How to Find the Killer at a Murder Mystery Party
Updated: Mar 11
Around here, we love a good mystery, and one of our favorite things to do is to host murder mystery parties for our friends. In fact, I’ve even written several murder mystery games from scratch, so today I’m going to use some of that insider information to help YOU solve the next murder mystery game that YOU play, so you can identify the murderer and impress all your friends!
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Murder mystery games are written so there are clues built into EVERYTHING … every quote from a suspect, every item someone is holding, and even every thing that’s part of a costume or nearby each suspect. Every detail is there for a reason … nothing is ever included just for fun. Either that detail is meant to direct your attention to the killer, or it’s meant to eliminate a suspect from the list.
So as you’re walking around in character, interviewing all the other suspects at your party, there are three things you need to ask to solve the case:
What did the killer NEED to commit the crime
Who COULD have had those things, and
Who COULD NOT have had those things
You may recall that in the board game Clue, each player has a little sheet with a grid on it to keep track of who was in what room and what weapon they might have had…. You will need to grab a notebook and set up a grid like this for yourself as you collect information about the suspects in your game. Once you fill in all the missing pieces, one suspect will stand out as the obvious killer.
Let me use a very simplified example to explain what I mean. Let’s say your victim was killed at 9am on a weekday, and he was hit on the head with a 50-lb bag of rocks while he was in his house. Your suspects are an elderly neighbor, a school teacher, and a plumber.
What does the killer NEED?
1) to be at the house during a workday and
2) to be strong enough to lift a 50-lb bag of rocks.
Who COULD have those things? Both the neighbor and the plumber COULD have been at the house during the day, but the teacher COULD NOT, since she would have been at school. The plumber COULD be strong enough to lift the rocks, but the elderly neighbor COULD NOT … SO we eliminate the teacher and the neighbor and that leaves us with the plumber as the killer.
Now, that was an extra simple example just to get us started, but remember, the best murder mystery games throw in a few misdirects to keep things exciting. There is usually more than one person who could have had the motive for murder, and more than one person who had the means or the access to the victim. So now you need to look for more subtle clues to help you eliminate suspects and hone in on the real killer.
Let's take a more difficult example. There’s a fun new show on Netflix called Murderville starring Will Arnett as a bumbling detective, and in each episode he has a different celebrity join him as his partner. It’s a cute show because the twist is that the celebrity doesn’t have access to the script before they come on the show, so their entire part is ad-libbed. The celebrity partner has to actually collect the clues and try to guess the murderer at the end of the episode.
But this makes Murderville a great case study for our purposes, since the clues are all laid out pretty clearly in half an hour, and reviewed at the end so the celebrity knows how they did and what they missed.
In Episode 4, called Murder by Soup, Annie Murphy from Schitt’s Creek is the celebrity guest. The victim in her case was a health inspector who was poisoned with the venom from a South American tree frog. He’s found face-down at his desk in a bowl of soup. The three unusual things that stood out at the crime scene were 1) the soup was delivered from a restaurant, but not in the original restaurant bag (it was in a white bag, not a brown bag). 2) No one saw the delivery person, but they did hear whistling 3) The poison was definitely in the soup, and can only be found in South America.
The victim had three enemies, so there are three suspects - a chef, a kindergarten teacher, and a mob boss. All three had motive, so to solve the crime, Annie Murphy had to listen to their statements and look around them at the items the show writers had chosen to stage the scenes with.