The Killing of Halloween
Oct 31, All Hallows Eve. What once served as a spooky New Years Eve tradition for the ancient Celts (which they called Samhain) was ultimately appropriated by Pope Gregory IV in 840 AD to serve as the daylong vigil preceding the Feast of All Saints. Even so, the Christians preserved the pagan festival's spooky trappings anyway. Cunning bastards.
Oct 31, 1926 - Houdini dies in room 401 of Grace Hospital in Detroit. The escape artist was killed by diffuse peritonitis, after having undergone an emergency appendectomy. Contrary to popular belief, the fatal appendicitis could not have been caused by a punch to the stomach.
Oct 31, 1993 - Actor River Phoenix dies of a drug overdose on the sidewalk in front of the Viper Room in West Hollywood. Rumor has it that the lovely and intelligent Christina Applegate "stood there and watched."
Oct 31, 1997 - A Halloween "Hell House" opens in Vacaville, California for the benefit of local youths. Tableaus inside the house include a gay man dead from AIDS, a teenaged "Grunge" suicide resplendent with empty beer bottles, and a bloody mock abortion. The exhibits are operated by the Bible thumpers at Harvest Church.
(thanks to rotten.com)
The Killing of Halloween
Happy Halloween America, and a very special Halloween greeting to Deer Park, Texas, where Donald O’Brien managed to kill Halloween … and his own son. O’Brien is the reason that kids now trick-or-treat in shopping malls, which really isn’t so much about Halloween as much as it’s just another excuse to shop.
When I was a kid, if someone had told me that I had to forego trick-or-treating in my neighborhood in favor of a trip to a shopping mall, I doubt that I would love Halloween as much as I do today. Some of my fondest memories are from Halloweens past, but there was always the fear that there was some weirdo waiting in the bushes to steal your candy, or a twisted creep would be handing out apples with razor blades or poison candy. The stories were pumped down our throats much in the same way that the media shoves it down now with stories of anthrax, terrorism and the avian flu virus. But, it never happened. We were always careful, of course, but it just never happened.
In any case, I wanted to publish the following article that was originally published yesterday in the New York Daily News.
Read on …
The Man Who Killed Halloween
BY DAVID J. KRAJICEK
Thirty-one years later, the crime still haunts Halloween.
Like millions of other American children, Timothy O'Bryan, 8, and little sister Elizabeth, 5, donned costumes and set out for trick-or-treating at dusk on Oct. 31, 1974.
The children and their parents, Ronald and Daynene O'Bryan, lived in the Houston suburb of Deer Park, but the family was spending Halloween night with friends in nearby Pasadena.
Ronald, a 30-year-old optician, volunteered to shepherd his giddy children and several friends on their candy-gathering rounds.
Later that night back at the house, the O'Bryans and their friends sat around the living room, talking and laughing. Ronald O'Bryan told his son he could eat one last piece of candy before bedtime.
The boy chose a Pixy Stix, a sweet, powdered candy in a straw-like plastic container. When Timothy complained that the candy tasted bitter, his father fetched him a glass of Kool-Aid to wash it down.
Minutes later, Timothy was doubled over with stinging pain in his gut. He threw up then passed out. His parents rushed him to a hospital as his heart raced and his body convulsed. But the boy was dead by the time he arrived.
Victim of a ghoul
The cause of death shook parents and law enforcers across the country: The Pixy Stix had been laced with toxic cyanide. Young O'Bryan had been poisoned by a depraved Halloween ghoul.
Four more of the tainted candies were found uneaten in the Halloween bags of the children who accompanied Timothy, including his sister. One boy had attempted to eat his poisoned Pixy Stix but was unable to remove the metal staple his would-be killer had used to crudely seal the plastic container after doctoring the contents.
Ronald O'Bryan recalled that the Pixy Stix had come from a darkened house. He said he knocked and someone inside opened the door a crack and handed him the five candy straws, which he gave to the children in his trick-or-treating troupe.
But O'Bryan was unable to point out the house for police, and the investigation was stymied early on.
Three days after the O'Bryans had buried their son, an insurance agent tipped police that Ronald O'Bryan had taken out twin $40,000 life insurance policies on his children not long before Halloween. The agent said O'Bryan was oddly secretive about the transaction, insisting that his wife be kept in the dark.
Detectives also learned that the O'Bryans were floundering financially. Their overwhelming debts - a hefty mortgage and installment payments for cars, furniture and appliances they bought but could not afford - had been Ronald O'Bryan's favorite water-cooler gripe with colleagues at Texas State Optical.
In the weeks before Halloween, O'Bryan had been predicting that his financial fortunes were about to change. Colleagues recalled the conversations - creepy in retrospect after Timothy's death - in interviews with investigators.
Police were dumbfounded. It seemed unfathomable that a father would sacrifice a child to catch up on debts.
Cops gave O'Bryan several more chances to find the house at which he was given the poisoned Pixy Stix. On his third try, as detectives drove him around, he finally identified the house. But the owners were investigated and quickly cleared.
Meanwhile, circumstantial evidence began to pile up against O'Bryan. A Texas State Optical customer, a chemist, recalled that O'Bryan had questioned him closely about potassium cyanide, commonly used then as a rat poison.
Where, O'Bryan had asked, can I buy it?
Detectives then searched the O'Bryan home and found incriminating physical evidence: The father's pocketknife blade bore minute specks of both plastic and Pixy Stix candy.
Ronald O'Bryan was arrested and charged with capital murder for poisoning his son.
He denied it, insisting that he was being railroaded by authorities desperate to solve a crime that threatened to ruin an American tradition.
But a parade of prosecution witnesses, including his wife, helped build a sturdy case against him.
For example, testimony showed that O'Bryan had encouraged Timothy to choose the Pixy Stix as his bedtime candy snack on Halloween night. When another boy at the house tried to eat his own Pixy Stix, O'Bryan dashed across the living room, vaulting a coffee table, to prevent him from doing so.
The Texas jury took just about an hour to convict O'Bryan and 90 minutes more to condemn him to death. He became known in the Houston press as "The Man Who Killed Halloween."
"We were all shocked that someone would kill their own son, their own flesh and blood, for a lousy ... $40,000 life insurance policy," Mike Hinton, the prosecutor in the case, told the Houston Chronicle.
O'Bryan spent more than nine years on Death Row in Huntsville, where fellow inmates gave him their own nickname: "Candy Man." He was known there as smart and well-read - but also as an icy control freak who, despite overwhelming evidence, steadfastly continued to deny any role in his son's murder.
His number finally was called on March 31, 1984.
O'Bryan was led to the death chamber after a final meal of T-bone steak and Boston cream pie.
His final statement did not mention Timothy by name.
O'Bryan said, "What is about to transpire in a few moments is wrong. However, we as human beings do make mistakes and errors. This execution is one of those wrongs yet doesn't mean our whole system of justice is wrong. Therefore, I would forgive all who have taken part in any way in my death. Also, to anyone I have offended in any way during my 39 years, I pray and ask your forgiveness, just as I forgive anyone who offended me in any way."
O'Bryan was then confined to a gurney and subjected to another form of mortal poisoning - a lethal injection of pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride and sodium thiopental.
Originally published on October 30, 2005