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Detective Duty: Derby sleuths step back in time for murder mystery

Residents tested their detective skills during a murder mystery based on real events from Derby’s past.

Set at the Derby Public Library’s Community Room, participants in “Blood in the River: A Murder Mystery in Derby” enjoyed a catered meal under dim lights before hearing the story of an infant who was found dead in the Arkansas River in 1898.

The child, whose birth was initially kept secret, was born out of wedlock to the descendants of two rival farmers. The drama of the situation shook the town as residents scrambled to find the murderer.

“At this time, Derby was a typical midwestern town: good, Christian values and very conservative in style,” said Alyssa Larue, youth services coordinator for the library. “Lots of families started here.”

Using newspaper archives, the mystery largely followed historical details, including the list of suspects. But since the crime was never solved in real life, Larue had to choose a perpetrator for the mystery based on known details.

“This is a crazy story, and we actually don’t know what happened,” she said.

Larue also slightly altered names in the story out of respect for any living descendants.

With about 40 in attendance, participants were assigned character cards that represented real people from Derby’s history as they entered.

Those people were not necessarily involved with the events of the mystery, but Larue said the character cards help people get immersed in the story.

Following a brief introduction and explanation of rules, individuals searched for clues across four study rooms that were transformed for the event: 

a saloon, a doctor’s office, a police station, and the bedroom where the infant was born.

The historic atmosphere in each room was bolstered by 19th and early 20th-century props provided by the Derby Historical Society.


Karen Engle reads clues in a room that was designed to simulate a saloon. Six clues were placed in each of four rooms as part of the murder mystery.

Choosing from a prepared list of 10 suspects, participants then submitted written responses explaining who they believed murdered the infant and why.

Larue selected a winner based on the correct suspect, ample evidence, and how quickly respondents turned in their answer sheets. The winner was given a $25 Starbucks gift card and a 150th-themed mug.

Responsible for writing and organizing the library’s murder mystery programs, Larue said planning the historical mystery was different than those in the past because it required research into real events.

“This one’s kind of cool because we get to bring a real news story to life,” she said.

A popular event, adult murder mysteries have been held at the library for about four years, Larue said. Separate programs are also held for youth.

The next youth mystery will likely be inspired by space, aligning with the theme of the library’s upcoming summer program.

The library will host two more installments of “Blood on the River: A Murder Mystery in Derby,” including one in May for only city officials and 150th celebration committee members.

The next public installment will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 6 in the library’s Community Room.

Entry is free, but registration is required at 

New adult care center project takes form

An adult care home company is able to proceed with its plans for a center in Derby. ComfortCare Homes Inc. is expanding into the local market after a plan for it to have access on Madison Avenue was recently approved by the City Council.

“We’re ready to go,” said Robert Miller, vice president of company development, after the motion passed.

At this point, company officials have to submit their final plans, get a building permit, and begin construction, which Miller said should start around the beginning of May at the site at the northeast corner of Klein Circle and Madison.

The project should be done this year, he said.

The cost, including the land purchase from Physicians Development Group, is about $1 million.

Miller said it is a new-build concept and will be licensed for 12 residents.

Tom Compton with Compton Associates is the architect. ACCEL Construction is the general contractor.

In the past, the company has purchased large, upscale, single-family homes to convert into its residential care home model. In this case, it found that the path would be easier with a land buy and custom build.

The single building will be designed to serve residents with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The structure will be on the northeast side of the 1.73-acre parcel and it is designed to take in a water view available there.

The residential-home design is meant to incorporate the qualities of a real home, while offering an environment safe and conducive to the daily care needs that have become too difficult for families at home, Miller said.

Second building a possibility

Company officials termed a move to the home as a “change in address and not a change in lifestyle.”

“The goal is to give residents the residential vibe of quality of care versus a big facility that’s housing people,” Miller said.

Most residents are in their ’70s or older, although dementia can afflict those younger, too.

ComfortCare Homes, which was founded in 1993 as a family-owned business by Charles and Mary Lou Stark in Wichita, was one of the first in the country to move dementia care out of institutions into professionally staffed neighborhood residences.

There are now seven homes in Wichita, two in Newton, three in Kansas City, Kan., two in Pittsburg, two in Baldwin City and one in Olathe.

Unlike the Derby project, those centers all have used existing homes to house their clients.

For the state’s purposes, ComfortCare Homes is known as a “HomePlus,” an assisted-care licensed category.

As designed, it’s possible to expand the Derby complex to include a second building. At that time, another entrance could be placed on Klein.

There was discussion at both the most recent City Council meeting and a past Planning Commission meeting about putting the entrance on Madison, as it’s close to other roads, but on recommendation, the two governing bodies approved the request.

Among the entities saying it would be better was the fire department, and that suggestion carried a lot of weight with council members.

Miller said he’s glad the governing bodies came to an agreement for the request, which is formally known as a vacation of access control.

“We want the blessing of Derby when we come here,” Miller said.

Since none of the residents drive, traffic to and from Madison will be light, he said.

Being in Derby is an ideal site for ComfortCare, he said, and it has referrals from here along with Mulvane, Rose Hill and other small area cities.