You're Invited: The Swankiest Murder Mystery Dinners in the U.S.
Real Miss Scarlet, real candlestick, really real billiard room.
I’m sitting with a group of strangers in an ornate, century-old bed & breakfast. The Victorian estate checks all the creepy boxes: creaky hardwood floors, flickering candles, unsettling taxidermy, and even a hatchet next to a black-and-white portrait of Lizzie Borden.
After some mingling in the foyer with my new acquaintances (and some shots of vodka to blur reality just a bit), everyone shuffles into the library. Our host pulls out her tarot cards for a reading. Normally, she goes by Becky Luker, the owner of the Stone Lion Inn in the suburbs of Oklahoma City. But tonight she is Madame Curare, a mysterious medium bedazzled in sequins. Spoiler alert: she predicts a murder.
“Socially, most of you are already dead,” she says, before pulling the card of karma. “And you’re all going to get what you deserve.”
We unnervingly proceed to dinner, but by the time the screams start reverberating through the dark, rickety halls, it’s clear the evening has taken a turn. “Something terrible has happened,” Madame Curare says, clearing our plates. Someone has been killed right here, in this hotel, on this very night. And we’re going to find out whodunnit.
Murder is just a typical night at the Stone Lion Inn. Every weekend, upwards of 40 strangers don their best bowler hats and feathered headbands for a multi-course murder mystery dinner. The (allegedly haunted) hotel’s ambiance certainly aids in the suspension of disbelief—in fact, real-life Clue games are being staged in elegant settings all across the US, from creaky manors to old-timey trains and even literal castles.
While some dinners cater to private events, others are designed for strangers to come together and immerse themselves in a story with a transportive theme. Details about the premise and time period are usually sent out in advance (via email or even literal mail), so folks can prepare their costumes and characters. Once you arrive, you check “real life” at the door.
“I think murder mysteries have become so popular right now, because they’re an incredible way to escape,” says Krissy Garber, co-founder of New York City-based murder mystery company Even If It Kills Me. “Since the pandemic, everyone is craving human connection and laughter, and with murder mysteries, you get that in spades.”
According to Garber, the first murder mystery game was called Jury Box, a ‘30s parlour game where players became jury characters to determine the guilt or innocence of a fictitious defendant. Boxed sets in the ‘80s and the evolution of the internet helped spur the trend. Many companies thrive on word of mouth and referrals, though you might be surprised by the abundance of options from a quick Google search.
“It's really incredible how quickly people become comfortable with themselves, their parts, and the people around them,” says Garber. “Solving the mystery gives everyone in your party a common goal, which makes it easier to bond with people you don't know.”
Apparently I had shady business dealings with the deceased victim’s Far Ukrainian Casket Company.
Which is certainly the case during my event when, after a dinner of green chili bisque, roasted Cornish game hen, and cheesecake squares, more than half the party accuses me of homicide. (Apparently I had shady business dealings with the deceased victim’s Far Ukrainian Casket Company.)
If attending a full-blown dinner isn’t your jam, hosting one at home is totally doable. Services like Muder Mystery Games or Masters of Mystery provide at home kits containing plots, character roles, and instructions for the host.
“My main tip is to have fun with it!Get into your character, dress the part, and decorate your space to set the mood,” says Steve Wilder, CTO and co-executive producer with The Dinner Detective, a murder mystery dinner theater with locations nationwide.“People throw parties and tell stories to have fun and connect with each other, so if that happens at your murder mystery party, I think you're doing it right.”
Still, there’s nothing quite like being thrown together with a group of conniving would-be murderers in a remote Victorian manor. Across the country, here are other places hosting next-level murder mystery dinner parties.
The Henderson Castle, situated on bucolic grounds that look straight out of a faraway fairy tale, is the dreamiest escape for a quasi-rural wine tasting or high tea. It’s also the dreamiest destination to get entangled in a murder whilst dressed like a reveler from The Great Gatsby. Murder mysteries are held monthly in the inn’s chandelier-clad special events venue, each with a ‘20s or ‘30s theme and a prix fixe menu that typically includes passed canapés, wedge salad, and chicken beurre blanc.
Dover, New Hampshire
This rustic-chic Victorian inn near the New Hampshire coast may look harmlessly elegant with its babbling stone fountains, hand-cut crystal doorknobs, and regal four-poster beds, but there be murder within these vintage walls. Built in 1871, this three-story B&B is an ideal setting to bring out your inner Sherlock Holmes. Packets of information are sent via email, with rotating themes like “Westerns,” “Pirate,” and “Medieval.” For full immersion, guests can stay the night, or just do dinner on Saturday.
Built in 1903 by Preston Boyd Moss and Martha Ursula Woodson Moss, who lived there with their six children and three servants, Montana’s Moss Mansion sounds like something out of Shirley Jackson’s dreams—or nightmares. Nowadays, the three-story, 28-room house operates as a historic museum, open for tours, special events, seasonal festivals, and, most fitting, murder mysteries. Bookable for private events or public dinners, the mansion serves three-course meals in a majestic setting, with parts assigned to each attendee.
Parkersburg, West Virginia
A crown jewel in the quiet town of Parkersburg, West Virginia, The Blennerhassett Hotel became a millionaire magnet when it opened in 1889. A beacon of opulence, the mammoth property now includes 89 guest rooms, a ridiculously cozy library, and a grand staircase that puts the Titanic to shame. Basically, it’s the perfect setting for spooky fun. The hotel hosts periodic murder mystery dinners (with impressive menu items like butternut squash orzo risotto or fig and almond phyllo tarts) and also works with touring companies like Murder and Merriment for themed events.
Equipped with a formal dining room, billiard room, ballroom, a grand hall, a bourbon hall (how Kentucky!), and a library, this Medieval-style castle set on lush Kentucky farmland is basically “Clue” incarnate. Sure, you can come stay the night, treat yourself in the spa, and dine on oxtail medallions with foie gras Bordelaise—or you can partake in a murder mystery on the castle rooftop. Hosted by Murder and Merriment, the interactive outings feature some of the tastiest sounding food for such an event, with seasonal menu items like tagine-spiced elote corn and fruit cobbler.
If you’ve ever wanted to participate in your very own Murder on the Orient Express, the Napa Valley Wine Train is as close as you’ll come to full-blown Agatha Christie cosplay. A romp on this trek to St. Helena feels like traveling in time to a bygone era of luxurious train travel, aboard beautifully restored Pullman cars outfitted with plush seats, etched glass, and four kitchens. One of the voyage options, to the delight of any Christie stan, is a murder mystery ride. Organized by The Murder Mystery Company, events are two-hour voyages with three courses of food and themes like “Death of a Gangster” and “Wizards & Witches.”