Historical Documents

The Historical Document Room was opened to the public on October 24, 2006. The room is available for viewing historical documents from 1837—1925. These court records are not just paper, they are valuable sources of Texas' and Houston’s history. Some of the most badly deteriorated records have been restored and preserved by the Harris County District Clerk's Office. Those efforts have been honored with a 2004 Good Brick Award from the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance.

What Can I do to Help Save Harris County’s History?

The Harris County District Clerk’s Office has teamed with the Houston Bar Foundation to raise the funds needed to continue restoring and preserving Harris County’s past. The Houston Bar Foundation is accepting tax-deductible donations to preserve records. We do not suggest an amount for your donation as any amount is greatly helpful and appreciated.

Checks can be made payable to: Houston Bar Foundation Records Preservation and mailed to P.O. Box 4651, Houston, TX 77210. For a contribution form to include with your check, please click here.

In addition to preserving case files, bound volumes such as criminal case indexes, minute books, fee docket books and accounting books from as early as the Republic of Texas days are being saved. Costs for preserving these invaluable historical documents range from $10 for a file to as much as $2,500 for a civil index book. Donors who contribute an amount necessary to preserve one entire book may, if they wish, be recognized on the spine or outside cover of the book. Standard wording for such recognition will be, “In memory of _________,” “Graciously donated by ________,” etc. Other wording desired by the donor will be taken into consideration.

The process for preservation requires experts trained in handling historical documents, as the documents must be handled with extreme care. They are unfolded, pacified, then encapsulated in special Mylar plastic sheets to protect them from further damage caused by exposure to air and moisture. The process being used will preserve these records for up to 300 years and prevent further deterioration of our historical records.

Services Available in the Historical Document Room

  • Public viewing of original documents
  • Requested copies for $1.00 per page

Historical Documents Available Online

As a public service, the documents that are made available over the Web are provided at no charge. Please note, while the clarity of some of the documents is exceptional, the quality of others is poor. This is directly related to the quality of the original document as well as the penmanship of the scribe in some instances. Click below to begin viewing these priceless historical documents.
 

View Online

Historical Case Of The Month

The Honorable Judge Mark Davidson has been instrumental in the development of the Harris County District Court Historical Document Project. An avid legal history buff, Judge Davidson continues to write and serve as a special advisor to the ongoing Case Of the Month articles.

THE CASE OF THE HALLOWEEN CANDY KILLER State of Texas v. Ronald Clark O’Bryan Judge Mark Davidson

During the month of October, many children are anticipating their annual trips around their neighborhoods to go “Trick or Treating.” When I was growing up in Southwest Houston, the one time I was allowed to walk around the blocks near my house was on Halloween. Sugar rushes often followed.

This changed for many in our community in 1974 as a result of a horrific incident involving cyanide-laced candy that led to the death of a child caused by his father and that could have led to the deaths of three more children.

Following the tragedy, many parents went years before allowing their children to get candy from neighbors.

Ronald Clark O’Bryan lived in Deer Park with his wife and two children. He was an optician and a deacon at his church. His financial situation apparently was dire. Records indicated that he was more than $100,000 in debt. To get out of difficulties, he concocted a scheme to buy poison and put it in a “Pixy Stick” (a sweet and sour powdered candy that was popular at the time). During the months before Halloween, O’Bryan bought $30,000 life insurance policies for each of his children. On Halloween morning, he bought potassium cyanide from a garden shop.

That night, O’Bryan , his two children and two neighborhood children were visiting their neighbors. One house was dark, indicating that the owner was not home. The children wanted to skip the house, but O’Bryan stayed behind, and told the children that the owner of the house gave him four Pixy Sticks from them. The ends of the straw-like containers had been stapled after being opened.

When the O’Bryans got home, Ronald urged his son Timothy to try the candy. He loosened up the powder. Timothy immediately started vomiting and convulsing. Ronald testified that he held his son as he died. An uproar went through the neighborhood looking for other poisoned candy. Four sticks were found still in the children’s bags, and one stick was found unopened in bed with a child.

Eventually, the police learned about O’Bryan’s purchase of the cyanide and life insurance policies, and a Harris County grand jury charged him with capital murder. O’Bryan hired Marvin Teague, a legendary criminal defense attorney, to no avail. After 46 minutes of deliberation, he was found guilty of murder and was ordered to be executed. Appeals took seven years, but the Court ordered that the sentence be carried out on Halloween night of 1982. Two more challenges to lethal injections followed, but he was put to death on March 31, 1984, almost ten years later. The night of the execution, some people stood outside the penitentiary and shouted “Trick or Treat!”

Opinions on the death penalty are widely divergent in our state and nation. What is not subject to debate is that killing one’s own children, and endangering other children, is terrible. O’Bryan was called “The Candy Killer” and “The Man who Killed Halloween.” Those of us who take our children out on All Souls day should always be careful about what they get and what they eat.

Click here to view the historic case documents for The Case Of The Halloween Candy Killer