Several years ago, somebody crunched the numbers regarding the murder rate in Cabot Cove and found that, during the show’s run, it equaled 1,490 per million (or 149 per 100,000). This was 50 per cent higher than the murder rate in Honduras, which at the time was the real-world murder capital.
A lot of online sites and newspapers picked up the story, but often ran it with several misconceptions that blew it even further out of proportion. For example, The Daily Mail stated that there were “a total of 274 killings in the small town in Maine”, which is impossible given that there were 264 episodes Murder, She Wrote, and not all episodes took place in Cabot Cove. In fact, an average of 5.3 episodes per season took place in the small town. [Edit: See the full list of Cabot Cove episodes here.]
Now, the actual number of Cabot Cove deaths cannot be disputed. The official population of Cabot Cove as being 3,560 cannot be disputed either — after all, we see a screenshot of the population sign in almost every episode that takes place in the town.
However, what can be disputed is the accuracy of the officially reported population and how that relates to the murder rate.
A popular place to visit
For instance, many Cabot Cove killings involve visitors to the town rather than town residents. Not counting the series pilot, the very first episode of Murder, She Wrote, “Deadly Lady”, for example, involves a family that show up in town on a boat during a storm. So it’s not really the case that Cabot Cove residents are murderous, just that Cabot Cove may be a popular place to commit murder — perhaps because it’s so remote.
There are also many clues to suggest that Cabot Cove is a popular vacation spot for visitors. There are many motels in and around town (several are mentioned in the episode “Indian Giver”) and there’s frequent mention of vacant houses being rented out to visitors (the ex-con in “When Thieves Fall Out” does so). Several episodes also revolve around the prospect of building a resort hotel in the town, which obviously wouldn’t even be a consideration for investors if the area wasn’t already a popular destination. [Edit: In some episodes, such as “Mr. Penroy’s Vacation“, tourism in the town is explicitly mentioned.]
But perhaps the biggest clue to the fact that the listed population of Cabot Cove may be inaccurate is the fact that it is home to “summer residents”. In “Simon Says. Color Me Dead“, the story revolves around self-identified “Summer Covers”, a group of residents who own summer homes in Cabot Cove but live elsewhere for the rest of the year. Such residents would likely not be officially listed as Cabot Cove residents, even if they do spend half the year there, since census rules state that you can claim only one home as your primary residence.
Permanent population 3,560; Summer population 20,000?
As a popular summer residence spot, Cabot Cove may be more in line with places such as Cape Cod, where the number of housing units can greatly exceed the total population. For example, the population of Provincetown, Massachussetts at the very tip of Cape Cod is currently just under 3000, but in the 80s and 90s it was just over 3500 — the same as the population of Cabot Cove during the show’s run. The thing about Provincetown is that although its official population is quite small, during the summer months it’s estimated that it is inhabited by anywhere from 19,000 to 60,000 people.
For these reasons, fictional towns aren’t the only ones that have problems with bad publicity when it comes to crime rate. Several years ago, the Cape Cod town of Barnstable was listed as one of the most dangerous places in the US.
Using the above population estimates and the average of 5.3 yearly murders in Cabot Cove, we can recalculate a more realistic or accurate murder rate for the fictional town. If we take the high end estimated population of Provincetown (i.e. 60,000), then 5.3 murders per year is equivalent to 9 murders per 100,000. If we take the low end estimated population of Provincetown (i.e. 19,000), then 5.3 murders per year is equivalent to 29 murders per 100,000.
Murder rate: distinctly average
If we compare this to the murder rates of real-world places, then 9 murders per 100,000 is in line with the average US murder rate during the show’s run in the late 80s and early 90s. A rate of 29 per 100,000, on the other hand, doesn’t even approach the murder rate of some major metropolitan areas like Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, or St. Louis — all of which currently have a rate of over 40 per 100,000.
Thus, far from being the murder capital of the world, it seems that the murder rate in Cabot Cove may be distinctly average.
In general, however, murder and crime rates for place with low populations can be highly skewed and thus don’t get published. Case in point, just one murder per year in a town the official size of Cabot Cove (i.e. population 3560) would give it a murder rate of 28 per 100,000.
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