About Columbo

Seven times Columbo refers to his previous cases

Nelson Hayward

The Hayward Case evidently stood out in Columbo’s memory

Man, if I was a police officer with an arrest record like Columbo’s, I’d be singing my own praises from the rooftop 24/7.

Yet our man is ever so humble. He never brags about his high-profile collars. Indeed he hardly ever even mentions them – despite the fact that he has single handedly brought about the downfall of several dozen globally recognised celebrities, including – but not limited to – best-selling mystery writers, a popular movie star, one of the world’s most famous film directors, a senatorial hopeful, a leading biblical singer and the GM of a top American Football franchise.

“Columbo never brags about his high-profile collars – despite the fact that he single handedly brought about the downfall of several dozen top celebrities.”

As a result, it’s hard to remember which, if any, of his previous cases Columbo ever refers to on the show. But the references are there if you watch closely and are such rare gems that they can be considered Easter Eggs for the eagle-eyed (or eared) viewer.

So without further ado, here are the seven times Columbo (or folk with Columbo) refers to previous cases that we, the viewers, are familiar with. I don’t think I’ve missed any, but if I have please be sure to disabuse me in the comments section below.

NB – this article was originally entitled ‘Six times Columbo refers to his previous cases‘ because I FORGOT ONE! It now has seven. Don’t tell anyone about the boo-boo, will ya?

1. Double Exposure

Columbo Double Exposure
Columbo cleared the crime scene of canapes quick smart in Double Exposure

It wasn’t until the Lieutenant’s 21st adventure that he first referenced a previous case here in Double Exposure. The famished detective is tempted to gulp leftover canapes from Dr Keppell’s pre-screening shindig after complaining of being hungry and missing dinner. Why? He was working late on the Hayward case!

From this we can deduce that Columbo has gone straight from solving the case in Candidate for Crime to investigating the murder of Vic Norris. No peace for the wicked, eh Lieutenant?

2. Publish or Perish

Columbo Publish or Perish
Greenleaf’s reaction to his best-seller idea put the kibosh on the Lieutenant’s literary ambitions

Evidently the Hayward Case rates highly in Columbo’s own reckoning as he raises it again here – making it back-to-back references for Candidate for Crime.

When Riley Greenleaf busts into his own office and finds Columbo pecking at a typewriter, he reasonably enough wants to know what’s going on. Cue Columbo’s gentle recount of his clash with Hayward.

“You know, uh, I was on a case once. A candidate for the United States Senate. He had a lot of security men around him ’cause there’d been threats against his life. Now, in order to shake the security men he changes clothes with his campaign manager. Then he shoots the campaign manager and he makes it look like an attempt on his life. Now, that’s a heck of a story.”

The ratty Greenleaf was less impressed, however, snapping back: “Lieutenant, very frankly, I don’t give a damn about your senator or your story. Now, look, I’ve got people coming over to my house tonight. Just exactly what is your problem?”

This tepid reception is perhaps reason enough why Columbo is so reticent to discuss his greatest hits with a broader audience…

3. A Matter of Honor

Columbo Matter of Honor
Help us out or the car gets it, Lieutenant!

The Lieutenant’s exploits on the high seas are subject to discussion on his  holiday in Mexico, as Columbo is essentially press-ganged into helping local forces investigate the killing of Hector Rangel – his car being held to ransom.

Why were the Mexican police so keen to make use of Columbo’s sagacity? They’d read about the events of Troubled Waters in the newspapers and have dubbed the Lieutenant a ‘special one’ because of it.

“Oh, that was a hell of a thing,” Columbo conceded. “You know the first night out the fellow murdered the girl, an entertainer? She went down to change her clothes and she never came back. It was a cruise. My wife bought a raffle ticket, we won a cruise for nothing and got on, and I was seasick. Oh, I’ll never forget that…”

4. Now You See Him

Columbo Now You See Him
Ah Wilson, still keen, still green after a three-year hiatus

This is the one I forgot to include in the original version of the article. I hope you’ll forgive the oversight and not jeer too viciously at my error because the case in point involves much-loved sidekick Sergeant Wilson.

Upon arriving at the Cabaret of Magic to investigate the death of Jesse Jerome, Columbo (in a new, hated coat) asks a uniformed cop who the officer in charge is and is told it’s one Detective Sergeant John J. Wilson. “You know him Lieutenant?” asks the cop. And Columbo replies simply: “Yes, I’ve worked with him before.”

That time, of course, was in Greenhouse Jungle three seasons earlier. And it’s so nice to have the two of them working together again that we can overlook the fact that Wilson’s name has changed from Freddy to John J. at some point in the preceding three years.

5. Try & Catch Me

Abigail Mitchell Columbo
Lieutenant Columbo: preventing criminals from enjoying cruises since 1975

It’s a blink-and-you’ll miss it one, but Troubled Waters is given a throwaway nod as Columbo gate crashes Abigail Mitchell’s supposed cruise ship departure to drag her back to ‘help’ him close the case at her house.

“Are you sailing with me?” the aged crone asks as the detective lopes into her palatial suite. “Oh, it’s not that I wouldn’t like that, ma’am. Mrs. Columbo and I tried it. It was terrific.”

I told you it was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it example, didn’t I?

6. Columbo Goes to College

College 1
Raise both hands if you’ve ever used suspect methods to capture a criminal…

In his role of guest lecturer to Professor Rusk’s crimonology class, Columbo has to field some penetrating questions from keen young scholar Sachs about whether he ever fabricated evidence to seal a case.

The most Columbo admits to was gaining access to the office of an attorney in his absence and finding a piece of gum in his bin – the tell-tale evidence that helped bring about the downfall of Oscar Finch in Agenda for Murder the previous year.

The opportunity to reward long-time fans with a reference to a classic 70s episode was, however, agonisingly passed over. How sweet would it have been to have had an Easter Egg mention of Investigator Brimmer, Roger Stanford or Paul Galesko? Very sweet indeed. As a result, this was a chance that went begging.

There is a reference made to a ‘Devlin case’, which in theory could relate to the events of The Conspirators. Alas, though, this Devlin case involved a jockey who got strangled by his girlfriend, and also featured the FBI – certainly not the same Devlin, then, that we saw Lieutenant take down amidst a fog of limericks, ale and Full’s Irish Dew.

 7. Columbo Cries Wolf

Smirking idiot…

A strange one to reference given that it’s one of the least popular 70s episodes, but there was a throwback to 1972’s Dagger of the Mind in this trashy romp from 1990 – and one that managed to remain pleasingly non-gratuitous.

When discussing the case with Sean ‘Sleazebag’ Brantley, Columbo mentions that the disappearance of Brantley’s business partner Dian Hunter is causing an international stir – leading to an old friend from London to get in touch.

“This morning I got a call from an old friend, Detective Chief Superintendent Durk at New Scotland Yard,” Columbo confides – name checking Bernard Fox’s stiff-upper lipped detective from Dagger.

Nice to know, then, that Columbo remains in contact with his old stomping buddy, despite them being literally worlds apart and 18 years’ worth of water flowing under the (Tower) bridge.

“There was a nice throwback to 1972’s Dagger of the Mind in this trashy romp from 1990.”

So that’s a wrap, folks. If you think I’ve missed any other episode references please sing out in the comments section below. And let me know if you’re OK with so few call backs to his previous adventures, or would have welcomed a few more.

Thanks a jillion for reading. It will always be appreciated and never taken for granted.


Read about Columbo’s most high-profile cases right here.

Columbo Requiem for a Falling Star
The lack of a Nora Chandler reference in Murder, Smoke and Shadows has kept me awake constantly since 1989
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72 thoughts on “Seven times Columbo refers to his previous cases

  1. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Goes to College | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  2. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Try & Catch Me | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  3. Sometimes we wait in vain for Columbo to make such a reference.

    Recently, I watched “Swan Song” and “A Friend in Deed” back to back, and noticed Tommy Brown and Mark Halperin driving the same gold Cadillac convertible.

    Columbo: Excuse me, Commissioner, but isn’t this Cadillac Tommy Brown’s? Did you seize it when I arrested Brown? You know, his car was a rental. You’re really not supposed to forfeit a rental car even if it’s used in a crime.

    Halperin: You just lost your badge, my friend.

    • I’m pretty sure the only two early 70’s Caddy Eldorado’s were Tommy Brown’s rental and Riley Greenleaf’s light blue convertible. Halperin,as one of the perks of his job was a Caddy limo with driver. A mid 70′ Caddy sedan.

  4. Great article. This might be an 8th one. It’s in Exercise in Fatality (S4E1) where Columbo mentions he has a new boss. Why does he have a new boss? Because he arrested his old boss in the previous episode, A Friend in Deed (S3E8).

  5. Its been immensely enjoyable rewatchin the episodes recently. I was watchin Negative Reaction & there’s a scene when Columbo is waiting in Galesko’s house and he picks up at least 3 different silver plate type ornaments considering to use each of them for his cigar ash. He thinks better of it & instead drops his ash into his own coat pocket & gives the pocket a little pad after. I can’t help but feel that the tongue lashing of the brilliant Mrs Peck in ‘Double Shock’ has really taken an effect for Columbo to do this. Its such a subtle moment, a definite easter egg IMO.

    I’m in two minds whether the Lieutenant’s etiquette for smoking
    dissipates after a while as the verbal tirade from Mrs Peck wears off. He places his cigar butts in the sand pots at Abigail Mitchell’s house in Catch Me If You Can. Maybe he thinks its perfectly acceptable, Abigail’s cleaner is less than impressed!

    Apologies if these have been pointed out before, the comments taper very thinly on a mobile device screen so I can’t see them all.

    Superb site Columbophile, i love reading the reviews after each episode I watch!

  6. To be honest I dont know why The reference in try and catch me should be so unmissable , I piked up on it straight away . try and catch me is my favorite and in my opinion the best of the whole lot and I also had it recorded on a VCR tape and have watched it many a time , I also had columbo cries wolf recorded but its trashy and i didn’t pay attention to that particular scene , I DO Not like a matter of honor and its one I choose not to watch online or from a DVD collection However I Love Columbo goes to college but I Think Agenda is Slightly Better mainly because of Mc Goohan

  7. First, “let me tell ya”, I love the site. Now, I must add, I enjoyed and, still, do, enjoy “DOTM.” I thought Mr. Basehart’s deterioration was well-acted and, found Miss Blackman believable. Keep up, the good work!

  8. In ‘Agenda for Murder’, when Columbo meets Mackey for the first time, he is nervous about being asked to sit in an antique chair:

    “Last time I sat on one of these things, it broke… Yeah, I was in this lady’s house, and you know how fragile they are, and what happened was, er… Well, I’m not going to get into that. Just, er, let me say it cost me money, sir.”

    I’m sure that’s a reference to another episode, but I can’t remember which one…

    • Sounds reminiscent of his nervousness at sitting in Abigail Mitchell’s 400-year-old chair in Try & Catch Me, although he didn’t damage it. I don’t recall any such scene in another episode.

      • In try and catch me columbo says can i sit on this mam , Abigail replies well thats what it was made for 400 years ago , the chair makes a creaking sound and columbo looks nervous but it dosent break so I wouldn’t say it was a reference to try and catch me as the words lets just say it cost me money dosent seem to correspond with it as the chair didnt break , by the way Try and catch me is my overall favorite thats why i can remember these moments without having to watch them online .

  9. Hi. I’ve just finished watching Make me a perfect murder. And there is a scene where Columbo is in the elevator with K and he tells her he once had a case where the husband was embarrassed to tell him he was cheating in his wife. Do u think he is referring to a previous episode here and if so which one?

    • i am a huge fan of make me a perfect murder and have re-watched the elevator scene and I do not think the comment is a reference to a previous episode , but wait for columbophile to confirm it .

    • Thank-you, for referencing one, of my favourite episodes. I’d forgotten about it. I believe I’ll go, view it, now.

  10. I’m sorry, (before I trigger a spate of comments) of course Columbo mentions his wife in any number of episodes throughout the series.


      Why didn’t I wait until the last scene? Again, my apologies. The final scene of “Troubled Waters” is all about the missing Mrs. Columbo. I’m putting myself in posting jail.

  11. Am watching “Troubled Waters” and although it had never hooked me, I now realize with its plot, superior performances, pacing; atmosphere, setting, music; its absolutely a great Columbo. I am still in love with Donald Pleasance’s “Any Old Port” but have to say that overall its no match for this. I almost forgot that the strange absence of Mrs. Columbo is not mentioned after the opening scenes, except in the 1970’s.

    • I am not a fan of any old port in a storm , it just dosent do it for me however iam a big fan of troubled waters. it is one of my favourite episodes maybe even in my top 10.

    • I appreciate the reminder, re: “Troubled Waters”, an episode, truly, I enjoyed, that I’ve not seen, in a while. I am, really-also-a fan, of Donald Pleasance’s over-the-top performance, in “Any Old Port…”Oh! Is THAT what…?!

    • when you watch troubled waters for a second time and if you pay close attention to it its excellent . troubled waters has a clear motive , an excellent plot ,, interesting clues and a stellar cast including an brilliant performance from Robert Vaughn , 2 other columbo stars dean stock ell and Bernard fox plus the rest and the whole murder on the high seas was refreshing plus a little bit of humor thrown in for good measure .
      These are all the reasons why id choose troubled waters over any old port in a storm any day of the week . any old port in a storm just dosent do it for me .

  12. Great article (and SO pleased the episode reviews are appearing again!!)

    I think there may possibly be an eighth… In The Conspirators I seem to remember SOME sympathisors of Devlin’s group are told by Columbo that he had spent some time in England and the people there were very kind to him (and thus he was far from happy with the gun-running) – a reference to Dagger Of The Mind, surely..? The Conspirators is one of the few episodes I have rarely watched… So I may have imagined this…

    • You may be right, although I skimmed through the script just now and couldn’t find that reference. I’ll need to watch the episode in full to know for sure, but if I do find the reference, I’ll add it in.

      • Thanks for the reply Columbophile! I think it was during a scene at a dock – Columbo was talking to a lady in a (possibly chauffeur-driven) car. Some wealthy backer of Devlin’s group…
        If it turns out to be all a figment of my imagination I might go Roger Stamford full-cable car 😉

          • This is possibly a reference to dagger of the mind , and i do remember the scene at the dockside , but i cant remember those words , probably because i am not a fan of the conspirators , its one of my least favorites from the 70s

  13. Although it’s not a reference to another actual case, I’ve always loved that meta narrative moment in Ashes to Ashes when he asks Eric Prince what the initials “SB” might mean.

    “Sonny Bono…Sandra Bullock….Steve Bochco…” And of course it’s that last name that he really reacts strongly to…

    Which I guess is not surprising as we’re talking about a god here. Literally in Columbo’s case as Bochco – being the writer of Murder by the Book etc – was the “tele-deity” that guided every movement and encounter of the Lieutenant at a certain point in his life. No wonder he would react when hearing that name 🙂

  14. Well, not a direct hit perhaps but when Columbo plucks the book from Lilly La Sanka’s shelf, it reads Prescription Murder. Found this under “Flashbacks” on another Columbo site.

    • I agree to you! I just watched that episode yesterday, and this particular reference comes to the surface at the first moments of the playtime, when Ken gave the book to Lili and she were extremely delighted.

      – I have a surprise for you.
      – Pour moi?
      – Pour moi.
      – Prescription: Murder – “A Mrs Melville thriller by James Ferris and Ken Franklin”
      – Oh, uh, take a look at the first page!
      – You signed it? You dear man! Well, Mr Franklin!

  15. without trying to boast , I picked up on the troubled waters reference made in Try and catch me long long ago .
    Reason being its my favorite episode and had it on tape and always watch it if i can .
    i had missed the reference from A matter of honor as its an episode i despise and never go out of my way to watch it , the others i remember but to be honest a stinker from the 70s dagger of the mind being referred to in the dross/watchable columbo cries wolf some years later i remember columbo referring to a friend in Scotland yard but didn’t pick up it was the Bernard Shaw .

      • In comparison with the majority of the classic 70s it suffers for 3 main reasons, 1 it is set in mexico not his natural surrounding of LA and a different culture same as the London based dagger of the mind flopped also because of this, 2 some of it is spoken in Mexican/foreign which at times makes some of the clues and story line hard to follow and 3 it is long and drawn out and is very unfunny also it lacks any memorable scenes but dont get me wrong it has some good clues and id watch it before dagger of the mind and last salute to the commodore and some of the new episodes such as murder in Malibu , no time to die and Undercover.

        • I disagree and do like Dagger of the Mind as well (I know I’m a minority here). However, fair enough, each to his own, and thanks for replying!

          • There are some nice moments in Dagger of the mind and its set in London sand as a Londoner myself it has a nicer backdrop than the hot deserts of mexico in a matter of honour but its conclusion is poor(a matter of honour has a better central/final clue) , the acting is poor the clues are rubbish and on the whole it is silly . but everyone has there own opinion.

  16. There are a few occasions when things got dangerously close to cross-referencing another case, but stopped short. For example, whose case files was Columbo reviewing in his office at 2:00 a.m. when Joan Stacey walked in, trying to report her fiance Ric Carsini missing (“Any Old Port in a Storm”)? Any who, exactly, was Columbo referring to in “Try and Catch Me” when he said: “Even with some of the murderers that I meet, I even like them, too. Sometimes. Like them and even respect them”?

    • I think that might have been a General reference to any number of murderers that he liked such as Tommy brown , adrian carsini the list goes on but the 2 he hated most were the fella in an exercise in fatality and Dr mayfield , by the way i am not a fan of an exercise in fatality .

  17. That he was “working late on the Hayward case” just highlights the point that the investigations are nowhere near finished at the end of episode. There is still much more evidence to uncover as all kinds of documents and the like are subpoenad and witnesses are deposed. In the case of Nelson Hayward, his mistress Linda would have been of particular interest as the true nature of their relationship would have been uncovered under sworn testimony thereby helping to establish motive.

    Columbo’s burden of proof at the time of the arrest is “more likely than not”. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is for the trial. Columbo was working late on the Hayward case to establish the latter as he already established the former.

  18. I know I’m in the minority here, but I really enjoyed Columbo cries wolf. The ending – the gotcha – is my favourite.

    • Not alone in enjoying Columbo cries Wolf. One of my favorite of all times because it shows the viewer something different, Columbo really and seriously fooled. Columbo I think only pretends to be fooled in Blueprint for Murder.

    • So did I! Not my absolutely favorite episode, but certainly among the best ones! The ending is superb. If only all the girl models there hadn’t been portrayed as empty baby dolls addicted to shopping and having a crush on one (slimeball) guy (as a woman, this irritates me), this episode would be perfect! Ian Buchanan did a great job as a really loathsome, opinionated killer who thought he could outsmart Columbo – and was actually quite close to achieving this.

    • I consider columbo cries wolf as trash , however the closing scene is quite good and id prefer it to undercover and murder with too many notes

      • I re-watched cries wolf last Sunday in full and it has its good points despite its trashy nature, Ian Buchanans performance , The intro music, she drives me crazy , columbo being humiliated was a nice twist , the helicopter scene , the Airport scene , the llamas , a cameo from john Finnegan and Bruce Kirby all be it small and the memorable gotcha .
        I can think of at least 10 new episodes worse and they are Undercover , NO time to die , Its all in the game , Murder a self portrait , Murder in Malibu , Ashes to ashes , Under the guillotine , grand deceptions , Butterfly in shades of Grey And the awful Murder with too many notes .

    • The picture that is supposedly of his wife in Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo is actually of his wife’s sister. When he rings Mrs Columbo at the end he says: “Tell your sister I got her picture.
      She can pick it up tonight. Now when you’re better, we’re gonna go to a photographer and we’re gonna have a decent picture of you taken. What do you mean, you take lousy pictures? You never had a picture taken,” etc, etc…

      So the Mrs Columbo mystery remains intact!

      • Yeah, I thought that was another great twist to finish a truly first rate Columbo – despite its being misplaced in the later series. The murderer is superb, the gotcha is sensational (so good that it’s even fun in reruns, after you know what’s gonna happen), the scene with the psychiatrist is both hilarious and classic acting at the same time, and this ending doubles the fun of the gotcha – as the dead Mrs. Columbo turns out to be alive, while the first look at the alive Mrs. Columbo in series history turns out to be a fake.

      • Rest in Peace Mrs. Columbo is hands down my favorite modern episode. It’s the one that got me hooked on Columbo in the first place.

  19. You mentioned one actress, but of course there have been two big actress episodes (Forgotten Lady being the other) and a third actress, the accomplice in the pilot, Prescription for Murder. Not forgetting an actor (Butterfly), and the director. Really, you would think that actors commonly murder each other.

    There have also been two composers and two murdering TV chefs. Hollywood is really toxic.

    I would have liked the two composer/conductors to have been linked.

    • You’re right, and then there’s also the murderous actor Ward Fowler in Fade in to murder and an actor victim in Uneasy lies the crown.

  20. Loved this article, and I think I’ve caught all these references over the years of watching. Makes me want to pull these particular episodes out just for the chance to catch them anew though. I LOVE what you’re doing with the site, and an fully in support of your making a go of it full time. Has me fantasizing about leaving my own corporate world in favor of a writing life. Keep up the fantastic work!

  21. I’ve noticed him reference other shows .
    I don’t like it. For me it’s like pulling out of the fantasy a little bit. It would almost be similar to Colombo looking at the camera and saying “yeah you know what I mean” to the audience.
    For me personally each show is its own universe and a fantasy which you would like to be immersed in completely. To reference other shows in my opinion is to pull out of the depth of that story and it disempowers that fantasy just a little bit. You can almost feel the writers attempting to communicate to the viewers through the character and it’s something I don’t enjoy.

    • A back issue:WRONG! Det. Frank DID in fact SHOW a pix of his TV wife in Rest-in-Peace, Mrs Columbo. At the end, U will recall, he takes a folding pic of her, & openly shows it to viewers as he sits to call her on pH.

      • That’s Mrs. Columbo’s sister. Columbo calls Mrs. Columbo on the phone and tells her that her sister can pick up her picture.

    • I do like the references, but just the amount that Columbophile has described. More would have been too much – like playing forcefully with what they already directed to support weaker episodes. I think what we have is just right.

  22. good ol’ Durk…..I’ve often wondered if his very name is supposed to be punning on “*Dagger* of the Mind”…..

    ‘……Why think you, lords, that ’tis ambition’s spur That pricketh Caesar to these high attempts?……’

    ambtion’s spur, or merely a Dirk, misspelled?

  23. C’mon – I love the Lieutenant as much as anyone, but you don’t really think we’ve seen all of his cases, do you? They just never showed us the ones that got away. Or told us about the killers that got Perry Mason to represent them. (Now there’s a dream scenario – Perry Mason and Columbo facing each other in the courtroom! The irresistible force and the immovable object indeed.)

  24. As soon as I saw your new article I wondered would you include the remark Columbo makes to Abigail Mitchell, about the cruise. And of course you did, how could I have doubted it. Very good articke again, enjoyed it as always! But I know I will be recking my brains for another reference to an old case now… probably won’t be able to sleep!


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