Imagine sharing a champagne toast at a party and witnessing the man of the hour getting shot dead by an unseen assailant among the group. That was the scenario played out at Northside Library’s July 9 Murder Mystery Night. Set in the 1920s, the party was attended by more than 100 people in period dress. Eight Dice Cloth, a live band from Santa Cruz, belted out spirited jazz tunes. Guests played blackjack and smoked fake cigars and candy cigarettes. A mocktail bar offered drinks, such as the Northside Sunrise (pineapple juice, orange juice and Sierra Mist mixed together), Shirley Temples and virgin Rob Roys (cola and grenadine).
“At the library, we try to make sure adults have programs that meet their interests; normally, libraries do a lot of kid-friendly events,” says Angela Ocana, the librarian who played Crooked Chief Cameron. “Tonight we have 20 roles split between staff and patrons. We purchased a mystery kit from a company called Nightofmystery.com. The Santa Clara City Library Foundation & Friends is sponsoring this party.”
The story unfolds at the Northside Juice Joint, a prohibition club with mob ties. To summon the Juice Joint’s noir atmosphere, the library’s dimly lit community room was decorated with “Wanted” posters, black balloons and a big chandelier crafted from white holiday lights. During a champagne toast, a mobster named Notorious Northside Nick was fatally shot. The party guests chatted with one another to collect clues, learn about murder motives and meet new friends. Suspects included Gino Gin the Bartender, Kitty Cocktail, Southside Sal and Molly Moll.
Amanda Thornton played Anna Marie, whose father was murdered two weeks ago before tonight’s murder.
“I have participated in murder mystery parties and I think it’s fun to dress up as someone else,” Thornton says. “I took the opportunity to volunteer when they asked for people to take on a bigger role here. As Anna Marie, I’m looking to get revenge on the person who killed my father.”
Notorious Northside Nick was played by Stanley Chan. After the murder, Chief Cameron ceremoniously traced around Northside Nick’s body with duct tape. Then Northside Nick got up and continued mingling with suspects.
“It’s just fun to dress up and play a character you’re not. I’m not a mob boss but it’s fun to play one,” Chan says. “I’m trying to find out who killed me. My character is a big gangster. I own the city and I own everybody. I have connections with the mayor and the police chief. Everybody hates me. Also, my wife cheated on me with the owner of the Juice Joint. So I had him killed.”
During the evening, guests surveyed the suspects on a profile wall and reviewed the exhibits. Then they cast their ballots sharing their guesses about the killer’s identity.
“It is Crooked Chief Cameron who kills Notorious Northside Nick,” Ocana reveals. “The backstory is that Notorious Nick has Chief Cameron in his back pocket and is looking to replace him.”