The Body in the Billiard Room

By Lisa Youngblood and Gillian Wiseman

(Reprinted with edits from the No Limits: READ! Young Adult Reading club and Programming Manual at

Length of Program - 1 hour

Books to Share

Blood On My Hands by Todd Strasser
Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick
Kisses and Lies by Lauren Henderson
Black Rabbit Summer by Kevin Brooks
Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe

Books to Show or Booktalk

The Boxer and the Spy by Robert B. Parker
Crimebusting and Detection by Helene Boudreau
The Pale Assassin by Patricia Elliot
The Forensic Casebook: The Science of Crime Scene Investigation by Ngaire E. Genge
An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank by Elaine Marie Alphin


Make copies of Investigation Sheets 1 and 2 or all attendees.

Make posters representing each of the four pieces of forensic evidence. Ask co-workers to supply some of the evidence as described below. Examples of these posters are included at the end of this program.

Draw a diagram of a billiard room with a door that leads into a hall and a door that leads to the back garden. In the room should be a billiard table, a few chairs and a rack for pool cues. Draw an outline of a body near the pool table. Use colored Xs to denote where forensic evidence was found. The fingerprint is on a pool cue in the rack. The lip print is on a glass that was dropped on the other side of the pool table. The handwriting is on a note in the victim’s pocket. An outline of victim’s body is of course, on the diagram. Use the example diagram included in this section as a model.

Have four employees or four program attendees play the parts of the suspects. Give each an information sheet for his or her character. Include the specific suspect information found on the Investigation sheet side 1 and on the “Truth Sheet."

Program Description

This role-playing program allows attendees to pretend to be investigators in a murder case. Investigators interrogate witnesses, analyze forensic evidence and solve the crime. Sides 1 and 2 of the Investigation Sheet and the Truth Sheet provide background to the mystery. Here is a summary of the events in the script: A billiards player was murdered on the night of a ball. His body was found the next morning in the mansion’s Billiard Room. Investigators found four clues: a fingerprint on a pool cue, a lip-print on a glass, a note in Nathan’s (the victim) pocket, and the condition of his body when discovered.

Let the mystery begin!

Begin the program by inviting attendees to solve a murder! Hand out the investigation sheets. Explain quickly what happened the night of the murder. This information is on the investigation sheet under “the crime” and “the victim.”

Show the diagram of the scene of the crime.

Explain then that forensic science is based on the assumption that a culprit always leaves something behind. Explain the four pieces of evidence and let the attendees know that they will have a chance to look at them later.

Explain what a suspect is. Introduce the four individuals who are role-playing the suspects. Describe their opportunities and motives as explained in the Investigation Sheet. The participants will have a chance to ask questions of the suspects. The actors will answer with information from their individual information sheets.

Invite the attendees to look at ALL the evidence. Attendees can use the graphic organizer on Investigation Sheet side 2 to mark off who could have left each clue. When all attendees have seen all the evidence, let them help solve the crime by talking out the clues. Note: Ellen Smart is the culprit.

The Body in the Billiard Room Investigation Sheet – Side 1

The Crime

Round 1 of the prestigious Skylark Billiard Tournament has come to an end. To honor the final eight contestants, Sir Richard Skylark has hosted his annual ball at his home, the Skylark Mansion. Over 200 guests enjoyed dinner, dancing, chatting, and the annual midnight toast. Nothing seemed amiss. Around 4:00 a.m. the next morning the cleaning staff discovered a body in the Billiards Room. Mr. Nathan Masters, one of the finalists, was dead.

The Victim - Mr. Nathan Masters

Nathan Masters was a champion billiards player. Some people believe that he was the best in the world. He won seven of the previous ten tournaments that he entered. He was also very wealthy. Although he won most of his money from tournaments, he also earned a lot from his billiards book contracts and from magazine articles in which he made cruel remarks about other players. His newest book, Trick Shots, is scheduled to be released in two months and will make someone very rich.

The Suspects

Gregory Backwell, a fellow billiards player and Nathan’s best and oldest friend.

Opportunity: He and his wife ate supper and conversed with three other couples. After the toast, Gregory disappeared for over half an hour.

Motive: Though a long-time billiards player, Gregory almost never won a tournament. He announced a week before that he would retire. During Round 1, Gregory publicly accused Nathan of sabotaging his chance to win this, his last tournament. Gregory claims that he apologized to Nathan before the supper on the night of the ball. No one heard his apology.

Delia Jones, Nathan Masters’ fiancée and fashion model

Opportunity: She stayed by Master’s side during the recognition ceremony and was very visible throughout most of the night. After the midnight toast, a friend noticed that Delia was very upset as she left the room. Around 1:00 a.m. Delia told several friends that she had a headache and was going to go to bed. Although her hotel was only 30 minutes away from the mansion, the doorman saw her walk into the hotel at 2:30 a.m. She says that she went to a convenience store to buy medicine, but the clerk does not remember seeing her that night.

Motive: The rumor throughout the tournament had been that Nathan was going to break up with Delia. Nathan told Gregory that Delia only loved his money. Delia’s friends also heard Delia say to herself around 12:45 that night that she could not “believe this was happening.” Many people expected “fireworks” from the overly emotional Delia when Nathan broke off the engagement.

Kayla Masters, Nathan Masters’ ex-wife and tournament manager

Opportunity: Although she was very visible throughout the night, guests commented that they noticed her looking around as if searching for someone and then leaving the ballroom and returning about ten to fifteen minutes later. This happened at least twice, once around 8:45 and again around 9:30. Kayla explained that she was “powdering her nose” or “brushing her hair.”

Motive:  Kayla was very angry with Nathan. She had enjoyed her wealthy lifestyle and her circle of friends when she was married to Nathan. Kayla is still the beneficiary of Nathan’s life insurance policies and will be until he remarries. Kayla will get over $3,000,000 in book rights and insurance since Nathan is now dead. Many billiards players believe that Kayla actually wrote Trick Shots and other books for which Nathan took credit.

Ellen Smart, a competitive young billiards player and avid gardener

Opportunity: Although she spoke to several people across the course of the evening, no one can remember seeing her between 8:30 and 9:30. She says that she took a walk to admire Lady Skylark’s prize-winning roses.

Motive: Ellen has competed for the past three years. She is younger than most billiards players in this circle and feels no one takes her seriously. Nathan had written in one of his articles that she was “too young to be good yet, and too stubborn to learn from true experts.” She was furious about this comment. The only person who seemed able to beat Ellen, though, was Nathan Masters. During the ball, Ellen complained that Nathan was the only thing that stood in her way.


The Body in the Billiard Room Investigation Sheet – Side 2

Timeline of Events at the Skylark Billiards Ball

7:00 - Guests began to arrive for the Skylark Billiards Ball

7:30 - The Recognition Ceremony for the eight players who had passed the first round of competition. Nathan Masters was among those eight.

7:45 - The Ball officially opened with Sir Richard and Lady Skylark dancing the waltz. Gregory claims this is when he apologized to Nathan.

8:00 - Supper was served in the dining room beyond the ballroom. Guests were free to serve themselves from the buffet tables.

8:15 - Nathan Masters excused himself to friends, saying he had an appointment to meet someone. He was not seen again that evening.

8:30 - Ellen Smart left the ballroom to walk in the garden and look at Lady Skylark’s prize-winning roses.

8:45 - Kayla Masters was seen leaving the ballroom after looking for someone.

8:55 - Kayla Masters returned to the ballroom.

9:25 - Ellen says that she returned to the ballroom about 9:25, but no one remembers seeing her for at least another ten minutes.

9:30 - Kayla Masters left the ballroom a second time.

9:35 - Ellen was seen once again in the ballroom.

9:45 - Kayla was seen in the ballroom again.

12:00 - The champagne toast was given.

12:05 - A friend noticed that Delia was upset as she left the room.

12:10 - Gregory Backwell disappeared for half an hour. He says he was simply trying to get a spot off his tuxedo in the men’s room.

12:15 - Ellen is heard saying, “Nathan Masters is the one thing that stands between me and victory.”

12:45 - Delia was heard saying, “I can’t believe this is happening.”

1:00 - Delia left the ball with a headache. She claims she went back to her hotel.

2:30 - The doorman at Delia’s hotel lets her in. She says she was at a drug store during the missing hour and a half.

4:00 - The cleaning staff finds Nathan Masters’ body in the Billiard Room. This is a private room and guest should not have entered it during the evening.

The Truth Sheet

Gregory Backwell, a fellow billiards player and old friend of Nathan Masters

Personality: Gregory has always been an easy-going guy. He does not anger easily. When he blew up in public, he must have been very upset.

The TRUTH: The two had been buddies for over 15 years. Gregory did NOT kill Nathan Masters. He cannot believe that anyone would think that he might have done it. He was very angry with Nathan during Round 1. He was more upset with himself for not playing well. He argued with Nathan because Nathan actually coached Gregory’s opponent. Gregory knows and likes Kayla Masters. He is pretty sure that Kayla actually wrote those books that Nathan is supposed to have written. Kayla is a brilliant writer and an excellent manager, but because she was not a player, no one would have taken her books seriously. Gregory did indeed apologize to Nathan before supper the night of the murder. Nathan accepted that apology. When Gregory left just after the midnight toast, he actually went to look for Nathan. He was checking the men’s room and the parlor. He looked out front, but he did not check the billiards room. Nathan told Gregory that Delia loved his money more than she loved him. He thinks Delia is shallow and is out for Nathan’s money. He also witnessed several of Delia’s tantrums. Gregory thinks that Ellen is a good player, maybe even the best ever. He sees no problem with her skills, even if she is young. He never said a thing against her and discouraged Nathan from writing the uncomplimentary things about her in his novel.

Delia Jones, Nathan Masters’ fiancée and fashion model

Personality: Delia is uppity and conceited. She doesn’t say much around the billiards group because no one is very impressed with her. She is moody, hot-tempered, and used to getting her way.

The TRUTH: Delia did NOT kill Nathan. She truly loves Nathan, but she also loves his money. Because they both love money, fame, and power, she thinks that she and Nathan would have been a wonderful match. She is truly distraught over Nathan’s death. Delia had heard little things that made her believe that something was wrong. She heard that Nathan was going to break up with her. After several snide comments from people, she decided she would confront Nathan. On the night of the party, Nathan disappeared. When Nathan did not show up for the Midnight toast, she slipped away to find him. She found him already dead in the billiards room. She was so upset that she dropped her champagne glass. She knew that everyone would assume that she committed the murder, so she decided to go back into the Ball and act as if nothing happened. She couldn’t get Nathan’s picture out of her mind, so she left at 1:00 a.m. From there she went to get a drink and think things through. She lied about going to the store because she didn’t want to tell anyone what she was so upset about. Delia never received a note from Nathan and will not admit that she saw Nathan dead until someone confronts her about the lip print. Delia despises Kayla and Gregory. She hardly even knows Ellen.

Kayla Masters, Nathan Masters’ ex-wife and tournament manager

Personality: Kayla doesn’t get a lot of attention. She is rather quiet and businesslike. She is organized and gets things done by herself. She does not make friends easily and so she kept the friends that she had before the divorce.

The TRUTH: Kayla did NOT kill Nathan. She loved him, and hoped that they would get back together. She and Nathan had a pretty good marriage. She stuck with him for 25 years and does not know why her divorced her. Kayla learned a lot while going to tournaments with Nathan. From study and observation, she learned all of the techniques involved with playing pool. Kayla did indeed write all of the books that supposedly were written by Nathan. The two decided to put his name as author because no one would want to read a billiards book written by someone who did not actually play the game. Kayla still does not want anyone to know that she really did write the books. She is afraid that the books would stop selling. Now she gets royalties from the sales. Kayla also learned how to organize tournaments and is a great tournament manager. The night of the ball, Kayla heard more rumors that Nathan was going to break up with Delia. Excited, she tried on numerous occasions to find Nathan. She lied because she didn’t want people to think that she was “chasing” him. Kayla considers Gregory and his wife to be very good friends. Kayla knows that though Ellen is indeed an excellent player, her main problem is that she does not play well when she is upset. Kayla noticed that Nathan would purposely say things to upset Ellen and make her lose games.

Ellen Smart, a Competitive Billiards Player and an Avid Gardener

Personality: Ellen in smart and sophisticated, but she is easily angered.

The TRUTH: Ellen killed Nathan. Ellen was furious with Nathan and wanted him gone. On the night of the murder, she saw that Nathan was in the billiards room, so she walked in from the garden area. She challenged him to a game. While he wasn’t looking, she slipped poison into his drink. After he died, she put her pool cue back in the rack and returned to the party. She mentioned that Nathan IS the only thing standing in her way so that everyone would think that though she was talking about him as if he were alive. Ellen got the poison from her gardening supplies.

Forensic Evidence

Forensic science is the study of anything that relates to a crime. The basic principle behind forensic science is the belief that a criminal always leaves something behind.[1]   Forensic pathology, or medical jurisprudence, is the study of medicine as it applies to the law.[2]  Using forensic science, criminologists discover many important facts that lead to solutions to crimes. For the purposes of this interactive mystery program, evidence that would require advanced technology will be represented on paper or in a simplified form. “Detectives” will compare evidence from the crime scene and believed to be left by the culprit with samples of like items gathered from the suspects.

Clue and Suspect Table



Handwriting on the Note

Clue #2-the Lip Print on the Glass

Clue #3- the Poison in the Cup

Clue #4-the Fingerprint on the Cue Stick

Gregory Backwell





Delia Jones





Kayla Masters





Ellen Smart






Clue #1: The Fingerprint on the Pool Cue

History. In 1891 Juan Vetuchich introduced the first fingerprint registry. This system classified prints into four types: internal loops, external loops, whorls and arches. A detective compared prints found at the scene of the crime with every set of print on filed.9

Science of Fingerprinting. Each fingerprint is unique. The raised lines that make up the fingerprint are called friction ridges. When someone touches something, body fluids are left behind in the pattern of the ridges. While some fingerprints are visible, others are latent and may need chemical treatment or dust to be seen.[3]  There are four basic types of fingerprints: arch, loop, whorl, and combination.

Making Fingerprints. To make fingerprints for the suspects and the culprit, rub the sharpened end of a soft pencil on a piece of paper. Place a piece of tape (sticky side up) on a table. Rub the finger across the pencil lead on the paper. Place the finger with the graphite from the pencil lead on the tape. Carefully lift the finger to see the fingerprint. Tape the fingerprint onto a white piece of paper or a note card.

Fingerprint several the four individuals who are role-playing the suspects. Put those fingerprints on a poster. Under each print write the name of a suspect. The actor who is playing Ellen Smart should make two fingerprints, since she is the suspect who left a fingerprint on the pool cue. Tape one of her fingerprints to a separate piece of paper and write “suspect” under it to represent the fingerprint that was found on the pool cue.” Teens will compare the suspects’ and culprit’s prints

Clue #2 – The Lip Print on the Glass Found in the Billiard Room

Science of Lip Prints. Cheiloscopy is the study of lip prints. Lip prints are unique and mostly unchanging during a person’s life.[4]  Women who wear lipstick may leave lip prints on a rim of a glass. The fluid on anyone’s lips may also leave prints, although these are more difficult to find.

Making Lip Prints. The easiest way for the suspects to make lip prints is to press their lips on white or light-colored paper while wearing lipstick or gloss. Although making a print on a plastic glass will look more realistic, the print will probably show up better on a flat, white surface. Make lip prints of each of the actors playing the suspects. Put those lip prints on a poster and write the names of each suspect underneath them. Since Delia Jones left the lip print on the champagne glass, that actor will make two lip print samples. One will appear with the lip prints of the rest of the suspects. The other will be taped to a separate paper under which “suspect” and “lip print found on the glass” is written. Investigators will compare the fingerprints of the four with the print on the glass. This is a red herring since Delia did leave the print but did not kill Nathan.

Clue #3 - The Handwriting Found on the Note in Nathan’s Pocket

Science of Handwriting. Handwriting is one of the ways to analyze a document through forensic science. Often incriminating handwriting is found on kidnappers’ letters, on the backs of business cards, as an imprint on the page beneath which something was actually written, etc. Each person’s handwriting is very unique. Professionals can compare handwriting samples. Even if a person attempts to disguise his or her handwriting, specialists may be able to match handwriting samples of that person with the evidence. Different methods are used to analyze cursive writing and printing.

Alphabet Comparison Handwriting Analysis. Alphabet handwriting analysis involves carefully comparing the letters and connections of letters in handwriting samples. Often suspects will be asked to write the following sentence: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

This seemingly silly sentence contains every letter in the alphabet. Detectives determine which suspect’s handwriting is most like the culprit’s handwriting by comparing suspects’ handwritings samples with the culprit’s handwriting. The detectives look for similarly open or closed loops in letters such as “e”, “a”, and “o”. They would also compare letters such as “b”, “l”, and “f” which have either closed or open extensions above the line, and other letters and letters such as “p”, “f”, and “q” which have either closed or open extensions below the line. Another comparison point is in the rounded or pointed nature of letters such as “s”, “n”, and “m”. The slant of the writing is another clue.

Each suspect will write “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” and the handwriting samples will be attached to a poster. Print the name of suspect underneath the appropriate handwriting. Another staff member will pretend to be Nathan Masters and write on sheet of stationary “We have to talk – soon.” Attach the stationery to the poster with the rest of the handwriting samples. Write “handwriting on the note found in Nathan Master’s pocket” underneath the stationery. This clue is another red herring. Although the note was found in Nathan’s pocket, he wrote it with the intention of delivering it to Delia. None of the suspects’ handwriting will match.

Clue #4 – The Time of Death

The time at which a victim actually died can often be an important factor in determining who had opportunity to commit a murder. Determining time of death is not an exact science, but there are a series of body changes that can give an approximation of the time of death. Unusual conditions can cause these changes to be delayed or expedited.[5]  Below is a summary of the appearance of a corpse at various times after death.

Summary of the Appearance of a Corpse after Death

30 minutes: - The skin has a waxy, blue-gray color. Lips and nails become pale.

Up to 3 hours: - The skin turns white when pressure is applied and the color changes when the body is moved (the body is livid.) The body is still warm to the touch. There is no rigor mortis.

4-6 hours: - The body becomes cool to touch. Early rigor mortis, the progressive stiffening of the muscles that occurs several hours after death as a result of the coagulation of the muscle protein, begins in the jaw and neck.

6-8 hours: - Skin is purplish on the underside of body, whitish on the top, and does not change when the body is moved (fixed lividity.) The blood is coagulating. More advanced rigor mortis appears in the arms and upper body. Corneas become cloudy and opaque.

By 12 hours: - Full body rigor mortis sets in. The body is totally “frozen”.

By 18-24 hours: - The body is cold and clammy to touch. The skin is greenish-red. Rigor mortis begins to resolve and the neck and jaw relax.

30 hours: - Rigor mortis is fully resolved and the body is limp.

Poisons - Symptoms and Availability[6]

Arsenic – Symptoms of arsenic poisoning are severe stomach upset, dizziness, vomiting, convulsions and coma. Skin may look yellow or become cold and clammy. Arsenic is one of the most common poisons and is used in manufacturing glass and wallpaper, is an ingredient of weed-killers, and used in taxidermy.

Cyanide – Symptoms of cyanide poisoning are immediate unconsciousness, convulsions, and death. The skin may become flushed pink. Blood may be cherry red. A bitter almond smell is often found on the victim’s breath or body. Death occurs within 1 to 15 minutes or longer. Cyanide is used in making insecticides and in some medical drugs and is found in many plants, including apple seeds and peach pits.

Nicotine – Symptoms of nicotine poisoning are a burning of the mouth and throat followed by nausea, difficulty in breathing, convulsions, coma, and death. Death occurs within 5 minutes to four hours. Nicotine is used as an insecticide and is commonly employed to kill rose-aphids. It can be extracted from cigarettes by soaking them in water.

Strychnine – Symptoms of strychnine poisoning are stiffness and then severe convulsions, causing the body to “jack knife.” Rigor mortis sets in almost immediately. Death occurs 15 minutes to several hours after ingestion. Strychnine occurs naturally in some plants. This colorless, odorless powder is very difficult to get.

Nathan Masters’ Body When Found

• Masters appeared to have undergone convulsions or a struggle.

• His body temperature felt cool but not cold.

• Rigor mortis had spread from the neck and jaw into shoulders and arms.

• His skin was livid (purplish) and did not change when his body was touched.

• His corneas had begun to cloud over, turning white.

• His skin had an almond smell.

Show a poster describing Nathan’s appearance when found, the “Summary of the Appearance of a Corpse after Death,” and the “Poisons - Symptoms and Availability.” After comparing the victim’s appearance to the chart and the information on poisons, detectives should be able to determine that the death occurred between 8:00 and 10:00. This means that Delia could not have committed the crime since she was seen until around 12:00 midnight. Also, detectives should determine that he was poisoned with cyanide that is found in many pesticides. Pesticides were readily available to Ellen, an avid gardener.

Conclusion - Ellen Smart Did IT! She is the only suspect who left a fingerprint, who could easily have gotten some cyanide, and who has no alibi for some times in between 8:00 and 10:00.

Web Sites

Forensic Science: Let Evidence Reveal the Truth
This site contains detailed information about the field, forensic evidence, careers in forensics, and a role-playing game in which players take on the role of a detective to solve a crime.

Professional Resources

Crime Scene: How Forensic Science Works by W. Mark Dale and Wendy S. Becker

Forensic Science: Evidence, Clues, and Investigation by Andrea Campbell

Forensics For Dummies by Douglas P. Lyle

Fundamentals of Criminal Investigation, 5th edition by Charles O’Hara

Hidden Evidence: Forty True Crimes and How Forensic Science Helped Solve Them by David Owens

Howdunit Forensics: A Guide forWriters by D. P. Lyle

I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan

Threads of Evidence: Using Forensic Science to Solve Crimes by Herman Silverstein

The Weekend was Murder! By Joan Lowery Nixon

Writing the Modern Mystery by Barbara Norville

The Young Detective’s Handbook by William Vivian Butler

[1] Gardner, Robert Crime Lab 101:Experimenting With Crime Detection. Walker, 1992.

[2] Petersen, Sandy, and Lynn Willis. Call of Cthulhu; Horror Roleplaying in the Worlds of H.P Lovecraft. 5.1 ed. Chaosium Inc. 1992.

[3] Wiese, Jim.Detective Science: 40 Crime-Solving, Case-breaking, Crook-catching Activities for Kids. Wiley, 1996.

[4] Wiese, Jim. Detective Science: 40 Crime-Solving, Case-breaking, Crook-catching Activities for Kids. Wiley, 1996.

[5] Wilson, Keith D., MD. Cause Of Death: A Writer’s Guide to Death, Murder, and Forensic Medicine. Writer’s Digest Books, 1992.

[6] Stevens, Serita Deborah, with Anne Klarner. Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons. The Howdunit Series. Digest Books, 1990.

Page last modified: December 12, 2011