Killers / Opinion / Top 10

The Columbo killers we love to hate

Columbo worst killers
In his memorable monologue to the ladies’ lunch audience in Try and Catch Me, Columbo gives us a fascinating glimpse into his mindset and what he loves about his work. Rather than paraphrase, I’ll quote the dear Lieutenant verbatim.

I like my job. Oh, I like it a lot. And I’m not depressed by it. And I don’t think the world is full of criminals and full of murderers because it isn’t. It’s full of nice people just like you. And if it wasn’t for my job I wouldn’t be getting to meet you like this.

And I’ll tell you something else. Even with some of the murderers that I meet, I even like them too. Sometimes like them and even respect them. Not for what they did, certainly not for that. But for that part of them which is intelligent or funny or just nice. Because there’s niceness in everyone. A little bit anyhow. You can take a cop’s word for it.”

“We encounter plenty of dirt bags over the course of 69 episodes: people we wouldn’t spit on if they were on fire.”

It’s a really lovely scene. But is the Lieutenant being genuine with the audience? I dare say not quite. Indeed, in front of a gentle crowd like that I suspect he may have been sugar-coating things to an extent. We’ve certainly seen some likable and sympathetic killers in Columbo, but there are others that wouldn’t exactly be on his and Mrs Columbo’s Christmas card list.

In fact we encounter plenty of dirt bags over the course of 69 episodes: people we wouldn’t spit on if they were on fire. But who are the absolute lowest of the low lives? I’ve laid out my thoughts below. On arriving at these decisions, I’ve taken into account the motive for the crime, the severity of the act itself, and the behaviour of the killer towards Columbo and others around them.

Please note – these are in no particular order except for the top 3, which are the clear standouts. Now, read on!

Norman and Dexter Paris – Double Shock

Don’t let the joviality of TV chef Dexter Paris fool you. He’s a total low-life, as is his prim twin brother, Norman. Not content with bumping off their lovable uncle to claim his riches, they double up to deadly effect once again later in the episode. Although we don’t see it, their killing of the uncle’s distraught love interest, Lisa Chambers, by throwing her over a balcony is one of the cruelest murders the series ever cooks up.

Paris brothers

Norman and Dexter Paris. Two brothers, one destiny: life behind bars…

Sean Brantley – Columbo Cries Wolf

So, tell us 90s’ ladies. What is is about multimillionaire magazine mogul Sean Brantley that so attracts you…? It’s certainly none of these things: his personality; his fashion sense; his Buick-sized mobile phone; his innate sleaziness; his murdering ways; or his treatment of a certain Lieutenant Columbo.

To the viewer, it’s the latter that is most damning. Brantley makes a monkey of the Lieutenant in the eyes of the world’s media, all the while wearing a goonish smirk that deserves to be slapped off his face. Combined with the aforementioned list of traits and you have a man that it’s impossible to feel an iota of warmth toward. Thank goodness, then, that Columbo has the last laugh…

Sean Brantley

Sean Brantley: the absolute epitome of a 1990s Columbo killer

Paul Hanlon – The Most Crucial Game

Robert Culp’s killers always had an edge to them, but it was at its sharpest here in the guise of furious football club manager Paul Hanlon. He’s just a very angry, nasty, impatient bully who seems to think nothing of trampling over – or murdering – anyone who dares to get in his way. Prone to combusting with rage at a moment’s notice, Hanlon easily rates as one of Columbo’s least likable and most dangerous adversaries.

Paul Hanlon

Withering fury seems to be Paul Hanlon’s default setting

Dr Eric Mason – How to Dial a Murder

Being torn to pieces by a pair of programmed Dobermans isn’t a fate you’d wish upon your own worst enemy – unless, of course, you’re Dr Eric Mason, who metes out just such a punishment to a long-time pal after discovering he’d been fooling around with Mason’s late wife.

A mind fiendish enough to first conceive and then realise such a gruesome crime is clearly a menace to society. And Columbo would have suffered the same fate at episode’s end if he hadn’t ingeniously figured out how to ‘reprogram’ the sweet pups to kiss him, not kill him, at the mention of code-word ‘Rosebud’.

Dr Eric Mason

No love lost between these two

Elliot Blake – Columbo Goes to the Guillotine

Yes, I know that he suffered privations during his time in a Ugandan prison camp that drove him to murder, but the man tries to cut Columbo’s head off with a guillotine. Need I say more?

Elliot Blake

Elliot Blake borders on being a pantomime villain

Ken Franklin – Murder by the Book

A man so charming it’s hard to hold anything against him, Ken Franklin is nevertheless an absolute git – and a selfish one at that. Too idle and untalented to make an honest living after long-time friend and partner in crime writing Jim Ferris decides to go it alone, Franklin slays him in cold blood. His motive? To score a bumper insurance payout that will allow him to keep living in the manner to which he’s become accustomed.

He then bludgeons to death poor, crazy Lily La Sanka to keep his secret safe, never once having a guilty thought. Adorable dimples or not, he’s a bad, bad man who deserves everything that’s coming to him.

Franklin 1

Dimpled charm notwithstanding, Ken Franklin is a very naughty boy

Dale Kingston – Suitable for Framing

All credit to Ross Martin, who managed to portray art critic Dale Kingston as the human personification of slimy pomposity. He doesn’t just commit crimes against his fellow man (a double murder and attempted framing of his kooky aunt Edna); he also commits crimes against comedy (including laughing uproariously at his own dire jokes); and crimes against fashion (don’t start me on the velvet tux and bow tie the size of Spain).

To top it off, he’s exceptionally mean-spirited and condescending to Columbo. In fact his utter vileness is a big reason why seeing him taken down in the series’ best ever gotcha moment is so satisfying, time after time.

Kingston 3

Dale Kingston: committer of crimes against humanity, comedy and fashion…

Vivian Dimitri – Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo

Driven by that most destructive of pursuits, revenge, Vivian Dimitri is a whirling dervish of Columbo hate masquerading as a friendly girl-next-door type. After her husband dies in jail, Vivian is driven by a desire to punish Columbo for his part in her husband being behind bars in the first place. Her preferred method for this is by presenting the Lieutenant with a jar of poisoned marmalade.

Naturally Columbo is wise to Dimitri’s deranged tricks and comprehensively outflanks her, first faking Mrs Columbo’s death then pretending that he himself has consumed the deadly spread in front of her very eyes. Although caught out, Vivian does at least have the satisfaction of delivering a formidable slap to the Lieutenant’s leathery cheek as her zesty bid to kill off two Columbos thankfully comes to naught.

Vivian Dimitri

Note to self: never trust a woman who wears a comedy hat to a solemn occasion

And the Big 3…

3. Paul Gerard – Murder Under Glass

Playing a Bond super-villain was a good warm-up for Louis Jourdan, who brought a delightful Gallic beastliness to the role of food critic Paul Gerard. Make no bones about it: Gerard is a manipulative worm of a man, who has got the culinary community of LA eating out of his blackmailing hands. When one of them, furious Vittorio, stands up to Gerard, he is swiftly despatched through ingenious application of Japanese blowfish poison.

His unpleasantness doesn’t go unnoticed by Columbo and the two develop a mutual dislike that results in Gerard attempting to dispose of the Lieutenant in the same way he killed Vittorio. The confrontation results in an unusual level of frankness between the two leads, as both reveal how unpalatable they find the other.

“You’re a very able man, Lieutenant. I respect that, but I really don’t care for you very much,” says Gerard.

“You know, sir, I was thinking the same thing about you,” responds Columbo. “I respect your talent, but I don’t like anything else about you.”

Paul Gerard

Paul Gerard excels at the ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ facial expression

2. Milo Janus – An Exercise in Fatality

By series’ standards, Milo Janus’s wrong-doings don’t seem that bad. He has just one murder to his name (albeit an unusually violent one) and, to be honest, victim Gene Stafford isn’t a very sympathetic chap himself.

But where Milo scores more highly than most is in the antagonism stakes. Columbo really hates this guy and isn’t afraid to show it – especially after Milo’s callous antics towards Gene’s widow, Ruth, cause her to make an attempt on her own life in a pills-and-booze frenzy. Embittered by that, the Lieutenant drops all pretence of civility in a very public clash at the hospital. Columbo’s inherent unknowability falls by the wayside in a prolonged tirade against Janus that humanises him in a way we almost never see. It’s a very powerful scene – made more so by the fact that such emotional outbursts from him are so rare.

Columbo even appears to enjoy busting Janus at the end, taking a grim satisfaction in knowing he’s putting this trash away for a long, long time. He may have a slammin’ bod, but the only slamming Milo’s going to be hearing for the next few years is the cell door.

Milo Janus

So…do you come here often?

1. Dr Barry Mayfield – A Stitch in Crime

Casting Spock, err… Leonard Nimoy as Dr Barry Mayfield was an inspired choice. He’s as emotion-free as his cherished Vulcan alter ego, as mean spirited as a Klingon warrior and as single-minded in achieving his goals as the Borg (the Trek references end here, you’ll be delighted to hear).

What puts him to the top of the list is that his ice-heartedness knows no bounds. Check out the evidence: in order to  take credit for a revolutionary drug he’s been developing with his (utterly adorable) senior surgeon Dr Heideman, he tries to put the latter out of the way through use of dissolving suture after an operation. He then brains the nurse who figures it out with a tyre iron. And later he slays a reformed-drug-addict-turned-petting-zoo employee to frame him for the nurse killing. Oh, and he also laughs at and shoves Columbo in two separate incidents of barbarism…

Where would he stop? Even cuddly puppies and fluffy bunnies would seem targets for this ice-cold individual. He’s the first killer who elicits a genuine flash of anger and dislike from the normally placid Columbo – a sure fire sign that he’s bad to the bone.

Dr Barry Mayfield

Laughing at Columbo ranks amongst Dr Mayfield’s most unforgivable sins

So there we have, them. The baddest of the bad – in this man’s opinion at least. Let me know your thoughts, and who else might have been included. There was certainly no shortage of contenders with Drs Ray Fleming and Mark Collier, The Great Santini, Leslie Williams, Alex Benedict, Commissioner Halperin, Justin & Coop, Dr Bart Keppell and Riley Greenleaf all having strong cases for inclusion, so shoot me a comment below!

Thank you for reading, It is very much appreciated.

Have you voted for your favourite Columbo episode yet? If not, do so in this fan poll.

Advertisements

29 thoughts on “The Columbo killers we love to hate

  1. Late to this post:

    The only number 1 for me as well; Dr. Mayfield was the ultimate cold-blooded hated killer, a man so disgusting that cool-headed Columbo loses his temper for a full moment and releases his fury.

    Although often overlooked, here’s a couple from the “new” Columbo that deserve some mention:

    Justin Rowe and Cooper Redman of “Columbo Goes to College”; granted; Justin is a creep partially because of an insanely pushing dad (our man Robert Culp), but they both kill their teacher “because they can”, and expected to get away with it.

    Leon Lamarr in “Death hits the Jackpot”. Some real sickies in this group. Leon kills his nephew because he wants to get the lottery winnings of his nephew, who doesn’t want to share it with his still-legally-married-wife (who was playing around with Uncle Leon….eww), when his nephew was going to share the earnings with his Uncle. He kills him by hitting him on the head, then drowning the poor wretch after he wakes up in the bathtub.

    Matter of fact they might as well called this episode Columbo, meet Jerry Springer!

  2. Great column; and yes they are nasty people for sure. I do like Adrian Carsini for his love of wine, and hate him for leaving his brother to die over 2 days in a superheated wine cellar. And Dick Van Dyke, killing his (albeit bitchy) wife, but more for shooting an ex-con who was just trying to reform in Negative Reaction. And while I’m at it – Johnny Cash killing a teenager he seduced; I don’t care if he can sing; that’s crappy too.

  3. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo A Stitch in Crime | The columbophile

  4. After watching it again recently, I’d put Joe Devlin (“The Conspirators”) on the list. The jovial, amiable poor poet is a cold blooded terrorist. I’m was so glad when he was brought down along with the McConnell’s that little twirp Kerry who hung out with them.

      • I know the McConnells aren’t the killers (thus don’t really deserve to be on this list, so I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise), bit I tend to have less sympathy for them than I do Devlin. Taking my cue from Columbo himself, I can understand why Devlin does what he does. I don’t like what he did (i.e. he IS a terrorist after all), but I can understand how growing up in the midst of all those emotions could lead him to think the way he does. The McConnells, however, seem to be dilettantes who have this romantic notion of helping this great cause without any understanding of the consequences of their actions. If that makes sense. I’m in Canada, and North Americans tend to have this idealized view of the European “homeland” that has no basis in reality.

  5. Prescription Murder should be up there. He promises his wife a vacation and then cowardly strangles her from behind while she’s reveling in her getaway with her beloved husband. Sick bastard.

  6. Pingback: Who’s the best: Cassidy, Culp or McGoohan? You decide! | The columbophile

  7. I dont know why Adrian Carsini hasnt got a mention, he was absolutelly brilliant as the snobby, insufferable, condescending vineyard owner and himself and Columbo got on so well, there was a sense of mutual respect between the pair. In fact Columbo was very fond of this guy indeed, there was a palpable rapport between them.

  8. Yes, Dr. Mayfield, but shoving Columbo was not an act of barbarism, it was a ploy to conceal the incriminating evidence by planting it on Columbo.

  9. I’m a bit surprised that Patrick McGoohan didn’t make this list. His character’s dispatch of a mobster threatening blackmail for past sins is even colder and more deliberate, in my opinion, than Nimoy’s doctor in Stitch In Crime. I think my wife and I cheered when the good lieutenant dispatched him…

  10. How about an article about “The Columbo victims we love to hate”, in many cases we love the murderer more than the one he/she killed.

  11. Pingback: Columbo episode review: Suitable for Framing | The columbophile

  12. Alex Brady from Murder, Smoke, and Shadows was a vile human being. He tries to make a fool of Columbo. Columbo says at the end of that episode, “And my biggest pleasure is charging you with murder”. And Alex Brady’s face is priceless.

  13. Pingback: The Columbo legends we lost in 2015 | The columbophile

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s