A Whodunit? A ride into mystery

August 22, 1992|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Staff Writer

He was loud, obnoxious, rude and drunk.

A weasel-looking creep who obviously relished spoiling everybody else's good time. You know, the type you just want to murder!

Oops, somebody did.

Baltimorean and billionaire entrepreneur William Barnaby was bumped off during an otherwise idyllic train ride through scenic Western Maryland.

Well, not really. It was all part of a make-believe murder whodunit.

And who did do the dirty deed? Was it Candy Barnaby? His young, flashy, floozy, fishnet-stockinged wife? Some say this wannabe actress snared her wealthy husband when she jumped out of a birthday cake two years ago, scantily dressed.

The newly widowed Mrs. Barnaby had insisted that her hubby partake of the delicious meatballs served on the train. Were the six meatballs she served him -- poisoned?

Was it Tony Elliott? The local actor also owns a dinner theater. It is no secret around town that the sharp-tongued Mr. Elliott was mighty perturbed because Mr. Barnaby was building a dinner theater for his wife right next door to his.

Mr. Elliott, who was wearing an elaborate brooch on his lapel, did somehow manage to prick Mr. Barnaby with it. Could the tip of the brooch have been dipped in -- poison?

Or was it Roberta Baker, the newspaper reporter (a close friend of Mr. Elliott, by the way) who was on the train interviewing passengers for an article?

Ms. Baker, who knew the Barnabys from the social circuit, had gotten into an argument with the couple. And she was seen giving Mr. Barnaby a pill for his upset stomach. Was it really a Tums or was it -- poison?

Enter Detective Tom James, a bumbling federal investigator who inspires no confidence. He came on board, dressed worse than TV's detective Columbo in his wrinkled trench coat, to interview passengers and to determine who did do it.

His observation after just a few interviews: "There are so many strange passengers on this train that I could just dump the whole bunch off at the federal pen in Baltimore."

The passengers were amused -- and into the spirit of things as they went along for the ride on the Murder Mystery Train.

The diesel train, operated by the EnterTRAINment Lines, departed from Union Bridge, wound its way past Thurmont and Camp David and up to the Pennsylvania border. It was the first weekday, midafternoon murder mystery train ride for the company, which usually operates in the evenings.

The train ride attracted people of all ages from the Baltimore-Washington area, such as Bob Dannecker. "This is the first time for us," said the Annapolis resident, who brought his parents. "My father just turned 80, and I thought we would have a good time."

Some passengers like the Danneckers opted to remain in their seats, where they could see some of the action, while others followed the actors around, so they would not miss a thing.

Maureen Leahy was one of the 54 passengers who chose to check out the action from car to car as the actors interacted with one another.

"It's fun. Great fun," Ms. Leahy, a Washington resident, said of the murder mystery train ride.

The action began as soon as the passengers boarded. At first everyone was a bit confused about who was an actor and who was not.

And the actors -- there were about six of them on board -- got out of character only for the last 10 minutes of the 3 1/2 -hour train ride.

Mr. Barnaby -- aka actor Paul Skotarski -- immediately began walking through the rail cars with a cup in his hand, loudly complaining to his "wife."

"Would you just get your food, shut up and sit down!" he slurred to Candy Barnaby (actress Lea Stanley).

As he got louder and more rude, many passengers looked askance at Mr. Barnaby. They wondered aloud if he was an actor -- or a real jerk.

"Won't you be glad to see him gone?" asked Carol Fearns, who hires and supervises the actors through the Theatre Shop in Westminster.

Finally, after Mr. Barnaby's numerous unpleasant altercations with Ms. Baker (MaryLou Grout) and Mr. Elliott (Chuck Lambert) -- he collapsed in a dead heap and was history about 45 minutes into the trip.

A distraught Mrs. Barnaby ran shrieking through the train, but nary a passenger offered any condolences -- only laughter and a couple of "good riddances."

Unlike conventional theater where the audience usually does not interact with the performers, passengers often jump into conversations on the Murder Mystery Train.

That means that although the actors rehearse their lines, they know the script will vary, Ms. Fearns says.

"There's a lot of improvisation. There are a lot of things that happen at a moment's notice, and the actors have to react," she says.

Like the passenger who interrupted Detective Tom James (Herb Otter), insisting that neither Mrs. Barnaby, Ms. Baker nor Mr. Elliott was the murderer. "It's the bartender," the man tells the detective.

Wrong!

Or the woman who insisted the murderer was a man named Phil, who insisted his name was really Henry Kaiser.

Wrong!

Or the kid who said it was all three characters in cahoots with one another.

Wrong!

Detective Tom James set them all straight.

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