If you grew up during the 70’s and 80’s, it may be easy for you to remember the panic about adults giving children candy that was somehow sabotaged (razor blades, etc). In fact, it got to the point where many kids only went to more highly controlled Halloween gatherings at churches and between friends/relatives because paranoia had reached such a fever pitch. But was all the fear and suspicion warranted, or was it more urban myth than reality?
Unfortunately, on the Halloween of 1974, the unthinkable truly did happen when 8-year-old Timothy O’Bryan died after ingesting poisoned Pixy Stix. Worst of all, it occurred in the small town of Deer Park, Texas, not some large metropolis where crime is somewhat expected.
It turned out that the fruity sugar filled Pixys were somehow laced with cyanide. Additionally, when authorities collected the candy from the other O’Bryan children, it was discovered that all of their Pixy Stix had been poisoned as well – they just hadn’t consumed them yet! When the police examined the remaining straws, they discovered that the tops had been carefully opened and some of the candy contents poured out. Then, the top two inches were refilled with potassium cyanide powder.
Upon autopsy, it was discovered that little Timothy had ingested enough cyanide to kill two grown men. And, his siblings Pixy Stix contained enough of the powder to kill “three to four” men.
In the meantime, law enforcement scrambled to figure out who could’ve done such a horrible, unprovoked thing. Parents from all across the region brought their children’s Halloween hauls in to be tested for contaminants. All of the O’Bryan’s neighbors were questioned over and over again about the type of candy they gave out; however, none of them stated that they’d bought or handed out Pixy Stix. None of the kids that received candy in the area said they’d received any either. To make things even more confusing, the O’Bryan children only Trick or Treated down two streets in their neighborhood, making the potential suspect list quite small.
That’s when the police began to think the unimaginable: that someone in the O’Bryan household may have been the culprit.
It didn’t take much digging to discover that Ronald Clark O’Bryan, the family patriarch, was deeply in debt – nearly $100,000 in debt (equivalent to $520,000 in today’s dollars). And, he’d taken out lucrative life insurance policies on all of his children! The policies were taken out just months before and totaled more than $60,000. O’Bryan also attempted to buy cyanide and was overheard talking about it several times prior to the event.
In 1975, he stood trial for the murder of his son, and the attempted murder of four others (he prepared five Pixy Stix total and handed them out in an effort to obfuscate his guilt). The jury took less than an hour to convict him and sentence him to death. O’Bryan was executed on March 31st, 1984 by lethal injection.
A large crowd gathered outside the prison, shouting “Trick or Treat!” and showering anti-death-penalty protestors with candy.
Martha Moxley, a beautiful blonde teenager from Belle Haven, Connecticut, was last seen on All Hallowed Saints’ Eve at a neighbor’s house in 1975. She was just 15-years-old. Sometime between 9:00 and 11:00pm that evening, she left the neighbor boys’ house to go home (which was only 150 yards away).
But Martha never made it.
Her body was found beneath a tree in her back yard with her jeans and underwear pulled down. She’d been beaten so brutally with a golfclub (a 6-iron) that the shaft had shattered. Then a piece of that club was used to skewer Martha through the neck.
Local police grilled everyone in the surrounding areas, including transients off of the nearby highway. But no one was admitting anything, and the gated community of Belle Haven wasn’t exactly known for crime. In fact, the 6-iron used as a murder weapon was from an part a very expensive Toney Penna set… which just happened to belong to the neighbor boys’ recently deceased mother.
Indeed, Tommy (17-years-old) and Michael (15-years-old) Skakel were the last people to see Martha Moxley alive. And, Martha had written in her diary that Tommy had “tried to get to 2nd base” with her in the past. So, obviously, the police had some solid suspects in the case. There was just one problem.
They were related to the Kennedys.
This would mean that the case would languish on a shelf for decades, despite the fact that Tommy was the last person seen (by others) with Martha and Michael admitted to “jerking off” beneath the same tree where Martha was found! Finally, after several books had been written, a grand jury was convened in 1998 to re-examine the evidence. At last, in 2000, the younger Skakel brother (Michael) was indicted.
In 2002, Skakel stood trial, was convicted, and sentenced to 20-years-to-life in prison. Though the verdict was overturned and the case was essentially re-heard, Skakel eventually ended up behind bars.
This time, he’s staying there.