My dear friend Melynda celebrated her birthday this year by having a murder mystery dinner, and it was a fun and thrifty way to celebrate a birthday, though you don’t have to wait for a birthday. When we discussed this idea I told my friends it was the closest I’d ever get to LARPing, and acting in general, and although only one of us had any actual theater experience, we do all love to dress up.
Mel chose a Mexican/Western theme, so I took inspiration from Frida Kalho and purchased a vintage, hand-embroidered Mexican dress on Etsy. I have been wanting one of these dresses forever and this was just the excuse I needed. I used a belt and boots that I already owned and made my flower hair clips myself. (It was extremely easy and you should check out the tutorial.) Lastly, I really wanted some western-y pistols that I could brandish in each hand, Speedy Gonzalez-style, but I had to settle for two plastic, neon water guns which I kept in each boot. My character was an artist so I decided my gimmick was shooting paint out of my pistols onto a canvas.
Melynda’s boyfriend Justin decided to write the mystery himself, but you can readily find kits online for $30 or $40. You can’t go wrong with a kit if you are low on time, and they really are inexpensive enough to still qualify for a thrifty party. If someone really wants to have a murder mystery party for their birthday, purchasing the kit for them makes a nice gift.
Originally the plan was to act out the murder mystery at dinner, which we ate at a local Mexican restaurant, but we ended up with so little space and such a loud ambient noise level that we decided to do it over drinks at the Walton’s house. We got a lot of looks from people at the restaurant and a couple people asked us some variation of “what is going on here.” Oh, you know. Nothing. Just a regular Saturday night. Hanging out in a Mariachi hat.
The last two parties I’ve been to have given away favors to all the guests. Melynda gave us all sacks of Mexican candy. I really love the idea of getting favors at adult birthday parties. We always think of doing them at kid parties and this is a trend I’d love to see at adult parties, too, because I love candy just as much as my toddler, dammit.
After dinner we met back at the Walton’s where we acted out our mystery to the best of our ability. Like I said, only one of us had any actual acting ability, but we knew each other well enough to bullshit in a ridiculous manner, which was all we really needed in the end. Turns out I was married to Scott, a corrupt official who had dealings with Anthony, a smuggler/international man of mystery. During my marriage I had an affair with Stefanie, a bitter tycoon, who secretly established me as a success in the art world. Stefanie was sister to Angela, the man-eating socialite who had an estranged marriage to Mr Fanta, the journalist millionaire who was going to write a tell-all book about all of our dirty secrets. Confusing? Yes! But we somehow pulled it off because a couple people figured out parts of the intrigue and one person guessed the murderer and motive correctly.
Turns out Angela was the killer. She couldn’t allow him to divorce her and take half her millions and her precious dogs.
One of my favorite parts was seeing how my friends interpreted the Western-theme dress. Melynda went all-out with her saloon girl costume, as did I with my Frida dress, but the rest of our friends pulled together their look by borrowing things from friends or using what they already owned. Plaid shirts, bandanas, brown vests, cowboy boots, and bolo ties were accented with inexpensive cowboy hats. Anthony wore a genuine Stetson hat that we thrifted for Isobel’s dress up chest.
We enacted the mystery over drinks and dessert, but this party could easily be done pot-luck style, with a Tex-Mex/Cowboy theme. Personally, I’d throw together something like this:
- Bacon-Wrapped Jalapenos
- Chili and Cornbread
- Taco Bar
If you are hosting a party like this in your home you could decorate with Mexican paper flags or use red bandanas as napkins. The awesome invitations, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, were courtesy of The Red Star Designs.
Mystery writing aside, this party really simple to put together, and we all had so much fun.