Since 2017, the Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America has held a 6 Word Mystery contest, inspired by the legends of Hemmingway’s heartbreaking story: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”

Over the years, contest entries have proven that it doesn’t require a weighty tome to create suspense, thrills, humor — and mystery.

Here are the finalists and winners from years past. Enter the next annual contest, held each autumn, for your opportunity to join them!

2020

Over-All Winner:

Smooth talking lothario found tongue tied.

by Sue Hinkin

Category Finalists

(Category Winners are in bold)

Cozy

Chef killed; charges are wonton cruelty.  (AJ Hartson)
Cake was baked, faked, stomachache, wake.  (Richard Boersma)
Embezzling manicurist nailed by digital detectives.  (Rita Popp)
Gardener has knack for bleeding hearts.  (K.R. Hindman)
Wore rose-colored glasses, missed red flags. (Kristin Horton)

Hardboiled/Noir

“Are you ok?” Gunshots. “Better now.” (Vaibhav Hassija)
Another murder, barkeep…must solve whiskey. (Lee O’Brien)
Hunted, she hid. Cheap perfume lingers. (Daniel Ginsberg)
Jameson, neat. Rocky affair. Nightcapped nark. (Andrea Stout)
Vinnie’s black sedan careened into oblivion. (Mary Burgess)

Police Procedural

“Tattoo Killer” fingered for signature crimes. (Rita Popp)
Dispatch balked: no backup during zombiepocalypse. (Benjamin Hiller)
Exhumed the casket; found it empty. (Nana Herron)
Genealogist discovered dead in cemetery. (Charlene Dietz)
Hipster solution to overpriced hitmen: DIY. (Jeffrey Lockwood)

Romance/Lust

Smooth talking lothario found tongue tied. (Sue Hinkin)
Honeymoon Chasm yawned. The bridegroom didn’t. (Jennie MacDonald)
Royal wedding day last known citing. (Renata Waldrop)
She–the killer–was my ex-husband. (Cabby Cabison)
So gorgeous I almost believed her. (Matthew Porter)

Thriller

“Grandma, you’ve gotta stop killing people!” (David Bart)
Dear Judge, I know your address… (Jeffrey Lockwood)
House ablaze, husband watched, now single. (Vy Kava)
Ritalin helped Chuckie. Until it didn’t. (Richelle Elberg)
Scratching sounds inside coffin busted mortician. (Theodore Iliff)

2019

Over-All Winner:

36D, 44 magnum, 20 to life.

by Jeffrey Lockwood

Category Finalists

(Category Winners are in bold)

Cozy

Prize pumpkin grower found in patch. (Jonathan Owen)
A spot of tea, sickly sweet. (Nana Herron)
Cindy’s boyfriends sure don’t last long. (John Stith)
Peach clobber: a very authentic recipe. (Jennifer Chow)
Village chocolatier dies by Candy Crush. (Sue Hinkin)

Hardboiled/Noir

36D, 44 magnum, 20 to life. (Jeffrey Lockwood)
Blondie kissed Max, fingered the mob. (Margaret Mizushima)
His bullets bought what money couldn’t. (Matthew Porter)
She killed him and slayed me. (Jennifer Kincheloe)
Smokey eye. Smoking gun. Ballistics matched. (Neal Krawetz)

Police Procedural

This ain’t my first rodeo clown. (John Stith)
Boyfriend suspected. Ballistics inspected. Murder detected. (Geneva Bennett)
Call came from inside the precinct. (Cynthia Kuhn)
Forgetful felon, fancy shoes, footprints identified. (Karen Graffenberger)
Unlocked dad’s phone. Found mum’s killer. (Vaibhav Hassija)

Romance/Lust

She claimed his heart, and collected. (Nick Wilkes)
“Give me the knife.” “Yes, Darling.” (Michael Munro)
If he answers, pretend you’re robocalling. (John Stith)
One of her husbands is missing. (Kristin Horton)
Wasn’t your mustache black last night? (John Stith)

Thriller

Brown eyes stay lovely in formaldehyde. (Margaret Mizushima)
Death is coming. I’m not going. (Geri Hannah)
He didn’t fear death until now. (Veronica Meredith)
I can walk home from here. (Kristin Horton)
The parachute packer dropped his knife. (Rocky Macy)

2018

Over-All Winner:

She took his name. For starters.

by Matthew Porter

Category Finalists

(Category Winners are in bold)

Cozy

Auntie’s needles were not for knitting. (Matthew Porter)
Was picture perfect. I framed him. (Julie Kerr)
Ukulele club. Jealousy. Death by G-string. (C.C. Harrison)
Wedding gown cheap. Red stain discount. (Kris Neri)
Deserted island, our last breakfast together. (Kristin Horton)

Hardboiled/Noir

Concrete boots replaced the blonde’s stilettos. (Margaret Mizushima)
Stole her heart—and ate it. (Julie Kerr)
Dog ate more than her homework. (Julie Kerr)
She confessed. It wasn’t my baby. (Vaibhab Hassija)
One gun. One bullet. Two dead. (Geri Hannah)

Police Procedural

Autopsy couldn’t reveal his true heart. (Matthew Porter)
Only witness to murder. Blind teacher. (Vaibhav Hassija)
Cops unearth killer! Paperwork buries cop. (Mo Walsh)
Always check the evidence room again. (Cynthia Kuhn)
His sins blazed like luminol stars. (Sue Hinkin)

Romance/Lust

Crossed her heart. Helped him die. (Julie Kerr)
“Choose. Him or me.” I chose. (Stina Branson)
Here lies, my love: name unknown. (Franz Margitza)
“He’s dead. Your place or mine?” (Margaret Mizushima)
His smoldering kisses were ruled arson. (Sue Hinkin)

Thriller

She took his name. For starters. (Matthew Porter)
The diamond glittered like freedom. Irresistible. (M.A. Monnin)
He raised his gun. I unloaded. (Daniel Sanchez)
The microfilm reely tasted like treason. (Jazz Lawless)
My neighbor smiled between the shades. (Connor McCloskey)

2017

Over-All Winner:

Eyes so lovely I kept them

by Cindy Marsh

Category Finalists

(Category Winners are in bold)

Cozy

Nanny missing. Spoons, sugar, umbrella found. (Vicki Kashon)
Diving goggles found in pirate shop. (A.R. Ashling)
Croquet tournament murder with mallets aforethought. (Linda Boatright)
Matron missing. Cellar locked. Kitties plump. (Jeffrey Lockwood)
Missing: Diamond necklace. Contact Buckingham Palace. (Marne Kellogg)

Hardboiled/Noir

Cigarettes on nightstand. I don’t smoke. (Susanne Sener)
Strangled cop. Empty backseat. Missing handcuffs. (Scott Kirkwood)
The night masked her dark intentions. (Paul Halenda)
Everything was crooked, especially the fedora. (Cynthia Kuhn)
Max decided falling was strangely peaceful. (Steve Volstad)

Police Procedural

Hung jury. Police suspect group suicide. (Karen Morrissey)
Fatal stab. Icicle melts. Perfect crime. (Kathleen O’Brien)
Explain week-old maggots in yesterday’s corpse. (Jeffrey Lockwood)
Window jimmied. Intruder shot. Keys noticed. (Twist Phelan)
But officer, the DNA was yours. (Cindy Marsh)

Romance/Lust

Widow was deposed while lovers decomposed. (Ted Iliff)
Unlocked phone. Undeleted messages. Unresponsive husband. (Scott Kirkwood)
Returned diamond, broke heart, used spade. (Laura Manuel)
Killed for her—then by her. (Baily Phelps)
Came to investigate, stayed for breakfast. (Connie Murray)

Thriller

Eyes so lovely I kept them. (Cindy Marsh)
House for sale. Bring own exorcist. (Jenny Young)
Detective’s wife murdered. No evidence found. (Vaibhav Hassija)
Another smartphone bombing…evil emoji smiles. (Daniel Martinez)
Fava beans. Old friend for dinner. (Sue Hinkin)