I penned an article just a few weeks ago for this very blog about those Columbo victims we love to hate – you, know the Edna Browns, Frances Galeskos and Tony Goodlands of the Columbo universe; the sort the world isn’t likely to miss much. In fact, the type you’re probably secretly whooping when they’re bumped off.
The article was well received (you guys…), so it was as natural as a Robert Culp rage, or a Jack Cassidy dimpled grin, to put the glove on the other hand and write about the victims who really didn’t deserve it. These guys and gals had either no idea that their lives were in danger at all, or their misdemeanors hardly deserved the punishments meted out (i.e. grisly murder).
So, here are 10 of the least deserving Columbo victims of all. As usual with articles of this type, this list is in no particular order apart from the top 3, which I must admit sadden me every time. So get your hankies at the ready, and if you’re feeling stout-hearted, read on…
“These guys and gals had either no idea that their lives were in danger at all, or their misdemeanors hardly deserved the punishments meted out.”
Alan Mallory – Publish or Perish (1974)
Likable writer Alan Mallory (played by actual writer Mickey Spillane – good casting!) has been penning best-selling filth for sleazy publisher Riley Greenleaf for years. Now he’s determined to switch publishers ahead of releasing a new novel about the Vietnam War, leaving Greenleaf in the lurch.
Knowing the book will sell squillions of copies, Greenleaf ain’t having any of it. Mallory has made him a rich man, so he hires weirdo ‘Nam veteran Eddie Kane to slay the writer as he completes work on the novel. Mallory’s stunned expression of fear (pictured here) as the trigger is pulled wrenches the heart.
Jean Davis – Requiem for a Falling Star (1973)
The over-worked Secretary to fading film star Nora Chandler, unfortunate Jean becomes a mere pawn in Chandler’s silly games with gossip writer Jerry Parks (Jean’s new lover) to keep her reputation unsullied – and her dark secrets under wraps.
Because Jean knew too much about Chandler’s shady past (and possibly even her murdering her former husband), Nora can’t allow her and Jerry to remain an item. Jean might let some good gossip slip, after all. So she firebombs Jerry’s car knowing full well Jean is the one driving it. After 18 years’ faithful service at Nora’s side, that’s a pretty rough way for Jean to check out.
Lisa Chambers – Double Shock (1973)
Alright, she might have been a bit hyper and flighty, and she might have needlessly turned the cold shoulder to Lieutenant Columbo for no good reason half way through this entertaining episode, but Lisa Chambers died horribly – flung off her high-rise balcony to a grisly demise on hard concrete below.
Even though this crime happened off screen, there’s no disguising that this was a terrifying way to go for a good-hearted and spiritual young woman, who was very much more of a lover than a fighter, and who had done nothing wrong except stand in the way of the inheritance of two men she barely knew, who had already killed her fiance.
Jim Ferris – Murder by the Book (1971)
Like Mickey Spillane as Alan Mallory above, Martin Milner exudes a natural warmth and every man charm as Jim Ferris making it impossible not to feel gutted for him when iceman Ken Franklin bumps him off.
A happy, sensitive family guy who loved his wife and had a passion for his work, it still leaves a lump in the throat when Jim meets his untimely end.
As a writer, having ambitions of doing your own ‘serious work’ seems to be a dangerous thing in the Columbo universe, if Ferris’ and Mallory’s experiences are anything to go by…
Roger White – Double Exposure (1973)
The big, lovable boob from the projection room, Roger seems to be one of the genuine good guys. A friendly, helpful chap, quite willing to share ice tea with a thirsty lieutenant, he doesn’t appear to have a bad bone in his body. Heck – even knowing that he was trying to blackmail a murderer left him wracked with guilt.
Roger was smart enough to figure out Dr Keppell’s subliminal cut murder method, but not smart enough to get the $50,000 cash he wanted to keep his mouth shut. Instead he received a much more predictable donation from the dastardly Dr: a one-way ticket to the morgue.
Lily La Sanka – Murder by the Book (1971)
Poor Lily La Sanka. She was playing with more than fire when she tried to first flirt, then blackmail her way into Ken Franklin’s heart. She was playing with the Devil himself!
And, true to form, the Devil won out, bashing her brain out with a champagne bottle before ditching her body in the lake. All for the sake of $15,000 – a figure Franklin cavalierly admits he considers a beggarly sum.
Sure, Lily was stupidly trusting, not to mention borderline crazy, but as a desperately lonely country widow, who was a little star-struck and looking for love, she deserves our pity.
Nadia Donner – A Deadly State of Mind (1975)
She was complicit in betraying her husband and having a fling with debonair doctor Mark Collier, but in truth, poor Nadia was one of the most ill-treated of all Columbo victims. Pumped full of mind-altering drugs by the ‘good Doctor’ to further his own professional ambitions, her ultimate fate is an absolute shocker – albeit a far-fetched one: death by hypnosis.
While in a drug-induced trance, Dr Collier plants the suggestion to Nadia than when she receives a phone call and hears a code word, she’ll have a desperate need to swim. So when the call comes in, she flings off every stitch and plunges off her balcony in an attempt to hit the distant apartment complex swimming pool below. She fails. A sad end to a very vulnerable character, who was totally out of her depth getting tangled up with a worm like Collier.
And the top three…
3. Bertie Hastings – The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case (1976)
Where to start with poor Bertie? By the sounds of it he’s been belittled, bullied and humiliated for years by supposed ‘friend’ and business partner Oliver Brandt. Oliver even takes delight in tickling Bertie in public, eliciting from him a girlish laugh that others scorn. We also learn that he has no one else in his life, which suggests cute Bertie’s really a lonely, sad little man.
To top it all off, honest Bertie discovers that Oliver has been embezzling cash from clients to (presumably) fund his trophy wife’s spending habits. When he threatens to expose his partner, he’s slain. “I really did love you, Bertie,” Oliver laments, as he stands looking down at the corpse. He had a very funny way of showing it…
2. Tomlin Dudek – The Most Dangerous Match (1973)
A chap so friendly that you just want to bebble his chubby cheeks and chuck him playfully on the chin, Tomlin Dudek made Ruskies palatable, even to the Cold War-weary US TV viewership of the 1970s.
After thrashing arch-rival Emmet Clayton in an ad-hoc rehearsal match to their world title chess clash, Tomlin takes pity on Emmet when the latter appears to have a breakdown, knowing he can’t beat the Russian Grand Master. Tomlin even offers to postpone the match, but his honorable intentions are wasted on Clayton, who shoves him into a trash compactor and later diddles his dosages in hospital to snuff him out for good. Game over, man! Game over!
1. Harry Alexander – A Stitch in Crime (1973)
Has any Columbo killing been as senseless and cruel as this one?
Get this: Harry’s a reformed drug addict (who, reading between the lines was also a troubled Vietnam veteran) who has struggled to get his life back together and now works in a child’s petting zoo. He had a short-term fling with nurse Sharon Martin (Dr Mayfield’s first victim), which ended in case he became too dependent on her. This bummed him out, but he was at least dealing with it as best he could.
The very last thing Harry needed was to be jumped on and chloroformed in his own apartment by the fiendish Dr Mayfield. But that’s what he got! The party didn’t end there, though. Oh no! Mayfield then delivered a fatal dose of morphine to Harry, which caused his life to tragically end in a narcotic, psychedelic haze as he tumbled down his apartment steps.
I feel so bad for Harry – who simply has no concept of who is out to get him, or why he’s become a cropper – that it saddens me to even write about it.
“The very last thing Harry needed was to be jumped on and chloroformed in his own apartment by the fiendish Dr Mayfield. But that’s what he got.”
So there we are. I end this article with a heavy heart, thankful that this is just great TV we’re discussing, not real life crimes. Are there any victims whose fate rends your own heart in two? If so, holler below and we’ll get some quality chit-chat going on.
I recognise there are strong claims to include old Henry Willis from Forgotten Lady, plus the disgracefully treated Hector Rangel from Matter of Honor, but my personal heart doesn’t go out to them quite as much.
Until next time, adieu. And thanks, as always, for taking the time to read, comment and share, and generally do your bit in keeping Columbo‘s legacy alive.