Another Halloween, Another Crop of Tampered-Treat Hoaxes

Halloween is over. Time for the annual Unraveling of the Tampered-Candy Pranks.


My daughter doesn't remember how this one ends.

It's the first week in November, and that means it's time for one of America's great unsung traditions: the annual unraveling of the Halloween hoaxes. Every year, a new crop of news and social-media reports appear claiming that pins, razor blades, and sometimes more outré objects were found hidden in children's Halloween candy. And every year, a second wave of stories amends the first.

Hebron, Ohio, got a jump on the rest of the country, thanks to the local tradition of trick-or-treating on "Beggars Night" one or two days before Halloween proper. After a Hebron man claimed to have received some pot-laced candy Thursday evening, police tested the treats, found no traces of drugs, and declared the story a hoax before Halloween had even begun.

On Saturday night, the rest of the country was able to join in. In Auburn, Massachusetts, for example, police warned their Facebook followers that a child had found this "suspicious item" in her candy:

Auburn Police Department

By the end of the evening, the story had fallen apart:

I wonder how many of those people who "shared this item" shared the update?

Meanwhile, a boy in Brainerd, Minnesota, claimed to have encountered this in his Halloween loot:

Oh, how cute. A witch's hat.
Brainerd Police

In the interval between Saturday night and Monday morning, that needle worried the authorities enough that there was talk of bringing the Food and Drug Administration into the investigation. But by the end of Monday, the cops had concluded that the kid made it up.

There was a report of an actual injury in Marion Center, Pennsylvania: A 16-year-old claimed she needed 23 stitches after biting some bubble gum with a razor hidden in it. That was a lie, too—she soon admitted the wound was self-inflicted.

My favorite candy hoax of 2015 so far comes from Blackwood, New Jersey, where a man named Robert Ledrew told first his Facebook friends and then the police that he'd found four sewing needles in his children's goodies. This time the hoaxer turned out to be the parent: Ledrew eventually confessed to the cops that he had inserted the objects himself, claiming he'd been trying to teach his kids a safety lesson. He certainly taught them some sort of lesson: He's being charged with filing a false police report.

The Metal Object of Lorain

Were there any genuine cases this year of tricks disguised as treats? We don't know. If you Google "tampered candy," you'll find several stories that have not been exposed as frauds, or at least haven't been exposed as of the moment I'm writing. A pill in a Snickers bar in Poughkeepsie, New York. A needle in a Milky Way in Chicopee, Massachusetts. A thumb tack in a Kit Kat bar up in Toronto. The Lorain, Ohio, Chronicle-Telegram reports that a local teen allegedly found a "metal object" in "the first piece of candy from her bag that she opened" (imagine that!), then "contacted police because she was worried someone else might have had their candy tampered with." (There were no similar reports in the town.) The most intriguing story, since it features two separate kids who reportedly did not know each other, involves a pair of toilet tank cleaning disks that got mixed in with a couple of children's trick-or-treat loot in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

If the patterns of the past continue, some of those will eventually be proven fakes and some will remain unsolved. But you know what almost never happens? Hardly anyone ever actually gets nabbed for giving tampered candy to trick-or-treaters.

Snopes' page on Halloween sadism cites just one case of that happening, from 2000, when a Minneapolis man named James Joseph Smith was arrested for handing out needle candy. (The results: one minor injury and one felony charge.) I asked Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware who has been studying tampered-candy rumors for three decades, if he was aware of any other times someone decided to copy the legend and deliberately hand out harmful treats. "There was a case in New York in the '60s of a woman who was irritated that teens were still trick-or-treating," he replied. "She gave them ant pellets." And that's it. 

As for those ambigious cases, Best finds it telling that hardly anyone ever gets hurt by the hidden blades. (Few pranksters are willing to go as far as that teenager in Marion Center.) Best has found one case over the years of a woman who needed some stitches, and there have been a handful of lesser injuries. At this point he doesn't bother to keep track of minor injuries anymore, since "they are almost never mentioned." More often the candy booby-traps are discovered—or "discovered"—before anyone takes a bite.

And the bigger sorts of damage? "I have never found a death or serious injury caused by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating," Best says. Even if that isn't the impression you may have gathered from your Facebook feed.

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  1. I don't know. I'm still checking* random pieces of candy my daughter brought home. Just to be safe.

    * By checking, I mean eating myself. You know, like the people who used to taste food before the King ate it just to make sure it wasn't poisoned. That's totally why I'm doing it.

    1. "Oh, is that a Reese's peanut butter cup? I TOTALLY HEARD THAT THEY'RE PUTTING PINS IN REESE'S PEANUT BUTTER CUPS. I better take that. Here, have a Butterfinger."

  2. I can tell you one story for a fact.

    My 7 year old daughter somehow ended up with a pregnancy test in her trick or treat bucket.

    It wasn't used or anything, it was still sealed in it's package (the inner wrapper, not the box) so we are 99% certain it was an honest mistake, likely they bought their candy at the drug store and picked up a pregnancy test at the same time and somehow they got mixed in together and no one noticed.

    Unlike the fear corps however we were more amused by it than anything and so we didn't freak out and call the cops.

    1. This is brilliant. I am going to start doing this. Free pregnancy tests for all kids!

      My wife has told me I am not allowed to hand out homemade popcorn-and-marshmallow balls. I want to give them out just to see how my fear-obsessed neighbors react.

      1. We used to get popcorn balls and other baked goods every year when I was a kid, but the late 1980s/early 1990s are a distant memory now.

    2. When I was in the Marines, some joker threw a bunch of condoms into the Toys For Tots barrel they kept in the front of the barracks. Wasn't discovered until some of the dogooders were sorting the stuff out back at their warehouse.

      Of course they had the vapors and bitched. The CO was not impressed, but all of us non-rates thought it was pretty funny. Especially since the CO had basically told us that we had all better contribute so he looked good.

  3. We had maybe a 150 kids come by the house. We had to make two supply runs to the store for re-ups.

    1. I have a friend who bought a huge bag of candy expecting kids, but not a single one came by. Nothing on his street, and he doesn't know why. Well, until one determined little 5-year-old came by at 8:15 or so, so he gave him the whole 6 pound bag and turned off his light.

    2. You ran out of needles, poison, and razor blades.. twice?

    3. I had 1500. Local news focused on how my town needs to stop setting trick-or-treat on a different day than everybody else around.

  4. ...a pair of toilet tank cleaning disks that got mixed in with two children's trick-or-treat loot in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

    I applaud this person. More children should learn the value of a sanitary water closet.

    1. You gotta hook 'em while they're young..

  5. These cases are just people trying to get attention, make everything about them for a while. I hate assholes like that.

  6. Dear children,
    Trust no one!
    See something, say something!
    Absolutely everyone over the age of 17 is probably a kidnapping, child killing, pedophile!
    Your imminent death lurks around every corner, soo.. enjoy your childhood while you can, but don't grow up to fast.
    Love, the media..

    1. Dear "children"? Do you only read and watch news during the week of Halloween or something?

      The media is full of nothing but slippery slope arguments about every stupid little thing. "If a TS MtF is let into the girls bathroom, there will be nothing but a sea of rape! Every male will pretend to be a female just to watch them pee and then rape them!"

      "If Clinton/Romney/Bush/Rubio gets elected, the entire world will end! We will be licking lichen off of rocks to survive!"

      Ad nauseum.

      1. Every male will pretend to be a female just to watch them pee and then rape them!"

        "Because every man is a sadistic fuck who gets his rocks off watching women use the bathroom!"

      2. "If Clinton/Romney/Bush/Rubio gets elected, the entire world will end! We will be licking lichen off of rocks to survive!"

        Well, yeah, but that one's true. So.....

        *looks around nervously*

  7. Few pranksters are willing to go as far as that teenager in Marion Center.

    In my opinion cutters are too old to go trick-or-treating anyway.

  8. When the Brainerd thing was first reported I openly scoffed at it and predicted a hoax.

    Helicopter moms of my acquaintance all assured me it was not a hoax and it happens all the time. Now they are telling me that even though it wasn't true it provided a good lesson of why we should be vigilant.

    I need new acquaintances. Too bad my personality makes it so hard to make them.

    1. Now they are telling me that even though it wasn't true it provided a good lesson of why we should be vigilant.

      Ah, yes, just the way "Jackie" wasn't actually gang-raped by a UVa fraternity, but the publication of that story was a net good because it called attention to what *might* have happened (and, when you get down it, probably does at the typical white fraternity and elite university).

  9. No followup yet on a Kennett Square, PA case of sewing needles found in candy bars of two trick or treaters who didn't know each other. This might be hard to classify as a hoax

    1. Sewing needles in candy bars are a pretty common hoax, so in that case (unlike the toilet-disk story) the fact that the two kids may not know each other doesn't carry as much weight.

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