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Adulterated Halloween Candy:

"Razor Blades in the Apples" Hoax

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Every year, in early November, the stories hit the media: Some evil people have put razor blades, drugs, poisons, needles etc. in Halloween treats in order to kill or injure children.

This is one of the most tenacious of urban folk tales. Stories regularly appear in the media across North America, at that time, describing adulterated candies and apples. They are almost or completely untrue. An article appeared, we believe, in Scientific America some years ago on this topic. The authors traced back stories of poisoned food at Halloween and found that each case was without foundation. In 1997, Joel Best, a sociologist from a Southern Illinois University reported the results of a literature search of the razor blade hoax. The study went back 4 decades. He found about eighty cases of sharp objects in food; virtually all were hoaxes. The National Confectioners Association has run a Halloween Hot Line for over a decade. They have yet to verify an instance of tampering. Spokesman Bill Sheehan said: "These myths become truisms."

This essay has been read by tens of thousands of visitors. Three have reported adulterated candy. One described a pin in a candy bar, about 20 years ago. The other lived in Saskatoon, SK, also about 20 years ago. He and his brothers were given several apples from a few houses in the neighborhood. He found a sewing needle imbedded in one. The police investigated, but no charges were laid because the persons responsible could not be identified.

There have been some real injuries, poisonings and deaths that have been thought (for a while) to be associated with adulterated candy: 5

bullet1964: A woman from Greenlawn NY handed out dog biscuits, steel wool pads and ant poison (clearly marked poison with a skull and cross bones) to some older teenagers. She was angry that so many of the trick or treaters were too old to beg for candy. But she told the teens that the packages were a joke. Apparently, nobody was harmed.
bullet1970: A 5 year old boy died of a heroin overdose. His Halloween candy had been sprinkled with the drug. The police determined that the boy had consumed some of his uncle's heroin and had died from an overdose. His parents later adulterated the boy's candy in order to deflect police attention away from the uncle.
bullet1974: An 8 year old boy died from a cyanide-laced candy which he picked up at Halloween. His father had intentionally spread cyanide on the candy in order to kill his son. He wanted to collect the insurance. He was charged, tried, convicted and executed.
bullet1982: 15 kids and one adult became ill at a school Halloween party. It might have been caused by the candy and cakes that they ate. But newspaper reports of the lab tests on the food are contradictory. This might have been a copy-cat crime, inspired by the Tylenol ® random homicides in that same year.
bulletVarious times: There have been numerous examples of people who died or become very ill after eating Halloween candy. Typically, this is blown up out of proportion by the media. Later, when the results of the medical tests come back, evidence shows that the illness or death was unrelated to the candy.

Often, the rumors are based on hoaxes created by children themselves.

A sad byproduct of these urban folk tales is that parents develop anxiety over a threat to their children that does not exist, or which exists at a very low level. Many children pick up the fears of their parents. Both end up believing that they live in a society that is far more violent than it really is. A second concern is that concentrating on the possibility of adulterated candy might deflect attention away from real threats, such as assault and car accidents.

A companion folk tale is that Satanists collect black cats for sacrifice at this time of year. Many humane societies and other animal shelters refuse to allow black cats to be adopted in October to prevent any from being ritually killed. Occasionally, some teen-age Satanic dabblers have been known to sacrifice a small animal. However, this is an extremely rare event. Adult religious Satanists do not sacrifice animals or humans

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References:

  1. "Poisoned candy may only be legend," UPI story, 1997-NOV-4. Available at: http://www.sdsu.edu/daztec/archive/1997/11/04/file006.html  
  2. P.Smith, Ed., "Perspectives on Contemporary Legend", Sheffield Academic Press, (1984), Pages 128 to140.
  3. J. Best, & G.T. Horiuchi, "The razor blade in the apple: The social construction of urban legends," Social Problems, 32, Pages 488 to 499, (1985).
  4. "Pins and Needles," at: http://www.snopes2.com/horrors/
  5. "Halloween Poisonings," http://www.snopes2.com/horrors/ 
  6. Article, The Washington Post, 1993-OCT-31.
  7. Jan H. Brunvand has written a number of fascinating books about urban legends:
    bullet"Curses! Broiled Again!: The Hottest Urban Legends Going," W.W. Norton, (1990). Read a review and/or order this book from Amazon.com
    bullet"The Choking Doberman and other 'New' Urban Legends", W.W. Norton, (1986). Review and/or order
    bullet"The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends", W.W. Norton, (1994). Review and/or order
    bullet"The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and their Meanings", W.W. Norton, (1989). Review and/or order

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Copyright © 1998 to 2000 incl., 2002 & 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2003-NOV-2
Author: B.A. Robinson

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