By BETTY FREEMAN
For Whidbey News Group
For 34 years, Langley has been the scene of a “murder” in late February. Amateur sleuths come to the Village by the Sea to help figure out the latest whodunit.
A troupe of seasoned actors takes over the town for two days as the mystery, penned by Loretta Martin, unfolds.
Martin has been writing the mysteries for the past 19 years. She collects ideas all year for her murder mystery, usually including details of current events and always full of puns, word play and absurd takeoffs of real people in the news.
“It’s thrilling to see the characters I invent come to life,” said Martin. “It’s the highlight of my year.”
The 2018 mystery “A Whale of a Tail” deals with a very cold case of murder and a very fresh body.
During the recent remodel of one of the oldest buildings in the historic town, a skeleton was unearthed, with remnants of clothing from the turn of the 20th Century clinging to the bones.
In the middle of the rib bones was a whale harpoon.
Long time Langley residents were sure these were the remains of Captain Ahab Mariner, who mysteriously disappeared in 1908. He was a much-hated hunter of the native Puget Sound orcas, which he sold for meat to a Chinese exporter on Vancouver Island.
The grisly discovery was considered ancient history until three months later when the body of another man was discovered at Whale Bell Park on First Street. At first people thought the two incidents were unrelated, but the discovery of an identical ivory necklace under the shirt of the dead stranger seemed to tie the two cases together.
The dead man has since been identified as Merlin Mariner by his fiancé Goldie Digger, played by Anita Reber. It was only after his death that Goldie learned he was still married to his first wife, Rainy Gray, played by Annie Horton.
The 2018 cast of characters learned in January what roles they would play. Some play recurring roles, but most have a new persona to adopt each year.
John Ball, who has participated in every Mystery Weekend since it began in 1984, plays retired fisherman Ashford Gris, a descendant of Ahab Mariner. He’s having a tough time financially, made worse by the fact he’s caring for his grandson Stone while his son and wife travel.
“I’ve had so many good roles over the years,” said Ball. “I’ve even been the murderer four times. When the weekend’s over, I have a hard time giving up my character.”
This year, his “grandson” Stone Gris is played by Ball’s sidekick Shayne Thomas, an 11-year-old veteran of several Mystery Weekends.
Trevor Arnold, who plays the recurring role of psychic Clara Buoyant, has been a player in Mystery Weekend for eight years. She likes being a recurring character because it suits her to set up shop in one place and let people come to her.
“I’m having a lot of fun with Clara. She has so many spirit guides telling her what to do. I know things nobody else does,” Arnold said mysteriously.
Lilly Van Gerbig, owner of Fair Trade Outfitters in Langley, is playing Lilly Landtree this year. Like her real-life counterpart, Landtree is a Langley shop owner and also the organizer of a Harpoon Burning ceremony on the beach to rid Langley of the negative energy Ahab Mariner’s whale killing may have left over the town.
Van Gerbig’s first year as a character was 2017.
“I had an amazing time getting to know the other characters, and as a shop owner, I also enjoyed the people coming into the shop, clamoring for clues,” said Van Gerbig.
Each year, Saranell DeChambeau reprises her character I. B. Fuzz, the world’s shortest retired Texas Ranger. DeChambeau, who has been playing I.B. Fuzz for 20 years, invariably solves the crime and announces her findings to the audience at the big reveal on Sunday of Mystery Weekend. She needs a step stool to see over the podium, but her deductions are razor sharp.
“I look forward to it every year,” said DeChambeau.