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Devils in disguise: did these Columbo victims have it coming?

Victims blog header

Many an episode of Columbo features the killing of a character who is so lovable that our very hearts quiver with sadness at their parting.

Oh yes, there are many wronged parties, or innocent folk simply in the way of dastardly crims’ schemes, who meet the ick, buy the farm, or are pushed off their perch prematurely.

That’s not what this blog is about, though! In fact I’m on the opposite side of the fence today, considering the victims that, one could argue, had it coming. Or at the very least are such unsympathetic types that most viewers are hollering “good riddance!” when they get their comeuppance.

“I’d like to place on the record that I under no circumstances advocate acts of violence or murder. But this is TV, so it’s OK to root for the killers if you want to.”

NB – I’d like to place on the record that I under no circumstances advocate acts of violence or murder. But this is TV, remember, folks, and the characters have been set out to evoke an emotional response, so it’s OK to root for the killers if you want to, just as it’s OK to boo at the victims and celebrate their demise. I’ve also taken quite a light-hearted approach to this article, so it’s not to be taken too seriously.

Now that’s all clarified, please read on with confidence. I’ve listed who I think are the least likable victims in no particular order, apart from the top three.


Jesse Jerome – Now You See Him

A nasty, aggressive, sweaty little man, Jerome earns our dislike through that most foulsome of crimes – profiting from Naziism.

Even if not a Nazi himself, Jerome alone knows the dark secret of The Great Santini’s shady past – that he was a SS Guard at a concentration camp in the Second World War.

However, Jerome uses this information to keep Santini (AKA Stefan Mueller) compliant and willing to keep giving him a generous cut of the earnings of his revered magic act – rather than turning him in and seeing justice served. When Santini turns the tables and guns Jerome down, he will not be missed.

Vincent Pauley – The Conspirators

Pauley blogWhile I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy the fate of being gunned down by a smirking, whisky-swilling, limerick-reciting little gnome like Joe Devlin, Mr Pauley must surely rank as one of the least mourned of all Columbo victims. The guy’s a gun-runner for a terrorist organisation, for Pete’s sake.

We’re not meant to feel so much as a flicker of emotion towards him – and we don’t. Just as we don’t feel much sympathy towards Devlin – for all his Oirish witticisms , banjo plucking and side-splitting poetry – when he’s ultimately collared by the Lieutenant later on.

Harry Stone – Candidate for Crime

Harry Stone blog

Seemingly more ape than man, Harry Stone is a whole lot of unlikable crime drama victim. He’s big, he’s aggressive, he’s ugly, he’s conceited, he’s deeply unfashionable, the orangeness of his hair causes immediate migraines/strokes

Yep, little wonder Senatorial hopeful Nelson Hayward’s campaign manager Stone is described as ‘repugnant’ by those in the know – something the man himself appears to revel in.

Hayward’s a bit of a prick himself, as is comprehensively proven throughout the episode, but there are few mourners for his victim – either within the show or within the viewership.

Claire Daley – Fade In To Murder

Clare Daley blog

TV producer Claire Daley is an ice-cold, scheming blackmailer, who has used and abused Ward Fowler’s body and talent for her own ill-gotten gains, even as she has helped make him into a household name in the guise of TV detective Inspector Lucerne.

Daley knows about Fowler’s shady past as a war deserter, and she takes payment from Fowler in ever-increasing amounts of silver certificates to keep her mouth shut. She doesn’t seem to have a heart, yet Fowler just about manages to pinpoint it as he guns her down in her favourite sandwich shop.

Karl Donner – A Deadly State of Mind

Karl Donner blog

Admittedly he’s been severely wronged, knowing his vulnerable wife, Nadia, has been taken advantage of in the most beastly ways by George Hamilton’s crooked psychiatrist Mark Collier (both in the sack and through Collier pumping her with mind-altering drugs to further his own research efforts), but Karl Donner still totally fails to elicit a sympathetic audience response.

Things turn ugly and violent when he confronts the pair at the Donners’ sumptuous beach house, with big Karl unforgivably taking out his rage on Nadia, striking her viciously. He receives a fatal pokering for his sins at Collier’s hands – and few could argue that those actions weren’t justified in the heat of the moment.

Tony Goodland – Greenhouse Jungle

Tony Goodland blog

Okay, his intentions may have been from the heart (he wants to fake his own kidnapping to get ransom money to buy back the affection of his wife), but floppy-haired Tony Goodland is an almighty tit. He’s such a simpleton that it’s impossible to feel any sympathy for him, because it’s glaringly obvious to anyone with more than a single brain cell that he’s being double-crossed by his bellowing, bewigged uncle Jarvis (Ray Milland).

On top of that, Tony is a bona fide weirdo. I mean, he signs photos that he gives to his loved ones – wife included. That’s a special kind of weird right there. Uncle Jarvis openly admits that his nephew’s a dolt, delivering a magnificent line to Columbo: “I don’t mind revealing that my nephew isn’t worth a sack of peat moss.He’s a wife-ridden weakling whom I’ve despised for years.” Enough said…

Ric Carsini – Any Old Port in a Storm

Ric Carsini blog

In his own circle of hipster friends, beefcake Ric is deemed a great guy, a bastion of sporting integrity and a general all-action hero type – as well as being H-to-the-O-to-the-T in the eyes of the laydeez.

We don’t see any of that until it’s too late, though. What makes Ric so unlikable to the viewer is his cavalier joy at the thought of hurting and humiliating older half-brother Adrian, and destroying his life’s work at the winery in pursuit of what appear to be his own selfish needs.

Put in those terms, a bash to the swede, then being tied up and suffocated in a boiling wine cellar, seems a bit more like his just desserts.

Commodore Otis Swanson – Last Salute to the Commodore

Commodore blog

One senses the world would end if the Commodore ever smiled. Luckily for the global populous there’s no chance of this, as his face is permanently set in a scowl – perhaps as a result of a furious sou’wester suddenly changing one day when he was at sea engaged in solemn activities, such as harpooning innocent dolphins, or wrestling Cthulu single-handedly.

The man is so morose that seconds after encountering him  the audience is begging for someone to put him out of his misery. Thankfully it’s not a long wait. I am aware that some viewers feel a level of pity for the Commodore, largely due to the skulduggery and freeloading that surround him. I’m not one of those viewers…

Frances Galesko – Negative Reaction

Frances Galesko blog

What a nag! There can’t be many viewers who aren’t secretly rooting for Paul Galesko (Dick Van Dyke) when he ties up his sharp-tongued wife at a remote ranch and spells out just how miserable she’s made him all these years.

Of course, there are two sides to every story, and it’s entirely conceivable she’s so witchy to him because she knows he only cares about her money and has an eye for his hot-to-trot young assistant. We’ll never know…

Frances has got some balls, though. To give her credit, she maintains her naggy persona right until the very end, chiding and belittling Paul right up until he pulls the trigger – the only time we see real fear in her eyes. Powerful stuff from a tough cookie.

3. Bryce Chadwick – Lady in Waiting

Bryce Chadwick blog

Sister Beth appears in my list of most sympathetic Columbo killers – largely because of the treatment dished out to her by big brother Bryce, whose bid to control every aspect of her life borders on despotic, and has clearly been going on for years.

Like his father before him, Bryce oppresses Beth and will not trust her to make decisions for herself in terms of the family business or her own love life. Judging by her bookish appearance early on in the episode, he also single-handedly selects her wardrobe and buys her grandma-style nightdresses for Christmas and birthday.

Bryce fatally oversteps the mark when he arrogantly tries to end Beth’s relationship with lovable company lawyer  Peter Hamilton, threatening to fire him if he doesn’t end the relationship with Beth. It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and when Beth slays Bryce in cold-blood we’re firmly on her side.

As well as being a bad brother, Bryce is also a bad judge of character. He never considers that Peter really does love Beth, and he would’ve done anything – including quitting the company – for her. It all contributed to him signing his own death warrant – and we don’t care a bit.

2. Nick Franco – It’s All in the Game

Nick Franco blog 2Frankly I feel very little emotion for most victims in any of the ‘new episodes’, but this guy was an absolute worm, who deserved everything he got.

A violent two-timing gigolo, Nick is using and abusing Lauren Staton in a bid to make off with her oodles of loot. If that’s not bad enough, he’s two-timing Lauren with her own daughter. Worst of all, he physically abused the daughter and threatened to kill her if she revealed the situation to Lauren herself.

We have little reason to doubt Nick would have carried out his threats, so when the two women combine to put him out of the picture permanently, there’s not a viewer with a heart that isn’t backing them to the hilt.

1. Edna Brown – Swan Song

Ida Lupino blog

Tommy Brown’s wicked wife Edna (Ida Lupino) is the sort that gives evangelicals a bad name. Indeed, to describe her as a ‘shrew’ or even a ‘fishwife’ would be to do those particular demographics a great disservice.

To put it bluntly, Edna is an old HARPY, essentially holding Tommy to ransom so she can milk his talent to realise her dream of creating a TABERNACLE to show her love for the Lord. And, as my learned friend Jim Bourassa notes in the comments section below, Edna turns a blind eye to statutory rape, keeping the victim around as a blackmail threat, rather than, you know, help her…?

Granted, she may have raised Tommy from the gutter to make him a national star, but Edna’s as ungodly as they come and when she goes up in flames in Tommy’s artfully stage-managed plane crash, there isn’t a damp eye in the house.

“To describe Edna Brown as a ‘shrew’ or even a ‘fishwife’ would be to do those particular demographics a great disservice.”

So there we have ’em. That’s my list and I’d be most interested to hear your thoughts. I recognise that there are strong claims for several other blighters making the list, including, but not limited to, Budd Clarke from Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health; William Haynes from By Dawn’s Early Light; David Kincaid in Sex & The Married Detective; and that idiot Harold McCain from A Bird in the Hand (who might be my least favourite Columbo character of all, but who I just can’t bear to write about).

Are there any others you’d like to have seen included on this list? If so, holler in the comments section below.

I’ll be following this up very soon from the other perspective – the victims that our hearts really go out to, and who under no circumstances deserve the grisly fates dished out to them. Until then, farewell…

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I’ll be seein’ you around…

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67 thoughts on “Devils in disguise: did these Columbo victims have it coming?

  1. Some more victims that won’t be mourned:

    * Rosanna Wells in “Troubled Waters”: because of how smug and evil she is about blackmailing Hayden Danzinger.

    * Max Dyson in “Columbo Goes to the Guillotine”: depends on whether you think he really did betray Elliott Blake in that African prison. He sort of admits it when Blake is about to kill him, but he never quite says it explicitly, and he might just be saying whatever he thinks will save his life.

    * David Kincaid in “Sex and the Married Detective.”

    * Marcy Edwards in “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star”: she cheats on Hugh Creighton and then has the nerve to extort $5 million from him! And she does this to a lawyer who specialises in getting people off the hook for murder…

    * Both Tony Galper and Linwood Coben in “Columbo Likes the Nightlife”: Galper keeps harrassing Vanessa Farrow and she doesn’t actually kill him; he just falls into a coffee table. Coben, like Wells above, is a gleeful, unrepentant blackmailer. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Justice Price and Farrow since they were afraid of mafia repercussions if they told the truth about the accident, and from that moment on they had no choice about the path they took. This would have been one time it would have been nice for Columbo to have had some sympathy for the killers.

    • I’d forgotten about that ASS Kincaid when I wrote this article or he’d definitely be in it. The guy was a total drip and well deserving of a sticky end.

      • LOL 🙂

        It occurs to me that I should take Dyson off the list or at least change the wording of “won’t be mourned,” as he was definitely mourned by the magicians at his funeral. Whatever he may or may not have done to Blake, we’re informed by the episode that he was remembered as a warm and likeable person by his friends.

        Great blog BTW! 🙂

  2. I found this blog entirely by accident, during my own most recent rewatch of the gesammelte Columbo — and this phrase:

    “perhaps as a result of a furious sou’wester suddenly changing one day when he was at sea engaged in solemn activities, such as harpooning innocent dolphins, or wrestling Cthulu single-handedly”

    Made me actually *bark* with laughter, startling every human, housecat, and low-flying drone within earshot.

    I can’t remember the last time that’s happened — and I wanted to thank you.

    • It does my heart good to hear this! Thanks very much for getting in contact – and I do hope there’ll be a few more decent laughs for you as you uncover more of the blog.

  3. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Fade in to Murder | The Columbophile

  4. Bo Williamson (Forrest Tucker) in “Blueprint For Murder” was kind of a jerk, especially when he bashed up Elliot Markham’s model city and smacked Elliot in the face. He really was a bully. Though I did feel a little sorry for him since he was a country music fan like my dad was. Still…not a nice guy.

    • I don’t understand why considering Williamson a jerk, markham was the jerk, he built a city with Williamson’s money without his consent, while he was away!

    • Totally disagree. Bo Williamson had every right to be outraged. How would you feel if someone conned your wife out of your money?

  5. No Eddie Kane? Guy had no respect for life, and was writing a book about how to use bombs and not blow yourself up. Also didn’t even pause when it came to shooting a guy in the heart just so he can get his bomb book published. As bad as Riley Greenleaf was (and he’s very bad) he probably did the world a favor blowing Eddie up.

  6. The asshole victim is a constant trope in Columbo and makes us understand the killer’s motive. Frances Galesko, a nagging bitch of a wife in Negative Reaction and Frank Staplin, a mobster in Agenda for Murder were two asshole victims who got what they deserved.

  7. I’d add Jesse Jerome (Nehemiah Persoff) to this list. He’s a leech, hated by all his business partners, and also has ties to the mob. When he discovers that Santini is a Nazi war criminal, instead of reporting him to the proper authorities, he uses the information to hold him under his control. His own greed caused his demise. He definately had it coming.

  8. I was glad to see Edna Brown murdered just to get Ida Lupino off the screen. What a let down by one of my favorite actresses! And she’s not the only one. (I’m looking at you, Myrna Loy.)

  9. I love these kind of top 10 posts. How about you do a post of your favourite non-gotcha scenes from Columbo. Mine would include the pentultimate scene (the chess confrontation) in The Most Dangerous Match, when Columbo makes that speech to Abigail Mitchell and guests about how he likes a lot of the murderers he encounters.

  10. Here’s my top ten list of Columbo Murder Victims Who Had It Coming:
    1. Edmund Galvin (Charles Frank) in “Try and Catch Me”
    2. Edna Basket Brown (Ida Lupino) in “Swan Song”
    3. Jesse Jerome (Nehemiah Persoff) in “Now You See Him”
    4. David Buckner (James Gregory) in “Short Fuse”
    5. Vincent Pauley (Albert Paulsen) in “The Conspirators”
    6. Karl Lessing (Martin Sheen) in “Lovely But Lethal”
    7. Carl Donner (Stephen Elliott) in “A Deadly State of Mind”
    8. Tony Goodland (Bradford Dillman) in “The Greenhouse Jungle”
    9. Clare Daley (Lola Albright) in “Fade in to Murder”
    10. Frances Galesko (Antoinette Bower) in “Negative Reaction”

    • I really ought to have Jesse Jerome in my list, so I will add him in due course. But harsh to have David Buckner in this list isn’t it? His crime seems to be that he realises what a liability ‘Junior’ is, and wants him out of the business. Seems fair enough to me!

    • Oh, totally Karl Lessing. He steals the formula, which makes Dr. Murcheson think he failed; jeopardises Viveca Scott’s company; extorts money, power, and sex from her; and then humiliates her. You can wonder whether she would have been better off not committing murder, cutting her losses, selling her company to David Lang, and retiring in comfort, but there’s no doubt the world is a better place without Karl Lessing.

    • I don’t agree about the victim in “Lady in Waiting.” She was a dizzy hot mess. No, I didn’t agree with everyone trying to control her life, but from what her mother and brother said, she stayed in trouble, especially picking bad men. She could have moved out and lived her life instead of killing her brother!
      The way she turned on a dime after murdering her brother says a lot about her character. If she was so sweet and innocent, it didn’t take her long to become domineering and disrespecting even to the boyfriend who loved her for who he thought she was. Funny, how she started controlling everyone else—him included after her brother died.
      She wanted more than freedom. She wanted the money and the power. Her brother dated and never married because he was too busy taking care of the family and the business.
      Selfish woman.

      • Totally agree, no way did he deserve it. I was very disappointed to see him on the list. He seemed like a good man who knew that his sister was out of control if not reigned in. She was a grown woman and chose to stay under his thumb but wanted more than she had a right to have.

  11. I would definitely put Edmund from Try and Catch Me he may not have admitted it but we all including Columbo know he killed Abigail’s niece and for me that makes Abigail the most sympathetic Columbo killer next to Laura Staton

    • I think the episode did well to not overdo the ‘Edmund is guilty’ idea and keep it open to interpretation. Columbo admits he thinks Edmund and Phyllis must have had a poor relationship due to the lack of photos at their house, but that doesn’t mean he killed her. Maybe he was pained by her loss so much?

  12. Ric Carsini just saw the business through a different prism. Wine was a means to an end. I doon’t think Ric was trying to hurt his brother as much as he being realistic and could see the high end niche market wasn’t as profitable as it once was. Combine that with Adrian treating the business as his own hobby devoid of the best interests of the company and all the livelihoods that could be ruined if it weren’t run more like a business. ..One more thing to consider, the worker bee’s like the janitor liked Ric, they abhorred Adrian. Then too consider how cruelly Adrian let Ric slowly die. Adrian was only sympathetic because he had a passion for his job much like Columbo. His snob friends liked him because of the status, but he wasn’t exactly a warm person. Socially awkward was how I saw him. In some ways Ric was like Forrest Tucker, sure he was a philistine but he wore it as badge of honor. No shame in being a capitalist.

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      • I’ve just rewatched that scene, and I interpreted it in the same way I always have: he smiled at the photo of Phyllis and there was no obvious malice. Conspiracy theorists could argue otherwise but it’s left entirely open to interpretation, which I think was a good decision.

  15. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Greenhouse Jungle | The columbophile

      • You should do a top 10 for the worst/boring Columbo episodes, because as much as I love the series their are some that just have boring plots or are just bad.

      • Yes, the editing on some of the 98 minute Episodes was a problem..I feel like Ransom for a dead man is so slow and plodding. It was like a 73 minute Episode stretched into a 98 minute one. Much time wasted not advancing the story at all.

  16. Pingback: Fallen angels: the Columbo victims that break the heart | The columbophile

  17. I’d have had Mark McAndrews from Make Me a Perfect Murder on the list. Smarmy, arrogant prat that dumps Kay when he gets the job but waits until they’ve had a nice weekend together first! And the way he gives her the car keys too. You could say he had it coming, especially as he taunts her to kill him earlier on in the episode!

    Admittedly she didn’t need to kill him, but I always have a certain sympathy for her. (And she gets such beautiful music to commit her murder to!)

    • Hi Suzie, thanks for your comment, and you make some very valid points. He was a bit of a git! He was on my long list, but didn’t quite make the cut! That murder sequence, though, when she has to get back to the projection booth is brilliant! It’s so tense I almost want to scream watching it!

  18. I think you’re being much too hard on both Harry Stone and Ric Carsini. Harry’s just doing a campaign manager’s job: protecting his candidate from the candidate’s own mistakes. Sometimes that requires the campaign manager to lay down the law. Besides, that’s not really why Hayward kills him. Hayward kills him to make it look like Hayward’s life is in jeopardy — a strategy Harry believed would guarantee victory.

    As for Ric, he’s 100% right: brother Adrian is a self-indulgent dilettante squandering the family fortune on an expensive hobby. Ric was right to bail while there was still something left. His only mistake was telling his brother what he planned to do. Honesty doesn’t make him a bad guy.

    • The beef I have with Ric is that he takes such pleasure out of potentially ruining Adrian’s life’s work and really insulting him by selling out to a company that would impose maximum insult – as well as the dig about Adrian ‘licking the labels’. That’s planned, calculated, heart-heartedness. Ric is all about hedonism (from what we see), and would doubtless have blown the family fortune years before if left to his own devices. Of course, there are two sides to every argument. Adrian is self-indulgent, as Ric is in his own way. Perhaps the two are more alike than they care to believe?

      • Rich definitely has a point about Harry, but he’s also an exploitative prick that makes Nelson look almost angelic by comparison. Ric is by no means tactful about what he plans to do, but again, considering the effect on everything the oil embargo would have, Ric is completely right about the money side of things.

      • I hated Ric for trying to destroy Adrian’s life passion. And I never understood why he had the power to sell the company out from under Adrian without his consent.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more about Ric Carsini. He may be a bit of a playboy but it’s obvious that his friends genuinely care about him. As to Adrian; he’s the wine snobs’ wine snob. What he did to his brother is horrible; as horrible as anything in the series.

    • Hello
      Adrian Carsini had his faults, but he was no dilettante. There was nothing half-hearted about his commitment to wine. He devoted his life to it, and his knowledge of the subject was complete. (And of course he committed murder for it.) So please be kind, give the man a break.

      • I agree. Adrian is one of the few Columbo killers who killed for a cause greater than greed for money or power. He was protecting his passion and his life’s work.

    • Good points. If Hayward kept running around, he and his SideChick were bound to get caught or his career could be ruined by the rumor mill. Adrian Carsini loved those wine bottles and detested his brother. Sad. He was a pompous stuffed shirt. At least Ric had real friends that didn’t need to stored away and corked for good keeping.

      • I’m not so sure about those “real friends.” They seemed like a pretty shallow and self-indulgent crowd to me.

  19. Great stuff. I think b you covered all of them. I’m a big Johnny Cash fan so if he is going to be a murderer he might as well have the best reason to do it. Thanks and keep up the good work.

  20. Hi. I would like to include Roddy McDowall from the episode Short Fuse. For no other reason but that he acted like a slimy little snake.

  21. Note that with Edna Brown, you didn’t even note one of her most despicable actions: that she is keeping by her side a young girl with whom Tommy Brown repeatedly committed (at least) statutory rape. Does she help this girl, does she bring this to the authorities? Nope, she just keeps this girl around as an extortionist threat to keep Tommy in line.

  22. Great article as usual!

    There are a couple of people who I’d include, one who you briefly mentioned is Budd Clarke. Just came across as very unpleasant and vindictive. Really was a hate filled man.

    Another is Jesse Jerome from Now You See Him. Really unsympathetic character who seemed to be disliked by everybody else in the episode. The whole blackmailing a Nazi scenario does him no favours to be honest. Also I’ve often wondered if he resorted to murder himself when we hear how he dealt with somebody who recognised Santini from the concentration camps.

    As for the list its pretty good, although I’ve always thought Ric Carsini gets a worse press than he deserves. If he had faults they were probably no worse than his brother.

    • Valid points. Jerome is definitely unsympathetic. I wavered about including him because he was murdered by a Nazi, and didn’t want to be seen to be siding with one for obvious reasons! Gene Stafford from Exercise in Fatality also a pretty unlovable guy.

  23. How about the guy who killed his wife in Try and Catch Me.
    We don’t know if he really did it but all evidence points to yes. No remorse on his part and drooling over any inheritance.

    • I didn’t include him because of that uncertainty. He died a horrible death and seems to all intents and purposes to be a nice guy. Who knows, perhaps Abigail Mitchell imagined it all, and was looking for a fall guy? He probably did do it, but we just don’t know!

      • I think it’s to be accepted that the nephew killed Abigail’s niece. There’s no artistic ambiguity in Columbo. Also take note of reaction shots meant for a reason, such as on the beach when Abigail says she knows what the nephew did and he appears positively stricken.

    • I think Edward was innocent of killing his wife Abigail’s Niece. It was probably an accident, but she didn’t know how to accept it. After a while, her heart became bitter and she wanted revenge.


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