MORE THAN 50 people gathered Friday in West Friendship to catch the villain who killed Jack Hammer. The group was attending "Murder at Nixon's Farm," a simulated murder mystery.
Known for its catering, wedding receptions and school gatherings, Nixon's Farm started offering a different kind of entertainment about a year ago.
Owner Randy Nixon first staged murder mystery evenings for businesses, and the events were so popular that he decided to open them to the public.
With little advertising, a house full of amateur detectives signed up for last week's mystery, paying $40 each, to solve the imaginary murder.
Each person was given the identity of one of 28 characters in the story. In fact, so many were participants that some characters had to be represented by two people.
Such was the case of Nancy Kapp of Glenelg and Sherry Parrish of Ellicott City.
Both women were assigned the character, Elizabeth Rockstone, an oversexed and evil woman.
Kapp and Parrish matched wits as each tried to out-sex the other. They flirted with each other's husbands and with narrator Steve Wecker and hurled insults at each other.
The two Elizabeths played their parts so well that some guests thought they were paid actors. But Kapp and Parrish were simply immersed in the escapades of the evening.
"She started it," Kapp said of Parrish. "She came over and sidled up to my husband and boxed me in the head."
Kapp, a Howard County Gifted and Talented Program teacher, joined the game.
"That's just too good of an opportunity," she said of Parrish's caper.
Kapp received her tickets to the murder mystery as a combined Valentine's Day and anniversary present from her husband, John, and was pleasantly surprised. "It was a lot of fun," she said.
Parrish came with her husband, also named John, and four of their neighbors - Pat and Steve Grimes, and Wanda and Mark Brodsky. They met table-mates Nancy Keogh and John Cooper of Dayton that night.
"We were highly entertained, well-fed, made new friends and enjoyed the company of old ones," Sherry Parrish said.
The four-hour event began with hors d'oeuvres, as people got to know their fellow detectives.
The guests, seated around tables in groups of eight, joked about their names and characters: Dr. J.B. Petri Dish, a renowned research scientist; Sen. Barbara McCloskey, a diminutive and powerful politician; and the Rev. Jonathan Longsermon, a televangelist. Each guest had a grudge against Jack Hammer, the manipulative and ruthless billionaire.
Sometime during the dinner of roast beef and seafood linguini, Hammer - played by one of the guests - slumped in his chair and fell to the floor. After dinner, the group, assisted by the "victim," got down to the business of catching the "killer" of Hammer.
Wecker introduced the large cast of characters and described their personalities. Then the guests were sent out in groups of two or four to gather clues on the poisoning of Hammer in the Nixons' renovated bank barn and around the farm.
A prize "rumored to be $100,000," according to Wecker, was promised to the winners.
The first group to report back to Wecker with the correct killer was awarded the prize.
The "100 Grand" turned out to be a candy bar - part of a basket of candy and food awarded to the winners. But nobody was disappointed; everyone cheered loudly as the prizes were awarded. Guests who wore great costumes were awarded bottles of champagne.
Afterward, the group gathered for dessert and coffee, and to laugh about the night's antics and reveal their true identities.
"This is as much fun as six middle-aged, conservative people can have without going to jail," Sherry Parrish said. "We would definitely do it again."
Information about future mysteries: 410-442-2151.
The Howard County Conservancy will sponsor a birthday party in honor of Dr. Seuss on March 2 at Mt. Pleasant Farm.
Children ages 3 to 6 will hear stories, play games and enjoy a snack. A surprise visitor will make an appearance.
Parents and children can choose between the 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and the 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. parties.
The cost is $1 a child. Registration is required because space is limited, and parents must accompany their children.
Mt. Pleasant Farm is at 10520 Old Frederick Road in Woodstock.
Information or registration: 410-465-8877.
The Glenelg High School PTSA continues its Speaker Series for high school parents Tuesday.
Joyce Derby, an adolescent psychologist at Howard County General Hospital, will discuss "Teen Depression, Eating Disorders, Risky Behavior, Addiction and Cravings."
The program will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the media center.
Glenelg High is at 14025 Burntwoods Road, Glenwood.
Information: Brenda von Rautenkranz, 301-854-5582.
Howard County Celestial Searchers, a young astronomers club for students in grades K-12, will meet at 7 p.m. Monday in the art room at Bushy Park Elementary School.
Two parent volunteers are to make presentations.
Donna Carollo will demonstrate how to build a model comet and lead a discussion of comets and asteroids. Suzy Sullivan will share her "Stellar Stories" about the night sky.
Members of the Howard Astronomical League, a group of adult amateur astronomers, will bring their telescopes for stargazing.
Bushy Park Elementary is at 2670 Route 97, Glenwood.
Information: Stardoc (Dr. Joel Goodman), 410-531-6600, or e-mail Stardoc@Goodteeth.com.
National Merit finalists
Congratulations to River Hill High School students Suneel Bhat, Britt Boras, James Lee, Adnan Sheikh, Jingya Wang and Shelby Yu.
They have been named National Merit Scholarship finalists.