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Humorous images depicting creepy vans with the suggestion of sexual offense and kidnap have spread through online forums and image macros. The most common image shows a dark red van that has the words “free candy” painted across the side. A variety of alternate images can be found online, often with similar wording. It is in a similar spirit to pedobear, but is usually a stand alone photo.
The oldest examples of the image online are from 2006, although an origin story suggests this is two years after the original van was defaced. The meme is popular due to the dark humour many internet denizens find in the “strangers with candy” warning given to children. Many of the images used are real life photography.The phrase also appears other forms such as text based macros, videos, t-shirt prints and paper craft. While the situation and text can vary, many images in existence have the same phrases, such as “free candy” and “this looks legit”. The choice of van colour is be red in many cases, imitating the original photo.
In 2009, a Utah college student was arrested for putting up a sign in the back window of a van as a prank after concerned residents called the police. It has also been noted as appearing on The Jay Leno Show, although a video clip has yet to be discovered online.
On April 23rd, 2010, user bobotech posted a story and video to a car enthusiast forum suggesting that the van was his:
The whole story behind it was back in 2004, my 16 year old kid was using that van to go to school and back. Horrible van but reliable as heck. Nasty inside and nasty outside. The roof is gray because the university that owned it before my buddy who gave it to me painted it with a waterproof paint but it didn’t work, still leaked. The van was rolled back when the university owned it so they tried to seal up the leaks caused by the roll. The side of the van which says Free Candy was actually sheet metal that was screwed into the side of it to cover the broken windows. They then painted it sort of.
So back in 2004 my kid was using it as his daily driver. One day, some kids vandalized it by painting the Free Candy on the side of it. Well he left it like that since it was so funny to drive. I then took a bunch of pictures of it at night at our old house and posted it to a forum that still has the thread but its a closed forum now so you have to register to see the thread. (tivocommunity forum). The legend was born after someone posted the link to the forum which was open at the time to College Humor. The rest is history.
That is the story of the van. Stupid thing still runs great after all these years. I just can’t get rid of it because its so famous. Oh yeah, the current free candy writing is not the original writing but was redone over the barely visible original markings from 2004.