Whodunnit? Student detectives investigate staged murder mystery

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January 28, 2013

10:37 PM

Watch out, College of William and Mary Police: More murder cases could be a good thing. Well, not actual murder cases — rather, a hired theater group.

Friday, Jan. 25, AMP hosted its first “murder mystery night” with About Town Tours, LLC. The student programming board gave students an opportunity to appeal to their inner Sherlock Holmes. More importantly, this murder mystery encouraged teambuilding among its participants.

Based in North Carolina, About Town Tours is in its 11th year. It performs regular showings, such as the one this past Friday night, to colleges, large corporations — like Bank of America and Lowe’s — and country clubs. This particular exercise, according to founder Della Freedman, emphasized team building.

“Everyone is different, and in a table, there might be one who asks the best questions and one who has the better deduction skills,” Freedman said. “[Everyone is] working together with these different attributes to nail down the suspect shows teamwork and team building.”

Every participant’s attributes would play a large role in solving this murder mystery case.

“I really enjoyed the set-up of the murder mystery,” Noella Handley ’16 said. “The combination of written materials, character testimonies and interviews stimulated my inner detective and I appreciated the chance to figure out the mystery for myself.”

Here’s the scenario: Early in the morning, you receive a letter from Chief Detective and Security Chief I.M. DeMann. There has been a murder aboard a ship, The Legendary Carnival. The victim is identified as the ship’s crew director, Sunny Sails. You congregate in Chesapeake A of the Sadler Center on a frigid, eerie January night. There, the Chief Detective has organized a bunch of tables all across the big room. You take your seat, next to your teammates, be they friends or strangers, to solve the crime. Toward the middle of the room, you see the five suspects seated right behind the Chief Detective as she gives her introduction and warm welcome to all participating investigators. Lou Cruise worked with Captain Sails as her travel agent. Molly Rotter is a professional speaker and cruise aficionado. Becky Messer is a jewelry designer. Rhoda Blogger is a billionaire real estate tycoon on the lookout for investments, and Harv Carver is a poker chip collector and cruise ship gambler. The detective gives you an outline report of Captain Sails’ autopsy: She was strangled to death, and mysteriously enough, neck bruises showed a unique crosshatch, wider at the sides. Something fishy is in the air, especially when a poker chip is found near her body. There was some sort of foul play in the works.

Teams at each table were given a sheet outlining eight clues related to advancing the investigation. Freedman, who plays the Chief Detective, described this game as “Means, Motive, and Opportunity.” The investigators explored why each suspect was chosen and what their possible motives were. Think of it as a cat-and-mouse game: The suspects, played by the theater troupe, roamed around the room as investigators approached them and asked questions. In a certain amount of time, investigators compiled information and deliberated with their fellow teammates, before finally being asked to submit a report on whom they thought the murderer was.

Back at my table, our team concluded that the suspect was the jewelry designer, Becky. We chose her after overhearing her telling another investigator that she followed Sunny Sails back on the eve of her murder.

After a thrilling hour or so, the moment of revelation came. The Chief Detective called the student investigators back to their seats. Returning to her “Means, Motives, and Opportunity” theme, she went on to describe each suspect and his or her relationship with Sunny — filled with disappointments, anger and broken promises. After a lengthy deliberation of each, she announced the arrest of Molly Rotter, much to the surprise of many. Gasps and silence filled the room. The Chief Detective laid her case: After tense confrontations, Sunny Sails had decided to drop Molly Rotter’s expensive programs, prompting the murder. Molly followed Sunny Sails that fateful day and strangled her with a cord. The cord was then thrown overboard. Case closed!

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Benming Zhang
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