Murder at the Library

Desiree Alexander October 21, 2018

Throwing a fun program that is interesting and engaging to tweens/teens is a challenge.  Hosting a murder mystery could be your answer. It is fun, can be low cost, and is different! Please reach out if you have any questions or can use any resources.

Type: Active
Age: High school
Optimal size: 11-20
Estimated cost: $26 - $50
Planning time: 2-5 hours
Frequency: One-time

Learning outcomes

Teens are able to do the following: 

● Display an ability to communicate with others

● Connect and collaborate with others

● Build relationships with peers and adults, including those of different backgrounds and experiences

● Think flexibly

● Demonstrate an openness to risk-taking

● Engage in personal expression

● Display self confidence

● Maintain a positive attitude


Are you looking for a new, innovative program to hook your teens?  Well, what about a murder, darling? Holding a murder mystery at your library can be a fun, different event that is cost-effective and a night your teens will never forget.  These are 10 steps to throw a murder mystery on a budget:

  1. Find a website or store that sells murder mysteries that are geared towards a teen audience. Sometimes, adult murder mysteries can be a little racy, so sticking to one geared toward your age range is key.  A useful resource to purchase one is
  2. Choose a theme that will be entertaining for your teen patrons.  You also want to look at how many participants the murder mystery is built to handle (with mandatory participants—make sure you have at least that many people—and voluntary—you will not be able to have more than that number of participants).  Purchase a murder mystery packet. If you buy your murder mystery online, you can download it immediately. Of course, buying it from a store will also result in immediate access. Most packets are between $30 and $45. In the packet, you will get almost everything you need to complete the murder mystery!
  3. Read through all the materials and organize the murder mystery. At this stage, you want to see what copies/prints need and what other resources you may need (envelopes, tape, fake blood, white face paint, labels, nametags, decorations, props, food, prizes, etc.).  Now, at this point you are thinking how you are supposed to do this on a budget, right? Well, keep reading!
  4. Most of the resources you need outside of buying the packet are optional if you get creative! Copies/prints is a must…you will have to make copies or print out items.  However, instead of buying nametags, print ones that can be taped/pinned on or can have a hole punched in them to hang on a lanyard (if at a school where students already have lanyards). Instead of envelopes and labels, print the directions for each round and fold the paper and write the name on the outside. Decorations can be made and borrowed.  Food…let’s discuss the food.
  5. The murder mystery is made up of 3 courses and at least one game. The packet gives you all the directions you need and suggests games for you to play to prolong your murder mystery (without the extra games, you can get this done in two hours…even one hour, but that may be pushing it). Your three food courses can consist of small items: Goldfish crackers for the appetizer course, sandwiches for the main course, and cookies for the dessert course. Honestly, the teens are so excited to be there, you really do not have to go all out on the food.  Decide what you want and you can get much of it donated, do a potluck where the teens or parents bring something, or get sponsors. If you have a Teen Library Council, your Council members can donate food to murder mystery since they are leaders in the library (nothing over $5 a person).
  6. The game mentioned in number 5 is critical. You do not have to use any of the suggested games in the packet. One super quick, free alternative is to do a memory game. Have a table with random things from your home (30 or more items), such as nail clippers, a dictionary, a stapler, a magazine, a spoon, etc. Put the random items on the table where each one can be seen. Cover the table with a sheet. Done! You have a game. Give each person a sheet of loose leaf (or create a form) and give them one minute or more to look at the items.  They cannot write, only look. Then when the time is up, put the sheet back over it and let them start remembering what was under the sheet. While this is happening, someone will slip away to be…MURDERED! What happens to the person that won this game? Well, they get a prize of course!
  7. Where prizes are concerned, you want to have enough for this game (and any more you may play) and the winners who guess the murder mystery correctly! Make sure you have enough for multiple winners. This can be as simple as a full size or movie size box of candy! It can be non-purchased items too, such as clearing library fines or a return books late coupon or free dress day if you are at a school. Just make sure to get the prizes approved if they are non-purchased ones.
  8. Decorations and costumes are completely up to you. If you do decorations and/or costumes, stay on theme! Have your library patrons make decorations in programs before your murder mystery (painting party, anyone). If you have a Teen Library Council, they can help with decorations. As far as costumes, do not make costumes mandatory. Some may not be able to get a costume and you want this to be fun for all.
  9. It is up to you if you want to do sign ups ahead of time or not. I do suggest it so you can be sure you have enough people and do not have too many people show up. The packet has items to give participants before the murder mystery. Even if you do sign ups, you don’t have to use these items and can completely assign everyone a character when they show up. If you want to use them, have a plan if someone doesn’t show up.
  10. Take plenty of pictures and have fun!

That’s it! That is how you do a teen murder mystery on a budget! Your teens will love it (and you will have to chase the adults away)!


The murder mystery program is always a lot of fun! Since the murder mystery kits are purchased, the organization of how to do it is all written out for you. The students who participate absolutely love the process of thinking through the clues. Honestly, the only thing I would change is to do them more often. They are so much fun and let students learn from each other and about each other. It leaves them with a positive view of the library and of each other. 

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