Murder, She Wrote 5.16 “Truck Stop”

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Jessica Fletcher is on the road–driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles with a fellow writer named Walter Murray. They end up staying at a truck stop seemingly in the middle of nowhere–just a garage/gas station, motel, and diner.

This is an interesting episode since part of it is narrated by Walter Murray and filmed in black & white. It is a bit of an artsy homage to two film noir classics:

  1. The 1936 film The Petrified Forest. The movie stars Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, and Humphrey Bogart, and also takes place at a truck stop diner. The actual plot of the movie is quite different from what you see in the episode. I ended up watching the movie after seeing this episode and learning about the connection, and I must say that there were some elements of the episode that didn’t make sense to me until after I saw the movie. Most notably, the character of Desmond (a poet drifter) in the MSW episode is clearly inspired by the lead character in the movie.
  2. The 1944 film Double Indemnity. The movie stars Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. The subplot involving the insurance investigator in this MSW episode borrows heavily from the premise behind the movie in which a wife convinces an insurance salesman to help her kill her husband. The narrative technique in which a man records his confession as he is dying from a gun shot wound is also borrowed from this movie.

Just the facts:

Click on the text below to reveal spoilers.

Click to reveal the victim The first victim is Pete, the owner of the diner! Further victims include Walter (Jessica’s writer friend) and Roscoe (the mechanic).
Click to reveal the killer Vera killed her husband Pete! (Walter and Roscoe killed each other.)
Click to reveal the weapon He was hit over the head with a tire iron!
Click to reveal the location In the garage!
Click to reveal the motive Because she hated her husband and wanted his insurance money! (Walter initially confessed to it because he had been in love with Vera and was likely the father of her daughter. This is also why he tried to kill Roscoe the mechanic–because Roscoe may have realized that Vera was Pete’s killer.)

Cast of characters:

A major star of this episode is Mike Connors who plays Jessica’s writer friend, Walter Murray. Mike Connors is best known for starring in the detective show Mannix from 1967 to 1975. He also returns to play a different character, Boyce Brown, in two more episodes of Murder, She Wrote.

The cast of characters in this episode is otherwise very small:

  • Elizabeth Ashley plays Vera Gerakaris, the woman who runs the diner and is a woman from Walter Murray’s past. (This is Ashley’s first of two total appearances on MSW.)
  • Ron Karabatsos plays Pete Gerakis, Vera’s husband and owner of the diner.
  • Jill Schoelen plays Flora Gerakis, Vera’s daughter.
  • Isaac Turner plays Grange, Flora’s bad-boy boyfriend. (This is Turner’s first of two total appearances on MSW. In fact, this is his first on-screen credit ever, and he only has three credits to his name in total.)
  • Andrew Prine plays Roscoe, a mechanic at the garage. (This is Prine’s third of four total appearances on MSW.)
  • Peter Haskell plays Terence Locke, a life insurance representative. (This is Haskell’s second of two total appearances on MSW. Haskell also had a major role on the MSW spin-off, The Law and Harry McGraw.)
  • Ken Swofford plays Sheriff Tugman. (This is Swofford’s fourth out of 11 total appearances on MSW. After this episode, he went on to play the recurring character Lt. Catalano in six episodes of the show.)
  • Kristoffer Tabori plays Desmond, a random hobo who is staying at the truck stop at the same time. (This is Tabori’s third of four total appearances on MSW.) This character’s presence in the script is a bit forced in my opinion and it seems that the only reason he’s in the episode is because a similar character exists in the movie The Petrified Forest.

Episode connections

If you’re interested in learning more about The Petrified Forest or Double Indemnity, the movies that this episode is an homage to, you can:

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