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MURDER IN BROOKINGS GULCH

Rev. Henry Harmon Spalding (Rick Graves) gives Sheet Iron Jack (Bob Benson) his last rites. ().
Rev. Henry Harmon Spalding (Rick Graves) gives Sheet Iron Jack (Bob Benson) his last rites. ().

Pilot story and photos by sleuth Andrea Barkan

"Sheet Iron Jack never had a chance," Dr. George Goodfellow pronounced before reading his autopsy report to the crowd of cowboys, cowgirls, bandits and outlaws gathered in the Chetco Community Public Library Saturday night.

Goodfellow, played by Robert Krause, helped the motley crew collect evidence to explain the fatal shots that felled Sheet Iron Jack (Bob Benson) in the lobby a mere hour before.

Only one thing was certain: the murder happened in the library.

The rest was a mystery.

For the library's second annual murder mystery fundraiser, volunteers and staff transformed the well-known space into downtown Brookings Gulch – a wild western town filled with wild Western characters.

Participants dressed the part of their chosen characters.

"I'm the real Belle Starr," Jan Norwood said, explaining her less-than-glamorous interpretation of the legendary "Bandit Queen."

Norwood said when she chose Starr, described as a lovely lady who ruled outlaw gangs with her guns, her will and her personal favors, she thought she'd be decked out in feathers and frills.

But research she did on Starr exposed the reality of the legend.

So Norwood decided to represent her as she truly was – pockmarks and all.

Children's Librarian Dori Blodgett and Reference Librarian Brenda Jacques organized the event.

Blodgett authored the intricate mystery, which included two corpses, 15 suspects and 20 witnesses harboring clues and secrets of their own.

Blodgett included historical figures in the character list.

"These were all really interesting characters," she said. "Each one of these characters had something that made them stand out."

Participants recognized those "larger than life" qualities and ran with them, Blodgett said.

"I think the costumes were outstanding," Blodgett said. "They really got into it.

"Sallie Merriman, who played Calamity Jane, came in talking like her," Blodgett said.

Other characters included Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, John "Liver Eating" Johnston, Julia Louisa Lovejoy and Black Bart, a poet and stagecoach bandit.

Russ Russell, Saturday night's incarnation of Black Bart, stayed true to character when he boomed a few poetic words over Sheet Iron Jack's sprawling body.

"Well, he lied before and he's lying still," Russell declared.

Sheet Iron's assassin was revealed at the end of the night, after participants feasted at the "chuck wagon" on Western-style cuisine and made their best guesses as to whodunit.

No one guessed Elfia Pike, played by Laura McGrath, held the smoking gun.

Two people did figure out a second off-stage murder.

Norwood and Rick Graves, playing the missionary Reverend Henry Harmon Spalding, both fingered Pearl Hart as Pa Van Pelt's poisoner.

Best costume went to Rick Dentino, who played Pancho Villa, and Judy Kaplan, who played Miss Lilly.

Blodgett said the event raised about $800 for Friends of the Library.

"It's not a big fundraiser," Blodgett said. "The big reason we do it is because it's such a fun social event. It brings excitement into the library."

Blodgett plans to let Friends of the Library spearhead next year's murderous evening.

And the theme?

For now, that remains a mystery.

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