The Methodology of Lieutenant Columbo
by Paul D. Dute, © 2018
Warning: this book contains Spoilers.
Columbo always gets his suspect.
Detective Inspector Lieutenant Columbo always got his ‘murderer’ in the end. All of us faithful fans have seen it over and over again. Occasionally there is a bump in the road, as in the “Last Salute to the Commodore“, where the prime suspect is himself murdered in the course of the investigation. And then there was “Fallen Lady“, where Columbo identifies the murderer, but faces a difficult conundrum in that the murderer is unable to recall they had committed the murder in the first place.
As viewers, we also are not spared the occasional bump in the road ourselves. In the series, we the viewers, behind out “fourth wall”, are used to seeing the murders committed. The fun of the show is in trying to puzzle out what clues it is that Columbo sees, and whether Columbo will be able to see through the “wriggling” of the killer. The killer trying to confuse the inspector and to lead him astray from the facts of the case. We ask ourselves, will Columbo see through all of the sand thrown in his face, will Columbo be able to prove his case?
In the aforesaid mentioned “Last Salute to the Commodore“, we never actually see the murder. There is an obviously dead body on the floor, and we see Robert Vaughn seemingly cleaning up the crime scene and disposing of the body. But was he the murderer? As viewers we are certainly supposed to assume so, but later on Robert Vaughn himself is murdered. Was he murdered as an act of revenge? Was there an accomplice to the earlier murder who then murdered Robert Vaughn to keep him silent? Or was Robert Vaughn never the murderer, but was cleaning up the scene because he, Vaughn, thought someone close to him was the actual murderer? As viewers there was only one thing that we knew for sure: In the end Columbo would figure it all out.
Another episode with a macabre twist was [“Twins Episode]. Here we clearly see Martin Landau murder his uncle. But later on we find out the Martin Landau was one half of a set of twins. How can we know which twin “did it”? Again, we could only be certain that Columbo would get it all sorted out by the end.
There must be some methodology to the actions of Lieutenant Columbo. One of his adversaries said it best:
“You know Columbo, you’re almost likable in a shabby sort of way. Maybe it’s the way you come slouching in here with your shop-worn bag of tricks. The humility, the seeming absentmindedness, the homey anecdotes about the family…. Yeah, you know, Lieutenant Columbo fumbling and stumbling along, but it’s always the jugular that he’s after. And I imagine that, more often than not, he’s successful” – Ransom for a Dead Man.
However Columbo is never just stumbling along. He is focused on the moment, always looking for that something, that anything that is a piece of evidence, a little piece of the puzzle that will lead him to the truth. But it cannot be random, there must be a method to this Columbo “madness”. It is this methodology that I want to explore in the next Chapter.