The Candyman Who Killed Halloween: The Story of Timothy O’Bryan

The Candyman Who Killed Halloween: The Story of Timothy O’Bryan

Setting the Scene (1974)

➢It was in the middle of a recession (1)

➢It had been just months since President Nixon had signed the Emergency Highway Conservation Act which required states to cap the speed limit on highways at 55mph

➢Ford had just taken over the presidency in August

➢The “Equal Credit Opportunity Act” had just gone into effect (2)

➢Median household income was $11,100 ($6,622.49 today)

➢Americans paid an average of $4441 for a new car, $1.39 for a gallon of milk, $0.99 for a pound of bacon, and $0.58 for a dozen eggs

➢People magazine started up

➢Happy Days was the hot new sitcom

➢The Miami Dolphins won the superbowl

➢The Oakland Athletics won the World Series

➢The Philadelphia flyers took home the Stanley cup

➢Mickey Mantle and Whitney Ford of the MLB were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

➢That summer NFL players went on strike for 41 days over player salaries and the “Rozelle Rule” (1)

➢The World Trade Center opened for business


➢It was about 75 degrees in Deer Park, TX with a little bit of a drizzle – not too bad for trick or treating

➢The most popular costume in 1974 was Daisy Buchanan from the Great Gatsby (Mia Farrow)

➢Ronald Clark O’Bryan and Jim Bates (neighbors) took their kids trick-or-treating

○2 kids each

➢Bates would wait on the sidewalk

➢O’Bryan was in charge of escorting the kids to the front doors


Poisoned Candy?

➢They only went through a few neighborhoods and it was pretty uneventful

➢At one house, the children went to the door but received no response. O’Bryan remained behind the group. After a minute or so, he caught up with them holding five giant Pixy Stix—a sweet and sour powdered candy that came in a straw-like tube—claiming that the neighbors were actually home and handing out expensive treats. When they arrived back at the Bates’ house, O’Bryan gave each of the four children one candy and then handed the last one to a random trick-or-treater who knocked on his door.

➢O’Bryan told his kids they could each have one candy before bed

➢Timothy decided on the Pixy Stix

○He complained it was bitter so his dad gave him Kool Aid to wash it down

➢Less than a minute later he heard Timothy crying that his stomach hurt

➢He said “He was in the bathroom convulsing, vomiting, and gasping, and then he suddenly went limp”

➢At this point he called 911

○Some sources say he told the 911 operator that Timothy had eaten poisoned candy

➢Timothy died on the way to the hospital

➢When his body was brought to the morgue the ME easily recognized the telltale smell of cyanide coming from the boy’s mouth – almonds – an autopsy later revealed he had consumed enough cyanide to kill 2-3 grown men

The Pixy Stix

➢It was pretty easy to figure out where the cyanide came from since it was the only candy Timothy had eaten

➢Police quickly confiscated the other 4 Pixy Stix and were able to get them before any of the other kids had eaten them

➢They found that the top 2 inches of each had been replaced with cyanide granules

➢O’Bryan and Bates retraced their steps to figure out where the Pixy Stix had come from

➢O’Bryan gave conflicting accounts as to which house had given them to him

➢He was looking pretty suspicious to police and they decided to take a deeper look into him


Ronald Clark O’Bryan

➢Was married to Daynene and they had 2 kids, Timothy (8) and Elizabeth (5)

➢Lived in Deer Park, TX

○A mid-class suburb of Houston

➢Worked as an optician

➢Served as a deacon at a baptist church

○Sang in the choir and oversaw the parochial bus program

➢Considered a model citizen

➢One pastor described him as “a good Christian man and an above-average father”



There’s Always More than Meets the Eye

➢The police kept digging and found some things that didn’t quite meet the narrative they were getting from everyone

➢He had difficulty holding down a job

○Employed by 21 companies over a 10 year period

○Fired from each for negligence or fraudulent behavior

➢Was about to be fired from his current job as they suspected him of stealing money

○Made $150/wk that barely covered food and rent


It’s Always About the Money

➢He was more than $100,000 in debt ($602,044.62 today)

➢He had defaulted on several bank loans

➢His car was on the verge of repossession

➢He had taken out multiple life insurance policies on his children

➢Police found a piece of machine adding tape where he had written down the amount of each of his bills and the total was almost exactly the amount he stood to collect from the insurance policies

➢It’s looking pretty bad for Ronald right about now, but it gets worse

Now to Prove It

➢As police dug deeper, they also learned that O’Bryan had inquired with several chemical companies on where to buy cyanide and jokingly asked how much it would take to kill a person

➢They also found a pocket knife with candy residue on it

➢Then he failed a polygraph

➢November 4th, 1974 he was arrested and charged with Timothy’s murder

A&E True Crime did an interview with Joni Johnston, a forensic psychologist and private investigator about this case. She said poisoners as a group typically lack empathy, evidenced by the premeditated nature in which they kill, and the cold, calculating strategy they often use. “[Poisoning] is also an instrument for someone who is kind of cunning and sneaky, not somebody who is going to be physically or verbally aggressive. They are also more likely to be polite behind the scenes and, as a result, they tend to fool people,”


Mugshot of Ronald Clark O'Bryan

Mugshot of Ronald Clark O’Bryan (Source:

What Now?

➢On June 3rd, 1975 he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death

○It took the jury less than an hour to deliberate

➢He appealed his case multiple times – twice to the supreme court

➢In one appeal, the ADA that worked the case, Clyde Dewitt, wrote “‘If these facts do not support the jury’s death sentence, there never will be facts that will”

➢All of his appeals were denied

➢He was executed by lethal injection on March 31, 1984 at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville

➢His last words were “What is about to transpire in a few moments is wrong… I would forgive all who have taken part in any way in my death”

➢He never confessed to his crimes


Halloween Will Never be The Same

David Skal, a cultural expert on Halloween said, “It’s thought that he was aware of the urban legends about Halloween poisoners, and cynically assumed that his use of cyanide-laced candy would deflect suspicion from him to some anonymous boogeyman.”

In a 2004 interview, former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Mike Hinton said, “[O’Bryan is] the man that ruined Halloween for the whole world.”

Skal says that despite O’Bryan’s horrific crime, Halloween shouldn’t be feared. “There is no general correlation in America between the holiday and increased crime. In particular, the widespread fear of poisoned or booby-trapped candy is an urban legend without a real basis.”


Sources: All Accessed October 2022.

The Haunting Legacy of Ronald Clark O’Bryan, the Man Who Killed Halloween

The Men Who Murdered Halloween

Was Anyone Ever Actually Hurt by Halloween Candy?

The Most Popular Halloween Costume the Year You Were Born

Year 1974 Fun Facts, Trivia, and History

Inflation Calculator

Weather History

Poisoned Halloween Candy: The Truth Behind the Legends

Timothy Marc O’Bryan

What was the Rozelle Rule?

Rozelle Rule Found In Antitrust Violation

Deer Park Spring Water



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