Title:"Candidate for Crime"
Directed by: Boris Sagal
Written by: Irv Pearlberg, Alvin R. Friedman
Air Date: November 4, 1973
Previous: Any Old Port in a Storm
Next: Double Exposure
Guest Starring: Jackie Cooper, Ken Swofford, Joanne Linville, Tisha Sterling, Katey Sagal
"Candidate for Crime" is the third episode of the third season of Columbo.
Senatorial candidate Nelson Hayward (Jackie Cooper) tells the media that he is undaunted by a recent threat against his life, apparently made by the mafia. In reality, the threat was a hoax concocted by Hayward's campaign manager Harry Stone (Ken Swofford). Hayward owes his success to Stone's wiles, but despises him for interfering in his private life. Hayward has been having an affair with his wife's secretary Linda (Tisha Sterling), and Harry insists that Hayward end the relationship. Hayward and Harry argue, and Hayward agrees to end the affair, but not over the phone. He insists on meeting Linda and telling her in person, to prevent her from doing anything rash.
Because of the threat against Hayward, he has been assigned a heavy police escort and cannot go to meet Linda without being observed. He contrives a plan to elude the police with Harry's help: Harry will wear Hayward's coat and hat and go down to the parking garage, where he will catch the police's attention before driving off in Hayward's car. He will lead them on a chase all the way to Hayward's beach house. Meanwhile, Hayward will be able to slip out unnoticed. Harry reluctantly agrees to the stunt.
Instead of meeting Linda, Hayward drives to his beach house and lies in wait for Harry. When he arrives, Hayward shoots him in the garage and breaks his watch to fix the time of death.
Coincidentally it is the birthday of Hayward's wife Vickie (Joanne Linville), and her friends have gathered to throw a surprise party for her. Hayward arrives home in time to join them. He tells everyone about his crazy stunt with Harry, and supposes that Harry is still leading the police on a chase around the city. He excuses himself to a private room to place a phone call to the police. Disguising his voice, he tells them that they can find Nelson Hayward's body in the garage of his beach house.
Lieutenant Columbo arrives at the beach house still believing that the candidate for senate was murdered. He discovers that it was a case of mistaken identity, and the campaign manager was the real victim. The chief tells Columbo that his main priority is protecting Hayward, so it will be up to Columbo to catch whoever killed Harry Stone. Columbo finds Hayward at home and informs him of the death of his campaign manager. Hayward puts on a show of shock and dismay. His wife is surprised, because she knows how much he loathed Harry Stone.
The next day Columbo visits Hayward's campaign headquarters, where he notices that Linda spends several minutes alone with Hayward in his office, to no apparent purpose. A tan jacket is delivered matching the one that Harry Stone was wearing when he got shot.
Columbo tells Hayward that no progress has been made by the department, but he himself has a problem with the geometry of the murder. At the beach house, the street light was broken and there would not have been enough light to shoot Harry in the garage. And the street was too narrow for the killer to aim his headlights into the garage without blocking traffic. Columbo thinks that Harry was actually shot by someone waiting at the house rather than following behind, which suggests that it was not a case of mistaken identity, and that Harry was the intended target all along. Hayward is outraged by this suggestion, which Columbo finds peculiar, since he ought to be relieved. Before leaving, Columbo adds that the car Harry drove to the beach house was ice-cold when the police arrived on the scene, only forty-three minutes after Harry is supposed to have arrived at the house and been shot.
At Chadwick's of Beverly Hills, Columbo tries to order a jacket identical to the one that was just delivered to Hayward. He learns that orders must be placed ten days in advance. It turns out that Hayward's jacket was ordered well before Harry was killed in an identical jacket.
At a charity event, Columbo asks Linda about Harry Stone. Linda is cagey and reluctant to talk, but she admits she didn't arrange Vickie's surprise party and doesn't know who did. Columbo says that he is trying to explain why a scrupulous manager like Harry Stone knew nothing about the party. Linda says that they were very different men, and not close socially.
Columbo discovers another problem: The killer's phone call was placed only three minutes after Harry is estimated to have died, but it wasn't placed using the phone at the beach house and there was no available telephone for miles around. Hayward points out that Harry Stone always set his watch five minutes ahead, but it isn't enough to account for the discrepancy. Columbo asks Vickie Hayward about Harry and whether he would have worn the watch that was found on his body. Given his preference for durable, unstylish things, Vickie agrees that he would probably have preferred a more heavy-duty watch that can't be broken. Columbo then asks Vickie whether her husband excused himself from the party between 9:15 and 9:30. She is alarmed, and Hayward tries to comfort her, increasingly frustrated that his plot is not being taken at face value.
That night Hayward crafts a fake death threat. In the morning he shows it to Linda and regrets that he found it, since the police will assume he planted it himself. As expected, Linda offers to discover it, and does so. The police tighten their surveillance on Hayward's hotel suite, and anyone entering the premises is frisked. Linda manages to smuggle a silenced gun into Hayward's suite, who excuses himself to make some phone calls. While unobserved by the police, he fires a bullet through the balcony door into the wall by the telephone. Meanwhile, Columbo is keeping track of every minute that Hayward is alone and claiming to be making phone calls.
The candidate and his wife leave the hotel to vote. After their return, Hayward excuses himself to make some more private phone calls. While he is alone in his room, he sets off a firecracker. The police swarm into Hayward's room and discover the bullet holes in the window and the wall. No one sees the shooter, and the police are amazed by the shooter's agility in escaping so quickly. Hayward is outraged by what he perceives as more police incredulity. He insists that the police search the room for a gun and dig the bullet out of the wall. But Columbo informs Hayward that he already entered the room, hours earlier while Hayward and his wife were out voting, and dug the bullet out of the wall. It was verified as coming from the same gun that killed Harry Stone. Columbo puts Hayward under arrest.
Tropes present in this episode include:
- The Alleged Car: Another installment in the Running Gag with Columbo's old-ass car. Columbo gets pulled over for not having a working taillight. After the windshield wipers don't work either and the handle comes off of Columbo's glove compartment, the beat cop who pulled him over says "You ever consider getting another car?"
- Cut-and-Paste Note: Hayward creates a fake death threat with newspaper clippings.
- Election Day Episode: The last act takes place on election day, with the returns trickling in on TV.
- Fake Gunshot: Hayward fires a shot to put a hole in the window and the wall. He later uses a firecracker to fake a gunshot to make it look like someone had just tried to shoot him. Too bad for him Columbo had inspected the room in the interim, found the bullet and removed it from the wall.
- False Flag Operation: Both the phony death threat and Harry's murder are blamed on the mafia.
- Hollywood Silencer: Hayward puts a silencer on a revolver. And it's plot relevant, as he uses the somehow silenced revolver to get off a shot quietly so no one knows, then later uses a firecracker to trick people into thinking the shot was fired at that time.
- Lady Drunk: Vickie Hayward drinks, so she says, because it's an activity where she doesn't require a reliable partner. Her husband disapproves, but he's probably to blame for it.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: Or make it look like a case of mistaken identity, as Hayward tries to make the cops think that the mob went after him but killed Stone by mistake.
- Manipulative Bastard: Hayward, especially in his conduct with Linda.
- The Mistress: Linda is Hayward's mistresss.
- National Stereotypes: Played for laughs. Columbo's Italian dentist resents the assumption that all Italians are mafiosi, and assumes people will blame the latest killing on the mafia. He even suggests to Columbo that he drop the case out of concern that his obviously Italian-sounding name will mark him as a suspect or mafia affiliate.
- No Party Given: Nelson Hayward is "his own man", per the posters.
- Police are Useless: The non-Columbo police anyway. One abandons his post at Nelson's hotel room when Nelson asks him to go get cigars. The rest of them can't manage to catch Stone-as-Nelson when he zips out of the hotel. And they take forever to think to check Nelson's own home when they're looking for him.
- Scary Surprise Party: Nelson sneaks into the house, sneaks up behind Vickie in the dark, and claps his hand over her mouth. Then the lights come on. It's a surprise party for her birthday. Not out of the goodness of his heart, though. He just needed an alibi that would allow him to quietly slip into another room and make a phony call to the police about Harry's murder.
- Stopped Clock: Harry's broken watch seems to fix the time of the killing, but Columbo doesn't buy it.
- Sweater Girl: Both Linda and Vickie wear tight tops and quite obviously don't wear bras throughout the episode.
- Wham Line: "I dug this bullet out of that wall three hours before you said that somebody fired it at you three minutes ago."
- Your Cheating Heart: Nelson is having a not-so-secret affair with his secretary, Linda. Harry is brutally paranoid of how Nelson's public image would be affected if their secret were to be revealed. He tries to pressure Nelson into breaking up and replacing Linda, which results in Hayward deciding to kill him.