RIPLEY - It was an ordinary day in Dry Gulch, also known as the Ripley Baptist church hall, except the sheriff was dead, shot in the back. Six suspects were rounded up and ready to share their testimony - about how someone else did it.
It was "Bullets and Barbecue" for nearly 60 "townspeople" who attended the annual murder mystery dinner Saturday night, April 28 to benefit Ripley Free Library. The congregation enjoyed a dinner featuring pulled pork sandwiches as they listened to the clues provided by the characters and tried to figure out which was the guilty one. And the suspects - Miss Patience, Rowdy Azell, Juan Bandito, Bibi Gunn, Sally Forth and Doc Mallard - had plenty to say about each other.
Guests were asked to please check their guns at the door as they entered "The Paradise Saloon," where the suspects would gather. Each person received a ballot to cast their vote for the guilty party at the end of the evening. The suspects took their places at the head table and proceeded to introduce themselves.
Photo by David Prenatt
The suspects of the recent murder mystery dinner, “Bullets and Barbecue,” on Saturday, April 28 prepare to hear the revelation of who killed sheriff Tate Noble. From left to right are: Rowdy Azell, played by Joe Gunther; Miss Patience, played by Marion Pell; Juan Bandito, played by Mike Rowe; Bibi Gunn, played by Pam Zarpentine; Sally Forth, played by Jeannette Almekinder; and Doc Mallard, played by Jim Zarpentine.
Miss Patience was a school teacher who had been engaged to Sheriff Tate Noble, but that was broken off after she learned he was her half-brother who was also going to inherit half of her mother's estate.
Rowdy Azell was a shiftless gambler who had gotten into a fight with the sheriff the night before when the sheriff caught him cheating at cards. Turns out he was also Skip Forth, the husband who had run out on Sally Forth and was wanted in Texas for the murder of a ranger.
Juan Bandito had killed 11 men and one rattlesnake and was about to be run out of town by the sheriff. But it came to light the sheriff had found where Juan had hidden the gold he had robbed from a train and had sent a note to his deputy telling him to shoot Juan on sight.
Bibi Gunn ran the Paradise Saloon and often "entertained" gentlemen. The sheriff was a good friend of hers, so good he was demanding protection money for the brothel Bibi and Miss Patience had secretly opened together. She also owned the derringer that killed the sheriff.
Sally Forth had come from Scotland as a mail-order bride for the sheriff, but found not only was he homely, but also broke. She had gotten into a fight with Miss Patience and also was seen near the Paradise Saloon at 4 a.m. the morning the sheriff was killed.
And Doc Mallard had never forgiven the sheriff for the death of his wife 10 years before. Now he had just learned the sheriff was going to have him replaced with a younger doctor who didn't drink so much.
Yes, the suspects all had motive, method and much to say about each other. But at the end of the night, it was Sally Forth who was exposed to be the killer. She planned to take Juan's gold she knew the sheriff had and make off for California. But her plans were foiled by at least a dozen of those in attendance who figured it all out.
"Bullets and Barbecue," directed by Terry Testrake, was the sixth murder mystery in four years presented to help raise money for the library. Library Director Nancy McIntosh says the event draws 60 to 75 people each time and raises an average of $500.
"It's amazing to see the community come out to support the library," McIntosh said. "It's also wonderful to see all the people who put this together - those who decorate, the cooks, the kids who wait on the tables, and of course, the actors - to see everyone all come together to make this work."