A Murder Solved in the Vineyards of Napa Valley

By Barb King

Standing from Left: Louetta Edwards, Kaui Loring, Brigitta Dahlander, Heidi Stumph, Fay Blair, Annie Shoell, Barb King and Claudia Peterson. Sitting from Left: Gail Ashdown, Ruth Cox and Marianne Johnstone. Submitted photo.

A creepy thing happened during Marianne Johnstone’s fourth mystery dinner play in April. A well-preserved missing body heaved-up through the cedar planks in the wine cellar of the mansion at Underwood Wine Estates. Near midnight, a minor earthquake shook the old wooden floor and exposed Barry Underwood’s body with a slashed throat, which had been part of the FBI’s unsolved files from five years prior.

Napa Valley’s annual wine festival was being celebrated at the time of Barry’s disappearance in 1992 and no clues had been discovered, after a massive search. Now, once again, it was time to celebrate the annual event with family and friends, when a quake occurred. All participants are suspects in “A Taste for Wine and Murder”.

Suspicions are cast against Ralph Rottingrape played by Louetta Edwards, the new winery owner; Tiny Bubbles played by Annie Schoell, Barry’s fiancé and now Ralph’s wife; Hedy Shablee played by Gail Ashdown, a competing vineyard owner next door; Marilyn Merlot played by Brigitta Dahlander, a movie star and the former festival’s Wine Princess; Otto Van Schnapps played by Fay Blair, a well-known German wine merchant; Papa Vito played by Ruth Cox, who has spent 60 years developing the vineyards, thanks to Barry’s grandfather bringing him here from Italy. Extra characters were the FBI agent, Bud Weiser, played by Heidi Stumph and a Scottish tourist and mystery writer, Bonnie Lass, played by Kaui Loring.

As with these mystery dinners, characters dress up in the style of the event taking place. In this one, suspenders, hats, mustaches, and other props were used. Marilyn Merlot was even dressed in the style of Marilyn Monroe, in her white flowing dress. Barb King was the narrator, Bridgette Boredoe, and she kept the story on course and at the end revealed the killer, after everyone was done with accusations and guesses as to “who-dun-it”. Reading a script is mostly adhered to, but now and then a few ad libs make for hilarious moments. Even the names of actors are a play on famous names.

The table was decorated with a colorful tablecloth and wine bottles and foods were served as appetizers such as “sparkling” drinks, lots of cheeses and crackers and green, purple and red grapes. The main course consisted of ravioli stuffed with spinach, 2 sauces, salad with salami, olives, and cheeses, complete with dressing and garlic bread. Multi-colored sherbet was the dessert. It was a most scrumptious meal served by Marianne Johnstone and her able kitchen staff: Vivian McDonald, Linda Adams, Joan Greenhalgh and observer Claudia Peterson. Mike Gill was the photographer for this event.

Johnstone welcomes calls from fun-loving participants who would like to meet new friends monthly in this type of environment. Each play seems to be getting better and better. She may be called in Mesquite at 702-345-4459 for more information.