Murder She Wrote 4.13 “Harbinger of Death”

You know, it’s ironic. In medieval days, people were terrified of comets. They thought of them as omens of evil, harbingers of death. I’ve never been much for portents, but the last couple of days —

This time, Jessica is visiting her “favourite” niece Carrie Palmer. Her niece is married to a much older man who works as an astronomer at the local “Asto-Physics Institute”.  After a man gets killed in the house her niece is staying at while trying to hide out from her husband, both Jessica’s niece and nephew-in-law become suspects in the murder.

Given that Jessica is staying in a place called Cooperville Lodge, and there’s mention of her arriving by train and stopping by in Ithaca, it seems like she’s back in the fictional Cooperville, New York — a place name that also figured in “No Laughing Murder“.  Except this time, Cooperville has a much bigger police force.

Just the facts ma’am:

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

  • The victim was… a young and aspiring career man!
  • killed by… his boss!
  • in… the house belonging to the director of the research institute!
  • with… an astronomer’s gun!
  • because… he was using his boss for personal gain!
  • vital cluesa scarf with the astronomer’s blood on it.

Repeat Offenders:


George DiCenzo plays police Sgt. Kettler. This is DiCenzo’s 3rd of a total 6 appearances on MSW.

  • Kate McNeil (right) plays Jessica’s niece, Carrie Palmer. This is McNeil’s first of two total appearances on the show, but she does not come back to play the same role.
  • Dean Jones (left) plays Carrie’s husband Leonard.  This is Jones’s second and final appearance on the show.  Jones is probably best known for playing Jim Douglas in the “Herbie the Love Bug” movies.
  • Karen Grassle (right) plays Leonard Palmer’s assistant Fay Hewitt. This is Grassle’s second and final appearance on the show. She previously appeared in “Murder in a Minor Key“.
  • Marcia Rodd (left) plays Madeline DeHaven, the “Director of Defense Spending Review with the General Accounting Office in Washington”.  This is also Rodd’s second and final appearance on the show.
  • Robin Gammell (left) plays Dr. Thor Lundquist, consultant to the astro-physics institute.  This is Gammel’s first of two total appearances on the show.
  • Kirk Thornton (far right) plays “forensic man”, also in his first of two total appearances on the show. In his second appearance, Thornton also plays a “policeman”.

Big Names & Honourable Mentions:


Jeffrey Tambor (best known as George Bluth Sr. on Arrested Development) plays Russell Armstong, the director of the astro-physics institute.


Steven Ford (who had a recurring role on The Young and the Restless) plays Drake Eaton, Madeline DeHaven’s administrative assistant.

Final thoughts:

This is a nice episode introducing some more characters from Jessica’s extended family.  In addition to her niece Carrie, there is mention of Carrie’s other aunt Edna who lives in Ithaca.

Another familial fact that was mentioned in this episode was that Jessica attended her niece’s wedding (on the 7th) three years ago.  That means that in between writing books and solving all those crimes depicted in Season 1, Jessica still had time to make it out to her niece’s wedding.

Aside from that, I really like the relationship between Jessica and the leading police detective in this episode. Rather than being annoyed at Jessica’s meddling, like many other detectives are, he’s quite happy to be working with a writer.  And Jessica takes full advantage of that.

Sergeant: “You know, Mrs. Fletcher, I’m gonna lay my cards right on the table. It’s about my wife.”

Jessica: “Your wife?”

Sergeant: “Yeah. I told you, she’s a writer.”

Jessica: “Oh, yes, yes. I remember you told me.”

Sergeant: “Right. You see, I make notes on all my cases, you know, uh, put them on tape. I’m sure you noticed. And my wife writes them up. I’ve got stuff you wouldn’t believe. Sex, corruption, real kinky stuff they couldn’t even put in the papers.”

Jessica: “Oh, well, yes, yes. I can imagine that, uh– that sort of thing might be very popular.”

Sergeant: “The problem is, she doesn’t have anything published– yet.  That’s where you come in, being a pro. We figured we give you all our stuff, you know, the notes, the rough manuscripts. You write them up, you sell it to your publisher and we split 50-50. What do you say?”

Jessica: “Uh, well, I hardly know what to say, uh–  Well, actually, yes. Drake Eaton’s murder might make a very juicy potboiler.”

Sergeant: “That’s what I thought.”

Jessica: “Of course, I’d have to have access to all of your data– autopsy, medical reports, interrogations, absolutely everything.”

Sergeant: “Absolutely. Absolutely. We got a deal?”

Jessica: “Oh, it’s a deal, Sergeant.”

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