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Recap / Columbo S 10 E 12

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Eric Prince is the man of the year, but Columbo will rain on his parade.

Episode: Season 10, Episode 12
Title:"Ashes to Ashes"
Directed by: Patrick McGoohan
Written by: Jeffery Hatcher (writer), Patrick McGoohan (uncredited)
Air Date: October 8, 1998
Previous: A Trace of Murder
Next: Murder With Too Many Notes
Guest Starring: Patrick McGoohan, Sally Kellerman, Rue Mc Clanahan

"Ashes to Ashes" is a 1998 Columbo TV movie.

Eric Prince (Patrick McGoohan) is owner of the Haverland-Prince Funeral Home. Eric receives a call from gossip reporter Verity Chandler (Rue McClanahan), his former lover who requests a private chat. She assures him that his next funeral service will not be interrupted but that they'll both have their own (figurative) funeral service in private. As it turns out, Chandler is going to go public about some skeletons in Prince's closet on the show Hollywood Heartbeat and wants to tell Prince in person to rub it in. Unfortunately for her, she chooses to gloat to him in his morgue where there are no witnesses observing them.

Chandler recaps how Prince, an immigrant from England, tried acting in Hollywood. The acting bug didn't work out for Prince, so he got a job in a Hollywood mortuary to pay the bills. The mortician, Arthur Haverland, took a liking to Prince, who became his protégé and business partner. Along the way, Prince took advantage of his job and examined bodies for telltale traces of confidential affairs to sell to Chandler, who also became Prince's lover. Eventually, they broke up. Today, Chandler wants revenge for being dumped unceremoniously, so she boasts that she is revealing how Prince stole a diamond necklace from silent film actress Dorothea Page's body to buy into a mortuary and finance even more mortuaries. Chandler reveals that she hasn't "told a soul" and will be broadcasting on Sunday at 8:00, with the headline "Grisly Undertakings on Sunset Boulevard". Prince, on the spur of the moment, picks up a mortician's tool and, when Verity turns her back, bashes her in the head with it.

Prince loads Chandler's body into his cremation oven, incinerates it, and gives the ashes to the family of celebrated war hero turned actor Chuck Houston, whose funeral was taking place at the time of Chandler's visit. Prince then drives to Chandler's home, deletes the story about him on her computer, replaces the story with a fake by setting the computer clock back to an earlier time and stages an abduction/robbery to make it appear that Chandler was taken hostage.

When Columbo investigates Chandler's home, it is discovered that Chandler failed to feed her puppies, which doesn't add up because it seems highly unlikely that Chandler would forget after arriving home. Columbo finds it puzzling that effects (from the night before), such as an alcohol glass with evening-shade lipstick, were left out when Chandler was apparently staying home for the night to type a (forged) document and would have no need for cosmetics, suggesting she never actually made it back home the next night. It is also later discovered that Chandler's pager also cut out at a specific time, suggesting it was destroyed.

Fourth and last Columbo episode in which Patrick McGoohan appeared as the killer. In fact it was McGoohan's last on-screen role, period, although he had a couple of voice acting gigs before his death in 2009. His daughter Catherine appears as Eric Prince's assistance, Rita.


  • Affably Evil: Prince is charming and witty and continues to have pleasant conversations with Columbo even after dropping the pretense and observing that Columbo thinks he did it.
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: Diamonds can burn and would burn in the temperatures used in a cremation oven.
  • Artistic Licence – Law:
    • Another case where Columbo is called before a homicide has even been verified. Lampshaded by the sergeant explaining that this is a missing person's case and Columbo is inappropriate for this mystery. As it turns out, the victim is turned into ashes and Columbo never sees the actual body, just confirming that Chuck Houston's remains were in the wrong urn.
    • While there may be local laws against spreading ashes over the Hollywood sign, the city would not have jurisdiction to place a pilot's federal license in jeopardy. Also, there was no hazard to people below, so the Feds wouldn't be interested in pursuing this matter.
  • Asshole Victim: Prince may have stolen from a corpse in the past, but Verity wasn't exactly making herself anymore popular than him. She kisses Chuck Houstin's corpse on her way to see Prince, gloats to him how she's going to expose him for stealing jewels off a body, and even rubs it in his face that she's not even doing it out of integrity: she just wants to get back at him for dumping her. So her death isn't very tragic, to say the least.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Though there's no blood shown, Chandler's murder is one of the more brutal. She instantly goes limp like a rag doll when Prince bludgeons her in the head.
  • Bludgeoned to Death: Eric kills Verity by grabbing one of his mortician's tools and smashing her in the back of the head. He gives her one more blow with it when she's on the ground just to be sure.
  • Celebrity Paradox: One of the suggested possibilities for the mysterious note "S.B." is Steven Bochco—who wrote seven episodes of Columbo.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Chuck Houston's grenade wounds from World War II eventually work against Prince due to him switching Houston's body with Chandler's.
  • Chronically Killed Actor: In-Universe, Chuck Houston is said to have been shot on screen 178 times.
  • Clock Tampering: Lampshaded by Columbo when he investigates Chandler's computer and notes how anyone can tamper with the computer's time.
  • Complexity Addiction: Downplayed, Prince's murder scheme is mostly sound, but he over complicates the cremations and Columbo notices anomalies, such as weight mismatches from Prince switching around the bodies. This comes back to bite Prince at the end when Columbo finds grenade shards in the wrong urn.
  • Darker and Edgier: There's still humor in the episode, but it's not as prominent. The soundtrack features tracks that are dismal by Columbo standards, and Verity Chandler's murder leaves her puppy dogs stranded at her home until Columbo's dog picks up on their presence and they puppies are set free to be fed. Eric Prince also gets away with his cremation scheme and is narrowly caught by grenade shards ending up in the wrong urn.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Prince got sloppy with the ashes of Chuck Houston and added his grenade shards along with his ashes into an urn meant for another person. This leads to his downfall at the end.
  • Furnace Body Disposal: Easy to execute given that Prince owns funeral homes. Even easier to execute since Chandler waited for him in his morgue.
  • Graceful Loser: Prince chuckles, compliments Columbo on his skill, and goes quietly at the end with no complaint.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Verity does this to herself, volunteering to Eric that "I haven't told a soul" because she wants the broadcast on Sunday to be a surprise to everyone else and the reason she's telling him is because she wants to make sure that he watches her show. Eric bashes her skull in right after this.
  • Idiot Ball: Chandler had to gloat in the one place where Prince could easily hide and destroy bodies. Bonus points for boasting about not informing anyone else of the Sunday broadcast.
  • Irony:
    • "You burned me once, baby. Now I'm going to burn you..." This is Verity's last words to Prince, before he murders her and he cremates her body.
    • Mistaken for Chuck Houston's ashes, Verity's ashes are (illegally) spread over the Hollywood Sign. Even though it wasn't her intention, she now gets to be one with the show business industry she faithfully served.
    • By a twist of circumstances, Chuck Houston (a famous and successful actor and war-hero beloved by his grieving wife) has his ashes mixed with that of another dead man who's his exact antithesis: a man who failed at keeping his marriage alive and joining the army.
  • Lady Drunk: Liz Houston is drunk a lot. She's drunk when Eric Prince stops by after the funeral. She's so drunk when Columbo comes to talk to her that she's visibly wobbling and sloshing liquor out of her glass.
  • Never Found the Body: Prince attempts this by cremating Chandler's body, but mixing up the ashes between urns ends up being his undoing due to many inconsistencies from switching around body ashes.
  • Not Good with Rejection: Chandler is upset over being dumped and threatens to expose Prince for grand theft.
  • Paparazzi: Sheik Yarami, who currently owns the Dorothea Page mansion, does not like people photographing his mansion, hence why his guards are initially rough with Columbo when he goes to investigate why Chandler photographed the mansion.
  • Robbing the Dead: Prince looted at least one corpse before the casket even hit the dirt.
  • Stock Sound Effects: Viewers who played Myst may recognize the samples for the cremation oven starting up. It's the sample from the Myst island generator starting up. The oven even has a Doom door variant installed on it.
  • Too Clever by Half: Prince, given he knew about Houston's history, should have considered that the grenade shards from Houston's body would have been suspicious ending up in someone else's urn. If Prince had taken the time to later separate the metal from the ashes, he would have at least bought some extra time before getting caught. He also takes the trouble to concoct a phony story on Chandler's computer and forge the time stamp rather than simply deleting the original, but Columbo notes that anyone can forge the time, making it meaningless. Not to mention, the phony kidnapping scene raised more questions than answers like why Chandler would arrive home and forget to feed her puppies, and why Chandler would put on her evening lipstick if she was home for the night. Additionally, the lip print on her alcohol glass from the night before doesn't fit with her supposedly arriving home to rest the next evening. Alternatively, if Prince simply crammed Verity and Chuck Houston into the same coffin, burned them both, and did nothing else, he would almost definitely get away with it, and simply need to dispose of the extra ashes.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Verity decides to gloat to Prince about how she intends to broadcast all his dirty secrets to the a crematorium. Perhaps the easiest possible place to kill someone and then dispose of the body. She also completely voluntarily reveals no one else knows, so the truth would die with her.
  • Unexpectedly Dark Episode: Naturally due to the subject matter of a Mortician who take advantage of their equipment to commit murder. Eric Prince Lampshades the mood to Columbo by discussing the need to have a good sense of humor in his business, and even answering Columbo's inquiries about funeral plans for him and Mrs. Columbo. Even the music during the murder is of a more dismal key than usual.
  • Utility Weapon: The steel rod used for the murder is normally used for extracting the gasses from bodies. It just so happened to be handy when Prince needed a weapon.