Article by Katherine Duke '05
Photos by Jessica Mestre '10

On the evening of Dec. 13, I make my way to Keefe Campus Center and follow the signs directing me to the Presidential Candidates’ Dinner. I’m eager to meet some of the people hoping to succeed Tony Marx as the next president of Amherst College, to enjoy a free dinner from a local Italian restaurant and to witness a homicide.

Murder Mystery 4
Presidential candidates / murder suspects Keith Radford (Will Savino '14), Jake Sully (Andy Tew '07) and Bill Glass (Floyd Oliver '11)

In planning the latest version of its annual Murder Mystery show, the student improv troupe Mr. Gad’s House of Improv decided to play off of Marx’s recent announcement that he will be leaving the college in June to take over the presidency of the New York City Public Library. This year, the murderous plot would unfold at a meet-and-greet dinner for Marx’s possible replacements.

I enter the Friedmann Room, followed by dozens and dozens of students, and see that the place is furnished with some buffet tables and a number of round dining tables. In the center of each dining table is a pile of ballots so that we can vote for our favorite presidential candidates. I haven’t even made it to my seat when one of the candidates (played by Floyd Oliver ’11) corners me to schmooze. His name tag reads “Bill Glass.”

“Katie!” Bill cries, using the nickname that people often call me when they kind of know me, but not well enough to know that I hate it. He was so happy to see me again! Didn’t we meet in Colorado a few years back?

I’ve never been to Colorado in my life, but I play along and shake his hand.

Then I take a seat at a table with a bunch of students, mostly women. A young reporter in a plaid sport coat (Will Savino ’14) comes up and begins asking questions, shoving an invisible microphone into my tablemates’ faces to get their thoughts about the presidential search.

Soon, a teenager in baggy black clothes and a backwards baseball cap takes the stage at the front of the room. Rusty (Adam Barton ’11) tells us he’s a student from Amherst Regional High School, handling security for tonight’s event as part of a community service deal. Then a bespectacled young woman clad in Amherst purple (Bessie Young ’11) steps behind a podium and welcomes us to the Presidential Candidates’ Dinner. “My name is Bethie Young,” she lisps, “and I am the prethident of the Prethidenthal Thearch Committee.”

She shows us a video, produced by Rusty and projected onto a movie screen, with introductions from all the presidential candidates in attendance:

  • Dr. Klaus von Richtoffen (Dylan Herts ’13) is a physician from Germany.
  • Keith Radford (Savino) is a reporter for Channel 7 Eyewitness News On Your Side, who reports himself as a “standout” among the candidates. “Witnesses say Radford is an excellent public speaker, with a spectacular sense of fashion,” he informs us.
  • Bill Glass, it turns out, is some sort of super-schmoozer. He has apparently done everything—including starring in multiple TV shows—and is an old pal of everyone. Don’t we remember him?
  • Nicki Minaj (Shanika Audige ’12) is a stylish hip hop star, promoting her latest album, Pink Friday.
  • Eileen Faygus (Katherine Sisk ’14) is “a very famous backwards author” of such hits as How Christmas Stole the Grinch (“which is really the same story, if you think about the metaphor”) and Blood Will Be There (a screenplay that won a Racso, “which is a backwards Oscar”).
  • Margaret Beavers (Ali Rich ’13) runs the Fireside Inn in Waterville, Maine, and appears to be wearing a moose’s head as a hat. If elected, she says, “I would rule this college with the same strength and perseverance that it took for me to kill this moose with my bare hands.”
  • Jake Sully (Area Coordinator Andy Tew ’07), a tall fellow from the moon Pandora, looks awfully familiar; maybe it’s his bright-blue face. Among his ideas for changes to the college: “All first-year students must capture and ride a Williams student.”
  • Vinny Spadalupo (Pete Skurman ’12) is a UMass alumnus, having majored in communications (favorite class: “Psychology of Cell Phones”) and minored in massage therapy. Now he’s a promoter for such fine nightlife establishments as Club Touch and Club Sensation. Vinny seems to be under the mistaken impression that he is on the UMass campus.

The introductory video ends (after some footage that Rusty shot of himself attempting scooter tricks out on the Amherst campus), and then Bessie invites up to the podium none other than President Marx (played by himself).

In his address to us, Marx insists that he is not yet a lame duck, and he dispels some old rumors about Amherst. “We did not steal Williams’ books. We don’t need their books,” he intones. “Let’s be very clear: Amherst provides the finest undergraduate education the world has ever known.”

Murder Mystery 1
President Marx begins to feel ill. There was something more sinister than water in that glass...

In the audience, Bessie stands up to cheer, “We love you, Tony!”

After a final “Terras Irradient” and a round of applause, Marx sips some water from a glass on the podium… and begins to look ill. He staggers to a chair on the stage and flops over.

“President Marx has been murdered!” Keith Radford shouts—and then he catches himself: “I mean, he’s dead!”

Well, not quite. Dr. von Richtoffen revives Marx enough to lead him out of the room, to try to cure him (or so he says…). But after a minute, the doctor comes back in with an announcement:

“Ladies und gentlemen, zere’s no easy vay to say zis: Ze president is dead!”

Bessie takes the stage again and leads us in a moment of silence for her beloved president. “I made a video to thay goodbye to Tony, for when he left the college,” she tells us. “Now that he hath left the Earth, it’th a little thadder.” She plays the video, which features shots of Marx’s house and garden, as well as a medley of bittersweet banjo tunes by Gad’s alumnus Dan Cluchey ’08. When the screen shows real photos of Marx hanging out with students—at a Halloween party, at Senior Dinner—I hear several audience members say, sincerely, “Aww.”

Now, the evening is no longer just about the search for a president—it’s become a search for a killer. As we guests start lining up for the buffet (our appetites not much diminished by the grisly turn of events), Rusty takes the stage again. “Sorry about Tony Marx dying. My bad, guys,” says the head of security. But he shows us some extra footage from the introductory video, which he thinks might be relevant to the murder investigation. In the footage, many of the candidates reveal that they have crossed paths with Marx in the past and have reason to dislike him: Bill was offended that Tony didn’t remember having met him. Tony left a negative comment in the guestbook at Margaret’s inn. Tony once tried to use a terrible pick-up line on Nicki at a nightclub.

Murder Mystery 3
Eileen Faygus (Katherine Sisk ’14), Dr. Klaus von Richtoffen (Dylan Herts ’13) and Nicki Minaj (Shanika Audige ’12) plead their innocence.

Bessie calls all the candidates/suspects up on stage and gives them a chance to defend their innocence. The doctor says his “Hippopotamus Oath” prohibits him from doing harm to others. “Keith Radford spends all of his time in one of two places,” Keith says, when asked where he was just before Marx died. “Number one: the newsroom. Number two: the closet.” Nicki casts suspicion on “the lady with the moose head—‘cause, like, who does that?” Eileen has learned, from her research for her award-winning film Ratava, that Jake’s people on Pandora are prone to violence. Bill draws from his knowledge of medicine and law to tell us that he thinks Marx didn’t die from poison: “I personally think that the doctor took him to the stairway, strangled the life out of him and then came in and told everyone he was murdered.”

Bessie instructs us each to take a ballot from the center of our table, cross out Presidential Candidate and write murderer. We must then vote for the person we think killed Marx and explain why the killer did it. Keith sits down at my table, answers a few of our questions and tells us about his relationship with his hero, CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Keith reminds us, “Vote for me for president, after you don’t vote for me for murderer.”

I consider how I might mark my ballot. I most suspect Bessie, because she clearly had access to the podium, and the glass of water, just before Marx was there. But the doctor could easily have finished him off outside the room. Or maybe Keith orchestrated the murder just so he could report on it. Or what if the club at which Marx hit on Nicki is one of the clubs that Vinny promotes—does that mean anything? Ultimately, I abstain from voting. I’m not good at these things.

After a few minutes, Dr. von Richtoffen announces that he has finished the autopsy on the president. “I vas searching his jacket, und I found—as you all expected—ze flask, but I also found zis…” he says, holding up a DVD recording of Marx’s last will and testament.

Murder Mystery 5
Bessie Young (Bessie Young '11) loves Tony Marx to death.

He plays the DVD for us—a message from Marx in the case of his untimely demise. “My last request is that my remains be stored together with the dinosaur bones in the geology museum,” he says. And he reveals… that he knows that Bessie has been plotting to kill him.

Bessie stands up. “I killed him, becauth I’d rather he be here in Amhertht in the ground than New York Thity Public Library!” she confesses. “I killed him to keep him here in our heartth forever!”

Out of the many students who correctly solved the crime, Rusty chooses one lucky winner to receive a round-trip bus ticket to New York City for Valentine’s Day weekend.


And before she goes to jail, the athathin—I mean, assassin—has one more task: slicing and serving us a cake on which is written, in frosting, GOODBYE TONY.

Read Katherine Duke's account of the 2007 Mr. Gad's House of Improv Murder Mystery.