Columbo: Ransom For A Dead Man

Created on December 17th, 2006

Ransom for a Dead Man

Columbo Episode #2
Original Air Date: March 1, 1971


Peter Falk as Lt. Columbo
Lee Grant as Leslie Williams Murderer
Patricia Mattick as Margaret Williams (Daughter of Victim)

Synopsis of Ransom for a Dead Man:

An attorney shoots her husband to get his assets, and tries to make it look like a kidnapping. Lt. Columbo notices little out of place details like when the victim calls to ask for ransom money that Mrs. Williams doesn’t ask if he’s alright. Lt. Columbo figures out that Mrs. Williams killed her husband. Her failing is that she is a sociopath, has no conscience and this is used to set her up by her step daughter Margaret and Lt. Columbo.

Detailed storyline of Ransom for a Dead Man

The story starts with Mrs. Williams preparing a ransom note from clipped out letters from a magazine. She also pieces togatehr pieces of her husband’s voice from answering machine tape into what will sound like a plausible statement from demanding kidnappers. Then when her husband (a former state Supreme Court Justice) returns home, she’s sitting in a chain and shoots him. She wraps up the body and dumps it off a cliff. She then drops the ransom note into a mail box.

The next morning she goes to work as usual and beats down a needy victim in court, forcing a settlement for much less the expected by attacking the person personally. She’s informed that her husband has been kidnapped, and the federal officials are called in. Columbo arrives at the William’s Estate, and in what becomes trademark Columbo style, Lt. Columbo arrives, rings the doorbell, and is found bent over looking for his pen when the door is opened.

The “kidnappers” demand $300,000.00 and want Mrs. Williams to drop the ransom from an airplane. Columbo immediately feels Mrs. Williams is too cool, and we can see him wondering about the kidnappers knowing Mrs. Williams can fly a plane. When the Mr. Williams calls home with the “kidnappers” instructions for delivering the ransom, Lt. Columbo again thinks it’s odd that Mrs. Williams only response is “when” and not “Are you okay”.

While at the bank obtaining the $300,000 in ransom money, Mrs. Williams produces her own bag for holding the ransom. Columbo obiously is curious about that. Mrs. Williams, the federal agents and Lt. Columbo arrive at the airport. While Mrs. Williams is “changing” she places the bag of money in her locker, and removes an empty bag. Mrs. Williams takes off in an airplane, and the police follow her in a helicopter. Lt. Columbo isn’t comfortable to be in a helicopter and wonders about noises he hears.

After a long flight, Mrs. Williams stages a fake drop of the ransom bag from the airplane and drops out the transponder and a minute later the empty “ransom money” bag. Since the police were following, they show up on the scene almost immediately and find the empty bag of money. The federal agents believe the kidnappers have gotten away with the money but Lt Columbo is curious.

On return to the airport, Lt. Columbo sees Mrs. Williams empty plane at the hanger, and wonders where she is. He goes into the pilots area and picks the lock on her locker but finds nothing important inside.

Back at the Williams estate, Mrs. Williams hides the cash in a hidden closet of her home, and upon turning around finds her step-daughter Margaret sitting right behind her. The two have words and Mrs. Williams suggests a good night sleep while feigning worry for Mr. Williams.

The next morning, Margaret is up early watching an old Fred McMurray murder movie, Double Indemnity (1944) where an insurance man kills the husband of a client and lover, and Margret becomes suspicious. Margaret questions Mrs. Williams going to work “business as usual”. Leslie says that she has to continue her life even under difficult circumstances and turns off the television. The moment Leslie leaves, Margaret turns the TV back on.

The federal agents arrive at the courthouse where Leslie Williams is representing a client, and want to talk in private. But Leslie Williams forces them to talk in public so they announce that a body was found and her husband was dead. Mrs. Williams collapses. Lt. Columbo thinks it’s odd that the all so cool Mrs. Williams suddenly faints and that she didn’t ask where the body was.

After the funeral, Margaret slaps Leslie and says “This is what you want isn’t it” while Lt. Columbo is standing by. While Columbo is sitting on a memorial stone at the cemetery, Margaret happens by. Columbo suspects that Margaret too is suspicious, and tells her if there is anything she needs to contact him.

Leslie tries to send Margret back to college in Paris, but Margaret gets tough. Leslie then starts to talk about money, and tells Margaret that she spent Leslie’s trust account for the ransom. Leslie suggests Margaret find a job to help pay expenses.

Programmable Rotary Phone

The next day Lt. Columbo has an appointment with Leslie Williams at her law firm. Lt. Columbo spots a modern telephone that can be programmed to make pre-recorded calls at set times. Columbo talks to Leslie and explains that little things bother him, and that he’s a worrier. Columbo lights his cigar, and explains that the bag bothers him. Leslie asks what about it, and Columbo explains that he thinks it’s odd, that the kidnappers didn’t take the bag, and that that detail bothers him, and it just doesn’t seem right. As Columbo, is leaving the office, he has just one more thing … that Mr. Williams was shot by a bullet fired at a 45 degree angle upward. Which means that the killer was sitting, and that Mr Williams was standing. So what was Mr Williams doing, just standing there while the killer sitting shot him. Oh, and one more thing, the bullet was a 22 caliber. Most criminals would use a 32 or 38 caliber gun, and the only reason to us a 22 caliber, would to to keep the bullet from leaving the body. As they continue to discuss this, Columbo states this theory which is almost exactly what happen, that Mr. Williams was killed by someone he knew, that was sitting in a chair, used a 22 caliber bullet so that there would be no evidence at the scene of the crime, and that the kidnapping was just cover. Leslie says she’ll do anything she can to help, and suggest they go flying.

Columbo reluctantly goes flying with her, and Leslie flies around doing quiet a few stunts. Columbo is nervous, and Leslie senses that. Columbo says it’s just because he’s not driving, and so Leslie turns the controls over to him. Columbo takes the controls, and almost hits a mountain. Columbo gets air sick, and doesn’t want to talk for a while. After a while, Columbo asks if Mr. Williams had any enemies or had had an affair, and Mrs. Williams says no, that her husband was well respect in the legal trade, and had a rigid code of ethics from which he never swayed.

Back on the ground, Lt. Columbo talks about a cousin of his, Ralph. Ralph was so perfect, he was a bore and Mrs. Williams discussion of her husband reminded him of Ralph. Mrs. Williams response was she’d have to change, and Columbo looks after her knowing she’s the killer.

Columbo goes to his favorite restaurant and orders a bowl of chili. Margaret Williams shows up, and Columbo suggest a bowl of chili. Margaret says she’d like to talk privately in a booth. While Colcumbo plays stupid, Margaret explains that she believes her step mother, Leslie, killed her father. Margaret explains that Leslie married her father to get ahead. She said that her father had visited her in Paris about a month before, and that he said Leslie had told her father that she wanted everything, and that they were to lead separate lives. Mr. Williams was going to throw Leslie out. Columbo plants a seed about perhaps there wasn’t a kidnapping. And that perhaps there was something about the car seat being moved forward and that Mr. Williams was a tall man. So whoever drove the car last was short. And the keys were missing, so whoever has the keys may still have them.

The next day Columbo shows up at the William’s house, and Margaret produces the keys. Columbo says the’ve been watching the house, and that Margaret had hired a locksmith, and that those weren’t Mr. Williams keys. Columbo defends Mrs Williams and tells Margaret not to do anything like that again.

The next day, when Leslie comes home, Margaret fires a blank shot from a pistor she’s hold and is sitting in the same chair Leslie was in when Leslie shot Mr. Williams. Margaret runs off, and Leslie goes into her bedroom, only to find the transponder that was in the ransom bag hanging by a string in the center of the room. Leslie goes running into Margeret’s room, and Margaret fires another shot. Leslie says Margaret is leaving tomorrow. Margaret says she wants the $25,000/yr allowance she was getting and Leslie agrees.

At the airport where Leslie is seeing Margaret off, Margaret is seen getting on a plane with a briefcase in hand. Columbo approaches Mrs Williams and asks if she’d like a drink. Leslie is thinking she got away with it now. Shortly after they sit down, and parcel is set on the table. Columbo explains that they had to find a way to show the kidnapping was a setup and the only way to do that was to get Leslie to spend the money. And since Leslie didn’t have a conscience, she’d think that anyone could be bought, including Margaret. Columbo explains she was setup by Margaret, opens the parcel to expose the briefcase, and opens the briefcase to show the $25,000 in marked bills from the ransom.

Columbo is broke

The show ends with a little humor in that Columbo doesn’t have the money to pay the waitress for the drinks, yet sitting on the table is the open briefcase with $25,000 in it.

Great Quotes:
Columbo: “If there is anything I can do to help. Peel potatoes, whatever, you just feel free.” While waiting in Mrs Williams home for the kidnappers to call.
Columbo: “I can’t help thinking if I was in the hands of kidnappers, and my wife didn’t ask if I was alright. I’d have to think about that.” Right after the “kidnappers” call and give instructions on where to drop the money.

Cast of Ransom for a Dead Man
Peter Falk as Lt. Columbo
Lee Grant as Leslie Williams
Patricia Mattick as Margaret Williams
Paul Carr as Hammond
Jed Allan as Phil
Charles Macaulay as Richard
Henry Brandt as Attorney
Jean Byron as Pat
Richard Roat as Perkins
Norma Connolly as Celia
Harlan Warde as Paul Williams Victim
Bill Walker as Crowell
Timothy Carey as Bert
Judson Morgan as Judge
Richard O’Brien as Priest
Celeste Yarnall as Gloria
Lisa Moore as Nancy
Lois Battle as Waitress
Reginald Fenderson as Mechanic

Leave a Reply