Solving the most mysterious of murders while sitting in the roundBY KATHLEEN D. BAILEY
Special to the Union Leader August 09. 2017 9:12PM
LONDONDERRY — Ann Carroll, a member of the Londonderry Senior Center, looked around a group of 20 of her peers, each sitting on a metal chair, with a sheaf of papers in his or her lap. “We have five suspects,” Carroll reminded the other seniors. “There’s Ollie, the neighbor, the son Jerry, the daughter Glenda, and cousin Eric.”
“I think it was Eric,” Pat Robideaux said. “Remember, he didn’t have a coat at first. But when Eric and Mary returned, they picked up their coats.”
As youngsters, they read “Hardy Boys” and “Nancy Drew” with flashlights under the covers. Later, they marveled over Sherlock Holmes’ brilliance in whatever iteration they discovered him and then chuckled at “Columbo.”
In real life they’ve solved problems with children, work, finances and now, aging. The members of the Murder Mystery Group at the Londonderry Senior Center are experts in unraveling a problem, and they do it once a month for fun.
Senior Center Director Catherine Blash said she had the idea for a Murder Mystery Group after watching several programs on Hallmark Channel’s Movies and Mysteries. “I thought, why not do something like that?” Blash recalled. But she didn’t want to hassle with scripts or costumes, so she hit on the idea of having her senior sleuths solve shorter mysteries on paper. She finds the scenarios on an online site and distributes them the month before, carefully altering the titles first because “I don’t want them to Google it and find out the solution.”
Facilitator Ann Carroll leads the group. Some of the mysteries are easy to solve and some, not so much, Carroll observed. “Last month we solved it in five minutes,” she said.
But it’s no mystery that the group is growing. “I thought we’d only get five people,” Blash said. But they’ve had up to 20 and more are coming, she added.
Their first mystery was also the shortest, one page on “Pirate Pete.” Pete was sentenced to death by a Spanish general with a 50-man firing squad.
Pete knew it was the worst firing squad in the Spanish army, and he begged for mercy. The general allowed him to choose where the men stood, but they must not be any closer than 20 feet, they must be facing Pete, and Pete must remain tied up. The general said he would add 50 more men.
The general also said if Pete didn’t die at the firing squad’s hands, he would release him.
He arrived the next day to find Pete alive and well.
“Where did Pete tell the squad to stand?” Carroll asked.
“He had all the guys with the muskets stand single file,” Colleen Lajoie theorized. “They fired, and the first one missed.”
“There wasn’t room in the courtyard for 100 people,” Carroll’s husband Don offered. “The rifles would all fire beyond Pete.”
Carroll said, “Pete told them to form a circle. If anyone missed, they would shoot another squad member.”
The second mystery involved a children’s clubhouse, which had been locked over the winter. When the children opened it for spring, they saw words written in blood-red paint, “Welcome Back, Children — The Specter.” The spare key had been supposedly hidden in the tree house over the winter. “When they found the key, it wasn’t rusted,” group member Carol Jablonowski pointed out.
“Who thought it was Lisa?” Carroll asked. A forest of hands went up.
She confirmed that club member Lisa took the key and pulled the prank, noted by the fact that the spare key, when found, was bright and shiny, rather than dull and dirty.
Last will and testament
The final selection, “Last Will and Testament,” was the one most resembling a conventional mystery novel or movie, with a classic locked-door puzzle. Wealthy Oliver Cornwall signed a new will in the presence of witnesses neighbor Mary Mackey and his cousin Eric. Mackey and Eric could serve as witnesses because they weren’t named in the will. His petulant daughter Glenda spoke for herself and brother Jerry when she complained about their share of the estate. In the morning, Oliver was found dead, with two sets of footprints in the snow, one from the Mackey home and one from the guest cottage where Eric was staying.
Eric arrived, not wearing a coat, and he and Mackey went inside with Mackey’s spare key. They confirmed that they had heard a shot and a moan in the night. And a scrap of Oliver’s latest will was found in his hand.
“I think it was Eric,” group member Mary Vincenti said. “He knew he wasn’t in the will. He had to destroy the will, or he couldn’t benefit.”
“Do you think it was Eric?” Carroll asked, to which most of the hands went up. “When he showed up he didn’t have a coat,” Kathy Benger said. “When they left, they both had coats.”
Carroll confirmed that Eric was indeed his cousin’s killer, though not necessarily on purpose. It was proved that Oliver had a gun, Eric struggled with him, and the gun went off.
Some of the members stayed to rehash the mysteries and give their reasoning, while others went home or took seats for the Meals on Wheels luncheon.
“It causes you to think,” Don Carroll said, adding that his wife does not give him the answers in advance.
Blash said she’s pleased with how this group turned out, and she’ll be looking for more activities and projects to keep her seniors sharp. “It’s easier,” she said, “to sit in front of the TV. But you don’t want to lose your brain power.”
The next Murder Mystery Group is Friday, Aug. 18, at 10 a.m. in the Center on Mammoth Road. For more information or to register, contact Blash at 432-7509.