Halloween is an exciting night for kids and kids at heart. You get to play dress up, beg for candy, and scare living crap out of people without getting into trouble. But between all of the costumes and candy, there are those who warn about crazy people looking to kill our children through tainted treats. While the odds of this actually happening is slim to none, there is one such story of tainted candy killing a young boy.
Halloween night in 1974, in Deer Park, Texas was already shaping up to be a bad night. It was rainy, and this had kept a lot of children at home. Ronald O’Bryan and his neighbor, Jim Bates were taking their children trick-or-treating. The group of children included O’Bryan’s eight-year-old son Timothy and five-year-old daughter Elizabeth. Also included was Bates’ young son.
As O’Bryan walked the children up to the door of the next house, Bates hung back at the side walk. The house they approached this time had all of its lights switched off, but the kids banged on the door anyway. The promise of candy was too enticing not to knock. After a couple of tries, and still no answer, the kids ran back to the side walk and down the street. Jim followed behind, by Ronald stayed behind.
A few moments later, Ronald caught back up with the group with good news. He reached out a handful of 21 inch Pixy Stix. He explained that it turned out somebody had been in the house all along. They hand the treats out shortly after the kids had ran off. Luckily, Ronald was there to get them. There was a Pixy Stix for each child in the group, another for Jim’s other child that wasn’t with them, and an extra one that Ronald gave to a ten-year-old that he recognized from church.
It wasn’t long before the rain got too much for the group, so they called it a night and headed home. Once home, Ronald told his kids that they could pick out one piece of candy to enjoy before heading off to bed. After a bit of encouragement from his father, Timothy chose the giant Pixy Stix. He couldn’t get the Pixy Stix open, so he asked his dad for help. Once it was opened, Timothy at the sugary powder but complained that it tasted bitter. His dad grabbed him some kool-aid to help wash it down before tucking him into bed.
Not long after, Timothy was in the bathroom violently throwing up before he started to convulse. His dad sat and held his son as they waited for the ambulance to arrive. Unfortunately, Timothy died on the way to the hospital, less than an hour after eating the candy. Mike Hinton was working police intake that night. He got the call from the Pasadena police department that said an 8 year old boy had died.
Hinton wanted to get his investigation underway, so he called up Dr. Joseph A. Jachimczyk (jack-and-chick), the chief medical examiner in Harris County. Hinton said, “I told him the situation and he asked what the young man’s breath smelled like.” Hinton then reached out to the morgue and found out that the boys breath smelled like almonds. Dr. Jachimczyk (jack-and-chick) said that the boy had died by cyanide poisoning.
The autopsy proved his hunch. The pathologist found that Timothy had ingested enough cyanide to kill two adults. Tests would later discovered that the top two inches of the Pixy Stix tube had been filled with the poison. Believing that they were facing a batch of tainted candy, local parents started to bring in their children’s candy to the police station.
The officials made quick work to find the other Pixy Stixs before any other child consumed them. They were easily able to get the candy back from O’Bryan’s daughter and Bates’ children, but they had to track down the fifth boy that he had handed the Pixy Stix to. When they got to the boys house, the parents began to panic. They looked through his bag of candy, but couldn’t find the Pixy Stix. Their son was upstairs, asleep. When his mom ran to his room, she found him hold the candy in his hand. It looked as if he had tried to open it, but was unable to and just fell asleep.
Every Pixy Stix test positive for cyanide. The lab was able to determine that somebody had cut the tops off of the tubes and add about two inches worth of the poison to the top of the candy. Then released the tube with heavy-duty staple. While Timothy’s Pixy Stix had contained enough cyanide to kill two grown adults, the other four had enough to kill three to four adults.
The investigation was in full swing. The police took Ronald back to the area where the group had been trick-or-treating so that he could show them the house where they had gotten the Pixy Stix. But he was confused. He couldn’t find the house again, and said that he hadn’t seen the face the person. They had simply emerged from the door and handed him out the candy. So, the investigators took a door to door approach and talked to everybody who lived on the two streets that O’Bryan’s kids had visited that night. None of those houses had been passing out those types of Pixy Stix, which matched up with the candy that had been turned in. This is when the investigators started to get suspicious.
After a few days later they took Ronald out again. This time, they were a little more firm. This worked. Ronald was able to point out the house. They found out that the man was not at home, so they went to his place of work, Houston’s William Hobby P. Airport, and arrested him in front of all of his coworkers. They mystery was solved. Case closed.
Or was it?
The man had an alibi. He had been at work all night long. His daughter and wife had been home and turned out the lights once they ran out of candy for the trick-or-treaters. His coworkers and his time sheet confirmed that he had been at work. Detective Hinton had been suspicious all along, and this confirmed his suspicions. Hinton said, “Id’ also heard O’Bryan was angry at his relatives for not staying up the night of Timothy’s funeral, which was odd.”
As it turns out, Ronald had decided to write a song about Jesus and Timothy meeting the Lord in heaven. He had gotten agitated when his grieving family chose not to stay up late to watch the recorded performed that was being broadcast on TV. This didn’t sit well with Hinton.
After Timothy’s burial, the O’Bryan’s insurance agent contacted the police. The agent felt something was off, and he wanted to let somebody else know. The agent said that, unbeknownst to O’Bryan’s wife, he had taken out insurance policies on both of their children. One of the policies had been taken out about a month or so before Halloween. The agent had urged O’Bryan to get a more attractive policy for his children that had smaller death benefits that would have created a $25,00 cash fund for each child once they turned 23. But he wouldn’t, and he had stipulated that his wife not sign them and that the policies should be kept at the agent’s office for “convenience.”
O’Bryan had over $100,000 in debt. At the same time, he had be bragging to his co-workers at Texas State Optical that he was getting ready to come into a large sum of money. Ronald was not known as a very stable man. In ten years, he held over 21 jobs, and his co-workers had a good feeling that he was going to get fired soon. Outside of work, things weren’t going much better. Their car was about to be reposed, and the home was in foreclosure.
The life insurance policy on each child was worth $20,000, in addition to policies that he had bought the previous January. He had about $60,000 worth of insurance taken out on his children in total. Halloween had been on a Thursday, and by 9 AM Friday, only hours after Timothy’s death, Ronald had called to inquire about collecting on the policies. It was clear that things weren’t looking so good for Ronald.
Once the information about the insurance policies came in, Detective Sgt. David Mullican asked, “Mr. O’Bryan, how much insurance did you have on Timothy, and how long was it in effect prior to his death?” He said that Ronald flinched before he lied. He mentioned the $10,000 policy that he had bought in January over the objections of his wife, but didn’t say anything about the later one. During his first interrogation, that lasted for three hours. Mullican caught O’Bryan in several lies.
In a separate room, Detective Sgt. Harold Nassif spoke with Daynene, O’Bryan’s wife. He asked her about Timothy’s insurance, and she only mentioned the earlier policy. Nassif could remember the moment that Mrs. O’Bryan realized that her husband may have been guilty. Nassif told her about Ronald increased the insurance amount on the children. She said, “Oh, my god,” and broke down.
The police got a search warrant and searched the O’Bryan’s house where they found a pair of scissors with plastic residue, which had been similar to that found on the cyanide-laced sweets. They also found the tops of some Pixy Stix containers. O’Bryan was quickly arrested and taken in for question.
The evidence quickly started to mount against O’Bryan. They found out that he had been going to community college and in one of his classes he would ask the professor things like, “What is more lethal: cyanide or another type of poison?” He also asked his professor how much poison it would take to kill different sizes of animals. O’Bryan’s co-workers also said that he had asked them if just anybody could buy cyanide. There was another witness, who worked at a Houston chemical company, that told police a man had come into purchase cyanide, but left after he was told the smallest amount he could get was five pounds. The man said he wouldn’t be able to identify O’Bryan, but did remember that he had been wearing a beige or blue smock, like a doctor. Ronald worked as an optician, and that matched the uniform he wore to work. He was indicted on one count of capital murder and four counts of attempted murder on November 5, 1974.
This was at a time when DNA testing was only a dream, and the police had no way of placing those Pixy Stix in Ronald’s hands, or proving that he ever made a purchase of cyanide. So, he was able to maintain his innocence. As Hinton has stated, O’Bryan loved all of the attention.
Ronald plead not guilty, and the defense blamed the tainted candy on an untraceable boogieman, some sick person using the guise of Halloween to poison unsuspecting children. The trail began on May 5, 1975,and his co-workers, friends, and family all testified against the man who was now dubbed the “Candy Man.” Hinton, at one point, stated, “We were all shocked that someone could kill their own son, their own flesh and blood, for a lousy $50,000 life insurance policy.”
The prosecution’s witnesses played out like this:
A chemist who O’Bryan worked with testified that he had asked how much cyanide would prove to be fatal. This was during the summer of 1973.
The chemical supply salesman testified that O’Bryan had come to purchase cyanide, but left because it wasn’t the size he wanted.
Co-workers and friends stated that O’Bryan, during the months before Timothy’s death, Ronald had shown and unusual amount of interest in cyanide. O’Bryan always talked about the amount it would take to kill a person.
Jim Bates explained what happened once they got back to his house after trick-or-treating. He said that Timothy had grabbed the Pixy Stix and was about to open it when O’Bryan jumped over the coffee table and took it from him, saying it had too much sugar for him to eat at that time of night.
O’Bryan’s brother-in-law and sister-in-law testified that at Timothy’s funeral, Ronald had talked about how he planned on using the insurance money. He said that he would take an extended vacation and buy some things that he wanted.
On June 3, 1975, only after 46 minutes of deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict for one charge of capital murder and four counts of attempted murder. An hour after that, it was ruled that Ronald would face the electric chair.
Before and after the Deer Park poisoning, rumors of tainted sweets being handed out had always come up around Halloween, but whether the fear focused on candy being filled with razor blades and broken glass, or if it was actually ecstasy pills, there isn’t much evidence that suggests parents need to worry about anything. Since the case of Timothy O’Bryan, there had not been another case where a child has died after eating tainted Halloween candy.
During his time in prison, the inmates referred to Ronald as the “Candy Man.” Being a child killer, this placed O’Bryan at the lowest level of prison hierarchy. He went on to appeal his case several times, and even went has far as the Supreme Court, but all appeals were rejected. His execution date was set for March 31, 1984. By that time, the Supreme Court had ruled that the electric chair was cruel and unusual punishment, so he was put to death by lethal injection.
Outside of the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, a crowd of 300 people had gathered to hear that the Candy Man had met his end while should “Trick or treat.” After a last meal of well-done steak and Boston cream pie, Ronald was pronounced dead at 12:48 AM.
But Ronald didn’t free himself of his guilt during his last moments. No, instead he tried to gain just a bit more pity with his last statement which read, “What is about to transpire in a few moments is wrong! However, we as human being do make mistakes and errors. This execution is one of those wrongs yet doesn’t mean our whole system of justice is wrong. Therefore, I would forgive all who have taken part in any way in my death. Also, to anyone I have offended in any way during my 39 years, I pray and ask your forgiveness, just as I forgive anyone who offended me in any way. And I pray and ask God’s forgiveness for all of us respectively as human beings. To my loved ones, I extend my undying love. To those close to me, know in your hearts I love you one and all. God bless you all and my God’s best blessings be always yours. Ronald C. O’Bryan, P.S. During my time here, I have been treated well by all TDC personnel.
Not only did Ronald never admit he murdered his own son for insurance money, but he tried to cover up his own crime by killing four other children, one of which would have been his daughter. At least the Candy Man got his just desserts.