Turning 30 – my 19th Century Raj-themed murder mystery dinner

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On New Years Eve 2006, I turned 30. Turning 30 should be a rite of passage, rather
than just the turning of another calendar page. I wanted to celebrate making
it to 30 with my inner child well and truly intact – in fact it’s more of
an outer child – I’m not embarrassed by it. Having never had a birthday party
before and planning to never have one again, I decided to fulfil my dream
of writing my own murder mystery dinner party. I wanted to celebrate my ‘alleged’
maturity in this way, in the hope of sparking a night of hilarity for friends
and family. I spent four months plotting, scheming and researching poisons
and murders, and then the final few weeks of writing, rummaging around charity
shops for costumes and finally forging birth and death certificates. I began
to feel truly evil as I crafted the ultimate 19th Century colonial Raj murder
set in the beautiful Raj-themed surrounds of the Bombay Bicycle Club Indian restaurant.

So intense was my creative fervor that I had to be brought into a line a few
times by my trusty editor and host extraordinaire, Richard – who pointed out
that no one would give a shit about the finer details of 19th Century forensic
science or whether the font I used on the label of poison was from the correct
century. I made and gathered props and arranged costumes – it was an epic
production. These photographs are a shrine to my willing family, friends and suspects who provided
the real entertainment on the night.

Postnote: Little Fionna was even there, just a few days old and growing in my belly.

Setting the Scene
You are in the city of Jaipur on the edge of the Rajasthan desert. It is an era
of palaces, kings and queens, princes and princesses. The long, still Indian
summer day is giving way to a cool night. You head for the palace to attend
the Maharajah’s 60th Birthday party.
The dizzy scent of jasmine mingles in the air with incense, In the early twilight,
you arrive at the palace (The Bombay Bicycle Club) greeted by a corridors
filled with jungle sounds and the smell of richly spiced foods.
However,all is not as it seems. One of the guests is about to commit a brutal murder

The start of the night
Guests all waited in the Riki Tiki Bar for the Maharajah to arrive for his 60th
Birthday party. Dramatically, Uncle Gupta ordered the music in the bar to
be lowered. The palace butler, Percival Atkins informed the host,
Uncle Gupta that the Maharajah would not be attending his own party,
because he was … dead! But not just dead … he had been murdered.
Percival Atkins and Uncle Gupta announce a most heinous crime,
just before Percival’s mustache tragically fell into his beer.

Soothsayer and gypsy fortune teller Madame Rosa was also on hand to break
the shocking news about the murder. Her
psychic skills meant that she knew about the murder before anyone.
Luckily for the guests, an esteemed inspector was on the guest list, Inspector
Hector Munro of Scotland Yard sits at the top of the table.Nobody
is sure exactly what he was smoking in his pipe, but it certainly made
him popular with lovely ladies in red.
The Murder victim
The Maharajah, Shah Pushkar was found dead in his private quarters, apparently poisoned via his sherry. There were 8 suspects, all extremely dodgy types.
Percival Atkins – Palace butler
Frederick Batty – Spice trader
Sir Henry Blenkensop – Artifact collector
Clarissa De Vere – Rich widow & mistress
Dugmore – Palace gardener
Grace Hinton – Head of housekeeping staff
Constance Ogilvie – Circus performer
Quentin Norrell – Botanist
Description of the crime scene
The butler, Percival found the Maharajah dead in his armchair.
An empty carafe of sherry and two goblets are on a table next to the
The Maharajah’s ceremonial sword is missing.
An empty bottle was found

The evidence

The following items of evidence were made available in evidence bags
(zip-lock sandwich bags) for guests to peruse during dinner:An empty bottle of Datura extract (a poison) – found at the scene of the crime
A plant cutting, looking suspiciously like Datura – found in the possession of Mr Norrell, the botanist
A love letter to the Maharajah in the hand of a mysterious ‘C’
A birth certificate showing that Grace Hinton the housekeeper had borne the Maharajah a child
A dodgy letter showing that Frederick Batty had involved the Maharajah in a dodgy investment for a mysterious medicinal spice, suspiciously sounding like Datura – the possible poison
Botanical notes about the Datura plant
later into the night, some other evidence also came to light…
Notes from Inspector Hector’s notebook about revelations during interrogations
A death certificate showing the cause of the Maharajah’s death from
an autopsy (containing a shocking twist!!)
The Interrogations
Uncle Gupta was on hand to organise the progress of the interrogations. He was a master of the ceremony, his deft timekeeping was inspirational and vital to the whole evening.
Inspector Munro distributed evidence and Madame Rosa conducted tarot
readings of suspects, and general fortune telling to guests, sometimes containing hidden clues.Guests had to question all 8 suspects to hone their suspicions, and determine
whether their motives were strong enough to murder the Maharajah.
The following photographs were taken during some of the interrogations. The housekeeper, Grace Hinton and butler, Percival Atkins seem to be suspiciously celebratory during the interrogations. Perhaps they worked together to kill the Maharajah and are now celebrating the crime?
This photograph shows rich widow, Clarissa de Vere suspiciously lookingunder the table to hide her face. Note also the three dodgy characters on the end of the row, the botanist Quentin Norrell, circus performer femme fatale Constance Ogilvie and perhaps dodgiest of all, Sir Henry Blenkensop, the artifact collector.

Extremely disturbing moustache events took place throughout the interrogations.
Shockingly, Uncle Gupta’s moustache is found on Madame Rosa’s Peroni as shown
above. Witnesses saw the bearded Madame Rosa allegedly smooching Uncle Gupta at once

Moustaches also fell into beers, or were put there!. The most likely lads perpetrating this mini-crime were the magicians who weren’t suspects, but acted very suspicious nonetheless

Madame Rosa used her extensive tarot reading skills to expose the true nature of all the suspects. This photograph shows Quentin Norrell and Constance Ogilive quaking with fear in sheer terror of the great power of soothsayer Madame Rosa.

Eeerily, Sir Henry Blenkensop’s gift for lying about doping the Maharajah and stealing his sword is caught out on camera. The photograph shows Sir Henry to the eye of Madame Rosa, gifted at viewing aura’s. To Madame Rosa, Sir Henry appears as a ghostly transparent being.

Some guests focused intently on their interrogations and were rewarded by guessing the real murderer.

Others, such as the lovely ladies attached to Sir Henry Blenkensop and Inspector Hector found the murder amusing.

Spice trader, and king of dodgy investments, Frederick Batty is shown here in the foreground. Dugmore, the palace gardener appears here suspiciously without his hat, probably because of the ruthless interrogation being performed by Inspector Munro, to his left. Again the ghostly image of Sir Henry Blenkensop haunts the ladies in red at the end of the table.

Again, rich widow Clarissa de Vere hides herself whilst being interrogated by a guest. No wonder she was one of the most popular suspects when it came to naming the murderer.

Madame Rosa unexpectedly enters a psychic trance and channels and ancient spirit when sitting next to this guest. This was just after Inspector Munro revealed that the death certificate which was now available showed that the Maharajah died from asphyxiation and not from the poison. Someone had smothered him!

As the interrogations draw to a close, Frederick Batty tries to avoid
questions from a nearby guest by pretending to read.

In the background a guest literally points an accusing finger at housekeeper
Grace Hinton.

The verdict

So who was the murderer?

The most popular suspects were Sir Henry Blenkensop, the thief
and artifact collector and Clarrissa de Vere, the rich widow,
mistress to the Maharajaha. Clarissa had three previous husband who
died in mysterious circumstances. Although it was revealed that Sir
Henry did indeed drug the Maharajaha, he did this only to steal his
large ancient sword.

The true murderer was Dugmore, the quiet gardener. The love letter
from the mysterious ‘C’ was not from Constance or Clarissa, but Clara,
Dugmore’s wife. Only a few well hidden clues revealed Clara’s name.

Dugmorehad found the love letter from his wife to the Maharajah. In a fit
of rage, Dugmore marched to the Maharajah’s room. Finding him drunk
on sherry (doped too – but this was not known by Dugmore), Dugmore
was further infuriated when the Maharajah murmured Clara’s name. Dugmore
grabbed a cushion and held in on the Maharajah’s face until he stopped

Inspector Hector Munro promptly arrested Dugmore, which was a surprising
feat given that the Inspector had been seen stuffing moustaches and
Datura leaves into his pipe all night. It was any wonder that he could
stand, never mind apprehend the frightening murderer Dugmore.

The photo below shows how timely the arrest was, as Dugmore’s evil grin
shows that he has selected his next murder victim, innocent guest and friend
of Clarrisa de Vere.

Guests, you can all rest a little safer at night, knowing that out of 26 of
you, two brilliant detective minds in amongst you identified the murderer.
Well done.

The aftermath
Worryingly, although justice was delivered, Uncle Gupta’s moustache and beard
continued to perpetrate crimes later that night, as these shocking photographs reveal.


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