handed out by strangers at Halloween. But it seems that most stories of “Halloween sadism” are just that, stories. No child seems to have been killed by adulterated Halloween candy… well… there is one terrible exception. The poisoned Pixy Stix of Pasadena, TX.

Cautionary Tales is written by me, Tim Harford, with Andrew Wright. It is produced by Ryan Dilley, with support from Courtney Guarino and Emily Vaughn.

The sound design and original music is the work of Pascal Wyse. Julia Barton edited the scripts.

Thanks to the team at Pushkin Industries, including Mia Lobel, Jacob Weisberg, Heather Fain, Jon Schnaars, Carly Migliori, Eric Sandler, Emily Rostek, Royston Beserve, Maggie Taylor, Nicole Morano, Daniella Lakhan and Maya Koenig.

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Further reading and listening

Joel Best’s original research paper with Gerald Horiuchi is “The Razor Blade in the Apple” Social Problems Vol 32 No 5, June 1985; Professor Best’s updated data and discussion is at his website.

On William Shyne, check out Useless Information (and consider subscribing to the Useless Information podcast).

On the murder of Timothy O’Bryan, I relied on Michael Segalov “The True Story of the Notorious Trick-or-Treat Murderer” at Vice, David Skal’s book Halloween, Joel Best, Snopes, and contemporary press (UPI).

On understanding data and misinformation around child abduction see Michael Hobbes at the Huffington Post.

Other data on risks to children from the BBC’s More or Less program, the US Children’s Bureau, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the CDC.

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