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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