EXCLUSIVE: Do you have what it takes to solve a homicide from home? One man believes so.
Ryan Hogan and his childhood pal Derrick Smith hosted a weekend-long murder mystery event where they transformed a 200-acre campground into a crime scene when the idea for an unlikely business was born.
“My co-founder and I were looking for different types of immersive experiences where we could build these vast universes and bring people in,” Hogan told Fox News. “That’s really where our passion lies, this distortion of reality and creating communities.”
It was 2016 when Baltimore-based Hunt A Killer was born. Inspired by the growing popularity of true crime podcasts, Hogan and Smith developed an interactive murder mystery game told over the course of six “episodes” or boxes that are mailed right at your doorstep.
Customers are provided realistic props, including cryptic handwritten notes, newspaper clippings, crime scene photos, autopsy reports and witness statements among others, to help them solve an ongoing case, ultimately leading to the murderer in the final episode. As a detective, members must identify each suspect’s means, motive and opportunity.
For those needing backup, or a nudge in the right direction, there’s a Facebook group, where over 130,000 members discuss their cases without spoilers.
“I think a majority of folks can’t imagine themselves becoming a killer,” Hogan explained on the true-crime boom. “And there is a deep desire, I feel, to try and wrap our brains around that, to try and comprehend what led this individual to commit these heinous acts. And I think that interest and intrigue and that mystery behind it is really what we’re seeking. We’re seeking to explain the things that we cannot explain.”
And so far, Hogan and Smith are making a killing.
Hunt A Killer, which started with just 47 members in October 2016, reached over 55,000 by the end of 2018. Currently, it has at least 100,000 subscribers.
The company has also earned the No. 6 spot on this year’s Inc. 5000, with $27.3 million in 2019 revenue. According to the outlet, Hunt A Killer is “one of America’s most wanted games - or at least one of the fastest-growing.”
Hogan said they’re on track for “somewhere between $52 and $55 million” for 2020. There’s no doubt that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has left consumers at home yearning for an escape.
“I think 2020 has brought to light why people wanted to connect with our experience,” Hogan shared. “Right now people are searching for a way to detox. They’re searching for a way to put down their devices and truly connect at a meaningful and deeper level with those around them. And you just can’t do that on a phone. When you look at [board] games, while those are entertaining, of course, it’s missing that storytelling component. So what we did was create a physical experience where people can still come around the table, solve challenges and be excited about it.”
“We’re allowing people to put their devices for a few hours and connect on a deeper level,” Hogan shared. “We’re excited for an opportunity to provide that distraction in 2020, where people are looking for things outside of politics and the pandemic.”
Despite Hunt A Killer’s growing success, one major change was made early on. While the stories are fictional, the contents in the mystery boxes can be so convincing that one Maryland woman called police, believing that a real serial killer was mailing her letters.
Hogan, who was active-duty Navy at the time, received a phone call from the Harford County Sheriff.
“I’m freaking out because we’ve only been doing this for a couple of months now,” Hogan recalled. “Basically a grandson had purchased the experience for his grandmother and didn’t tell her. And it went to a retirement home. She called 911, the Harford County Sheriff showed up and she turned [the items] over as evidence, saying a serial killer was sending her stuff.”
Consequently, new customers now have to complete a questionnaire to prove they’re an ideal fit for Hunt A Killer.
A portion of proceeds from each box goes to the Cold Case Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide resources to law enforcement agencies in hopes of bringing justice to murder victims whose cases have gone unsolved.
With the number of subscribers increasing, Hogan is eager to expand the business. A new box series, titled Death at the Dive Bar, is currently available on Amazon and Target. Hunt A Killer also partnered with Lionsgate to launch the psychological thriller Hunt a Killer Horror: Blair Witch, taking inspiration from the film series.
The company now has a full-time staff of writers and graphic designers, creating and play-testing storylines months in advance. Hogan hopes to offer a live event in the future. But for 2021, four new experiences are expected to hit shelves.
“Entrepreneurship has surely been a journey,” said Hogan. “This isn’t our first stab in this industry. We had another event quite a few years ago called Run for Your Life, a zombie-infested 5K obstacle course race. And we learned through failure. We made a lot of mistakes through everything that we’ve done and we get better, bringing in incredible talent to get the job done.”
“It’s only going to grow,” added Hogan.