Creating a Murder

I met with a friend today to do a bit of brainstorming for the murder at the museum event, but we got stymied when it came to figuring out physical clues. We never got further than my original examples of a weapon, a blood spot, a fingerprint, and some sort of photographic clue. In my own mystery stories, I’ve depended on conversations, especially when one character contradicts another because physical clues always seemed so Nancy Drew-ish. And yet, that’s what I need for this event — clues for the participants to find. Even though I can think of things to plant around the museum, I can’t figure out how any of those clues would lead people to suspect a particular character.

Because neither of us were able to come up with anything other than what we already had, we went on to discuss the victims. Since the event will be called “A Murder of Crows,” by definition, that means that two or more people will have to be victims. My idea is a married couple — traveling salespeople. Perhaps the man sells men’s haberdashery and the woman sells women’s unmentionables. I envision them killed in their bed, but I have no idea how someone would kill two people without one or the other being aware of it, though it’s possible only one of the couple was the intended victim, and the other woke up and saw the killer.

But I haven’t a clue why anyone would want to kill one or both of these seemingly innocuous characters. We discussed the possibility of the couple being spies, but there doesn’t seem to be anything noteworthy happening in this area around that time (1900), nor does there seem — at first glance — to be anything spy-worthy about that time in the USA, either. If we jettison the spy idea, we could have the couple ending up with some sort of contraband — an Indian relic, for example — and the owner wants it back or a greedy person sees it as a source of personal riches.

There are lots of other possibilities, of course. Most of the costumed characters would need to have to a motive, otherwise, there’s no real game. Often in a mystery story, you start out with no one who has a motive, so the detective needs to search out a motive to discover the perpetrator, but I don’t think that sort of scenario would be feasible in this case. Too much work for the participants.

Which means that I would have to come up with a motive to assign to each of the characters. Possibilities are: robbery, jealousy, vengeance, lust and passion (as in a crime of passion), money, loathing, anger, fear, mistaken identity, covering up secrets and lies, prevention of a greater crime (killing an assassin, for example)

I won’t have another meeting on the topic until next week, so it will give me a chance to let things stew in my brain pan. With any luck, I’ll cook up a likely scenario and plenty of suspects.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Murder Mystery Proposal

I submitted a proposal to the museum today for the murder mystery they’ve planned for the end of October.

The first mystery I created was based on a Clue game, so all the character’s names were colors. Various comments and suggestions from people gave me the idea of bird names. The victims could be a couple surnamed “Crow,” and the event could be called “A Murder of Crows.” Not everyone knows that a group of crows is not a flock but a murder, but that shouldn’t make any difference to the game.

Crows have nothing in particular to do with this area, though this part of Colorado is a good site for birding. (Except when it comes to me. Out of the 400 species that have been sighted, I’ve seen only a dozen or so.) Because of a lack any historical connection to crows, my proposal was just a first draft to get things going. Still, the museum director seemed to like the idea.

One of the characters could be a woman reporter, whose name could be Brenda Starling or more probably, Nellie Starling since Brenda Starr wasn’t created until the forties and Nellie Bly was active during the historical time of this event.

I’d also like one of the victims to be a ghost, roaming around looking for either her husband, their killer, or both.

And there’s a local medicine man who would make a good huckster.

My job is done for a while. The next steps need to come from other people, such as signing up people to play various characters and finding out noteworthy local events from that time. And I need help figuring out the visual clues, though I have a hunch that will be left to me.

I did have visual clues the first time, such as a photo of a man with a saloon girl he claimed never to have met, but since the museum is rather large for such a small town, I think clues like that got lost. This time, I figure we can put a silhouette of a crow by any clue, photographic or otherwise, to give people a hint.

I’d like to use fingerprints somehow. It’s possible I could just put a photo of a fingerprint by the crime scene and then simply tell people who it belonged to, though the person would deny committing the crime. Another possibility is to give all the characters a photo of a fingerprint they can hand out so people can check who the fingerprint belongs to, but the logistics of doing that seem a bit too complicated.

What makes this sort of game hard to create is that it has to be enigmatic yet logical, as do all mysteries. It also needs to be convoluted yet easy enough to solve so that even kids can play.

Until the museum folks gather some of the information I need, I don’t really have to do anything else to put it all together. Except think, of course. It always helps me to play out various scenarios in my head before I lay them out on a page.

A big thank you to everyone who gave me suggestions for this project. It certainly makes it easy for me to come up with a proposal when all I have to do is collate other people’s ideas!


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Spur of the Moment Murder Mystery

I missed the murder I created for the museum because I still haven’t gotten over my cough, so I’m reprising the mystery here. This is the scenario I wrote:

It is Monday, March 5, 1877. Rutherford B. Hayes has just been publicly inaugurated as the nineteenth president of the United States. Hayes lost the popular vote but won the most electoral college votes after a ferociously disputed ruling by a Congressional committee. People are out late, some celebrating the victory, some drowning their sorrows at having a Republican in office.

At 9:10, Clay Allison was killed outside the jewelry store, and at 9:15 pm, revelers discovered the body.

There are many suspects.

Colonel Mustard, the blacksmith, born in 1832, was at the garrison in Gainesville, Alabama when Clay and his Confederate unit surrendered at the end of the Civil War. Mustard swears that Clay had escaped the night before he was to go before a firing squad, and this does not sit right with the Colonel. The Colonel says he was in the saloon when Clay was killed.

Mrs. White, schoolmarm, born in 1824, says Clay deserved to be shot for mangling the English language. Clay had bragged that he was a shootist, and Mrs. White says there is no such word. She also says she was at a suffragette meeting that evening at the schoolhouse. The suffrage referendum had just been defeated in Colorado, and she and other women in town were determined to get suffrage for women in Colorado.

Mrs. Peacock, candy-shop lady, born in 1842, is the married sister of Deputy Charles Faber. Clay had gunned down the deputy after the deputy had demanded Clay and his brother relinquish their guns. Mrs. Peacock is not only grieving the loss of her brother, but is fuming that Allison went free after the judge ruled Clay Allison’s actions self-defense. She claims to have been home alone.

Professor Plum, a professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, born in 1878, is writing a book about Clay Allison. He came to town to learn more about what actually happened between Clay and Deputy Faber. Plum claims that Clay was long dead by the time he arrived in Las Animas to do his research.

Miss Scarlet, dance hall girl, born in 1860, hated Clay Allison for promising her marriage and a life of respectability and then reneging on the deal. She claims to have been with Mr. Green when the incident occurred.

Mr. Green, bank teller, born in 1847, says he was not with Miss Scarlet, had never even met her. He claims to be an upstanding citizen with pretentions to being bank president one day, though he does admit that Clay Allison tended to play fast as loose with the ladies in town, and should be shot on general principles.


Look for clues in the above suspect list and in the photographs provided. FYI: the bartender corroborates the alibies of anyone who said they were in the saloon.

Check off the characters as you learn they didn’t do the dirty deed. When you sort out the truth from the lies, whoever is left, then, must be the killer. Keep in mind, not everyone will tell the truth.

o Colonel Mustard
o Mrs. White
o Mrs. Peacock.
o Professor Plum
o Miss Scarlett
o Mr. Green


Mr. Green and Miss Scarlet


So, who dunnit? Who killed Clay Allison?

In case anyone wants to figure out who the killer is, I’ll wait until tomorrow to post the solution.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.