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Nov. 3, 2020

Ep. 8: The Real Candy Man

Ahh, the post-Halloween malaise, full of nauseating amounts of discount candy and grey November days. It’s the perfect time to uncover the truth behind the “Real Candy Man”, Ronald Clark O'Bryan, and the urban legend he inspired - that of the...


Ahh, the post-Halloween malaise, full of nauseating amounts of discount candy and grey November days.

It’s the perfect time to uncover the truth behind the “Real Candy Man”, Ronald Clark O'Bryan, and the urban legend he inspired - that of the boogieman trick-or-treat candy poisoner. 

Carrie walks us through this sad, bizarre case, and discovers that no child has ever been hurt or killed by tainted Halloween candy given out by a stranger…but sometimes the biggest monsters are the ones closest to home. The ones whose faces we know. The ones who tuck us in at night. 

…Happy Halloween!
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Transcript

I want to start off with a fact today that may surprise our listeners.

[Response]

Did you know there’s never been a murder or serious injury on Halloween committed by a stranger poisoning, putting razor blades in, or otherwise tampering with children’s Halloween candy?

It’s true, and honestly kind of shocking. Listen, people can really suck, and people’s capacity for evil is well documented. The fact that it’s never happened is honestly a miracle and pretty wondrous. In the Encyclopedia of Urban Legends, Jan Harold Brunvand wrote that folklorists, scholars, and law enforcement experts say the story of strangers poisoning Halloween candy and distributing these tainted sweets to trick-or-treaters has been “thoroughly debunked”. Chalk one up for the good of humanity, I guess. 

However, you’ll notice I’ve repeatedly said “stranger”, here. Because, much like with most murders, unfortunately, the perpetrator is usually someone who knows their victim. And a Halloween candy poisoning HAS happened...but much closer to home. 

We’re recording this episode on November 1st, and it’s been a helluva dreary day, grey and rainy. I hate this day of the year, the end of Halloween season for most. It’s depressing. But this story kept on coming to my mind as I considered the aftermath of Halloween, and it felt suiting. After all, the subject of this story has been alternately called the Real Candy Man, or, chillingly, The Man Who Killed Halloween. However, this Candy Man was not Tony Todd’s bee-spewing boogieman, but someone much more real - committing real evil. 

So let’s begin this sad, sordid tale of tainted treats. 

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It’s October 31st, 1974. Timothy O’Bryan was 8 years old, and excited about that night’s trick or treating. I mean, who wouldn’t be, at 8? I remember it feeling so magical. I feel like very few highs can match the feeling of being a little kid, running around in the dark with friends getting candy wherever you go.

Timothy, feeling awesome in his Planet of the Apes costume, was with his 5 year old sister, Elizabeth, his dad, 30 year old Ronald Clark O’Bryan, and neighbor Jim Bates along with Jim’s son. The two adults watched over the kids as they giddily ran from house to house in their suburban Texas neighborhood. Now, if you remember from your trick or treating days, Sean, houses with their lights off were the buzzkills - they either weren’t home, weren’t able to come to the door, or, I don’t know, didn’t give a shit about the joy of young children. So, when Timothy and co pulled up to a house with their lights off, there was some expectation that the homeowner wouldn’t answer. The kids, swept up in Halloween magic, banged on the door anyway, just in case.

No answer. Oh well - time to move on, there’s more candy left to get!

The kids ran ahead to the next house, with Jim following. Ronald O’Bryan caught up to the group a few minutes later with some great news - the homeowner, apparently operating pretty slowly, had answered the door after the kids ran off, and had given Ronald a handful of 21-inch Pixy Stix to give to the impatient trick or treaters. Timothy, Elizabeth, and their neighbor friend each took one, as well as Jim for his other child at home, and another on their way home to a 10 year old boy Ronald recognized from their church. Each O’Bryan child was allowed one treat from their haul before bed, and Timothy, naturally attracted by the King-Size quality of the Pixy Stick, chose that as his pick. He had a little trouble getting the enticing sour sugar out of the stick, and Ronald helped him dislodge it. Timothy was disappointed though - it tasted bitter, and was pretty much a letdown. He swigged some Kool Aid to wash away the taste, and went to bed.

Timothy was dead less than an hour later.

Yeah, sorry. Child death is awful, and this is a really tragic case with real pain attached to it. For all the fun of ooky-spooky murdery legends, it’s heartbreaking to see them in the real world. But yes. Timothy, unfortunately, passed away.

Very soon after consuming the Pixy Stick and Kool Aid, Timothy started to complain about stomach pain and began to vomit and convulse. He went limp in Ronald’s arms, and by the time he got to the hospital, he was already gone. 

The family was shaken, horrified, and overwhelmed by grief. Former Harris County Prosecutor Mike Hinton, however, was pulled into an investigation of Timothy’s death almost immediately. In an excellent VICE article on the case by Michael Segalov, Hinton said he called the chief medical examiner, who asked what the boy’s breath smelled like. This wasn’t some weird fetish - the suspicion bore fruit. The morgue reported that the smell of almond’s was coming from Timothy’s mouth, which pointed pretty surely to one thing: Cyanide. The autopsy and later tests confirmed this, with two inches at the top of each Pixy Stick containing cyanide. Timothy had consumed enough to kill two adults. For a great interview on the case with Mike Hinton and documentary overall, check out the film Killer Legends, now on Amazon Prime.

Thankfully, the rest of the children immediately had their candy confiscated for evidence, and none of them had consumed any of the Pixy Stix or much else of their Halloween haul, either. However, several came REALLY close. One of the children was literally found in bed holding one of the Pixy Stix, having wanted to eat it, but he wasn’t strong enough to open it - unlike a typical Pixy Stick, the poisoned ones had been stapled tightly shut. One was cutting open one of the Stix when his father told him it was time for bed. And yet another, Marc Bates, got his snatched away before he could eat it because he’d been swinging it around and spilled some of the powder, pissing off his mom. Even the ambulance driver that answered Ronald’s 911 call almost succumbed, because he’d been close to giving Timothy mouth to mouth resuscitation, and was later told that if he had, Timothy’s mouth by itself had enough cyanide in it to have killed anyone giving CPR.

So, understandably, as soon as word spread - and in suburbs, it always does, and quickly - the community freaked the hell out. Many parents in the O’Bryans home town of Deer Park brought their children’s Halloween candy in, fearing they could be containing poisoned treats. However, no other trick or treat hauls contained poisoned candy, or anything that had been tampered with - poison was only found in the 5 original Pixy Stix. Between this fact and the autopsy results, police turned their attention to one man: Ronald Clark O’Bryan, Timothy’s grieving father.

By all accounts, Ronald was a complete wreck after the death. The day after Timothy passed, Ronald sang a solo at his church services, part of the hymn “Blessed Assurance”. Parishioners wept as he changed the chorus from “This is my story, this is my song” to “This is Tim’s story, this is Tim’s song.” 

The police, however, were suspicious. They found it odd that only these 5 tainted Pixy Stix were found, if the mysterious homeowner had been giving out candy all night. Why just give out only 5, and all in one go? And, the most suspicious part - Ronald O’Bryan was the only person to receive those Stix, and see the homeowner himself. So, they asked Ronald, hey, where was this house?

He was stumped. He just couldn’t remember where it was, and it seems Jim Bates and the other kids couldn’t either. He pinned it to either Citation or Donerail drive in the Bowling Green subdivision, but couldn’t narrow it down from there. When the police asked, well, what did this homeowner look like, then? Ronald answered that he’d never seen the face of the person, a “hairy” arm just emerged from the dark doorway and deposited the Stix. The police pressed O’Bryan even harder, and that apparently jogged his memory. After a few days, he was able to point out a house at 4112 Donerail. Case closed! Officers went to the homeowners place of work, a nearby airport, and arrested him. Bing bang boom!

Well, not quite. The homeowner turned out to be working that night, and apparently had 200 plus people able to vouch for his alibi. His wife and daughter were home that evening, but turned off the lights pretty early as they ran out of candy. Considering neither of their arms were particularly hairy, police were looking wayyyyy sideways at Ronald’s explanation. And, clearly, he wasn’t helping.

Apparently trying to jump-start a gospel career, Ronald had written a song about Jesus and Timothy joining him in heaven, a performance of which was broadcast on television the evening of Timothy’s funeral. Ronald got considerably pissy with his grieving family when they didn’t want to stay up late to watch the performance on TV. Just a really weird thing to be concerned with the night of your kid’s funeral. Messed up priorities.

Speaking of priorities. Shortly after Ronald accused an innocent man, detectives discovered that Ronald had taken out life insurance policies on both of his children that very year, an initial $10,000 per child in January with a further $20,000 each month up through Halloween. Oh, and his wife didn’t know about this, and apparently broke down sobbing when she found out. Oh, and Ronald owed upwards of $100,000 in debts, more than half a million today, and called insurers at 9am on November 1st - that is mere HOURS after Timothy’s death - to inquire about the payout on his kid’s life.

Soooo, like, yikes.


Now armed with a warrant, police found a pair of scissors in the O’Bryan house with plastic residue, similar to that found on the cyanide Stix. This was enough to arrest O’Bryan. More and more piled up. Ronald was close to being fired from his optician job for suspected stealing, and had trouble keeping a job in addition to all his debts. A worker at a chemical supply company in Houston told police a man came in to buy cyanide but left once told he could only buy 5lbs or more. The worker couldn’t remember much on what the guy looked like, but did say he wore a smock like a doctor’s. Or, in this case, like an optician. O’Bryan was apparently also taking community college classes, in which he’d reportedly ask subtle questions like “What is more lethal: cyanide or another type of poison?”

But there wasn’t anything truly conclusive cementing O’Bryan as the murderer, and Ronald certainly wasn’t copping to it. He entered a plea of not guilty, and the trial went forward.

There’s not a ton of drama at the trial. Ronald Clark O’Bryan insisted that a mysterious boogieman bequeathed him the tainted candy, literally everyone in Ronald’s life testified against him (including friends stating that Ronald had bragged that he was going to come into enough money by the year’s end to buy a new house)w3r5rrr, and the jury took only 45 minutes to come back with a verdict of guilty...and the death penalty. 

The Candy Man, as the press was calling him, would die for the unspeakable crime of murdering his own son for greed. Also, he was single now, since his wife promptly filed for divorce, so...ladies!!!

O’Bryan did not have a great time in prison, as child killers are generally shunned and hated by other inmates. His attorney got him a stay of execution, twice, and ended up with the incredibly poetic third execution date of October 31, 1982. But before O’Bryan could pay the price on the anniversary of his crime, the Supreme Court gave him one more chance to pursue an appeal. The last execution date was scheduled - March 31, 1984. No more stays, no more excuses. And Ronald Clark O’Bryan was killed by lethal injection just after midnight that day, surprisingly being the first person in Texas to be put to death since 1964. During the execution, a crowd of 300 demonstrators gathered outside the prison, some cheering, some protesting the death penalty, and some yelling “Trick or treat!” and pelting the protestors with candy. 

It seems clear that this story contributed to the urban legend of the boogieman poisoner of Halloween candy our parents always warned us about. The 1982 Tylenol Murders - a whole nother episode, to be sure, but another case of cyanide poisoning and subsequent hysteria - also contributed to the fear, with x-raying of candy taking a sharp rise in the 80s after the deaths. But no actual deaths have ever resulted from a stranger poisoning Halloween candy. A cranky housewife named Helen Pfiel was arrested in Long Island in 1964 for handing out dog treats and (clearly marked) ant poison tabs to kids she felt were too old to be trick or treating. She sounds like the fucking worst. There have been other stories of children dying after consuming their Halloween candy, but all have been traced back to other reasons aside from poison, like medical issues both known and undiagnosed. A boy died in 1970 with heroin sprinkled candy suspected to be the culprit, but it turned out the child tragically got into his uncle’s heroin stash and the family attempted to cover up the manslaughter by dosing the candy after the fact. Conclusively, no child has ever been found to have been killed by eating Halloween candy from a stranger. But, sometimes, the worst monsters are the ones right at home, with faces you know, that tuck you into bed at night.

So that’s the story of the so-called “Man who Killed Halloween”. But, as we well know, even on this dreary November 1st - Halloween can’t die as long as you keep it in your heart.

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On this latest installment of Lizard People, Big World, we investigate a truly bizarre conspiracy that - maybe? - came to a close this month.

There have apparently been pervasive rumors on the more QAnon-y sides of the internet that on October 17th, 2020 - our wedding day, Sean! - JFK Jr., at a Dallas political rally, would be both announced as still alive, and as Donald Trump’s new reelection running mate, replacing incumbent VP Mike Pence. 

You see, QAnon has been strangely obsessed with John F Kennedy Jr for years now. Why? I have no idea. Their leanings trend farrrrrr right, and JFK Jr was a well known staunch Democrat, like his father. He even gave the keynote address at the 1998 Democratic Convention shortly before dying in a tragic plane accident in 1999. According to many Anon-ers, JFK Jr faked his death (why? Who knows) and has been hiding out for two decades in...Pennsylvania? Yes, apparently JFK Jr has been planning to emerge to support Trump, and many followers even believe a Pittsburgh man by the name of Vincent Fusca is really Kennedy in disguise. Fusca has even leaned into this, despite looking nothing like any member of the Kennedy family, by posting cryptically on social media as if he was hinting that the rumors were true. JFK Jr was supposed to make his big return last 4th of July, but that clearly didn’t pan out, so like the best apocalypse predictions or most of the things on my to do list, it was postponed. To a few weeks before the election. I mean, nevermind the fact that he would be coming back from the supposed dead, could he even legally replace Mike Pence so close to the big day barring death or similar circumstances?

So, for those who want knowledge of the absolutely insufferable and damaging in their head, Q is apparently the “head” of QAnon, and is an anonymous internet poster high in the ranks of the government with a bunch of classified info that is being spilled to the public, little by little. Pizzagate was a big QAnon thing. There’s been a theory that Kennedy is alive and running Q since June 2018. Another anonymous poster, “R,” showed up on the QAnon forums and started dropping hints that JFK Jr. had faked his death to, according to Rolling stone, “avoid being targeted by members of the deep-state conspiracy and was actually Q.”

Liz Crokin, a right-wing conspiracy theorist, later in 2018 referred to JFK Jr.’s role as Q during an interview with vlogger Jenny Moonstone, citing Q’s posts about former President John F. Kennedy as evidence that JFK Jr. was running the account. Crokin said: “If JFK Jr. faked his death and was alive, it would make sense that he was Q.”

I mean, sure, IF HE FAKED HIS DEATH AND WAS ALIVE. But, getting past that, yeah sure.

There are a couple pictures of Kennedy and Trump together, which is pretty understandable - they both ran in similar bougie crowds in late 90s New York City. There’s also a completely fabricated quote supporting Trump by JFK Jr that Q followers have posted and reposted on social media. 

Why was October 17th the new big reveal? I have no idea. There was no planned or actual rally in Dallas that day - and if so, wow, how fucked up would it be for Trump to ask Kennedy to reemerge in the city where his father was assassinated? But honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised. Well, the day came and went, the Trump campaign was far away in Wisconsin, we got married, JFK Jr was sadly, still dead, and the world kept on spinning along with QAnoners trying to spin this new disappointment into a new conspiracy.

At any rate, if you go to a Trump rally and see a bunch of people wearing giant JFK Jr wearing a MAGA hat poster heads and wonder, “What the hell does this mean?” Now you know.

After that, you will probably have to sit back and assess why you’re at the rally at the first place, but. Least you’ll know about the JFK Jr thing.

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That’s it for this episode of Ain’t It Scary with Sean and Carrie! Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @aintitscary, and check out our website at aintitscary.com. And please, subscribe to the show and throw us a 5-star review on iTunes...we’ll be forever grateful.

See you next Tuesday! 

 

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