Episode 143:

Desabotage

The Truth Behind Poisoned Halloween Candy

Georgia

The Murder of Carol Stuart

Karen

Episode 143: Desabotage

Karen and Georgia cover the truth behind poisoned Halloween candy and the murder of Carol Stuart.

Listen on Apple Podcasts. Listen on Stitcher. Listen on Spotify Listen on PlayerFM

The Truth Behind Poisoned Halloween Candy

The Truth Behind Poisoned Halloween Candy Notes:

Poisoned candy myths are urban legends about malevolent strangers hiding poisons or sharp objects such as razor blades, needles, or broken glass in candy and distributing the candy in order to harm random children, especially during Halloween trick-or-treating. These stories serve as modern cautionary tales to children and parents and repeat two themes that are common in urban legends: danger to children and contamination of food. No cases of strangers killing or permanently injuring children this way have been proven. Commonly, the story appears in the media when a young child dies suddenly after Halloween. Medical investigations into the actual cause of death have always shown that these children did not die from eating candy given to them by strangers. However, in rare cases, adult family members have spread this story in an effort to cover up murder or accidental deaths. In other incidents, a child who has been told about poisoned candy places a dangerous object or substance in a pile of candy and pretends that it was the work of a stranger. This behavior is called the copycat effect. Folklorists, scholars, and law enforcement experts say that the story that strangers put poison into candy and give that candy to trick-or-treating children has been "thoroughly debunked". Worries that candy from strangers might be poisoned has led to the rise of alternative events to trick-or-treating, such as events held at Christian churches, police and fire stations, community centers, and retail stores.

Claims that candy was poisoned or adulterated gained general credence during the Industrial Revolution, when food production moved out of the home or local area, where it was made in familiar ways by known and trusted people, to strangers using unknown ingredients and unfamiliar machines and processes. Some doctors publicly claimed that they were treating children poisoned by candy every day. If a child became ill, and had eaten candy, the candy was widely assumed to be the cause. However, no cases of illness or death were ever substantiated.

In the 1890s and 1900s, the US Bureau of Chemistry and other state agencies tested hundreds of kinds of candy and found no evidence of poisons or adulteration. These tests revealed that inexpensive glucose (from corn syrup) was in common use for cheap candies, that some candies contained trace amounts of copper from uncoated copper cooking pans, and that coal tar dyes were being used for coloring, but there was no evidence of the many types of poison, industrial waste, garbage, or other adulterants alleged to be present. Eventually, the claims that children were being sickened by candy were put down to indigestion due to overeating, or to other causes, including food poisoning due to improper cooking, hygiene, or storage of meat and other foods.

The prevalence and persistence of these myths during the 1960s and 1970s, a time of social upheaval, greater racial integration, and improved status for women, reflected societal questions about who was trustworthy. Because society was struggling with questions about whether to trust neighbors in newly integrated neighborhoods, or young women who were publicly rejecting the subservient, motherhood-focused roles previously assigned to women, these stories about unidentifiable neighbors allegedly harming random, innocent children during an event intended to bring happiness to these children caught and retained the public imagination in a way that accurate stories about a judgmental neighbor, an abusive parent, or an adult carelessly leaving harmful chemicals where children can reach them, wouldn't have. An academic view sees this as an example of a rumor panic, with halloween developing as a carnival-like folk institution – meant to release social tensions – losing its functionality as neighborhoods themselves break down (for various reasons). 

In 1959, a California dentist, William Shyne, gave candy-coated laxative pills to trick-or-treaters. He was charged with outrage of public decency and unlawful dispensing of drugs.

In 1964, a disgruntled Long Island, New York woman gave out packages of inedible objects to children who she believed were too old to be trick-or-treating. The packages contained items such as steel wool, dog biscuits, and ant buttons (which were clearly labeled with the word "poison"). Though nobody was injured, she was prosecuted and pleaded guilty to endangering children. The same year saw media reports of lye-filled bubble gum being handed out in Detroit and rat poison being given in Philadelphia, although these media reports were never substantiated to be actual events.

Another notable milestone in the spread of the candy tampering myths was an article published in The New York Times in 1970. This article claimed that "Those Halloween goodies that children collect this weekend on their rounds of ‘trick or treating’ may bring them more horror than happiness", and provided specific examples of potential tamperings.

Reports and copycat incidents peaked shortly after the Chicago Tylenol murders, which were first reported one month before Halloween in 1982. This incident involved a murderer who added poison to a few bottles of over-the-counter medication after the medication had been delivered to stores.

Joel Best, a sociologist at the University of Delaware, specializes in the scholarly study of candy-tampering legends. He collected newspaper reports from 1958 to 1983 in search of evidence of candy tampering. Fewer than 90 instances might have qualified as actual candy tampering. In none of the cases does he attribute the events to "random attempts to harm children" at the Halloween holiday. Instead, most cases were attempts by adults to gain financial compensation or, far more commonly, by children to get attention. Best found five child deaths that were initially thought by local authorities to be caused by homicidal strangers, but none of those were sustained by investigation.

Fabrications by children are particularly common. Children sometimes copy or act out the stories about tampered candy that they overhear, by adding pins to or pouring household cleaners on their own candy and then reporting the now-unsafe candy to their parents. In these incidents, the children have not been harmed; they know that the dangerous item is present and that it would be unsafe to eat the candy.

Far more prevalent during the same period were reports of vandalism, racist incidents, or children being injured in pedestrian–vehicle collisions on Halloween.

Despite these claims of poisoned candy being eventually proved false, the news media promoted the story continuously throughout the 1980s, with local news stations featuring frequent coverage. During this time cases of poisoning were repeatedly reported based on unsubstantiated claims or before a full investigation could be completed and often never followed up on. This one-sided coverage contributed to the overall panic and caused rival media outlets to issue reports of candy tampering as well. However, Joel Best says that the spread of the myth cannot be blamed solely on the media, and that it must have been transmitted via word of mouth as well.

By 1985, the media had driven the hysteria about candy poisonings to such a point that an ABC News/Washington Post poll that found 60% of parents feared that their children would be injured or killed because of Halloween candy sabotage.

Advice columnists entered the fray during the 1980s and 1990s with both Ask Ann Landers and Dear Abby warning parents of the horrors of candy tampering:

"In recent years, there have been reports of people with twisted minds putting razor blades and poison in taffy apples and Halloween candy. It is no longer safe to let your child eat treats that come from strangers." –Ann Landers in 1995

"Somebody's child will become violently ill or die after eating poisoned candy or an apple containing a razor blade." –Dear Abby in 1983

— Source: Wikipedia

The Murder of Carol Stuart

The Murder of Carol Stuart Notes:

Chuck Stuart gripped the handset of his car phone.

“My wife’s been shot,” he told a State Police dispatcher. “I’ve been shot.”

It was 8:43 p.m. on October 23, 1989. For 13 minutes, a dispatcher tried to coax a location out of Stuart, who seemed lucid but was unable to give his coordinates.

“I have no idea,” Stuart said. “I was just coming from Tremont, uh, Brigham and Women’s Hospital.”

McLaughlin reckoned Stuart was in shock. Who wouldn’t be?

Stuart, 29, and his wife, Carol, 30 years old and seven months pregnant with their first child, had just attended a birthing class at the hospital. Stuart, who, like his wife, was white, would later claim that a black man with a raspy voice invaded their Toyota Cressida near Brigham Circle. The gunman took cash, the car keys, jewelry, and Carol’s Gucci bag, then got suspicious that Stuart was “5-0”—a plainclothes cop, Stuart said. So the man shot them.

One of the bullets pierced Stuart’s abdomen. He told police he’d “ducked down” and that a second shot struck his wife in the head.

The dispatcher asked if Carol was breathing.

“I just hear gurgling,” Stuart replied.

Police finally found the Toyota on St. Alphonsus Street, blocks from the hospital. Coincidentally, a crew from the CBS reality show Rescue 911 was riding with Boston paramedics, who were among the first to roll up to the scene. A camera recorded every sickening detail as Carol, clearly pregnant and with a gaping head wound, was cut from her seatbelt and laid on a stretcher. A rescuer compressed her chest, trying to induce a heartbeat, but it was futile.

At Brigham and Women’s, doctors removed her son, Christopher, born alive at just under 4 pounds. But he had been starved of oxygen and would soon die. Stuart went to Boston City Hospital, where he underwent surgery on his bowel, gallbladder, and liver. The damage was substantial, but he survived.

The Stuart case resonated across America, in part because the intimate videotape of the shooting’s aftermath made it seem so personal. But with a black perpetrator and white victims, it also fit comfortably into the nation’s deep-rooted prejudices about race and crime. In Boston, white paranoia was running high as the crack epidemic intensified violent crime in black neighborhoods like Roxbury, and it wasn’t long before an ugly racist murmur underscored white Boston’s empathy for the Stuarts. Mayor Ray Flynn seemed to sanction that attitude when he pledged to “get the animals responsible.”

Charles Stuart Jr. and Carol DiMaiti were young strivers who seemed to be exemplars of Boston’s Irish and Italian communities, steeped in a culture of Catholic parishes, Knights of Columbus halls, and neighborhood bars. They met in 1980 while working at a restaurant in Revere, Stuart’s hometown, and were married in 1985. Carol, a petite brunette from Medford, was a Boston College and Suffolk Law graduate. She had a lucrative career as a tax attorney. Chuck had a sweet gig earning six figures as manager of a fur salon on Newbury Street. They lived on Harvest Road in Reading, where neighbors recalled the couple lingering over a goodbye kiss each workday morning.

With Chuck hospitalized, a friend read his ode to Carol at her funeral: “Goodnight, sweet wife, my love. God has called you to his hands.… In our souls, we must forgive this sinner because He would too.”

As the Stuart family grieved, Boston police were rampaging through the Mission Hill projects in Roxbury, where Stuart’s car keys—presumably discarded by the killer—had turned up. Cops kicked in doors and frisked young black men, looking for the man Stuart had described: a black man who spoke as though he’d swallowed a pea stone.

About two weeks after the crime, a 15-year-old boy told police that his uncle, Willie Bennett, had bragged that he was the killer. The teen quickly recanted, but that didn’t matter to the police. Willie Bennett, 39, looked like a perfect suspect. He had spent most of his adult life locked up. He was raspy and nasty, with violent crime bona fides that included threatening a cop with a shotgun in 1981. The Herald got the scoop on November 11, introducing Bennett as the “prime” suspect. Louis Sabadini, a Norfolk prosecutor, called him “a mad dog running amok.” Legislators palavered about resurrecting the death penalty. “I’d pull the switch myself,” said Frank Bellotti, the former Massachusetts attorney general who was running for governor. On December 28, Stuart picked Bennett out in a police lineup. It seemed that the police had their man.

But before charges could be brought against Bennett, on January 3, Stuart’s brother, Matthew, 23, met with the DA to confess an inconceivable secret. The murderer, he said, was Stuart himself.

Chuck Stuart had shot his wife and then himself, his brother said. Then he had tossed the gun and Carol’s purse into Matthew’s passing car, a sinister pas de deux that the brothers had rehearsed. Matthew, promised $10,000 to act as an accomplice, ditched the evidence in the Pines River. He also admitted he told the truth to his other brother, Michael, two days after the murder. (In spite of their dirty secret, the Stuart brothers had helped carry their sister-in-law’s casket.)

The black man with the raspy voice? He didn’t exist.

Chuck Stuart, now the subject of a city-wide manhunt, hid out the night of January 3 in Room 231 at the Sheraton in Braintree. He ordered a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call.

At sunrise on January 4, 1990, commuters reported an unoccupied Nissan Maxima stopped on the lower deck of the Tobin Bridge. It was Stuart’s new car—just purchased with life insurance proceeds. On the front seat authorities found a self-pitying note that Stuart had written before casting himself over the railing: “My life has been nothing but a battle for the last four months. Whatever this new accusation is, it has beaten me. I’ve been sapped of my strength.”

As divers fished Stuart’s body out of the cold, gray Mystic River, white Boston seemed to blink awake from a delirium. As a Globe headline put it, “From Nightmare to Reality, a City Is Reeling.” Mayor Flynn called the case “a giant fraud on this city.” The police and press blamed each other. In the postmortem, everyone insisted they’d been skeptical of Chuck Stuart all along, though there is little evidence of that in the record.

Why did he do it? Probably a combination of lust and greed. He was romancing a younger woman but was also nettled that motherhood would cut Carol’s paycheck. Whatever its genesis, the crime picked open Boston’s racial scab, 13 years after the busing riots and Stanley Forman’s famous photo of a white teenager using Old Glory as a lance against Ted Landsmark, a black man. When Stuart’s deceptions were exposed, the Globe called him “a world-class con man.” But he really wasn’t. Prisons are full of spouse killers, after all. But Boston’s police and the public enabled Stuart with their eagerness to accept his story. Michael Curry, president of the Boston NAACP, is not sure that the case would play out differently today.

“It still has relevance,” Curry says. “We still live every day with the preconceived notions of black and brown boys as ‘potential criminals.’ Stuart played on those prejudices. He said to himself, ‘If I had to accuse somebody of a crime, who would I accuse and where would it be? A black man in Roxbury-Dorchester-Mattapan.’ He knew everyone would believe him. And you know what? He was right.”

— Source: Boston Magazine

Fucking Hoorays!

Karen:

The new season of Schitt’s Creek has come out and I watched almost all of it before work, came home and then finished it. It’s just as beautiful, hilarious and great as it was last season — even more so. If you haven’t gotten into Schitt’s Creek it’s a little diamond waiting for you.

Georgia:

I woke up the other day (late as I do) and had this epiphany at like 1/10 effort I consistently worked at a 6. But my new thing is I just want to put one extra point of effort in my life — don’t start drinking tonight, start drinking at 5! Or take tonight off! I hope it helps other people feel like they don’t have to be a 10, just add an extra point to what you’re already doing. You don’t have to be a perfectionist.