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Murder By Experts

Murder By Experts: How to Become an Expert in Murder

Robert Arthur Jr. at work during 1950.
Robert Arthur, Jr

How does one become an expert on murder? According to the creators of Murder By Experts, expertise in murder is demonstrated by writing about murder in a highly entertaining fashion. No university has a recognized degree program in murder, and consulting someone with “experience in the field” is too ghastly to contemplate.

The subject itself seems too ghastly to consider, but murder mysteries make for highly entertaining fair and they are the centerpiece of the majority of the crime dramas which filled the air during the Golden Age of Radio. The average listener might drive a few miles over the speed limit on occasion or could neglect to tell Uncle Sam the whole truth on their tax returns, but by and large, they are law-abiding people who would go out of their way to help their fellow man. The psychological makeup of someone who is actually capable of murder is fascinating to behold. Remember the old joke about going to a party dressed as a homicidal maniac? They look just like you and me.

Using their own standard, Robert Arthur and Dave Kogan each qualified as experts in murder. Kogan grew up with Radio entering the Golden Age and entered Columbia University to study radio production. At a scriptwriting class in 1940, he met Robert Arthur Jr, who had a mixed bag of experiences any author would be happy to draw upon. He was born in Corregidor, Philippines, the son of a US Army lieutenant. After a life of moving from base to base around the country he won an appointment to West Point but decided against a military career and entered William and Mary College in Virginia in 1926, later transferring to the University of Michigan (Robert Arthur Sr was working there as a Professor of Military Science) where he earned a BA then an MA in English. After settling in Greenwich Village, New York City, he began writing for pulp magazines and had stories published in Wonder Stories, Detective Fiction Weekly, The Illustrated Detective Magazine, Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine, Detective Tales, Thrilling Detective, Double Detective, The Phantom Detective, Unknown Worlds, Black Mask, and several other magazines.

Arthur married a radio soap opera actress in 1938, but they split before he joined the scriptwriting class at Columbia in 1940. Kogan and Arthur’s friendship developed into a formidable scriptwriting team. They would work together in an intense session to hammer out a story, then Kogan would take over as director and producer. They went to work together at WOR, the flagship station of the Mutual Network, creating scripts for the short-lived Dark Destiny in 1942. With one success under their belt, the duo was allowed to put together another series, The Mysterious Traveler, which first aired in December 1943. In addition to spellbinding tales of fantasy, science fiction, and the supernatural to go along with crime drama, The Traveler featured the Traveler himself as a horror host.

The series spawned comic books and, eventually, its own pulp magazine. With a proven money-maker on their hands, Mutual gave Kogan and Arthur the greenlight for another series, Murder By Experts, which would begin airing in 1949. Experts would be just as thrilling as The Traveler, but the format took some interesting creative turns. One of the most important was that rather than original plots the show used stories selected by the weekly guest “Expert”, the stories still had to be adapted to a radio format. The “horror host” was replaced by a host expert, prolific mystery writer John Dickson Carr during the first season.

Carr was no stranger to radio. Not only had several of his stories been adapted by various anthology series, but he wrote several original scripts for Suspense. Each week Carr’s “guest expert” would select a favorite murder story, usually the work of yet a third author. After the first season, Carr left the series, presumably to concentrate on furthering his writing career. He was replaced by Brett Halliday, creator of the Michael Shayne detective series. Halliday was the pseudonym of Davis Dresser, who had been influential in founding the Mystery Writers of America. Kogan and Arthur were awarded an “Edgar” award by the Mystery Writers in 1950 for “best radio program of a mystery nature” in 1950 for Murder By Experts (The Mysterious Traveler would be so honored in 1953).

The team of Kogan and Arthur decided to give back to the radio writing profession by becoming supporters of the Radio Writers Guild. At the time, however, any collective bargaining effort was destined to be painted as a Communist front by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Although they were not listed in Red Channels, HUAC attention was enough to gain notice from Mutual’s sponsors who put pressure on the network to cancel both Experts and Traveler.

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