A bit of sunshine helped cast a bright light on a dark deed in Langley over the weekend for its annual murder mystery.
Winnie Burl, played by Trevor Arnold, was revealed to be the murderer of Phyllis Thriller, the fictional victim of the fully-involved mystery that lasted from Feb. 21-22. Her weapon was poison dart frog slime applied to a “sharp, stubborn clasp” on a purse that Thriller touched with her cut thumb.
At the start of the weekend’s festivities, the downtown area of First, Second, Anthes and Cascade were humming with people looking for clues, speaking with suspects and taking lots and lots of photographs of Langley’s views. Marc Esterly, executive director of the Langley Chamber of Commerce which puts on the event, said that based on the number of tickets sold, about 1,250 people took part in Langley Mystery Weekend. That is an increase of about 100 from last year, Esterly said, despite doing advertising similar to previous years.
“I always try to assess what might have prompted that,” he said. “Weather obviously doesn’t hurt when it’s good.”
A steady stream of people stood in front of the Dog House Tavern. Taped on its windows were the photos of every person in town — not literally — and on the deck lay the remnants of the crime scene — a purse, a card, some string, a small chest.
Elsewhere in downtown, people filed in and out of businesses with clues — 35 in all. Even some without signs advertising they had clues saw some eager sleuths poke their heads in looking for an edge.
Near the visitor center, where people picked up their maps and paid to be part of the mystery, Sweet Mona’s saw consistent traffic through the morning. With clear skies and cool, crisp temperatures early in the day, hot chocolate was a big seller at Mona Newbauer’s shop.
“It’s always great during Mystery Weekend,” she said as a handful of customers waited in line to sample, order and pay.
A couple of business owners expected commerce and foot traffic to pick up in the afternoon as more people filtered into town and sought something to eat and somewhere to sit.
Callahan McVay, owner of Callahan’s Firehouse blown-glass studio, put out the previously stored chairs and tables onto the Second Street plaza. The result was a lot of people moseying between his store, the Braeburn Restaurant, South Whidbey Commons and Useless Bay Coffee Company as they went through their gathered clues and gave their tired feet a rest.
Two sleuths started their investigation by reading the fake Langley Gazette, a fictional publication that contained myriad details of the alternate-reality Langley, its denizens and the front-page-worthy crime. Jennifer Cabaug of Mill Creek and Carol Dreysse of Snohomish came over after searching online for a mystery weekend. Taking the opportunity for a “girls’ getaway,” the friends were disappointed they had learned of Langley Mystery Weekend too late to stay overnight, and promptly booked next year’s stay at a South Whidbey bed and breakfast.
“This is really a hoot,” Dreysse said.
Elsewhere, a trio of regular Mystery Weekend detectives from South Whidbey were stalled in their mission by the newfound celebrity status of their pooches. Annie Zeck, Maryl Douglas and Helen Spector were stopped on First Street as people snapped pictures of their wire-haired dachshunds, Petunia, Daffodil and Hemingway, respectively. Each dog donned a plaid jacket and hat in the style of Sherlock Holmes as the Dachshund Detective Agency.
“We have reserved the weekend,” Douglas said.
Despite trying to solve the mystery for years, the group of women had yet to name the murderer correctly. This year would be different, they said.
“We are going to solve the mystery,” Zeck laughed.
Their past exploits were not an uncommon result. Many of the weekend’s amateur criminal investigators submitted incorrect entries. The top suspect, based on ballots submitted to the Langley Chamber of Commerce, was indeed Burl, played by Trevor Arnold.
“In most years, the culprit has the majority of votes,” Esterly said.
“People seemed to be intrigued by the theme of comedy,” he added. “… The writer and the way she intertwines stuff is quite terrific.”