Murder at the Black Hawk Hotel

Murder at the Black Hawk Hotel

CEDAR FALLS — Gary Kroeger has a mind for murder.

The veteran performer has created several original murder mystery events and one set in the 1920s will unfold Saturday at the Black Hawk Hotel, 115 Main St.

“I’m a huge mystery fan and I’ve attended a few murder mystery evenings in recent years. I’ve thought they were lots of fun,” Kroeger said.

“Generally, it’s just a game everybody plays and more or less, you’re playing ‘Clue.’ When hotel management asked me to design a murder mystery, I decided to do something a little different.”

Murder Mystery Parties directly support the continued operation of the historic Black Hawk Hotel. A limited number of tickets are being sold in advance for the Saturday event. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. with the murder event starting promptly at 7 p.m. Bar Winslow will be open and, after the murder is solved, the party continues until midnight at the prohibition-inspired craft cocktail bar.

Kroeger has created an immersive whodunit featuring actors who mingle with party guests. Guests overhear arguments, eavesdrop on conversations and search for clues to solve a murder – “or two. There are surprises,” said Kroeger.

“The question becomes: Was the first murder really a murder? And what happens if there’s another murder? People come prepared to find clues, figure out the riddles and put the puzzle together to find a killer.”

To set the stage, it’s the Roaring ‘20s. Flapper girls, jazz, bathtub gin and glamorous parties are all the rage. The Black Hawk Hotel, an elegant example of Second Empire and Mission-style architecture, is hosting a big party for a glittering guest list. Unfortunately, a murder interrupts the evening and guests must solve the crime.

Actors will be in costume. Guests attending are encouraged to “get into the spirit of the times,” Kroeger said, and arrive dressed in period-appropriate style – women in flapper dresses and men in Zoot suits or tailcoats and top hats.

Drawing upon his experiences as a guest star on such hit TV shows as “Murder, She Wrote,” “Columbo” and “L.A. Law,” Kroeger developed the storyline and created characters, casting roles with experienced actors from Cedar Falls Community Theatre and Waterloo Community Playhouse.

“It all happens in real time. Having actors interact with guests adds a layer of realism. The guests want to be involved and be entertained – and they want to be surprised by the ending.”

Actors develop their own personas based on Kroeger’s character descriptions that include relationships and motivations.

“This is improvisation. The actors don’t rehearse or have specific dialogue. Everyone is a suspect,” he explained. “I chose five or six guests at random to become characters in the story.”

Guests trail after the actors throughout the hotel, eavesdropping on conversations, witnessing arguments and discovering clues, which could be a love letter or even a deed to the hotel. There are plenty of red herrings and MacGuffins as actors engage in hijinks while hoodwinking guests as the mystery deepens.

“Misdirection is part of the fun. The guests are divided into groups and have to figure out the who, how and why. They go off in search of clues. Solving the crime involves deductive reasoning. I guarantee there’s a Perry Mason in every group – ‘He was the one in the study with a candlestick!’”

Sometimes Kroeger acts as the detective on the scene and, at other times, another actor fills the role and Kroeger serves as host.

Prizes are awarded to the murderer and the group that is first to identify the killer.

Kroeger holds all the cards. On the day of the event, he decides who will be the murder victim or victims and who will be the murderer.

“Everyone one has a motive. Everyone is a suspect. I don’t want it to be obvious. Even cast members are kept in the dark,” he said.

“What’s fun is someone will solve the crime and come up with reasons that are even better than the ones I have. I’ll think ‘That’s brilliant!’ I love seeing people connect the dots.”

Kroeger has hosted several other sold-out murder mysteries in the area, including at Voodoo Lounge in Cedar Falls and in McGregor.

The actor-producer-writer, a Cedar Falls native, is a “Saturday Night Live” alum. He also appeared in numerous TV shows and starred in several movies.

Kroeger is a familiar face on local stages and recently played Dean Martin in CFCT’s successful “The Rat Pack.” On April 30, he and his son, Chris, will appear in a staged reading of “All My Sons” for Red Herring Theatre.

Eventually, Kroeger hopes to franchise his murder mysteries.

For ticket availability, visit, or call (319) 277-1161.

-Melody Parker

(photo by Chris Zoeller)

Published by gary1164

I'm an advertising executive and former actor/producer