Show Notes: Halloween Candy Tampering Myth, Chelsea Bruck’s Murder

This show, “Michigan and other Mayhem”, is a sort of factual, slightly comical, always earnest podcast about interesting stuff in Michigan and around the world. It is done by two sisters-in-law (Ali and Jenn) that like to talk about random interesting stories.  Expect cults, mysteries, murder, fast talking, and a couple of mental palate cleansers… and cuss words.  Those happen on this show, a lot.

Episode 56: Halloween Candy Tampering Myth, Chelsea Bruck’s Murder

Review of Rodeway Inn, Muskegon, MI

Alerts:

  • Pretend podcast music because Jenn likes it.
  • Ali has a weird laugh. It is often loud.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Ali and Jenn discuss different costumes to wear to work.

Disappearance and Murder of Chelsea Bruck

In Frenchtown Township, MI on October 26, 2014, Chelsea Bruck attended a Halloween party dressed as Poison Ivy from the DC Comics collection that includes Batman. Chelsea was seen leaving the party with a man around 3 a.m. but was never seen alive again.

For six months, Chelsea was searched for, flyers were posted, but the trail went cold. About 10 miles from where the party was held in Ash Township was a wooded lot. Inside the lot is where Chelsea’s body was found in April 2015.

Investigators were able to extract DNA from Chelsea’s leggings. The DNA had a hit in the database when it matched with Daniel Clay. Daniel, who is 27 years old, is from Newport, MI. He was arrested on July 22, 2016.

The autopsy revealed that Chelsea died of blunt force trauma to her head. Daniel admitted to Monroe police that he had killed Chelsea accidentally. He claims she was a victim of rough but consensual sex gone wrong. (Ali kept questioning Jenn on how did he “accidentally” cause blunt force trauma.) Daniel claims that Chelsea had asked him to choke her and he did, but only for 20-30 seconds. (It takes minutes to died of strangulation.)

Daniel said he freaked out when he realized that she had died. He then drove around for about an hour before stopping about 10 miles from the party. He carried her into the wooded area and covered her body with branches. Daniel then decided to move her farther into the woods, so he uncovered her and reburied her again.

Daniel was charged with Open Murder and Concealment of a Dead Body. Daniel was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Halloween Candy Tampering Myth

For years the urban legend of tainted Halloween candy has been strong, however, it is still just a myth. There are some instances, in which a murderer used the existing fear of poisoned candy to murder another person. There are even more instances of someone dying on or near Halloween and toxic candy being pointed to as the cause before the official medical report was released.

In 1970 a child’s demise, in Detroit, Michigan was attributed to poisoned candy. Kevin Toston was 5 years old when he slipped into a four-day coma and then died after ingesting heroine that he found belonging to his uncle. In an effort to cover up his accidental overdose, Kevin’s family opened his Halloween candy and sprinkled heroine over it. They tried to forward the idea that Kevin had received tainted candy while trick or treating. It wasn’t until police began investigations that they learned of the cover-up.

On Halloween, in 1974, eight-year-old Timothy Marc O’Bryan died after eating a Pixie Stix saturated with cyanide in Texas. Police were able to determine that Timothy was poisoned by his father, Ronald Clark O’Bryan, for insurance money. Ronald wanted the murder to look like a random poisoning, so he placed a cyanide filled Pixie Stix in Timothy’s bag, his sister’s bag, and two of his neighbor’s children that he was walking with while trick or treating. Ronald decided to give the fifth Pixie Stix to a trick or treater that came to his house, that he recognized from his church.

After eating the tainted Pixie Stix, Timothy told his dad Ronald, that it tasted bitter. Ronald gave Timothy a cup of Kool-Aid to wash it down. Timothy immediately began vomiting and died as he was driven to the hospital.

Not initially suspecting Timothy’s father, the call went out that a child had died from poisoned Halloween candy. Four of the five Pixie Stix were immediately found. The fifth one was found with the child later, because he had been unable to open the resealed Stix and it wasn’t in his candy pile. All the poisoned Stixs had been stapled shut, which is a red flag as they’re normally glued closed. Police became suspicious of Ronald, when he couldn’t recall which house, he had received the candy from. (Side note: As a parent I didn’t know who gave my daughter what) Due to rain, the family had only gone down two streets and none of the houses they visited gave out Pixie Stix.

Investigators found out that Ronald was in debt and had placed insurance claims of about $60,000 on both of his children. The morning after Timothy’s death, Ronald called the insurance company to collect. Ronald had also tried to buy cyanide at a chemical supply store before Halloween but left when he found out that they aren’t sold in anything smaller than five-pound blocks. He had contacted a chemist to find out how much cyanide would be fatal to a human.

By July 1975, Ronald O’Bryan was found guilty of capital murder and four counts of attempted murder. He was sentenced to death and died by lethal injection March 31, 1984.

A November 3, 1978 article in the Enquirer and News of Battle Creek, Michigan, discusses the case of a 2-year-old boy who died after eating candy. The medical examiner had not ruled on his cause of death, but Michigan State Police urged parents to examine their children’s candy. Toxicology tests later revealed no traces of poison and his death was ruled due to natural causes. In the Battle Creek News article, the police stated that a second poisoning was also discovered that Halloween. A child had licked some fudge that had crystals on it that were believed to be caustic. I couldn’t find a follow-up to the fudge case but there are a few cases in which initial “testing” lead police to believe poison was involved, but it was later deemed untrue.

For example, in October of 1988, The New York Times reported that strychnine was found in Sunkist Fun Fruits Dinosaur packs. The initial testing had been done by New Jersey State labs. Further testing showed the substance was actually corn starch, but the damage to their reputation remained.

In 1982, police in Redford Township, Michigan issued a statement about a boy being poisoned by cocaine in his Halloween candy. This is due to his physician misreading the lab results after he had fallen sick shortly after Halloween. Later tests to find out what happened to the boy showed themselves as inconclusive. When the FDA tested all the boy’s candy, no traces of cocaine were found.

Similarly, in San Jose, California, on Halloween 1996, a seven-year-old boy collapsed. When Ferdinan Siquig had his urine tested at a local hospital, doctors said it contained traces of cocaine. That was the story given to the media and the less sensational information was after more detailed testing, no cocaine was found a day later.

During Halloween of 1990, a seven-year-old girl named Ariel Katz died while trick or treating. Local police in California feared a mass poison campaign. Authorities had conducted a door-to-door search where she had collapsed. They blocked off the street, confiscated candy, conducted interviews, and alerted the press. Ariel had died of an enlarged heart, a preexisting medical condition she was known to have by her parents.

The following Halloween, in Washington, DC, in 1991, Kevin Michael Cherry, died shortly after eating some of his kid’s candy. Instead of waiting for an autopsy, many parents threw out their children’s candy. Kevin’s medical examination showed that he had died of heart failure.

Tiffaney Troung, who was a four-year-old, died the day after Halloween in 2001. Local police instructed families to throw out the candy their children had collected. Tiffaney’s autopsy revealed that she had died of the streptococcus bacteria that she did not contract through the candy.

The poisoned Halloween candy urban legend has been around since the Industrial Revolution. That’s when food shifted from being homegrown and home cooked to being mass produced by strangers and machines and became less trusted. I saw a hypothesis that suggested the fear comes from people moving from the country to cities and suburbs in which you might not be familiar with your neighbor. In urban/suburban areas there is a higher chance that your neighbor may be a different color or religion than you, which can lead to distrust.

A sociologist at the University of Delaware, Joel Best, specializes in candy tampering. He searched through publications from 1958 to 1983 in search of stories of sweets being poisoned. In that 25-year span, 78 cases were actual candy tampering. Most of those had been due to familial adults trying to get some form of compensation or childish pranks. The most common is a child who tampers with their own food. Police have never documented any case of someone randomly dispensing poisoned candy on Halloween.

I tried to tell a coworker that no child has ever been randomly been poisoned while trick or treating and she said I was wrong. This is a strong urban legend in Michigan, I think, because three of the candy scares happened here.

https://www.newspapers.com/clip/16040614/wiederhold_child_killed_eating/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Clark_O%27Bryan

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/halloween-non-poisonings/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisoned_candy_myths

Rodeway Inn, Muskegon, MI

TripAdvisor, 1 star review

Beachless2013, from Tecumseh, MI, 4/23/18

I was booked here for two nights and it was the worst experience ever! The place is grossly neglected and honestly feels dangerous. The furniture was scratched and torn. The lamp was broken and was leaning on the curtains. The walls were disgusting to the point of dried something running down them in several areas. The curtain rods were broken so I wasn’t able to shut them all the way which was very unnerving due to the room window facing a very busy road. Pretty sure there are some sketchy people living in this hotel indefinitely. They were loud all night long slamming doors and kids yelling at all hours. One of the nights I could hear people partying loudly with loud music and inappropriate language, this eventually led to a man and woman in a full out physical altercation to the point I thought they were gonna come through my wall! This spilled into the hall scaring me half to death, mind you this was at 3:00 in the morning after I’d been kept up all night by all of the loudness and the sheer fear of someone breaking in. Was glad to leave and never to return!

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g42499-d6584389-r575311921-Rodeway_Inn_Muskegon-Muskegon_Muskegon_County_Michigan.html

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