The Castle Inn Bed and Breakfast in Circleville maintains a tall and imposing figure across the landscape. And on the last Friday of every month, it offers a role-playing event that Agatha Christie would likely approve of: a murder mystery.
On this particular evening, 12 guests gathered in the sitting room, lit only by one electric chandelier. They discuss the main business of the evening: the death and last testament of recently deceased billionaire Jones Claythorne. It seems that every guest has a good reason for why they should receive Claythorne’s inheritance.
As guests cluster in small groups, their separate conversations grow in volume. Some learn:
- “Norton Claythorne” is a struggling artist.
- “Cassandra” and “Wilma” are modern-day gypsies who travel to exotic places.
- “Rutland” (the lawyer who’s in charge of reading the will) is coming off of many failed cases.
At one point, “Victoria,” a journalist hoping to sell a book about the family, cries out in frustration, “Stop, stop, stop. This family is killing me!”
“This is how we get along,” Norton says.
Of course, this is not a real murder, nor are guests relatives gathering to read a will. They also are not trained actors putting on a play. Rather, these individuals have travelled far and wide to participate in the bed and breakfast’s long-running mystery events. On this evening, two of the guests came from central Indiana just for this experience.
A Fun, Cursed Night
“All the guests are actually the characters in the murder mystery… you actually interact with the other guests; you have a character, we dress you up, we tell you who you are,” says Jen Kraft, the general manager of the Castle. “We don’t give you a script, though. It’s very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants; you make it up as you go along.”
To start, guests come from their rooms on the second and third floors to have appetizers in the sitting room at 8 p.m. There, they get acquainted with each other and learn about the other players. At 9 p.m., dinner is served in the dining room, followed by dessert. After dinner, the story reaches its climax as the will is finally read out loud. When everyone wakes up the next morning, the mystery is solved over breakfast.
Those are the only guidelines for the murder mystery; the staff is basically detached from the story outside of announcing when dinner is ready and bringing out plates of food. All of the story progression happens at the will of the guests.
History of the Castle Inn
The castle was built in 1895 by businessman Samuel Ruggles as a present for his wife. She lived there all her life and died in the castle. Since then, the rumors about the castle being haunted have circulated, and the story has been featured on A&E network’s “Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal.”
“[The Ruggles] had kids here, and people say that they see ghosts of kids,” Kraft says. “And she had a cat. We don’t tell people that, that’s not part of the tour. But we have guests that leave the next day and say they heard our cat in the hallway. Things like that just make you think.”
Kraft says guests regularly ask her if the castle is haunted, but she deliberately doesn’t give a clear answer. She lets the guests decide if the rumors are true.
“It’s just what you make of it, I guess,” Kraft says.
A Real-Life Murder Mystery
However, Circleville certainly offers more than its fair share of chilling stories based on real events. Beyond the rumors of hauntings, an actual mystery involving Circleville has endured since 1976. It includes a series of threatening letters and ominous events centered around Mary Gillespie, a local bus driver who was rumored to be sleeping with the school superintendent. Her husband died under what some claim to be mysterious circumstances, and she was almost killed by a booby-trapped sign. The letters stopped in the mid-1990s, and no one has solved the mystery of who the writer is.
An article in Southeast Ohio’s 2013 spring issue noted that a trial in 1983 found Gillespie’s brother-in-law, Paul Freshour, to be guilty of attempted murder and was sent to prison. The letters did not stop after his incarceration, though. He was exonerated in 1994 after additional evidence was found and an ominous letter was sent to him that said: “Now when are you going to believe you aren’t going to get out of there? I told you 2(sic) years ago.” He died in 2012, and there have been no clear leads in the case since his release.
However, the Castle Inn’s murder mysteries in no way reflect the Circleville letter incidents. Kraft says although some may question any overlap, the Inn’s mystery is not based on the actual events.
Inside the castle, “fun” was the word of the night. Julie Shadinger, aka “Aunt Hilda,” was very pleased with her experience. “It’s too fun,” she says with a laugh. She had travelled from central Indiana to spend the night at the castle and thoroughly enjoyed her stay, just as many others have before her.