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David Nelson / Society

Solving a Whodunit Was All in Night's Play for Partygoers

May 22, 1986|DAVID NELSON

SAN DIEGO — Bernie Spawn, the egomaniacal developer, was the victim Sunday of a homogenized homicide at the Golden Lion Tavern.

The police were not summoned to the scene and thus are not baffled by the crime, which in any case was solved by the 250 people present at the Gaslamp Quarter tavern shortly after the murder occurred. When apprehended, the killer, Gale Beagel, confessed his guilt and outlined how he done it. Spawn apparently succumbed to poisoned mascara, making this a most unusual case.

Almost anyone who ever has done time on a charity committee will agree that fund raising is murder. But the subject always has been treated just like the weather--everyone has been willing to talk about it, but no one has done anything to change the situation.

Until Sunday, that is, when Melanie Cohrs and her newly formed Tuesday Club turned the tables on the killer chore of fund raising by staging a murder for charity.

Now that's a different kettle of fish. Perhaps a bucket of red herrings, a smelly catch that nonetheless provided a tasty feast for the imaginations of the Tuesday Club members and their guests.

This was the first fund-raiser to be given by the club, which has been organized as a singles' auxiliary to the Child Abuse Prevention Foundation of San Diego. Cohrs said the murder mystery idea came along with relatively little effort, since a relative professionally stages such parties for a hotel chain. And Cohrs loves games; several seasons ago, she was La Jolla's acknowledged high priestess of Trivial Pursuit.

But there was little of the trivial about the pursuit of Spawn's killer by the theatrically garbed guests, whom the invitations obliged to attend in "mystery dress." They had quite a cast of potential felons from which to choose, and had to work hard for their clues; fortunately, the Golden Lion smoothed the sleuths' paths by spreading several handsome buffets that provided nourishment for the arduous task of detecting.

Upon arrival, each guest received a notebook with one of 10 clues attached; by comparing notes with other guests, it was possible to determine who in fact had committed the crime, even before the dastardly deed was done. Those who felt sure of their choice cast a ballot in a box, and a drawing held for the pool of winners later awarded various prizes.

Chairman Eric Dye, who was chief of detectives, called the group to order midway through the evening to allow the presentation of a skit in which eight characters revealed themselves to be ugly customers, and Mr. Spawn ultimately got his. The story line, rather amazingly, had been developed by a committee, then scripted by Linda Williams. Dodie Garner assembled the actors, none of them professionals but all of them hams of the highest degree.

(The rehearsals apparently had their light-hearted moments, as when waiters pestered the practicing thespians with offers of food and drink, and Garner tested her skit-ending scream on an unsuspecting audience of diners, who apparently took it all in stride.)

The cast included Ron Mix as the ill-fated Spawn, with Ashley Gardner as his wife, Buffy, and Garner as his mistress, an evangelist named Sherri Hull Spinnaker. Real-life FBI man Gary Laturno played detective Sam Sieve (think of a sieve as a kind of colander, and you'll know just who Laturno's character was intended to spoof); Elliot Pierce played investor J. Donald; Bob Lawrance portrayed the murderer, Gale Beagel, and Joe Basquez played town supervisor Waldo Gonzales (just think of lunch).

The skit involved plenty of innuendo, and so many double-entendres that one could easily lift a James Bond script directly from it. The crowd loved the whole idea, and when the skit ended with Spawn crashing to the floor, went directly to work solving the crime. One who did not participate was Patti Mix; having attended four rehearsals with her husband, she already knew who did it. (Patti has her own project, anyway; she's busy with last-minute details for a June 5 shindig that will honor Gen. Jimmy Doolittle on his 90th birthday, and raise funds for the USO. Bob Hope, James Stewart and Sen. Barry Goldwater have promised to be on deck for the air show at Miramar Naval Air Station, which will be followed by a dinner-dance at the Hotel Inter-Continental.)

The committee included Judy Courtemanche, Sharon Wilson, Dick Kyleberg, Thomas Goode , Joleen Singh, Denise Capozzi, Gene Sally, Todd Parnell, Barbara Owen, Paul D'Heilly, Doug Rodgers, Tracy Corwin, Kathleen Kellogg, Carlye Christianson, Cathy Zirpolo, Heather Campbell, Robert Butterfield, Jerald Lautin and Mindy Mitchell.

What is black and white and read all over?

Well, yes, the newspaper, of course--but the answer desired at the moment is "The Cat in the Hat," which in addition to being one of the most popular Dr. Seuss books also happens to be black and white and red all over.

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