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Taking the Mystery Out of...
A Murder Mystery Party

Text by: Nanette Steimle

What better way to spend a night than gathering together with close friends dressed as characters straight out of a movie scene all in order to solve a fake mystery? This is exactly what a Murder Mystery party is all about. Hosting these nights is a magical way to casually mingle with friends while working together to solve a crime. In reality, it's more than just a simple "hang out." There is laughter, hysterics, and all around fun. I highly recommend hosting a Murder Mystery party, especially if you are looking for a way for you and your adult friends to spend Halloween (although Murder Mystery Parties can be held any time of the year).

My first Murder Mystery Party was spent dressed as a 1920's flapper girl-- a character perfectly fitting for me. I excitedly visited a costume shop where I purchased a tight-fitted, black sequined flapper hat, a long, fake cigarette holder, elbow-length gloves, and an off-shoulder, long, black A-line dress adorned around the neckline with a single strand of fake diamonds. As for my husband's costume, I knew to look at a thrift store where there were tweed coats and bowler hats. He and I were the characters, "Lana Longhorn" and "Baron Von Baron," along with six others who were dressed, and acted, in character the entire time. This particular party was held at a friend's restaurant where we dined on food reminiscent of the time period, and mingled amongst characters who were no longer our modern-day friends, but were transformed into mere acquaintances who happened to be, just as I was, accused of plotting the murder of Sir Fitzgerald Fleming at his winery in Napa, California.

© Jessica Ceason Photography (Left), Kevin Parker Photography (Right Top & Bottom)

Since that first, magical night, I have attended and played hostess to many Murder Mystery Parties. My characters have included a Russian countess, a librarian, a famous, Oscar-winning actress, a Wild West can-can dancer, an opera singer, and an undercover cop dressed as a housemaid. They have taken place at my house, a friend's house, a backyard, a garage, and even a barn.

So what exactly is entailed in a Murder Mystery Party you ask? And how can you go about hosting one? Here are a few of my quick hints and "go to's" to make your own Murder Mystery Party a success.

  1. The event starts with an organized game. These can usually be purchased online or at a gaming store, second-hand shops, bookstores, or even your own friends' game cupboards.
  2. Each game takes place in a different setting. Try to choose one for which you can decorate or host a dinner in the same theme as the game. For instance, if you are hosting a Hollywood-themed game, decorate with a red carpet, serve champagne, and place a Hollywood Star Walk of Fame around the room.
  3. Once you have the game, start perusing the different characters who are involved in solving the crime, and begin figuring out which of your friends might fit with each one. Often times, you're able to match the characters perfectly to each of your friends.
  4. There should be included within the game a set of "Host's Instructions," as well as a preprinted party invitation. You can use the included invitations (which I highly suggest) or create your own. There will also be an insert with character descriptions you can include in each invitation so as to aid each of your guests with what type of costume to wear and time to get into character.
  5. Now it's time to start planning heart out for the big night! Whether you're keeping it simple or going all out, try to keep everything you do "in character," so your guests can be inspired to stay that way the entire night. From the food (whether appetizers or a full meal), to the decorations, some of the smallest details can add to the overall ambience success of the entire night.
  6. Make sure you take the time to read the Host's Instructions and prepare with any additional equipment or instructions they give you. Many times there is a CD included that the group will listen to, which will require a CD player set up before the event. Therefore, it's important you understand everything before the actual night of the event.
© Jessica Ceason Photography

On a side note, there are a few things to keep in mind from the minute you start planning to the end of the party night. Here are some fun things to consider along the way:

  • It is expected that each of your guests arrive, and stay, "in character" the entire time. Try to emphasize this to your guests, because, take my word for it, this has caused great laughs and created many memories between friends that have lasted a lifetime. To this day, I still call friends by their character names or reminisce with them about a special, hilarious moment. For example, if they've been asked to be Lieutenant John Jones, a pilot who flew fighter jets in WWII, the minute the door opens, they could be talking about their latest flight mission dressed in a flight jacket, flight cap with goggles on top of their head. Every conversation he would speak and answer questions about flight plans, the war, and his newest love interest as if he were truly that character and lived during that time.
  • Have some type of hors d'oeurves ready when guests arrive, as well as cocktails or something to drink. This way they can mingle, in character, while guests continue to arrive.
  • Each game usually has four "rounds." Take a break after the second round to refill drinks, grab a few snacks, or even eat a meal. Give the guests at least 10 to 20 minutes to mingle and continue with impromptu conversation.
  • Most games only feature eight characters, four men and four women. It is possible to hold more than one game at a time, however, just not in the same room. The venue must include a place where each game can take place separately, but have an area where everyone may gather together before, during, and after. The games, however, do not need to be themed the same-- it is still fun to have a Wild West sheriff trying to make conversation with the Phantom of the Opera.
  • Try to send a reminder e-mail a few days before to make sure everyone will be in attendance. It is imperative that each character has someone playing the part. Each character has a major part in figuring out who the murderer is or in solving the mystery, so if someone cannot attend at the last minute, try first finding someone to fill that role, or if needs be, have another character read two parts.

Good luck planning your first ever (or next) Murder Mystery event! It truly will be a time to remember and grand fun for all!