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True crime comes alive at murder mystery dinner theater

By APRILL BRANDON
April 8, 2010 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated April 7, 2010 at 11:08 p.m.

Actors Lon Smith and Ruth Stock will be joined by three others in the theatrical presentation of "Murder and Malice" in a fundraiser for the Museum of the Coastal Bend. Stock plays the part of Mary Hensoldt, an unmarried seamstress who was murdered in 1891. Smith plays Ernest Melchoir, a suspect in the unsolved mystery.

Play synopsis

It's 1891 and Mary Hensoldt, an unmarried seamstress with a history of madness, is found murdered in her home on Main Street. Based on actual court records, newspaper accounts, and interviews with family descendants, "Madness & Murder" explores this unsolved mystery and the unusual suspects, from B.F. Williams, mayor of Victoria; to Adam Jatho, Victoria's first undertaker.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: The Museum of the Coastal Bend's Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. April 16

WHERE: The Victoria College Student Center.

COST: Tickets are $50, which includes dinner and the play.

FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO PURCHASE TICKETS: Call 361-582-2434 or stop by the museum, 2200 E. Red River St. by Victoria College.

Victoria has a lot of history and just like any place with a lot of history, some of it is sordid. With a little digging, one can unearth murders, madness and mayhem throughout the timeline of the city.

And that's exactly what Victoria College professor Gary Hall did. In 2006, Victoria Preservation Inc. published Hall's book, "Murder and Malice: Crimes of Passion from Victoria County, Texas." Based on old court records, newspaper articles and interviews with family descendants, the book explores the true crime past of the area, from murders to kidnappings to the last legal hanging in Victoria.

"I started researching because I wanted to get a historical marker for my house," Hall said. "So I started going through boxes and boxes of old court files. There were so many stories in those boxes that no one had seen for 100 years."

Take, for instance, the story of Mary Hensoldt, an unmarried seamstress living on Main Street who had spent time living in a lunatic asylum and was found murdered in her home in 1891. The case was never solved.

Until now.

Well, kind of.

On April 16, the Museum of the Coastal Bend is hosting a Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre based on the story of Hensoldt. Adapted into a play and directed by Hall, the event, which is a fundraiser for the museum, will have patrons solving the century-old crime, museum director Sue Prudhomme said.

"We came up with this idea almost a year ago to do a murder mystery play that was based on historical fact," she added. "We approached Gary Hall because he already had a body of knowledge of early Victoria history and he very graciously agreed to do this for us."

The story of Hensoldt is fascinating, Hall added. In 1887, she was brought up on commitment charges and sent to a lunatic asylum. She only stayed for seven months but stories about her odd behavior continued, from pouring a chamber pot into her neighbor's cistern to telling stories about how a giant man tore her entire roof off, he said.

"A lot of mystery plays end with 'the butler did it.' But I'm sticking to the facts. All the events are true and some of the dialogue is taken word for word from court records," Hall added.

Five actors will play the parts of the real characters, including Hensoldt, the mayor of Victoria B. F. Williams, and Adam Jatho, Victoria's first undertaker.

With dinner catered by Main Course, the event is expected to raise around $5,000 for the museum, Prudhomme said.

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