Welcome to Freaky Friday on Lawyers & Liquor, the place where the demons of the legal profession and culture come out to play, and we’re not talking about malpractice and booze here. I’m your macabre mediator, the BOOzy Barrister, here to talk about the weird, dark, supernatural, paranormal, or just downright creepy aspects of the law, thanks to our sponsor for this post Quack Quack Honk Designs! If you get a second between the ghoulish and grim delights in store today in the crypt of the drunken asshole, feel free to swing on by and take a look at their store, their rates, and the art shows they’ll be showing up at to pitch their devilishly delightful designs to the putrid populace, including their appearance this weekend, October 21, 2018, at Crafting With Grace in Ann Arbor, Michigan!
Now that we’re done with the selling of my soul to the not-so-demonic devil, it’s time to dim the lights and drag the legal Ouija board from the closet as we summon up the spirits of Supreme Court Justices long past to talk about this month’s super-special Halloween Haunt in the world of law. And, this month, given that it’s the month of all those creepy stories, myths, and tales, we’re going to turn to the legal case that underpins one of the most enduring myths of Halloween – and one that’s made the sphincters of parents tighten for decades now as their child gleefully digs into a bag of candy. This month we’re going to talk about the case of the Candyman.
But first, a standard disclaimer.I’M A LAWYER, NOT YOUR LAWYER.
Lawyers & Liquor may be written by an attorney, but that doesn’t mean you should treat the shit on here as legal advice because it isn’t. It’s written by a sentient whiskey glass, for fuck’s sake. You’re an idiot if you treat this as legal advice. The articles and posts on here are educational, informational, and hopefully entertaining discussions of legal history, basic legal concepts, and current events – with a good dash of generalities about the practice of law thrown in. Legal matters are very specific and the generalities change from place to place. If you’re looking for legal advice, you should contact and consult an attorney in your jurisdiction, not some guy with a website, seriously, how fucking inept are you? No attorney-client relationship is formed by, and no attorney-client privilege attaches to, anything on this goddamn site or that you send me. In short, I’m a lawyer but not your lawyer unless you’ve contacted me through my office, consulted with me, and paid me a retainer amount of my choosing after signing an engagement letter.
Don’t be a fucking moron, even though some of you little pricks – much like zombies – need some goddamn brains.
THE CASE OF THE CANDYMAN
The Candyman is an urban legend that they tell in the projects about the son of a slave who was lynched for having a baby with a white woman and…wait. That’s the plot of a horror movie from 1992 that I never watched because I was a big ol’ scaredy-baby according to my older brother who, I mean, he lives in my parents’ basement still and I’m a goddamn lawyer so who fucking won out in the end there, pal?
The actual “Candyman” refers to the case of a person who, in 1974, was arrested and then convicted and sentenced to death for poisoning Halloween candy. That’s right you little doubting Draculas, the urban legend that comes back every year in some new form – from poisoned candy to, for some reason, giving kids edible marijuana candy – has its modern roots in an actual fucking case that really happened At some point in time, some guy out there looked at a holiday where people send their kids out into the night, oftentimes alone in those far-off innocent days of the 1970’s, and decided that the 70’s could use a bigger asshole than Tricky Dick Nixon. That man was the progenitor of the mother that confiscated candy and replaced it with healthy treats.
And all he had to do to achieve this goal was, you know, murder kids with Pixy Stix.
In 1974 Ronald O’Bryan was the typical middle class parent. He was a respected deacon at the Second Baptist Church and well thought of in the small community of Deer Park, Texas, a mid-size town just outside of Houston. He was an optician with a decent income, a loving wife, and two kids: eight year old Timmy and six year old Elizabeth, that by all accounts he absolutely adored. Trusted and respected, it would have appeared that old Ronnie the Raging Asshole was actually a pretty decent guy, and one that you definitely would trust your kids with.
Which is why on October 31, 1974 he was the trusted to go out with the neighbor and two other kids to take the whole damn group trick or treating. A nice, fatherly good time right up until they came to that one house. You remember that house, the one that left the porch light on but refused to answer the door for trick-or-treaters and thus broadcasting the international signal for “Just fuck my shit up with eggs later after your parents go to bed” for children everywhere. What fucking dicks, right? By the way, I am totally that house on Halloween. In my opinion it’s best to get the kiddos used to disappointment from the get go.
So the group comes up to that house and they bang on the doors, I assume screaming properly Texan things at the inhabitants, until the kids, – those little rascals – take off in their boredom to the next house, trailed by the responsible adult. I’m not referring to Ron here, who of course stayed behind to bang on the neighbor’s door in impotent rage known only by people with oversized pickup trucks and large rifles, until they apparently opened the door and gave him five of those fucking giant 21 inch Pixy StiX in likely retribution. “Bang on my door, will you? Here’s some pure goddamn sugar for your kid to snort, asshole.” Anyhow, having received his spoils Ronnie caught up with the group, explaining the residents had eventually came to the door and handing out the Kiddie Kokaine to both his and his neighbor’s children, pocketing one later for…I don’t know, reasons?
The happy group completed their trick or treating, and went home, with Ron recognizing a child from the church he was a deacon at along the way and, in the manner of mild-mannered good “Neighborhood Dads” everywhere passed along the extra Pixy Stix to the kid with, I imagine, a playful hair ruffling and a booming “You little scamp!” Returning home, Little Timmy immediately asked to eat some of his haul and Ron, who unlike me didn’t take 10% of the candy in tribute to the awesomeness of parental guidance – and thus ensuring I will continue to house and feed my children for another year (they’re never too young to learn about taxes) consented to Little Timmy taking just a taste of the sweet stuff he’d walked all over for. So Timmy called over that one wild girl he knew from kindergarten and, I guess, did lines of Pixy Stix Powder off of the girl’s toes or something before bed before being given a nice, tasty cup of Kool Aid to take away that weird aftertaste.
Then Timmy began vomiting and convulsing, and, as he was being rushed to the hospital, dropped dead because mixed in with the sugary goodness of that treat was enough potassium cyanide to kill two full grown adults.
Yep. This is a story where someone gave out giant Pixy Stix which, police reports would later clarify, had been opened, had the first couple inches of sugar poured out, then refilled with potassium cyanide and stapled shut. Then this asshole handed out to kids dressed up as the scariest things of the 70’s. Which I suppose were Paul Lynde and Gerald Ford becoming President. And thus began one of the first major, and first true, panics of poisoned candy as the parents of the community immediately freaked the fuck out at the fact an eight year old had gone out into a night of scary fun, eaten a piece of candy, and fucking died.
And the O’Bryans, who had spent the evening being good parents, were consumed with their grief. Ronald sang beautifully and tearfully at the funeral of his dear boy, and attempted to assist the police as he described the night to them – and especially the home that had given out the poisonous Pixy Stix. He helpfully told the police the route, and even described the arm (all he had seen) of the person who gave him the candy, describing it as “hairy.” In a small miracle, and an impressive testament to the restraint of kids back then, the police were able to actually recover the other four adulterated treats without any children eating them, and were now narrowing in on the suspect.
…And got a bit of a shock.
A TWIST WORTHY OF A MOVIE…IF IT WASN’T SO GODDAMN SAD.
Ronald O’Bryan had shown the police the house. So the police went to it, and found the owner of the home, a man named Courtney Melvin, actually wasn’t home on Halloween night when the kids were wandering the neighborhood to engage in their eerie endeavours. Melvin, it would turn out, was an air traffic controller at the local airport, and could attest for his whereabouts in the tower making sure planes didn’t crash and increase the Halloween 1974 death toll significantly. In fact, almost 200 fucking witnesses attested to the fact Melvin was where he was supposed to be. And to make things even a little weirder a canvas of the entire goddamn neighborhood found that not a single house on that street had been giving out the sugary devils that are Pixy Stix that Halloween. Though you have to wonder if they thought anyone would honestly say “Oh, you mean the candy that killed the kid? Yeah, we were totally handing that shit out. By the way, would you like to see my extensive collection of human heads?”
Fear not, though, because the police turned to the next possible suspect.
An investigation a little deeper into the grieving father and shining beacon of the community showed that, much like those creatures in the movie They Live, placing a pair of magical sunglasses on produced a much more terrifying result than the surface showed. O’Bryan, it seems, had trouble keeping jobs, having been fired from more than 21 of them in the preceding ten years. He was massively in debt to the tune of $100,000.00 (Over $530,000.oo in 2018 money). The family home was under foreclosure, his car was being repossessed, and he was even about to lose his newest job. What Ronnie did have, though, was $60,000 (2018 $320,161.04) in life insurance policies on the lives of his children, Timmy and Elizabeth…and access to potassium cyanide – which he had tried to buy right before Halloween from a chemical supply store in Houston. The cops even found out that on November 1, 1974, having just had his son die in his arms, O’Bryan did what any grieving father would do – try to cash in the $30,000 his son’s live was insured for.
O’Bryan was quickly arrested on November 5, 1974.
While O’Bryan never confessed to the murder of his son by poisoned candy, he was convicted on June 3, 1975. In a move that would become strangely appropriate, his defense was based on the then-already urban legend of the poisoned trick-or-treat candy and a “mad posioner.” In short, according to O’Bryan, the fact that there was such an urban legend was proof enough that his story was plausible. On the other hand, there was the large number of people who testified to O’Bryan’s sudden interest in cyanide immediately before Halloween of 1974, and his discussion at his son’s funeral of how he planned to use the life insurance policy to fund new purchases. It took less than an hour for the jury to convict him of capital murder, and I expect it only took that long because there was a spirited debate during deliberations about the relative merits of candy corn.
And, you know, four counts of attempted murder. Because O’Bryan, remember, did not just murder his son with poisoned candy. He gave poisoned candy to four other children in hopes they would eat it and also die…including his six year old daughter…so he could collect more money in the case of the latter and divert suspiscion from him even further in relation to the former. Folks, if you want to go piss on this asshole’s grave I can’t endorse it, but I can tell you where he’s buried.
O’Bryan didn’t go quietly down that death row. He received death sentence and was sent to Huntsville Texas to await the boarding call for his direct flight to Hell, and from 1975 to 1984 discovered what Hell really was. As a child murderer, and a murderer of his own child, O’Bryan was completely shunned in prison. In fact, he was so hated that the inmates asked for permission to throw a goddamn party when he was executed. Because even people that have done horrible fucking things to other people know the face of true evil when they see it…and a man who was willing to murder his own children and those of others so he could go on expensive trips is the very fucking definition of evil.
O’Bryan was originally set to be executed on August 8, 1980. He received a stay, and then another stay, and in an absolute show of class and an appreciation for justice that I can only hope to reach one day, Judge McSpadden, after the second stay, set a new execution date. October 31, 1982. Exactly eight years after O’Bryan murdered his son. Proving, though, that the world has no sense of perfect justice, the execution was delayed yet again, though, and O’Bryan would not be executed until March 31, 1984 when a court reviewed his fourth stay for “cruel and unusual punishment” and decided that it certainly was not cruel nor unusual to inject a man who poisoned his son with candy and was willing to murder his daughter and three other kids with a drug cocktail to remove him from the face of the Earth forever. When he was executed, the 300 people gathered outside of the prison to await the news showered anti-death penalty protestors with candy. I assume, however, the inmates did not get their party.
I THOUGHT YOU WERE AGAINST THE DEATH PENALTY.
I am. But if we’re going to have it, I’m not going to get to upset a man who was willing to murder the children that loved and depended on him went down to that shit.
Halloween is a time for spooky stuff. It’s a time of good-natured scares and stories to make our spines shiver. It’s a time when children go out dressed as fantastic creatures and characters to revel in their childhood.
It’s also a time of anxiety and worry for parents. Will my kid be safe? Will someone take them? Will they be hit by a car? Will someone poison my child?
While the myth of poisoned candy had been around long before Ronald O’Bryan used Halloween for his own twisted means, nothing chilled the heart more than learning that there was mad a poisoner out there. Someone who would, for their own sick pleasure, willfully attempt to murder the children that celebrated one of the most magical nights of childhood. Someone whose own dark desires overcame all boundaries of society and decency. Someone who was willing to kill the most innocent to achieve their ends. Which is why this myth persists: because not only did that person exist, but for Timmy O’Bryan that person was the man he called “Daddy.”
It serves as a reminder that, in this season of fun frights, the scariest creature that exists is not some otherworldly horror…but the one that lives in our own neighborhood. And maybe, just maybe, in our own houses.
TALK TO THE QQH.
That’s it for this month’s Freaky Friday. Head on over to Quack Quack Honk Designs to check them out, since they’re sponsoring all of this. And until next month, go try to get some sleep.
Just don’t think about what may be in the room with you