The Case of the Caring Husband

A showcase murder mystery scenariodesigned according to the rules presented in the article Designing a Murder Mystery Adventure.

By Jeff Hitchin (jhitchin@bigfoot.com)

Setup

Lance Peterson comes to the PC's in order to have them check on his soon to be ex-wife, Teresa. He's been ordered to have no contact with her by phone or in person, which he says he is trying to follow, but he needs to be sure that she'd doing okay as he still worries about her. He says he just wants to be sure that she's happy and he'll leave her alone. All he wants them to do is go to her apartment building, and just do a quick survey to make sure that everything is okay.

When the PC's go to Teresa's apartment, if they are looking in from the outside, they'll see that the lights are on, but there's nobody around. The TV is playing to an empty couch, for example. If they get close enough either physically or by using binoculars, they'll see that Teresa is dead on the floor of her kitchen, a butcher knife in her chest.

Victim: Teresa Peterson

Teresa left Lance as he had been becoming a little too self-centered now that he had made it to the big leagues as a ball-player. She wanted a quieter life than that. However, as soon as she was gone, Lance realized what a mistake he'd made and tried to get her back, which resulted in her having a restraining order sworn out against him. He dutifully stayed away and was in the process of letting her go, but he still wanted to be sure she was safe and happy.

Killer: Andrew Poore

A co-worker of Teresa's. When he recognized her as Lance's soon to be ex-wife, he made a move on her, which she swiftly rejected. Since then, he'd been trying to get her to go out with him, to the point of calling every 10 minutes at her home, and trying to put his hands on her at work.

The Apartment

If the detectives search the apartment (and they'd better if they're any good, it's a crime scene for crying out loud!), they'll find the following:

Lance's Alibi

The players will likely want to know where Lance was when all of this was going down. As it turns out, he was in the middle of a ball game at the stadium on the other side of town. Considering he played right field, there would have been no way that he could have driven across down during the at bat part of the inning and made it back in time to re-take the field. If the player's check this out, they will find the rest of the team corroborates his alibi, and even the local news mentions a few good plays he made, so he was definitely there.

If the players accuse him of hiring someone to kill Teresa, he will react angrily saying, "How dare you!" and similar interjections. He will eventually break down into sobs saying, "I loved her, I could never hurt her!"

What Happened

Andrew called Teresa earlier that evening (the tape with the "Stop calling me!" on it), and when she hung up on him, he was so enraged he went to her apartment. Teresa had been watching TV and was just assembling a salad for dinner when the doorbell rang. She went to the door, opened it a crack to see who it was and Andrew pushed the door in, almost knocking Teresa over. She shouted at him to go away, to leave her alone.

"Why are you pushing me away, Teresa?" Andrew said. "Can't you see how perfect I am for you?"

"You're not perfect for me, you're not perfect for anybody! Now go away!"

This whole time, Andrew would take a step forward and Teresa would back up a step. This kept up until they were in the kitchen. When Andrew tried to grab Teresa and kiss her, she punched him. He grabbed the knife on the cutting board and stabbed her. When he realized what he'd just done, he quickly wiped the knife handle and took off.

Nailing Andrew

This is where you're going to have to flesh some of this out on your own. There's no way I can think of every eventuality the players are likely to come up with in an investigation in order to find the killer. You will have to have a few quickie NPC's lined up to throw in to make it look like you'd planned it that way.

Eventually, the players will go to Teresa's workplace, probably the next morning (the timing here is important). Teresa worked in a large publishing conglomerate and was the assistant to one of the CEO's. Andrew was one of the copyeditors that Teresa constantly had to set up meetings with.

Once they start asking around the workplace, make sure the players find Andrew (preferably not the first person they talk to), and when he's asked if he knows Teresa, he'll say, "Oh, sure. I knew Teresa. Not well, though." If they're paying attention, they'll notice that he's using past tense and knows that Teresa is dead, unlike everybody else in the office.

From here, the only other proof that they'll need to get him is to fingerprint the front door of Teresa's apartment. He may have wiped off the knife, but he didn't wipe his prints off the door when he pushed his way in.

Running the Game

Please feel free to change any of this to suit your needs as a GM. Try to make sure the people that the players talk to are distinctive and not stereotypes. Crime fiction may have its staple of screwballs and insane weirdoes, but they are not in this story. The idea behind this style of mystery story is to examine what drives normal, regularly sane people to kill.

The hardest part of running a mystery game is players will be looking for discrepancies everywhere, and you're going to make mistakes, so be prepared for it. If they pounce on something that's a mistake you made in trying to come up with people, places and things for an avenue you weren't anticipating having to go down, don't be afraid to admit it. I've done it myself, and after a few games, the players will even ask, "Did you screw that up?" so that I can say "Yes, I blew it," and they'll drop the line of inquiry.

Running a crime game is a trial by fire, but it is also some of the most fun I've ever had.