The myth of “Halloween sadism”


Jacob Hamm

Every year, like clockwork, a story gets passed around from parent to parent, broadcasted on nightly news networks and told to children as a warning. The story is one of terror, of fear, of children in danger; it is the story of contaminated Halloween candy.

And it’s almost entirely fake.

For decades, news outlets have instructed parents to inspect every Snickers bar and Skittles pack given to their child on Halloween night for razor blades, drugs or poison. 

The tale is so prevalent that there have been multiple studies done to investigate the validity of these fears, including several published by Joel Best, a professor at the University of Deleware, shared in his book “Threatened Children” and on his own website.

As of his latest research reviewing instances from 1958 to 2012, Best found only five reported and validated deaths attributed to “Halloween sadism,” the term referring to giving contaminated candy to children to cause harm or death. Further investigation proved four of these deaths to be unrelated to Halloween candy at all, instead caused by previous health issues or drugs ingested separately. In the final case, a judge found the father of the child to be the one guilty of poisoning his own child’s candy.

So where did this idea of “Halloween sadism” come from? Well, as with any shocking news story, the initial false reporting of these incidents as cases of contaminated candy spread a lot farther and faster than the follow-up corrections. Parents, understandably concerned about the health of their children, continued to spread the rumor year after year until it developed into an urban legend. 

While it is highly unlikely that your child will receive contaminated candy, it’s still better to be cautious and throw out any candy that is with a torn wrapper or no wrapper at all. It is also important to make sure you and any young children are wearing masks when you will be within six feet of others, as well as to sanitize any candy you receive with disinfectant wipes. In addition, pay attention to the much more relevant warnings about keeping an eye on any young children in your family to make sure they stay safe going from house to house and crossing the street. 

Stay safe and Happy Halloween!