The Story Of The Woman Who Handed Out Arsenic On Halloween

Every October, parents are warned about their children's Halloween candy and the dangers it might hold (via Yahoo! Life). This includes razor blades, arsenic, or THC-laced treats. However, History explains that this is largely an urban legend. Sociologists have concluded that the threat of perilous candy is slim to none. The publication adds that this hysteria goes back to the 1982 Tylenol murders, where the over-the-counter medication was tampered with and laced with cyanide. That's not to say that Halloween candy hasn't been involved in questionable incidents. On October 30, 1858, one candy seller in Bradford, England killed 20 individuals who ate his peppermint lozenges (Per Atlas Obscura).

Atlas Obscura writes that his supplier accidentally gave him arsenic trioxide instead of a harmless ingredient known as Daft. On Halloween 1959, Salon states, dentist William V. Shyne gave trick-or-treaters 450 candy-coated laxative tablets. Although no one died, 30 kids did get sick and Shyne faced criminal charges. On October 31, 1964, Elise and Irene Drucker went trick-or-treating on Long Island (via the New York Post). When they returned home, the teens were shocked to find that their Halloween candy was actually ant poison (per Mental Floss). The police were called and the "candy" was traced back to Helen Pfeil at 43 Salem Ridge Drive.

Helen Pfeil's husband claimed the act was a joke

According to The New York Times, Pfeil was then a 47-year-old housewife. Described as dainty, she was the mother of two sons who were 14 and 16. The New York Post reports that when the Druckers knocked on Pfeil's door, she stated "Aren't you a little old to be trick-or-treating?" The ages of the trick or treaters perturbed her so much that Pfeil decided to play a sinister trick on the older kids who came to her door. Pfeil wrapped ant poison buttons, steel wool pads, and dog biscuits and disguised them as candy. It's believed she handed out a total of 12 ant buttons to unsuspecting trick-or-treaters.

Coincidentally, Pfeil's own teenage sons had also been trick-or-treating that night (via The New York Times). Mental Floss writes that the ant buttons were made of arsenic and were designed to kill small insects and mice. Needless to say, it was hazardous if consumed and it had the potential to kill smaller children. Elsie, then 13, and Irene, 15, identified Pfeil as the culprit. Police arrested her when they found empty boxes of the ant poison in her home. Despite this, her husband told police that the situation was only "a joke" (per the New York Post). The authorities, however, did not find this funny and Pfeil was sent to Central Islip Hospital for a mental evaluation.

She faced few repercussions for her actions

The New York Times reports that Pfeil was charged with one count of child endangerment, and The New York Post writes that she was facing two years in prison. However, her husband maintained that this was all a big misunderstanding. He noted that Pfeil's intention was not to be "malicious" but did agree that the idea was "thoughtless." At her trial, Pfeil echoed her husband's words and noted that she never meant to hurt anyone. Pfeil explained that she simply found some of the kids to be too old to be trick-or-treaters and that her prank was all in good fun.

With this, one judge said "It is hard for me to understand how any woman with sense or reason could give this to a child" (via The New York Times). Per the New York Post, Pfeil later pled guilty to the charges. Mental Floss states that Judge Thomas M. Stark then decided to suspend her sentence. He explained,"I don't understand why she had done such a stupid thing as this," adding, "but I feel incarceration is not the answer." The publication adds that Pfeil's actions only led to a 60-day-stay in a psychiatric hospital. In 2011, Elise Drucker, who now goes by Elise Gray, told the New York Post that the incident prompted her to never dress up for Halloween again.