Imagine coming home to a mysterious box on your doorstep. You’ve been matched with an inmate in a prison letter writing program, and this box holds the first delivery from your new “friend.” But the accompanying letter from the program’s founder isn’t just an introduction—it’s a mission. This prisoner has done something terrible, the instructions say, and through his letters, puzzles, and gifts, you have to figure out what. Are you up to the task?
That’s the question asked by Hunt A Killer, the Rosedale-based company creating mysteries and delivering thousands of subscription boxes to true-crime fans around the country each month. Originally launched by cofounders Derrick Smith and Ryan Hogan as a murder-mystery escape room at a Darlington campground, the idea pivoted to a subscription service that delivers the crime-solving experience to people’s doorsteps.
“We asked, ‘How can we take this a step further? How can we put all these things together and create this kind of an ultimate experience?’” says Hogan. To streamline the concept while staying true to its successful hands-on approach, he and Smith assembled a 10-person creative team to develop the characters, activities, and materials used to carry out each box’s “episode.”
Since shipping the first boxes in October 2016, Hunt A Killer has grown to include more than 45,000 subscribers and a community of more than 60,000 people who interact through a private Facebook group.
With the company’s second anniversary fast approaching, Smith, Hogan, and their teams in Rosedale and now Seattle are looking toward new projects, including a partnership with the Cold Case Foundation (chaired by retired FBI profiler and Mindhunter inspiration John E. Douglas) that puts some of the funds earned by Hunt A Killer’s fake crimes toward solving real ones. For each box sold, a portion of the proceeds will aid local police forces that are in need of resources. To date, they’ve donated $4,000.
But crime is just the beginning for Hunt A Killer. Its success has inspired the team to jump into other genres. In June, they launched a horror-themed subscription box called Empty Faces, and a sci-fi box is currently in the works for next year. The company will release its first podcast, an audio drama called The Blackwood Project, on October 22.
“Instead of reading a book or going to the movie theater or watching a television show, this is immersive entertainment that you can touch, feel, and smell,” says Hogan. “People are having a lot of fun . . . as long as we’re accomplishing that, everything else will fall into place.”