Halloween crimes are usually thought of as the thoughtless mayhem of demented strangers who enjoy poisoning candy or putting razor blades in apples. But crimes committed on Halloween are much more serious – and more real – than those urban legends. There have been numerous murders, kidnappings, and assaults that have taken place on October 31, and many are directly related to the festivities of the holiday. While it remains debatable whether or not there’s a spike in crime on Halloween, there’s no debate that all of these particular assaults happened in connection with the holiday.
Many of these crimes have been carried out by people who took advantage of the occasion to wear a costume and fool their victims for just long enough to kill them. Others involve people out trick-or-treating, or returning from parties late at night. But as with most violent crime in general, crimes that happened on Halloween are usually committed either by someone known to the victim, or in a case of mistaken identity. In a few cases, the crime has never been solved, and years or decades have gone by with no closure for the loved ones of the victims.
Poisoning of Timothy O’Bryan
While the vast majority of Halloween scare stories about razor blades in apples or poisoned candy are either urban legends or moral panics, one story is, unfortunately, completely true. Eight-year-old Timothy O’Bryan had a packet of Pixie Stix given to him by his father Ronald to cap off his trick-or-treating. He almost immediately went into convulsions and died an hour later.
The death sent the O’Bryan’s small Texas town into a panic, and the police determined that the Pixie Stix that Timothy ate were laced with cyanide. When Ronald’s story kept changing, police began investigating him. They found him to be deeply in debt, and that he’d taken out massive life insurance policies on his children. Police found that the other O’Bryan children had also been given candy by their dad, but hadn’t eaten it.
Ronald O’Bryan was found guilty of murder, sentenced to death, and executed in 1984.
Murders of Leslie Mazzara and Adriane Insogna
Late on Halloween night 2004, roommates Leslie Mazzara, Adriane Insogna, and Lauren Meanza went to bed after handing out candy. Meanza was woken up at 1 AM by the sounds of a scuffle. Not knowing what was happening, she ran in terror from the house and hid in the backyard, watching an assailant climb out of a window. When the coast was clear, she ran back upstairs and found both of her roommates dead.
Throughout the investigation, FBI agents found cigarette butts near the scene of the crime that matched blood evidence inside the house, but found no known matches in any DNA databases. Officers and FBI agents spoke to nearly 1,500 persons of interest during the investigation of the double murder including one of Insogna’s friends, Lily Prudhome. Her husband, Eric Copple, became a person of extreme interest during the investigation when he refused to give a DNA sample to exclude him from the suspect pool. Nearly a year after the crime, Copple turned himself in and confessed to the deaths of his wife’s friends while giving no motive for his crime.
At the time of the murders, Copple was only engaged to the friend of one of his victims and carried on with the wedding thinking the crimes would not be tied to him. This quote from Adriane Insogna’s mother, Arlene Allen, gives a chilling insight into a murderer who thought he got away with it:
You are the man who is so cruel as to invite me, the mother of the woman you murdered, to stand up for you at your wedding, to read scripture to you of love and death and to bless your union. Throughout that weekend you brought me into the heart of your family, knowing all the while it was you who destroyed mine.
Liske Family Murders
On Halloween 2010, Ohio teenager Devon Griffin returned home from Sunday church services to find his brother Derek, mother Susan, and Susan’s new husband, William Liske, murdered. Devon was so traumatized he could only say that the scene was like “something out of a haunted house.”
The killer was found to be William Liske’s son from a previous marriage, William Liske Jr., who had a history of schizophrenia and violence. Liske was later picked up at a halfway house and pleaded guilty to all three murders. He committed suicide in prison in 2015.
Murder of Karl Jackson
Bronx resident Karl Jackson was a 21-year-old data entry clerk at Morgan Stanley. On Halloween night 1998, Jackson went with his girlfriend to pick up her young son from a party. While there, some teenagers threw eggs at their car, but the classic Halloween prank soon turned ugly.
Jackson got out of his car, exchanged words with the teens, and got back in the car. Then one of the teens pulled a gun and shot Jackson, killing him instantly. Police later arrested 17-year-old Curtis Sterling for the murder.
The Woodbridge Abductions
In 2009, three teenage girls were abducted by a man with a gun on their way home from trick-or-treating in Woodbridge, VA. All three were taken at gunpoint to a wooded area, and two were sexually assaulted. The third girl was able to call her mother, causing the man to flee. Two years later, police arrested Aaron Thomas, who was already a suspect in numerous sexual assaults cases since 1997. Thomas pleaded guilty in 2012 to the three kidnappings.
Yoshihiro Hattori was a Japanese exchange student living in Baton Rouge as part of the American Field Service program. On Halloween night 1992, Hattori and the young son of his host family went to a Halloween party for AFS students. Unfamiliar with the neighborhood where the party was, the boys rang the doorbell of the wrong house.
When they got no answer, they started walking back to their car. The owner of the home, Rodney Peairs, then opened the door armed with a .44 Magnum revolver. Hattori turned around and said, “We’re here for the party.” Claiming he feared for his life and that the exchange student was “scary,” Peairs shot Hattori, killing him.
Peairs and his wife then went back into their house and waited 40 minutes for the police, who questioned him and let him go. Only when both the governor of Louisiana and the Japanese consulate got involved was Peairs arrested, after which he was acquitted of manslaughter.
Murders of Ronald Sisman and Elizabeth Platzman
Sometime in the early hours of Halloween 1981, Manhattan couple Ronald Sisman and Elizabeth Platzman were murdered in their Chelsea apartment. The couple was severely beaten before being shot in the head, execution-style, with the apartment completely ransacked. New York police initially believed drug money to be the motive, but then the case took a turn for the bizarre. A prison informant claimed that one of his fellow inmates had predicted the crime weeks before it actually happened. That inmate turned out to be the “Son of Sam” killer, David Berkowitz.
Berkowitz had long been rumored to be involved with a satanic cult that helped him with some of the murders. According to the informant, Berkowitz had told him that his cult was planning to enter a residence near Greenwich Village (Chelsea would qualify for that) on Halloween to carry out a ritual murder. When questioned, Berkowitz claimed that Sisman had footage of one of the “Son of Sam” shootings and was planning to hand it over to the authorities in exchange for dropping some drug charges.
While no evidence was found to support Berkowitz’s claims, he was basically right about the description of Sisman’s apartment. The killings are still unsolved.
Pasadena Gang Shootings
The Murder of Martha Moxley
The night before Halloween 1975, Connecticut teenager Martha Moxley left her house to attend a neighborhood party. Her body was found the next morning beneath a tree in her backyard, brutally beaten by a golf club.
Twenty-five years went by until Michael Skakel, who was also 15 at the time, was arrested, charged, and convicted of her murder. The case drew worldwide attention since Skakel was a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow. Because of his family’s wealth, he had lived life in and out of rehab for alcohol, trying out for the Winter Olympics, and flunking out of multiple schools.
Skakel’s alibi seemed bizarre – that he had been masturbating under that tree earlier the same night (accounting for DNA found on the body), but that he had no connection to the crime. He had a letter written on his behalf by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and after numerous appeals, was given a new trial in 2012 due to prosecutor misconduct and a poor defense. He’s currently out on bail, waiting for the new trial to start.
Murder of Peter Fabiano
Los Angeles hair stylist Peter Fabiano was shot dead on Halloween night 1957, when he opened his door for what he thought was a trick-or-treater, but was actually a grown-up in a costume. The adult shot Fabiano in the chest with a .22 in a brown paper bag before fleeing the scene.
Several weeks later, Goldyne Pizer and Joan Rabel were arrested in what turned out to be a deftly plotted crime of passion. Pizer was friends (or possibly in a relationship) with Rabel, and Rabel was also apparently in love Fabiano’s wife, Betty. The two women conspired to get Peter out of the equation, and Rabel bought a gun for Pizer to shoot Peter with. The arrests kicked off a firestorm of lurid coverage, as lesbians were seen as abnormal monsters with murderous urges. The two pleaded guilty to murder, and served long prison terms.
Taylor Van Diest Murder
On Halloween 2011, Taylor Van Diest was leaving a party in the small town of Armstrong, Canada. She never came home, and was found beaten to death near a set of railroad tracks. Her death traumatized the town, especially after it was revealed that she’d sent a text to her boyfriend before the attack saying she was being “creeped on.”
Police eventually used DNA found under Taylor’s fingernails to arrest Matthew Foerster for carrying out the murder, and his father, Stephen, for helping him cover it up.
Murder of Marvin Brandland
Fort Dodge, Iowa, resident Marvin Brandland and his wife were handing out candy to trick-or-treaters in 1982, when a man wearing a mask came to their door. He said, “Trick-or-treat. Give me your money or I’ll shoot.” The Brandlands thought it was a Halloween prank, and tried to remove the man’s mask. Instead, he barged into the house and pulled out a gun, demanding that the couple give him the money they had stashed in their basement safe.
Marvin made a grab for the masked man’s gun, and the robber shot Marvin in the throat. He then ran away, but left the mask behind. In the years that followed, Marvin’s wife died, and the mask was tested for DNA evidence. As virtually nobody knew about the safe, suspicion fell on the Brandland family, and a family member did brag about committing the robbery. But there’s never been enough evidence to charge him.
Death of Chris Jenkins
Chris Jenkins was a 21-year-old student at the University of Minnesota who was last seen leaving a downtown Minneapolis bar on Halloween night in 2002. Four months later, his body was discovered in the Mississippi River, still wearing his Halloween costume. Since Chris was intoxicated that night and his cause of death appeared to be drowning, authorities initially believed his death was either an accident or suicide.
But his parents refused to believe this and pressed for a more thorough investigation. Finally, in 2006, the death was reclassified as a homicide. Police claimed that an incarcerated suspect told them he was present when Chris was murdered, then thrown off a bridge into the river. While the story is credible, there’s never been enough evidence to file charges. However, one possible theory is that Chris Jenkins could have been a victim in the mysterious and unsolved “Smiley Face Murders.”
These bizarre killings involved approximately 40 male college students in the United States who all died of drowning. In some of these cases, unexplained “smiley face” graffiti was found near the body of water where the victims turned up. While no “smiley face” graffiti was ever found in connection to Chris Jenkins’s death, the scenario does have a number of similarities to these killings. It remains unsolved.
Disappearance of Cindy Song
Penn State grad student Cindy Song disappeared after leaving a party on Halloween night, 2001. She’d been dropped off at her apartment, and had gone inside, but nobody saw her after that, and no trace of her has ever been found. The case has taken a number of bizarre twists, and for a while, the investigation focused on a man named Hugo Marcus Selenski.
Selenski had been arrested after five corpses were found in his backyard. A police informant linked Selenski and another man to Cindy, claiming the duo had kidnapped, raped, and murdered her. To make things even weirder, the other man named in the kidnapping was found dead – in Selenski’s backyard. More bodies have been found there, but none have been proven to by Cindy, and the case remains open.