For those who celebrate, Halloween is all about creative costumes, trick-or-treating, and debating whether candy corn is good or evil. Braver souls seek out scares by visiting haunted attractions or watching horror movies. But in some cases, spooky fun became overshadowed by tragedy.
Here are five terrifying true stories of murder on Halloween:
Eight-year-old Timothy O’Bryan’s father murdered him in Houston on Oct. 31, 1974, by poisoning his candy. While they were trick-or-treating, Ronald O’Bryan gave Timothy, his 5-year-old sister, and a neighbor’s son Pixy Stix — paper straws containing tangy flavored sugar — that he’d doctored, filling the top 2 inches with cyanide. Before going to bed that night, Timothy was allowed to eat one of the candies in his goody bag, and he selected the Pixy Stix. His father watched while he poured the poison in his mouth, even giving him Kool-Aid to wash out its bitter taste. The motive? Life insurance policies he’d purchased for each of his children. Timothy was the only one who ate the poisoned candy — and in fact, the only child known to have been harmed by poisoned candy in spite of annual rumors and panic.
William “B.J.” Liske brutally murdered his father, William Liske, stepmother Susan Liske, and 23-year-old stepbrother Derek Griffin on Halloween night in 2010. When Derek’s 16-year-old brother, who had been staying the night at their biological father’s, discovered the bodies the next morning, he at first thought it was a Halloween prank. (One day later in an unrelated tragedy, B.J.’s aunt, Sue Dunmyer, died in a garage fire.) B.J., who had a documented history of mental illness, pleaded guilty to bludgeoning Derek with a claw hammer and then fatally shooting William and Susan. Evidence showed that Susan had been sexually assaulted prior to or after her death. B.J. killed himself in prison in 2015, more than four years after pleading guilty to the crimes he committed on Halloween.
The body of the 15-year-old girl was discovered on Oct. 31, 1975. A resident of the wealthy community of Greenwich, Connecticut, Martha had been bludgeoned to death with a golf club. She was last seen hanging out with Thomas Skakel, her neighbor and a nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, whose husband, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, had been assassinated seven years earlier. It was Thomas’s younger brother, Michael, however, who was tried and convicted in 2000 for her murder. That’s not a typo — the case had remained unsolved for 25 years. But the wheels of justice not only turn slowly — sometimes they swerve off the road: Michael served 10 years in prison, then was granted a new trial based on a judge’s finding that his original defense attorney had not adequately represented him. He was freed on $1.2 million bail in 2013, and after years of lawyering, his conviction was vacated and a new trial was ordered. On Oct. 30, 2020 — 45 years to the day since Martha was last seen alive — the state announced it would not retry him. (In a bizarre coincidence, a bestselling true crime book about Martha Moxley’s murder, published in 1999, was written by Mark Fuhrman — the infamous cop whose racism, revealed through evidence presented at the O.J. Simpson murder trial, arguably did as much damage to the prosecution as those ill-fitting gloves.)
Twenty-one-year-old Karl Jackson was fatally shot on Halloween 1998 by Curtis Sterling, 17, one of a group of boys he’d confronted after they egged his girlfriend’s car. According to an informal tally by the New York Times, at least 24 people between 1984 and 2010 were “seriously wounded or killed in stabbings, shootings, beatings or accidents sparked by egg-throwing confrontations around Halloween.” In its 2010 story, the Times reported: “Two days before Halloween in 1994, a man leaving a bar in Brooklyn was hit with eggs tossed by several boys. The man stabbed and killed one of the boys, a 12-year-old. In 1996, a 10-year-old Brooklyn boy was shot in the neck by a stray bullet after an egg fight on Halloween. On Oct. 29, 2005, Joseph Padro, 31, the brother of a police detective, was shot and killed in the Bronx after he chased a group of teenagers who pelted his minivan with eggs.”
Yoshi, 16, had the tragic misfortune of knocking on the wrong door. It was 1992 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and he and his friend had gotten lost on their way to a Halloween party and mistakenly thought they’d found it when they saw a house with Halloween decorations and the address 10311 (the correct address of the party was 10131; what an eerie coincidence that the first four digits of the wrong address matched the date of Halloween). When the homeowner, 30-year-old Rodney Peairs, opened the door, Yoshi excitedly told him that they were there for the party and didn’t seem to realize that Peairs had a gun, which he used to shoot Yoshi point-blank in the chest. Peairs originally wasn’t charged; after a public outcry the case did go to trial, but a jury agreed with his self-defense argument and found him not guilty. (Yoshi’s family went on to become advocates for gun control, and you can read more about their work here.)