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Volume xviii, Issue 9 ~ March 4 - March 10, 2010

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Anatomy of a Murder

In a tough economy, the Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa plans to make a killing.

by Diana Beechener

During these troubled economic times, getting away for the weekend can be murder — and that’s exactly what Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa is counting on.

The scenic retreat is hoping to pack a lot of bodies into the hotel March 12 thru 14 for a murder mystery weekend. The plot is simple: Expand the resort’s popular murder mystery dinners to a full-scale interactive theatrical weekend.

“We have the facilities to do weekends, and some of our customers were saying that they’ve been to a weekend [murder mystery] event” in Western Maryland or Pennsylvania, says resort manager Wesley Donovan of the expanded local option for amateur sleuths.

Check in that fateful March weekend, and you’ll be experiencing Death on the Chesapeake. Theatrical crime juggernaut Murder Mystery USA is providing the weekend of intrigue and mayhem.

The company, which takes credit for spreading the murder mystery concept through North America, began in 1985 as a side business for a Los Angeles producer and his wife. Now Murder Mystery USA is responsible for at least 450 murders a year throughout the United States and Canada — in the form of discerning murder mystery dinners, train trips, weekends and corporate retreats.

Though the Los Angeles-based company isn’t local, the Chesapeake Beach murder will be.

“Every weekend that we do is different,” says Murder Mystery USA executive producer and co-owner Keith O’Leary. “We try to incorporate something from the area, the locale or the people that make it topical.”

The customization also makes for a better mystery.

“We don’t do skits where actors dress in costumes,” says O’Leary. “The actors show up just like everybody else. No one knows who’s part of it, so they’re suspicious of each other. You don’t know who you’re sitting with.”

Each actor will have a back-story, filled with Maryland jobs and alibis. It’s up to the guests to weed out the imposters and guess the murders before Sunday brunch.

“They all have cover stories that are part of the plot. If you ask the right questions of the right people, you’re going to figure this thing out,” the director assures.

O’Leary believes the reason murder mystery weekends have become so popular is that you can immerse yourself in the story.

“We do a lot of one-night dinners,” he says, “but I love the weekends. People really get into it on the weekends. They start asking questions, and they get to know each other. It’s a fun residual effect.”

In other words, you’re in the middle of a page-turner.

When you arrive at Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa for check-in Friday, you’ll get your first look at the suspects. At a cocktail party, make your list of suspicious characters as you socialize. Over dinner, suspicions become crimes when dessert ends with a bang. During the night, you’ll hear screams. Whether you investigate or stay in your room is up to you.

Saturday, the evidence and bodies pile up, seemingly with every meal. Not to worry: you’ll still have time to take in Chesapeake views and maybe schedule a massage as you work out the clues.

By Sunday brunch, all amateur detectives who have survived turn in their suspect lists. If you get a conviction, there’s a prize in it for you.

If it sounds easy, it isn’t.

“We can’t write these things so that they’re so simple that everyone can figure them out or so hard that no one can figure it out,” says O’Leary. “We want about five percent to figure it out and a third to almost get it.”

The weekend of bodies and cocktail parties isn’t just about good entertainment. It’s a good economic strategy as well.

“Anything that we can get to bring people here is great,” says front office manager Cora Jo Spare. “We’ve had a really positive response for the weekend. People who have done these in the past are excited that we’re offering one that’s local.”

If the weekend offers the resort a boon in these tough times, you can expect to find more bodies popping up in Chesapeake Beach.

“We’re hoping to do this maybe once or twice a year,” says Donovan. “It’s an exciting thing for our customers.”

So if you see a body lying around the Chesapeake Beach Resort March 13, don’t panic. Pretend you’re in Baltimore.

Murder on the Chesapeake: March 12-14. rsvp: 410-257-5596;

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