Murder, She Wrote 4.3 “Witness for the Defense”

This time, Jessica is north of the border, in Quebec City!


She is called in to testify following the death of a fellow writer’s wife.  The wife had died 6 months ago while Jessica was visiting with the writer to help him proof the galleys for his second novel.

Just the facts ma’am:

Spoilers are in white font, so highlight the text below to reveal the answers.

  • The victim was… a novelist’s wife!
  • killed by… her mother-in-law!
  • in… the family’s country house!
  • with… a blow to the head, followed by her body being consumed by a gas explosion and fire!
  • because… the mother-in-law asked her to divorce her son (she was only using him for money) and the mother-in-law lost her cool when the victim refused!
  • vital clues:  the brooch she was wearing that night was not found on the body.

Big names:


Patrick McGoohan plays the writer’s attorney, Oliver Quayle.  It’s hard to recognize him because of his beard, but McGoohan appeared in 4 episodes of Columbo, as well as starring in the cult classic The Prisoner.


Simon Jones plays the attorney’s assistant, Barnaby Friar.  You may recognize him as Arthur Dent in the 1981 British series based on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.


Juliet Mills (sister to Hayley Mills) plays prosecutor Annette Pirage.


Other somewhat familiar faces in this episode include:

  • Diane Kay, who was a child star on 8 is Enough, as the victim’s old friend Monica Blaine;
  • Claire Trevor, who appeared in many classic films including Farewell, My Lovely, as the writer’s mother Judith Harlan;
  • and Charley Brill, who starred in the 90s detective series Silk Stalkings, as P.I. Rudy Polanski.

Repeat offenders:


The only two actors who have made multiple appearances on MSW played the husband and wife: Patricia and Jim Harlan.  For both of them, this is their second of three total appearances on the show.

Other comments:

It’s very clear that whoever decided to set this episode in Quebec had never actually been to Quebec, or even Canada.  Most of the main characters speak in British accents, which really makes no sense, especially since Quebec City is mostly francophone.  Most of the courtroom exchanges make it seem like they really wanted to set the episode in England, but settled for Canada as the next best thing.

The episode does feature some great moments, however.

For instance, the popular Jessica-eating-popcorn gif is from this episode, from a scene where she tries to act the part of a lady gossip.


It also features an amazing exchange that lampshades the fact that Jessica is constantly solving crimes that her family members have been accused of committing.

Attorney:  Mrs. Fletcher, have you ever used the alias “J.B. Fletcher”?

Jessica: Yes, on my books. They’re my initials.

Attorney: So you admit that you are a writer?

Jessica: Well, I’ve never felt any need to deny it — at least, uh, not so far.

Attorney: And it was in the guise of a writer that you wheedled your way into the confidence of the Harlan family?

Jessica: “Wheedled”?

Attorney: Do you deny that the plot for your next book was stolen from an unfinished manuscript by James Harlan?

Jessica: I certainly do.

Attorney: That is a matter we will leave for the civil courts to decide. … Mrs. J.B. Fletcher, have you any recollection of being committed to the State of Maine Institute for the Criminally Insane between the months of May and July in the year 1985?

Jessica: I was never committed anywhere. I entered the institution voluntarily.

Attorney: Under the care of Dr. Sidney Bachmann, who is a specialist in the field of criminal psychosis?

Jessica: Yes. I was researching a book.

Attorney: Indeed? What a perfect subterfuge.

Jessica: The book was called Sanitarium of Death. It was dedicated to Dr. Bachmann.

Attorney: Out of gratitude, no doubt, for the excellent care you received. […] Is it not a fact, Mrs. Fletcher, that a niece of yours, Victoria Griffin, was arrested for murder last year?

Jessica: Yes, but —

Attorney: Is it not a fact that another niece, Tracy McGill, was also arrested for murder?

Jessica: Yes, but I can explain.

Attorney: And that your nephew, Grady Fletcher, was arrested not once but twice– also on the charge of homicide?

Jessica: Yes, I know how that seems.

Attorney: “Seems”?  Madam, it seems that one of New England’s most respected families is a breeding ground for homicidal maniacs!

Jessica: The charges were dropped in every single one of those cases.

Attorney: “Dropped”? Oh, yes, then indeed, you must also be one of the most powerful families in your country. … I have no further questions.

I suspect this is the origin of the popular theory that Jessica is the one committing all the murders and simply frames other people for them.


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