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Halloween Legend: Long Island Lady Who Gave Trick-Or-Treater Arsenic

Photograph by Michael C. Gray / Shutterstock
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Photograph by Michael C. Gray / Shutterstock

Are stories of Halloween poisoned candy just propaganda from dentists and concerned parents—or is it real? Well, the Post suggests that the 1964 incident of a Long Island woman who handed out arsenic pellets was the one that launched a million fears.

It was Oct. 31, 1964, when Elise Drucker, her sister Irene and a school pal set out along Salem Ridge Road in Greenlawn to fill their sacks with goodies.

“We were hobos,” said Elise Gray, 60, then a teen enjoying one of her last Halloweens.
When they arrived at Helen Pfeil’s house, it started as a typical interaction between candy seeker and candy giver.

“Aren’t you a little old to be trick-or-treating?” Pfeil, then 47, softly teased.

The housewife -- a mother of teenage children herself -- dropped what appeared to be a load of sugary loot into each of the three bags.

The youngsters had no way of knowing that arsenic pellets had been mixed in with the candy, wrapped in napkins.

It wasn’t until the girls returned home that the sinister truth was revealed.

Gray, now married and living in Maine, said her mom dutifully spread the colorful treats out on the table at their Centerport home to investigate.

And it’s a good thing she did.

Inside a napkin was a bottle-cap-shaped ant trap with the warning “poison.”

Snopes has a little more description about Pfeil's actions: "Annoyed that many of the trick-or-treaters were too old to be asking for free candy, she made up packages of inedible "treats" to give to teenagers. The packages contained dog biscuits, steel wool pads, and the ant buttons (which were clearly marked "Poison" and labeled with a skull and crossbones). She also took the precaution of telling the teenagers the packages were a joke when she handed them out, and there is no record of anyone's being harmed by her actions." Still, Pfeil pleaded guilty to endangering children and served a suspended sentence.

The Halloween candy tampering fear reached its height in 1982 (prompted by the Tylenol tampering incident that killed 12) but while tampered candy was found, no children died. A sociologist who studies "Halloween sadism" explained to the Post, “We don’t believe in ghosts and goblins. We believe in criminals. We have revised what the Halloween menace is -- [from] the homicidal maniac [to] a person so crazy that he poisons the candy of strangers.”

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