October 1982: The Year Halloween Almost Died


It's October 1982 and Halloween falls on a Sunday, so trick or treating is taking place on Saturday October 30th. The sun starts to set and people prepare for the children to come knocking on their doors. The doorbell rings at the Smith house, the door opens and outside one child stands. Maybe it's just a slow start and again the doorbell rings. All night long the Smiths get just a few trick or treaters here and there but it was nothing like the years before,when often the Smiths would run out of candy. Why, what could have happen this year to stop millions of kids from going door-to-door to get their free candy. Well, many a mothers and fathers chose not to let their children partake in Halloween in 1982 because of a certain fear, a fear that many still hold to this day.

One month prior, on the morning of September 29, 1982, twelve-year-old Mary Kellerman of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, died after taking a capsule of Extra-Strength Tylenol. Adam Janus of Arlington Heights, Illinois, died in the hospital later that day. Shortly thereafter Adam's brother Stanley and sister-in-law Theresa, of Lisle, Illinois, died after gathering to mourn his death, having taken pills from the same bottle. In the coming days Mary McFarland of Elmhurst, Illinois, Paula Prince of Chicago, and Mary Reiner of Winfield also died in similar incidents. Investigators soon discovered that the Tylenol was the link. Urgent warnings were broadcast and police drove through Chicago neighborhoods issuing warnings over their loudspeakers.

Eventually a man named James William Lewis sent a letter to Johnson & Johnson demanding one million dollars to stop the cyanide-induced murders. Police were unable to link him with the crimes, as he and his wife were living in New York City at the time. But he was convicted of extortion, served 13 years of a 20 year sentence, and was released in 1995 on parole. WCVB Channel 5 of Boston reported that court documents, released in early 2009, "show Department of Justice investigators concluded Lewis was responsible for the poisonings, despite the fact that they did not have enough evidence to charge him".

The events now forever know as the Chicago Tylenol murders created a fear in people that had never existed before. The idea that some would take things off a store shelf and tamper with them was unheard of at the time. Things were always made as simple as possible and childproof did not exist. This caused panic among everyone in the united states and soon it created new laws and regulations to be imposed in the packaging of almost everything. But the seeds of fear were sown and it just happened to be one month until Halloween.

Eventually the murders were the talk of every dinner table and families began to speculate " if someone could do this to Tylenol, just to do it, what if they did it to my child's candy?". From that very moment the myth of the poisoned Halloween candy was born. A real-life event, mixed with wild speculation led parents to the only conclusion they could come to. trick or treating on Halloween, 1982, would not be an option for their child.

This decision made, in fear, by the parents created a negative ripple effect on business that made a bulk of their sales around the month of October. The actions by these parents, in part, began the bankruptcy of a little company called Ben Cooper Inc., a company who's products revolved around Halloween (Ben Cooper created 90% of almost every costume worn between 1940-1990, but that is a story for another time.).

It would be several years for all the companies who's target month was October to see profits again, but the damage was done. Never again would a child be able to go out, get candy and just eat it. Now every piece had to be scanned, inspected and even X-Rayed at the local hospital. A "tradition" that is still carried on to this day, despite the fact that no poison or razor-blades have ever been found.

That, my friends, is why people say "check your candy" and how Halloween almost died in the year of 1982.

Rich Stile @TheDevilsEyes1     


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