Laxatives and the end of Trick or Treating

October 30, 2009 at 7:09 am 13 comments

Halloween is here, and once again we mourn the death of Trick or Treating. It happened exactly fifty years ago, today.

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Halloween 1959. Dr. William V. Shyne, a dentist in Fremont, California, was having an off day. Maybe his wife just left him, maybe his pants were too tight, maybe he just didn’t like people. Or rather, maybe he just didn’t like kids.

Kids came around to his house that night, ringing the bell and calling Trick or Treat! Lots, maybe a couple hundred. In 1959, every kid in America under the age of 10 or so was out on Halloween night, making the rounds. They would go in gangs and groups, the older ones on their own, the littlest ones with older kids or their parents, ringing bells and gathering candy loot and howling and hooting.

Dr. Shyne answered the door. And he gave out treats, all right. But his treats turned out to be a mean and nasty trick. Police investigators discovered he had “dispensed” 450 candy-coated laxative pills into kids’ outstretched bags. Thirty of those kids became very, very sick.

Dr. Shyne was charged with “outrage of public decency” and “unlawful dispensing of drugs.” They should have charged him with murder. Because after that, Halloween was never the same.

Halloween 1960 began the era of “Halloween sadism.” Was it safe to Trick or Treat? What maniac might put a LSD tab, or a poisoned Tootsie Roll, or a razor-spiked apple, in little Suzy’s bag? Stories surfaced of pins, needles, razor blades, but they would fade away under closer examination. Nevertheless, Americans came to believe that kids weren’t safe at Halloween. Parents scrutinized their kiddies’ loot and confiscated anything “wierd.” No cookies, no apples, no unwrapped candies, that was obvious. Some towns set up X-ray stations at hospitals to “check the candy.” The festive and free romping of the streets for Trick or Treat faded into a circuit at the mall, a party at church, a supervised promenade to select neighbors homes.

But through all of that, even up to today, there has never been a single substantiated instance of an anonymous sadist causing death or life-threatening injury. Not one.

Dr. Shyne was the first, and only, of his kind.


PS. I hear, contrary to the boo-hoo-ers, that in fact in many neighborhoods trick or treat is alive and well, with the proper supervision and safeguards. Like the vampires and zombies of Halloween, Trick or Treat rises from the grave!

Entry filed under: Heroes and Personalities, Holidays, Medicine, WWII to 1960s. Tags: , , , , , .

Trick-or-Slap Creed for Candy

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kristin Ordahl  |  November 1, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Handing out laxatives to children in the guise of “candy” is downright scary and evil. But almost as scary,and definitely mind boggling to me right now, is the discovery of some of the ingredients in my daughters Halloween candy. I have made the mistake of reading the ingredients on the packages and almost every one she has showed me so far, partially hydrogenated oil has been a key ingredient. There is no question that this is bad for your health, it is the Trans fat of all Trans fat. Why would NYC restaurants be banned from using it, but we can feed it to our children in the form of cute and seductive candy!!!

    • 2. Bearfoot  |  February 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm

      It’s candy Kristin. of course it’s bad for your health.

  • 3. Ye Olde Poison Candy « CandyProfessor  |  January 5, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    […] Laxatives and the end of Trick or Treating […]

  • 4. Ye Olde Poison Candy « Candy Professor  |  April 28, 2010 at 6:48 am

    […] Laxatives and the end of Trick or Treating […]

  • 5. Halloween Round Up « Candy Professor  |  October 26, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    […] Laxatives and the end of Trick or Treating The first (and only) Halloween sadist, and the end of Halloween innocence […]

  • 6. Dan  |  October 27, 2010 at 10:23 am

    My wife has a great family story about this: in the late 70s or early 80s, having heard some of the rumors about spiked candy, one of her brothers reported to parents that he’d found a pin in a tootsie roll. Parents were outraged, called the cops, who confiscated the candy and who knows? Took it to the “crime lab”? Anyway, parents thought they had a good idea of what neighbor might have done it and looked askance at neighbor for years.
    Much later, in the 90s, all kids grown up and some married we were reminiscing, and the brother confessed to much astonishment that he’d planted the pin in the tootsie roll himself.

  • 7. Dwight  |  October 27, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    Going Trick or Treating is alive and well in Ithaca, NY. My downtown neighborhood is mobbed by local children plus parents from suburban and rural areas bringing their children to our dense urban neighborhood. A walking neighborhood is very productive.

    • 8. Candy Professor  |  October 27, 2010 at 11:34 pm

      Glad to hear it! My Brooklyn neighborhood is like that too, with the exception of door-bells. People sit on their stoops with bowls of candy.

  • 9. Art Simon  |  October 28, 2010 at 12:35 am

    Wow! Great story. It’s amazing what an effect that incident has had on American parenting.

  • 10. yamilyn  |  October 28, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    trick or treating is live and well in tucson. i live in a neighborhood on the edge where we have tons of kids from in the neighborhood and parents from areas much much further out bring theirs to trick or treat. we have about $200 worth of candy and we’ll be lucky if we don’t run out by 9 with the kiddies starting to come by around 5 in the afternoon.

    • 11. Candy Professor  |  October 28, 2010 at 8:16 pm

      Thanks for some very happy Halloween news!

  • 12. Lisame  |  October 29, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I really enjoy your site. However, I know that there was one ever recorded event of “spiking” candy and the child dying.

    Sad to say it was here in my own backyard. A Texas man put poison in his son’s pixie stick to collect insurance. True that he did not poison the trick or treaters but I always thought he was the one that ruined halloween.

    I have nothing nice to say about that person. Candy should be happy.

    • 13. Candy Professor  |  October 29, 2010 at 6:29 pm

      Yeah that was terrible. But it wasn’t a stranger at all; he blamed the “Halloween sadist,” the crazy handing out poison pixie stix, but actually he was using the “sadist” myth to cover his own crime.


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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

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Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

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