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Murder, They Wrote

“Mysteries are about life and death; conflict, confrontation, resolution,” says mystery writer Stuart Kaminsky. The documentary “Murder, They Wrote” offers all that and more, giving viewers a rousing rehearsal-to-performances look at the first International Mystery Writers’ Festival, held in Owensboro, Kentucky in June 2007.

The goal of the festival, organized and sponsored by Owenboro’s RiverPark Center, was to discover some new great mysteries and to stage them live. The lure of prizes and Angie Awards (named for actress Angela Lansbury of the classic TV series Murder, She Wrote) attracted more than a thousand script submissions, from master mystery writers such as Kaminsky as well as promising newcomers. Mystery fans from all 50 states and Canada came to Owensboro to watch as talented producers, directors, actors, theater designers, and technicians brought the winning works to life—and death—onstage.

a scene from Panic
Photo by Bryan Leazenby/OnSite Images

“Murder, They Wrote” presents highlights of preparations and performances of five of the festival’s plays—offering, like the festival itself, a veritable smorgasbord of suspense. There’s the familiar television gumshoe Columbo, battling wits with a murderous record producer in the play Columbo Takes the Rap. That play was written by William Link, creator of the Columbo television series (as well as other TV mystery hits such as Murder, She Wrote and Mannix).

a scene from Death by Darkness

Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave was the setting for the historical thriller Death by Darkness. Kentuckian Elizabeth Orndorff wrote the play specifically as a festival entry—and it ended up being voted by audience members as the best new play (and its author the most promising new writer).

Final Curtain, written by the late Ed McBain, starred Gary Sandy (of WKRP in Cincinnati fame) in a twist-filled dark-and-stormy night plot. Panic, by Minnesota writer Joseph Goodrich, is a tale of blackmail and betrayal in 1960s Paris. In Widdershins, by Don Nigro, a family disappears, leaving only one mysterious clue behind—the word “widdershins” written on a piece of paper.

a scene from Columbo Takes the Rap

“Murder, They Wrote” also features scenes from Kaminsky’s screenplay Books, which was performed radio theater-style at the festival. The story of a bank robber who ends up in a bookstore features actor/magician Harry Anderson and Phil Proctor of the comedy troupe Firesign Theatre. Guy Mendes, producer/director of “Murder, They Wrote,” also interviewed writers, actors, and directors at the festival as well as RiverPark Center President/CEO Zev Buffman, a Tony-nominated Broadway producer known for productions such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

In addition to producing the Kentucky Muse documentary “Murder, They Wrote” at the 2007 festival, KET aired the awards ceremony under the title Whodunit/Whowonit: The International Mystery Festival Awards 2007. That video is available for online viewing.

Watch the Awards Ceremony