Ronald Clark O'Bryan
There are just some crimes committed that even criminals cannot stomach. You always hear the stories that child murderers and molesters do not do well in prison. Well, Ronald O'Bryan could have apparently attested to this, before he was executed by the state of Texas that is. The prison chaplain would say that O'Bryan was completely shunned and despised by the other inmates.
In 1974 Ronald O'Bryan lived with his wife, Daynene and their two children, eight year old Timothy and five year old Elizabeth in Deer Park Texas, near Houston. It does not appear that from the outside they seemed much different than other families. But, they were having financial issues, some pretty major ones. Some reports say that their home was about to go into foreclosure while others say they had recently sold it to help pay other bills. It was said that their vehicle was likely in the process of being repossessed and in all they were about $100,000 in debt.
On October 31, 1974 Ronald and neighbor, Jim Bates took one of the Bates children and the two O'Bryan children out trick or treating. It was raining a bit that night so they did not stay out very long and only went on two streets in the neighborhood. The kids had run up to a house and knocked on the door but no one answered so they moved on. Apparently Jim Bates went with them while Ronald O'Bryan stayed behind. When he caught up with the group he told them that someone had ended up coming to the door and had given him the five Pixy Stix he now held in his hand. He gave one each to his children, one to Mark Bates and another to give to Mark's sister, Kim. On the way back home Ronald saw a kid he knew from the local church and handed him the fifth one.
After they got home the O'Bryan kids were headed to bed. Ronald told investigators that Timothy had asked for a piece of candy and that he had picked the Pixy Stix. Ronald's story (and it seems no one else was in the room to verify) that the powder inside seemed a bit thick and he had to help Timothy open loosen it up after he helped him open it due to a staple at the top. Timothy ate some and said it tasted funny so Ronald got him some Kool-Aid to wash it down. It was reported that almost immediately Timothy began vomiting and convulsing. An ambulance was called and Timothy died on the way to the hospital less than a hour of eating the candy.
No one it seems suspected Ronald as being involved initially. Jim Bates would later say that after he had returned home he had left for work. His wife would call him sometime later and tell him about Timothy and say his daughter was not feeling well. Thankfully his daughter was only suffering with a headache and had not eaten any candy. The initial investigator would later say that he had called a well known medical examiner who was not on the case but who he knew and told him the story. The ME asked the investigator if Timothy's breath had an odor to it. The investigator called the ME that was working on the case but had yet to do the examination. The ME checked and said yes, Timothy's breath smelled like almonds. The investigator called the other man back and was told Timothy had likely digested cyanide. Testing would later confirm this but investigators did not wait.
The stories were already circulating in the area and parents were in a panic. Children in the Deer Park area did not see much of their candy after that because parents were taking it all to the police department in groves. But, not before the investigators could talk to Ronald and then determine where the rest of the Pixy Stix were and have them tested. Reports say that “one of the children” had attempted to eat the candy the night before but had literally fallen asleep with it in his hand when he could not open it due to the staple in it. Whether the latter part about falling asleep with it was a bit over dramatized or not I cannot say, but I can only assume the child they were talking about was the boy Ronald saw on the way home. Police were able to get the other four candies and have them tested. In the meantime they wanted to know exactly where Ronald had obtained them. This is when they became suspicious of him.
Over the next few days officers would say they took Ronald down those same two streets three times before he could identify the house he claimed to have gotten the candy. They found this odd considering that there were so few houses to begin with that he would not remember which house that he and he alone and gotten candy for the children, just a few nights before. When he finally did point to the house he would then say that he never saw the person's face but only the arm of a man. This too seemed suspicious but was even more so when they talked to the homeowner. The man's name was Courtney Melvin. He would claim that he was at work as a local air traffic controller on Halloween evening and had not gotten home until after eleven that night. Some reports say that Melvin's wife and daughter may have been home but they had not turned their outside light on and had not only not answered the door to children, they had not handed out any candy. Of course then again it did not matter if they had because Ronald had described the hairy arm of a man. Melvin's alibi was verified by a multitude of people. So now the spotlight was even more on Ronald.
Then investigators discovered the money issues the O'Bryan's were having, but curiously they also discovered that Ronald O'Bryan had taken two life insurance polices on each of his children in that year. In January he had taken two $10,000 policies on them and just a month before Timothy's death he had taken two more policies for $20,000 each. Each of the O'Bryan children had life insurance totaling $30,000, quite a sum for 1974 but huge on the life of a child. There was one report that there were two more polices once again issued just days before Timothy's death, also for $20,000 each but I do not find this to be credible. Most information says that Ronald was looking for a $60,000 payout from his children, which would have been the total from both children before the supposed additional policies. Investigators also learned that on the morning after Timothy's death Ronald had called the insurance company when they opened asking about how to file his claim and obtain the money. Relatives at the funeral would later say that Ronald was talking about the insurance money and talked about taking a long vacation and items that he planned to buy. He was slowly but surely looking less and less like a grieving father.
By November 5th, less than a week after his son's death, Ronald O'Bryan would be arrested. He would be charged with one count of capital murder and four counts of attempted murder. He would maintain his innocence until his execution on March 31, 1984 in Huntsville Texas.
His trial would begin on May 5, 1975 in Houston. The prosecution could prove that the four remaining Pixy Stix had contained enough cyanide to kill 2-3 adults, let alone children. They could prove that these Pixy Stix were given to the children by Ronald. They also knew that no family on the two streets that were visited that night had given out that kind of candy. What they could not necessarily ever prove was just how Ronald got the cyanide to begin with. There was a lot of circumstantial evidence aside from what they did know. A man at a chemical supply company would say that just before Halloween a man came in asking about cyanide but had left when he learned he could not buy any less than five pounds. The man apparently could not officially identify Ronald as being the man but described him as wearing a “scrub”uniform. Despite having about twenty-one jobs in the last ten years, and apparently about to lose his current job because he was suspected of stealing, at the time of Timothy's death Ronald was working either as an optician or in a company related to such and he did in fact wear scrubs for his uniform. An acquaintance of his, that was also a chemist, testified that Ronald had contacted him in the summer of 1973 (or was it 1974? I cannot be sure) and asked a lot of questions about cyanide and how much would be fatal. Many friends and co-workers testified that in the months leading up to Timothy's death Ronald seemed to have an “unusual interest” in cyanide and often spoke about how much it would take to kill someone.
Of course all of this testimony of him talking about it was hearsay and not proven fact, and none of it put cyanide in Ronald's hand but it was damning. It is unclear just what the defense offered other than the “he did not do it” defense. I found little record of any appeals filed but that very likely could have been because of the time period and considering it was decades before the Internet was available. The other issue in not finding the information such as this is because there seemed to be few, if anyone who did not believe Ronald to be guilty. There are websites devoted to long ago crimes and even of those who have been executed. Many of those sites protest the innocence of the convicted. It matters little to those people if the person is still alive, for them it is about the wrongful imprisonment or in this case execution, of someone and it gives them a platform. Even in cases such as those someone, somewhere, will have a copy of an appeal and it will be published somewhere on the web. That is not the case here. I never found one item from anything that ever suggested that anyone, other than Ronald himself, thought that he was innocent.
With that said his wife, Daynene would later say that it took her quite some time to come to the realization that her husband had murdered their son and likely intended to murder their daughter. After his arrest and at least up until his trial she apparently visited him regularly in jail. She has stated that he cried on these visits and steadfastly proclaimed his innocence. She has said that even then there was a part of her that knew he was lying but it was difficult for her to come to terms with reality. Soon after his trial Daynene would divorce him. Some years later she would remarry and her husband would adopt her daughter, Elizabeth. In 1984 Daynene was interviewed for the first time since the trial in 1975 and she did not want her new name to be released. Even then she was still trying get through the reality. Her number one priority was protecting her daughter who she said had only recently asked to have contact with Ronald, which she forbid. If I could ask one question to each of them today I would ask them the same question, if they thought the decision to not allow the contact prior to his execution was the right choice. I am not judging her for the choice that she made and I am sure as a mother, especially of a then fifteen year old girl, I would have made the same choice. But I also know as a mother that we sometimes make choices either with emotions or that seem so clearly the right decision at the time that we may later look differently about. I have no doubt that had Elizabeth contacted Ronald he would have continued his “innocence plea” and attempted to convince her that he was railroaded. What kind of impact that would have had is unknown. Could he have convinced Elizabeth that he was innocent and she believe for the rest of her life that he had been executed wrongly? Maybe he could not have convinced her and she just remained angry (which is never good when it comes to teenagers) that he could not accept responsibility. Maybe at the time she became angry that she was denied the contact but has realized since then that it was a choice she would make today for her own children. Who knows.
So what made a man who had nothing more than a parking ticket his whole life, think at the age of thirty that murdering his children was a legitimate idea and that he would get away with it? Investigators always believed that the ultimate goal was for his own children to digest the cyanide and collect the insurance. Daynene would say not long before that fateful Halloween they had made an appointment with an insurance agent to get life insurance on her but they had to cancel because they did not have the money for the premium. Did he have an ultimate goal of killing his entire family for money? Investigators also believe that Ronald gave the remaining Pixy Stix to the other three children hoping that it would divert attention from him. There had been stories and legends for decades about tainted Halloween candy and I know each of you have probably seen a story here or there over the years of pins or even razor blades in candy. But, according to the research not only was this first documented case, but the only documented case as of now of actual Halloween candy poisoning and it was obviously done with a goal in mind and a reason.
Ronald O'Bryan obviously had more issues than most people saw. There was apparently the outside view that that friends, co-workers and neighbors saw and knew. Then there would be the Ronald that the family knew. It is likely that even some outside the house knew of the financial trouble they were facing and obviously he had issues with holding a job. But there seems to be a Ronald that no one saw. This was the Ronald that somehow thought that killing his children and receiving $60,000 was something to strive for. It is said that Daynene never cashed the $30,000 received from the policies taken on Timothy's life. She called it “blood money.” Just prior to Ronald's execution Daynene would say that she felt his execution would give her “a brand new beginning” for her and her daughter. I can only hope they got that.