Murder mystery theater moves national company to Alton


ALTON — Each year, there’s a burning question raised at hundreds of laughter-filled Jest Murder Mystery Company shows.

Thanks to a lot of creativity and hard work, this local success story is now considered the funniest murder mystery company in the country. But 
it’s different than a typical murder mystery dinner theater company.

Burning questions, as eyes widen around a room as realization dawns on the crowd — there’s been a murder, include: Do you know who dun it? Was it the baker with the rolling pin? Was it the ex-fiancé with cyanide or was it …you? 

Jest Murder Mystery Company shows are not about true crime. They’re not about being the detective. It’s about building comradery, uniting people in a shared, very funny experience.

Over the years, Jest Murder Mystery Company has discovered that there is no greater pairing than laughter and food when it comes to bringing groups together. When the show begins, the room will be filled with many groups and individuals who may have nothing in common but proximity. Yet by the end of the event, these people will have supported and encouraged each other, been creative together, laughed together and now have something in common they can talk about. 

This new spin on murder mystery dinner theater was the brainchild of writer, director, actor and entrepreneur, Randy Manning. Before starting Jest, Manning performed murder mysteries in St. Louis with other murder mystery dinner theater companies. He believed he could write a funnier show that focused a little less on mystery and a lot more on the audience’s experience.

Inspired, he wrote his first show, “A Fistful of Hollers,” and put it to the test at his next family reunion.

“My formula worked!” he exclaimed. “Everyone had such a great time playing their parts and working together to solve the crime.”

After a few adjustments, Manning created a show that included a themed storyline with room for improvisation and customization from the audience.

“I realized that as an actor, I could make the audience laugh and they would have fun, but if the audience members
could be the stars of their own show, it really made for an unforgettable, laughing-so-hard-they’re-crying kind of experience,” he said. 

He took this idea seriously and founded Jest Mysteries in 1999 (now Jest Murder Mystery Company) and has been bringing groups together with murder across the nation ever since. Jest now has troupes in Los Angeles, Chicago, Cedar Rapids, New York, Cape Cod, Miami, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Denver and more.

Manning retired in 2017 and left his daughter, Leslie Franklin, of Jerseyville, in charge of the Jest Murder Mystery Company. Jest’s standards for high-quality entertainment have not changed.

“We audition rigorously to ensure we have the best actors available, and we train them to help the audience shine,” Franklin said.

“The talent in this area and in our other troupes is incredible and it makes the shows that much better. We truly have an amazing team and I am blessed to be a part of it.”

Franklin now operates from an office on Belle Street in Alton, where materials for shows are created and shipped all over the country. This also is where actors are trained, and shows are booked.

“I live in Jerseyville so my commute to Alton via the Great River Road is incredible,” she said. “And Alton itself is one of the coolest towns I’ve ever been to and it’s so close to St. Louis. Operating here has been perfect for our business.”

Specializing in unique group entertainment (both in-person and virtually), their St. Louis public shows can be seen every Friday and Saturday night at the Lemp Mansion, as well as other well-known area venues such as Pere Marquette Lodge, in Grafton, and Das Bevo, an event venue, and Maggiano’s Little Italy, both in St. Louis, to name a few.

Private shows can be booked for any occasion, including but not limited to, company parties, meetings, conferences, birthday parties, large events, holiday parties, graduations, fundraisers, family reunions, Christmas parties, wedding receptions and rehearsal dinners.

Learn more at JestMurderMystery.com or jestmurdermystery.com/locations/st-louis or call 888-234-9984 to talk to a real human.



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