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Razor Blades and Apples

by Guy McCardle

October 28, 2011

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Donate During my trick or treating days in the early ‘70s, I vividly remember hearing stories of children who received apples with razor blades in them as a treat. I recall thinking two things about that:
  1. As a kid I thought an apple made a pretty crappy treat.

  2. What kind of sick person would do that to a kid?

Were these stories true, that is, did some evil person actually put sharp objects in treats intended for children?

As it turns out, yes, unfortunately a few of the stories are true. Professor Joel Best studied the phenomenon in depth. Since 1959 he was able to track almost 80 instances of sharp objects being placed into food, and almost all were hoaxes. One all too real incident occurred in 2000 when a man named James Joseph Smith was charged with one count of altering a substance with the intent to cause death, harm or illness after he was caught putting needles in Snicker’s bars and giving them out to children on Halloween. One 14 year old boy was pricked by a hidden needle he had bitten into after he had gotten a candy bar from Smith.

Author Jack Santino covered the topic in his 1994 book Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life.
Beginning in 1967, the focus of the legend shifted dramatically from poison to razors and sharp objects hidden in apples. The emergence of the razor blade motif remains to be studied, but it apparently spread rapidly in several areas of the eastern seaboard and Canada: The New York Times reported thirteen cases from isolated communities in New Jersey and noted “several” others in Ottawa and Toronto. Outrage was so strong in New Jersey that the state legislature passed a law shortly before Halloween 1968 mandating prison terms for those caught booby-trapping apples. This did not forestall the discovery of thirteen more apples with razor blades that year in five New Jersey counties.

In many cases, The New York Times story noted that “children were cut”, but the more detailed accounts include suspicious details. In one case, a boy came to his parents with an apple containing a razor blade. He bit into an apple, he said, but not quite deeply enough to contact the blade. In another, the child said he found the blade while cutting out a rotten spot; in a third case, the razor was found when a child turned an apple over to his father for peeling. In all these detailed cases, the child was not injured, and because he was the immediate source of the apple, it seems possible that he also was the source of the blade. As Best and Horiuchi (authors of The Razor Blade) note, more than seventy five percent of reported cases involved no injury, and detailed follow ups in 1972 and 1982 concluded that virtually all of the reports were hoaxes concocted by the children or parents. Thus this legend type seems to have grown out of a tradition of ostensive hoaxes relying on an understood oral tradition, rather than any core of authenticated incidents.
OK, there you have it. Most of the cases were hoaxes, but it did happen. As parents I know we can never be too careful when it comes to the safety of our kids. In the spirit of that safety, I’m reproducing the official CDC Halloween safety acronym.


by Guy McCardle

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