Murder, She Wrote

I planned a murder with my daughter this week. We corrupted Daryl as well, causing him to add his own ideas to the mix. In our defense, it was an assignment for school. A friend of mine whose daughter has the same teacher found the assignment tediously involved and time consuming, not to mention a bit macabre.

We really got into it.

The purpose was to teach the importance of attention to detail. They had just read The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright. Each child was to create a murder scene diorama, building a room in a shoe box depicting a murder scene, complete with all the details that would clue the police investigators in on what happened.

After reading through Jane’s initial draft, I had some questions. Quibbles, if you will.

“So, he comes into the yard and stabs her and disfigures her face?”


“And then he drags her unconscious over to a tree and hangs her from it?”


“And then she wakes up and hacks the rope from her neck with a hoe?”


“Where’d she get the hoe?”

“She was holding it when he attacked her.”

“And you don’t think she would have dropped it in the attack? Say… maybe when she went unconscious?”

“Yeah, I was thinking maybe she should have gardening shears in her pocket instead.”

As we began building the diorama, the events of the murder simplified a bit. The rope and the tree didn’t work out. She needed to be stabbed on the wood walkway so the blood would show better than it would on the grass. The body would crush some flowers in the flowerbed when she fell. The murderer would crush a few more as he made his escape. She’d drag herself up onto the deck in a futile attempt to grab at her phone, but alas, she’d fail to complete the call before succumbing to a loss of blood.

Jane originally planned on having it set in modern times and the phone a cell phone that she had left sitting on the table. It would be shattered.

“Why would it be shattered?”

“Because she dropped it.”

“Do me a favor. Drop your phone. Did it shatter? Phones don’t shatter.”

“Some people’s iPhones do.”

“It seems like a stretch. Besides, how tiny would this cell phone have to be?”

I ultimately convinced her that casting her scene in the 1980’s would allow her to have a regular ole corded phone that she dragged out of the house in case she got a phone call while working in the garden. So now instead of failing to call 911 on her cell phone, she manages to only knock the handle off the phone.

Construction was fun. The boys wanted to help and since we didn’t want to spend a small fortune at Hobby Lobby, we made a lot of our own props, like the pitcher of lemonade and two cups, and that phone:


The phone in the picture was actually the first generation phone. We made another smaller one with a tighter cord after deciding the handset really didn’t need to go from the top of the woman’s head all the way down to her waist.

We started with the back wall of the house, constructing it slightly away from the wall of the box and using the box’s own flap as the roof. We then used a really old can of spray adhesive we found in my craft box from back before I had kids. We had to keep spraying it upright in the yard before turning it down into the box to attach the “grass” we bought at the local train hobby store. The rocks in the picture are to hold down the papers screening off the areas not to have grass. It was a very windy day.


Jane had gotten her original idea from the supposed murder caught on Google Earth, which was on an octagonal deck out in a lake. I protested that there wasn’t much detail that could be added to that scene. I also pointed out that the murder claim has been thoroughly debunked (she still doesn’t believe me). During the planning stages, I gently nudged her toward coming up with her own story, which she did, but she steadfastly stuck to the octagonal deck.


She built the deck by attaching all the “planks” with duct tape and cross beams (which were also duct taped). We printed out an octagon from PowerPoint and she traced the desired shape. She expresses a fear of cutting herself with the saber saw so Daddy did all the cutting. She built the fence and table top the same way.

The benches and edge pieces of the deck, however, were cut using a chisel and hammer:


Once the backyard was finished, Jane initially declared it too beautiful to corrupt with a murder scene. But the deed must be done. She painted the bottoms of the “murderer’s” feet (some poor smuck in the package of 5 people we bought at Hobby Lobby who happened to be in the process of walking).


Then she staged him walking across the deck, through the flowerbed, across the yard, and out the gate.


She also wanted a bloody hand print on the gate. So first she ripped the arm off the guy…


…and then she used his hand to make the hand print.


She had a little too much fun giving the victim doll its wounds.


The scene was complete with a shattered vase, knocked over as the victim scrambled onto the deck – actual pottery shards provided by her dad; a knocked over pitcher with the awfully bright lemonade spilling out; two cups – indicating that the victim was expecting company, although only one had lemonade in it; the phone with its bloodied handle hanging loose from the table; and a homemade umbrella.

I couldn’t find a small enough drill bit to make the hole for the umbrella so we were trying to use a kabob skewer from the kitchen and not getting very far. The boys were hovering, offering suggestions and wanting to help. Hal, being only five years old, was getting on my nerves. I had already asked him to leave a couple of times.

As he watched us with the skewer, he asked, “Why don’t you use a pushpin or something?”

“Hal!” I said, “That’s brilliant!”

We soon had an umbrella pushed through a hole in the table and Hal had a high five from me and a huge smile on his face.





The friend who wasn’t enjoying the project told her daughter that her murder would have to be due to suffocation with a pillow or something because she wasn’t going in on all the gore. Another friend was doing Humpty Dumpty. Still another was doing a scene where a banana ate another banana. It was to be called Cannibananalism.

At the volleyball games this afternoon, we saw pictures of one girl’s detailed kitchen scene that appeared to show murder by large animal. Another mom raised all of our eyebrows when she said her daughter hadn’t started. “She says she knows what she’s going to do and it won’t take that long. She’s doing JonBenet Ramsey and wants a Barbie doll. Personally, I don’t want her doing that story – it’s too sad.”

At the time of the conversation, we had yet to stage the murder in our beautifully serene backyard scene. We knew we easily had another hour or two of work to finish up details like window frames, sky behind the fence, scraping up the grass where the gate would have opened and shut, lemonade, broken vases, blood, bent flowers, and more. Jane had made a list when she went to bed yesterday – a day that saw probably eight hours of concerted effort.

I sighed a relieved sigh. At least my daughter wasn’t the one that hadn’t started yet.


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