The small foyer becomes lively as dinner guests begin to file in. Some wear casual attire and others come in costume, decked out in tiaras, boas, suits or fishnets to better portray their assigned role. Everyone walks through the front door of the Spy House Bed and Breakfast in character.
The interactive performance “A Brief Case of Murder” began four years ago after bed and breakfast owners Kara and Steve Grant wanted to find a way to highlight the inn’s unique history.
“It just made sense. Even while we were living here we had people constantly showing up, asking us to see the house,” Kara said.
Before the two-hour dinner mystery begins, guests enjoy margaritas and appetizers in a cozy living room. There, they hold conversations in character, and only come back to reality to laugh good-naturedly when someone pauses to think up an answer about their characters’ background.
Once all the players have arrived, Kara and Steve give a brief history of the Spy House and its role in the espionage of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.
Nancy Berg grins at another guest during a performance on Friday. Guests had speaking roles in the script and held conversations in character throughout the night.
Kara Grant leads her husband Steve Grant into the foyer of the Spy House Bed and Breakfast on Friday for a performance of “A Brief Case of Murder.” Steve Grant gave a brief history of the Spy House and its role in the espionage of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.
Joanne Williams holds a dessert glass of fruit parfait during the murder mystery dinner on Friday. The Artichoke Café caters the event and serves guests a three-course meal.
Owner Kara Grant clutches her hands as she explains the procedure of the mystery dinner to guests at the Spy House Bed and Breakfast on Friday. During the two-hour performance, the guests read through several clues to unravel the “murderer” of the night.
Reading from a variety of sources, the Grants explain that Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, lived in an upstairs apartment of the Spy House and had even passed secrets to his Soviet contact, Harry Gold, in the foyer.
As the guests seat themselves at the dinner table, a scream erupts from above. Kara races into the dining room and tells the guests she has discovered a body in an upstairs bedroom.
Dinner has begun.
As the two-hour event progresses, chefs from the Artichoke Cafe serve the-three course meal while Kara, who plays the innkeeper, and Steve as Detective Farnham keep the play moving. Guests have speaking roles in the script as well, but most are suggestions rather than mandatory parts.
“I ask guests ‘Are you an extrovert? Are you an introvert?’ I can match personalities to roles,” Kara said.
The same script is used every time the monthly event is put on, but Kara said the ending is always different. A new murderer is selected and motives vary based on the actor.
Tina and Christopher Fludd, who played dinner guests Honey Meade and James Freeman at the August showing, said they drove from El Paso to be part of the fun. Tina said she had always wanted to try a mystery dinner and signed the pair up for the event.
Christopher said he enjoyed the acting and that it was something he had never tried before.
“I liked it, I got to be somebody else,” Christopher said.
For Albuquerque local Tom White, who played Matt Carpenter, the event was especially fun because he knew the original owners of the home for most of his life.
Walter and Marge Freeman, who owned the home when Greenglass lived there, were best friends with White’s aunt.
“I guess I knew a little bit of the story but I didn’t really realize how cool it was to have something like this happen in Albuquerque — and to happen at a friend’s house,” he said.
White said he enjoyed himself, and, like most guests, he thought the acting was the best part.
“I was very impressed,” he said. “I think my favorite part was getting to know the people before and having people assume their characters.”
Kara said the event has gained quite a bit of notoriety as a historic destination, so much so that in July a few famous guests came in for a night of murder.
A different event had been planned for July, so Kara said she and Steve had not planned for a murder mystery dinner. But when a woman called saying that she could fill the 20 person maximum on her own, Kara said she put the event together at the last minute.
“She said ‘Oh yeah, we can get it all together. We have a big cast,’” Kara said.
The cast turned out to be Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy and writer/producer Jordan Goldberg. The group was in town shooting the upcoming sci-fi film “Transcendence,” Kara said.
“They were a lot of fun with the ad-libbing. They kept saying ‘Cut! Cut! Cut! Do it one more time,’” she said.
Spy House Murder Mystery Dinner
207 High St. N.E.
$85 per person
The event is monthly, visit albuquerquebedandbreakfasts.com for the schedule.
A Brief Case of Espionage
In 1950, the small boarding home at 207 High St. N.E. became a part of history as the FBI descended upon the quiet neighborhood searching for spies.
Here’s some background on the Rosenbergs that will help guests fully enjoy their Spy House murder mystery experience.
1936 – Ethel Rosenberg née Greenglass, and Julius Rosenberg meet at a Young Communists League rally; they would marry three years later.
1943 – Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass and his new wife Ruth, join the Young Communists League.
1943 – David is drafted by the Army and is sent to Los Alamos Laboratory to work as a machinist.
1944 – Julius recommends Ruth’s High Street apartment to the NKVD, a Soviet law enforcement agency, as a safe house for espionage photography. The NKVD learns that David is part of the team working on the atomic bomb.
1944 – Julius and Ethel convince Ruth to speak with her husband about giving classified documents to the Soviet government.
1944 – David and theoretical physicist Klaus Fuchs agree and begin handing over top-secret information to their Soviet contact, Harry Gold.
1944-1946 – David and Fuchs hand over countless documents to the Soviet Union. Ethel types out many of these documents.
1950 – Fuchs is arrested in England on charges of espionage. Fuchs confesses and names Gold as his contact.
1950 – Gold is arrested on espionage charges. His confession leads to the arrest of David.
1950 – David is arrested on charges of espionage. To keep his wife out of jail and to get a shorter sentence for himself, he tells the FBI of Ethel and Julius’ involvement.
1951 – David is sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, Harry is sentenced to 15 years, and Fuchs to 14 years. Ethel and Julius are sentenced to execution.
1953 – Ethel and Julius are executed at Sing-Sing Prison in New York. They would be the only Americans to be executed for espionage during the Cold War.