Josh Hauser, one of two longtime Mystery Weekend characters, poses with Langley’s Boy and Dog statute.
                                (Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group)

Josh Hauser, one of two longtime Mystery Weekend characters, poses with Langley’s Boy and Dog statute. (Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group)

Josh Hauser and John Ball: Mystery Weekend’s ‘usual suspects’ going on 35 years

‘It’s just a blast. You don’t want to take off your costume at the end’

They’ve been rounded up as murder suspects going on 35 years.

Sometimes they dun it, sometimes they don’t dun it.

Either way, Josh Hauser and John Ball say they love being part of Langley’s Mystery Weekend. They are the only original characters from the first 1984 event to participate in all the other years.

“It really is fun,” said Hauser, owner of Moonraker Books that’s also stood the test of time (and Amazon) at 209 First Street since 1972.

“Everyone is in a good mood,” she said.

THIS WEEKEND, the long-running whodunit detective contest once again turns the Village by the Sea into a Village of C’s — clues. It starts Saturday morning and ends at 5 p.m. Sunday with the event’s big reveal ceremony.

Ball, who has played characters ranging from Sid Vicious to Donald Trump, dons a purple wizard hat this time around as Merlin the Magician.

“It’s just a blast,” he said. “You don’t want to take off your costume at the end.”

More than 2,500 people are expected to participate in the hands-on mystery that’s sponsored by the Langley Chamber of Commerce and written by Loretta Martin and Rachel McDougald.

FOR $10, participants get a clue map and The Langley Gazette to read all about a faux fatality. The fictitious newspaper is filled with real fake news, alleged quotes, alternative facts and staged photos.

Expect a slew of Sam Spades, Sherlocks, Nancy Drews, Miss Marples and other wannabe sleuths to fill Langley’s streets, stores, restaurants, hotels, inns and guest houses over the weekend.

They’ll also be interrogating people named Polly Graph, Hathaga Kisstea, I.B. Fuzz and others to solve the crime called the case of “Killing Time.”

The plot involves an eccentric and expired scientist, loud explosions, more than the usual number of odd people carousing downtown Langley and some titillating tales of a time machine.

About 40 clues are placed in stores, parks and other locations around town. The object is to piece together the puzzle and figure who killed the victim, how, when, where and why.

IT’S LIKE a live-action game of Clue, the board game that involves unraveling scenarios such as whether Colonel Mustard committed murder with a candlestick in the study.

“Dinner parties with Clue games were all the rage in the 1980s,” said Hauser.

She fancies mysteries set during World War I and she’s known to recite a line or two of poetry about plots: Make the blood flow/Make the motive muddy/There’s a little death in everybody.

Hauser and Ball say they’re proud to be a part of something that jump-started Langley’s economy and turned into the nation’s longest-running community mystery event.

“They always have me do the weird stuff,” Ball said. “Let’s see, I’ve played characters based on Ozzie Osborne, Clint Eastwood and as President Trump I was going to put up a wall around Langley to keep out bunnies. I’ve been an Indian chief, played Braveheart twice with a blue face, a vampire and King of the Gypsies.

“ONE THING I’ve learned from the many roles is you don’t wear a wet suit outside when it’s freezing cold,” he added about playing a scuba diver for a plot he can’t quite remember, something to do with blubber, a whale and a speargun.

“I was sick as a dog afterward.”

Grilling the many characters out on the street is encouraged. But be forewarned — they don’t know who dun it either.

“People ask you some really fascinating questions,” Ball said. “I’m not really acting, it’s more like improvisation is what I do. By the second day, I can sometimes guess the solution based on the questions I get asked.”

HAUSER, 83, has dressed in some wild outfits over the decades — red taffeta gown, cheerleader outfit to name a few.

“Now I just put on this black suit coat and hat and I’m known as Josh D. Fax,” she said. “Interacting with people on the street is the best part.”

Because Ball and Hauser are familiar faces in disguise to many repeat Mystery Weekend fans, they get lots of fingers pointing their way.

“I have committed the murder only twice,” Hauser declared.

“But I get a lot of votes as the suspect. Even the year I wasn’t in the role of a suspect, I received the fifth most votes as the suspect.”

Ball, on the other hand, has been guilty, guilty, guilty so many times he can’t remember how many.

“Eight times? No, five times I’ve been the murderer,” he decided.

“One year I was a killer and I didn’t know it because I was asleep when I did it. I was sleepwalking.”

Ball is a longtime resident of Whidbey Island and he’s also owned a book store.

He’s survived three different cancers in the past decade and looks forward to the camaraderie of Mystery cast members. On Sunday evening, they all gather for a spaghetti dinner at a local church.

“By the time it ends, you’re just picking up on the part and then, it’s over,” he said.

“It’s sort of anti-climatic.”

FOR THE past few years, a younger sidekick, Shayne Thomas, has accompanied Ball during his Mystery Weekend stints. Thomas, 13, is playing a Young King Arthur to Ball’s Merlin the Magician.

“I really hope I’m the murderer this year,” Thomas said.

Thomas has been cast as Donald Trump Jr. (they both wore atrocious orange wigs) Snidely Whiplash Jr. and Stone Gris, grandson of retired fisherman Ashford Gris, a descendant of Ahab Mariner.

Last year, police arrested Ashford Gris as the murderer in “Whale of a Tail” during the grand finale reveal at Whidbey Children’s Theater auditorium.

“Shayne was playing my grandson and he was on the stage on his knees begging the police not to take me away,” Ball said.

“I couldn’t believe how good he is at acting, so spontaneously and in front of a full house.”

John Ball portrays Merlin the Magician this weekend at Mystery Weekend, marking his 35th year he’s participated in the community event that attracts thousands of visitors. (Photos by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group)

John Ball portrays Merlin the Magician this weekend at Mystery Weekend, marking his 35th year he’s participated in the community event that attracts thousands of visitors. (Photos by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group)

For the past three years, John Ball and his young relative, Shayne Thomas, have teamed up to play different roles in Mystery Weekend. They recently looked through a memory book showing their characters, including one named Sketch Able.

For the past three years, John Ball and his young relative, Shayne Thomas, have teamed up to play different roles in Mystery Weekend. They recently looked through a memory book showing their characters, including one named Sketch Able.

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