The same question was on everyone’s minds when they gathered around the scene of the crime: who killed Merlin Mariner?
Was it Rainy Gray, Mariner’s estranged wife? Or C.Z. Cash, one of the money-driven members of the 49ers Men’s Club?
Around 2,500 people put on their detective hats to crack the case at the 34th Langley Mystery Weekend on Feb. 24-25.
In the story written by Freeland resident Loretta Martin, who has written the past 18 mysteries, Mariner is a “rich snob” and president and CEO of an investment advisory firm in San Fransisco. He was preparing to sell tidelands and mineral rights in the Langley area when he was found dead at Whale Bell Park by his fiancé, Goldie Digger.
The clues at the crime scene, including a large rubber mallet with a red substance on it and empty miniature bottles of liquor, were only pieces of a larger puzzle.
Individuals and groups searched around the town’s stores, read the sensational newspaper The Langley Gazette, scattered with hints, and interviewed suspects, played by a troupe of actors and community members, to uncover the identity of the murderer.
They had until Sunday afternoon to submit their guesses.
Oliver Ellers, a 10-year-old from Mill Creek, knew the routine well as a third-year participant.
“All you got to do is walk around, collect the clues and then you gotta stare at them for hours and then you figure it out,” Ellers said. “I like interviewing the suspects once you have a lot of information.”
The majority of the record-setting number of attendees guessed wrong though.
Mariner’s murderer was none other than his long -lost cousin, Ashford Gris. He was adamant that his side of the family was entitled to the tidelands and suspected Merlin Mariner was slowly killing them off to take sole possession of the inheritance and the money that would come from selling it. A blow to the head using the mallet ended that.
Gray and Cash were the top two suspects, Langley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Inge Morascini said; Gray was upset that Mariner was going to marry another woman, while Cash was upset that he’d been roped into a Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Mariner.
There were 43 clues in all to sort through.
“I hope it’s never an easy answer,” Martin said. “I always try to throw red herrings in, including a guy named Red Herring.”
Three grand prizes were awarded for people who guessed correctly, while another 11 prizes were given out in a raffle drawing. Morascini said people from as far as Europe participated.
It’s the longest running mystery weekend in the United States. It’s put on by the Langley Chamber of Commerce.
“I was just blown away by the spirit of the whole thing,” Morascini said. “People come year after year. In my 1960s vernacular, it’s a happening.”
Jennifer Powell of Everett comes because of her mom, a 34-year veteran of the event. She and her husband Aaron start off the day by shopping, then dive into the mystery.
“We go sit at the Mexican restaurant (Portico) at lunch and sit there and read through the clues,” Jennifer Powell said. “It’s fun to talk about it.”
More than two dozen people played roles in the murder mystery, from coroners to oil tycoons.
Joe and Rachel McDougald of Bayview are husband and wife in the real world, but on Saturday and Sunday they were Dolph Finn, a “whale warrior” trying to protect the tidelands from drilling, and Amber Gris, Finn’s “good friend.”
Clue-seekers were mostly interested in finding where they could get coffee as they were starting off their mornings on Saturday.
“After they’ve spent some of the day getting better clues, they’ll start asking better questions,” Rachel McDougald said.
The mystery’s allure wasn’t just for amateur sleuths, annual experts and actors.
Twenty-five people participated with the Events and Adventures Club, a singles organization based in Seattle. Anne Corley, Lindsey Coffelt and Stacey Hawkins were among them.
“You get to meet people in person doing stuff that you like to do,” said Corley of Sumner.