An ‘Un-Conventional’ Mystery

Posted in Community, Feature, Festivals, Humor

Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
February 22, 2017

It’s a lot of fun to have coffee with Loretta Martin, the writer behind the mysteries of Langley’s Mystery Weekend. Who wouldn’t enjoy it? Writing mysteries for Langley’s Mystery Weekend each year, and seeing them brought to life by improv actors, makes her happy.

Dare to solve the murder with other amateur detectives Feb. 25 and 26 for Langley’s 33rd annual “Mystery Weekend: An ‘Un-Conventional’ Murder.” There are 34 characters this year, some of them posing as science fiction conventioneers — “members” of the International Society of Science Fiction Arts and Technology or ISSFAT. These characters are behind-the-scenes folks who operate the cameras, act as engineers, do makeup, and design costumes in the sci-fi world.

“I have worked behind the camera,” says Martin, who has a background in creating and producing local television shows.

In character as a police officer, Loretta Martin calls in a clue for Mystery Weekend (Photo by David Welton)

The sci-fi convention arrives nearly two months after a “sighting” of a Sasquatch in the Saratoga Woods on New Year’s Day, so the story goes. The tween who “saw” the local Bigfoot reports it on Facebook, and the story goes viral, drawing hunters and protectors of the hairy mystery-beast. The weekend’s remaining actors are those who are either Bigfoot Friends, those who wish to see the Sasquatch stuffed as a trophy, and the regular cast of characters including: I.B. Fuzz, her cousin Hagetha Kisstea, Gussie and Gus Gruesome, and the 49ers, a zany band of codgers always looking to make a quick buck — this year on “Sasquatch Sausage” and root beer made of Sasquatch scat for an “earthy” taste. A hairy gorilla-type creature is found dead behind the Saratoga Inn, and this is where the sleuthing begins.

Annie Horton, who has performed in most of the Mystery Weekends, plays the character of Shari Fissure this year, the widow of the murdered character. As an homage to Carrie Fisher, who died Dec. 27, Horton’s character models Fisher’s Princess Leia of “Star Wars.” Shari Fissure, though, wears a hairdo of actual cinnamon buns on the sides of her head.

“I predict the phrase of the weekend will be, ‘Love your buns,’” Horton says.

Some of this year’s actors in Mystery Weekend featuring Sasquatch friends and enemies, science fiction conventioneers, and other characters. (Photo by Sharon Lundahl)

While many of the actors return again and again, there are new faces adding to Mystery Weekend this year.

Lilly van Gerbig, co-owner of Langley’s Fair Trade Outfitters, along with her husband Barry, is acting for the first time.

“I’m playing Lilly Landtree, an animal lover and a good friend to Bigfoot Friends,” van Gerbig said. “Our store is a sanctuary for Bigfoot Friends. I’m a little eccentric and I wear charms and necklaces. I am a staunch protector of Bigfoot. I think it’s really fun. I’m excited to do it.”

Van Gerbig said, while she’s “not theatrical,” she does enjoy interacting with customers in her store. Last year Fair Trade Outfitters provided a clue in solving “Much Ado About Murder: A Hare-Raising Tale.”

The 49ers Men’s Club have a get-rich scheme this year, including selling Sasquatch sausage and Sasquatch rootbeer, known for its secret ingredient (Photo by Sharon Lundahl)

The way Mystery Weekend works is that local businesses pay a small fee to the Langley Chamber to offer a clue. Visitors buy a $10 ticket from the chamber, which includes a map and locations of all the available clues, along with a copy of the “Langley Gazette.” Sleuths visit the businesses, collect clues, and guess who the culprit was at a 5 p.m. gathering Sunday afternoon at the Langley Middle School.

“Josh (Hauser of Moonraker Books) said I should be a character, this year,” van Gerbig says. “I love being with my customers, so I thought, what can you lose? It was fun last year, just seeing the excitement and meeting people who have done this for years. It is amazing to me. They’re bringing their children and grandchildren. No one knows who the murderer is. Everyone is a suspect. You have to play like you might be one or should be one. I think Loretta is a genius. I love her.”

Even the actors who play the characters don’t know who the murderer is until it’s revealed on Sunday evening. It’s the only part that’s scripted.

Annie Horton has performed in nearly every Mystery Weekend over the past 33 years. (Photo by Sharon Lundahl)

“We tell people that, when interviewing the suspects, they shouldn’t believe everyone, because one is the murderer and has (every) reason to lie,” says Martin. “The mystery is solved by getting clues, interacting with the suspects, and reading the story in “The Langley Gazette.”

Josh Hauser, owner of the Moonraker bookstore in Langley, has been a character in every mystery weekend but one. This year, she is cast as a bookstore owner. She recalled one of her favorite roles from days gone by.

“It was my best costume year. I had set up a business of ill repute upstairs,” Hauser says. “I found a red taffeta strapless evening gown. I’ve committed the murder twice. One day (during a previous Mystery Weekend), I was across the street and there were people walking by with signs to save our slugs. Someone thought it was a real small-town protest.”

“Officer” Loretta Martin”says suspects are “arrested” by Langley police on Langley Mystery Weekend (Photo by David Welton)

The first mystery Martin wrote was 18 years ago, when she worked as director for the Langley Chamber.

“It was an homage to the Titanic, and we called ours ‘The Wreck of the Calista,’ based on a boat that wrecked, here” Martin says. She described a jewel she loved at Wayward Sons, then, and used it as a device to help steer the story. “It was a $3,000 brooch, that had a large blue opal with rose gold vines and peridot and pink topaz. It would have looked good on a big girl like me. I had a long-time Langley resident play the part of an opera singer who wore the pin and is murdered by a spear-gun. The actor had to be off island that weekend, so I suggested we use the photo we already had of her as the photo of the “victim” opera singer in the mystery. We both thought that would be fine. I used her photo in the obituary, with the (Mystery Weekend) headline: “Opera Singer Murdered.” I got a call from her mother asking, ‘What happened to my daughter?’ The ‘Mystery’ newspaper is usally inserted in the real newspaper, and her mom started getting calls asking what happened to her daughter.”

Since then, Martin said the victims have always been fictitious and not part of the cast.

Barbara MacCallum, a Langley bed and breakfast owner, used to work with Martin at the chamber during the “Heads in Beds” campaign to entice visitors to the island during the winter. She recalls previous Mystery Weekends in which the Mosquito Fleet transported sleuths from Seattle to the Langley marina (and guests were told who the murderer was on the way home), bed and breakfast baking contests, cookbooks; all ways to bring out-of-towners to the island during the dark days of February. “Loretta’s imagination is phenomenal,” MacCallum says. “She comes up with clues, creates the characters, and the solution.”

Martin moved to Whidbey Island, a place she had visited since she was a child, to heal from complications due to a back surgery nearly 20 years ago.

“When I was diagnosed (and had to take months of antibiotic treatment as a result), I was so weak,” Martin recalls. “My mom and dad said I should move to their house on Mutiny Bay. I feel there’s a healing energy on Whidbey Island. I’ve always felt it. When we moved here, my husband Dewey landed a job in his field (construction). I worked at Whidbey General Hospital and wrote “The Pulse,” the hospital’s magazine. Then I landed the job at the chamber. The connections I’ve made are so important. Just keeping in touch means so much to me. It’s all about networking, especially with women. It’s why I support the Soroptimists.”

Regarding creating stories for Mystery Weekend, Martin says, “When I’m writing, it’s my favorite time of the year. The most fun thing is that it is not a linear (or scripted) story, but one that is done in improv by the actors. They bring the story to life in new ways I couldn’t imagine. When I see them in costume, (it’s like) J.K. Rowling might feel when she sees her characters come to life in a ‘Harry Potter’ movie. I’m so lucky that way.”

Michaleen McGarry, executive director of the Langley chamber of commerce, designed this retro poster advertising this year’s Mystery Weekend Feb. 25 and 26. (Photo by David Welton)

A couple of local businesses will carry Mystery Weekend-related merchandise. Sprinklz Ice Cream Parlor and Coffee Shop in Langley and Casey’s Crafts, on Hwy 525 near Bayview Road, now carry Sasquatch-themed items. Laurie Davenport, who owns Casey’s, said she will host a Bigfoot treasure hunt throughout the store as well.

Sharpen your Sasquatch-sighting skills the night before Mystery Weekend at the Langley Library, which will host David George Gordon, author of “The Sasquatch Seeker’s Field Manual: Using Citizen Science to Uncover North America’s Most Elusive Creature,” on Friday, Feb. 24, at 6:30 p.m.

Betty Freeman, visitor center representative for the Langley chamber of commerce, suggests buying tickets ahead of time. The chamber almost sold out of tickets last year and did sell out of 2016 Mystery Weekend T-shirts and sweatshirts. Order early. T-shirts are $20 and hoodies are $35. They are adorned with the vintage Sci-Fi logo seen on posters around town.

Kate Poss worked as a library assistant at the Langley Library until last June when she retired. She worked for three summers as a chef aboard a small Alaskan tour boat from 2008 to 2010. She was a newspaper reporter in Los Angeles for many years before moving to Whidbey Island where she likes cooking for new and hold friends,’hiking, reading great fiction and writing her novel.


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