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This is another “bookend” episode of season 6. Jessica Fletcher recounts the story of her friend, Jake Ballinger—a Los Angeles police officer who has been assigned to teach a class at (fictional) Freemont University.
Prior to getting reassigned, Jake had been investigating the death of a woman found dead on the beach by a drifter named Leo. Leo confessed to killing the woman, but Jake doesn’t believe that to be the case. When Jake gets reassigned to teach at the university, he begins to wonder whether someone in power is trying to prevent him from getting at the truth.
Just the facts:
Click on the text below to reveal spoilers.
Click to reveal the victimIt was Janet Carr!
Click to reveal the killerIt was Colin Hale, Senator Grainger’s aide!
Click to reveal the weaponIt’s not entirely clear how she died!
Click to reveal the locationIt’s also not entirely clear where she died, but she was found at the beach and there were car tire treads nearby!
Click to reveal the motiveHe wanted to impress his boss, Senator Grainger, by getting rid of the girl who was impregnated by his son!
Cast of characters:
The protagonist of this story is Lt. Amos “Jake” Ballinger, played by Barry Newman. Barry Newman was the star of his own detective series in the 70s: Petrocelli. This is Newman’s second of three total appearances on MSW. He previously appeared in “Snow White, Blood Red“.
The people in Jake’s life include:
- Jake’s daughter, Jane Ballinger — played by Heather McAdam.
- Jake’s boss Capt. Joe Rawlings — played by Gerald S. O’Loughlin. This is O’Loughlin’s second of four total appearances on MSW. O’Loughlin also had major roles on other detective shows such as The Rookies and Automan.
After scaring his students on the first day of class, Jake Ballinger finds that only two decide to stay:
- Lise Hilboldt plays Elizabeth Mills, who is taking the course to qualify her for a promotion at the insurance company she works for. This is Mill’s second of three total appearances on MSW. She previously appeared in “Smooth Operators“.
- Grant Heslov plays Bernard “Bernie” Berndlestein, who is taking the course because he wants to become a private investigator. (Heslov is now a prolific producer and co-owns a production company with long-time friend George Clooney.)
Since there are still students in his class, Jake petitions for the university to give him an office and a secretary.
- Hallie Todd plays his secretary, Moira McShane. Todd goes on to have a recurring role on MSW as Dennis Stanton’s secretary Rhoda. This is her first of seven total appearances on MSW.
- Robert Casper plays the university Dean Howard Cogden. This is Casper’s second and final appearance on MSW.
Together with his students, Jake resumes his investigation of the body on the beach.
- Bill Brochtrup plays Leo Gunderson, who initially confesses to the woman’s murder. This is Brochtrup’s first of two total appearances on MSW. Brochtrup would go on to have major roles on NYPD Blue and Major Crimes.
- Gloria Cromwell plays Anna Gunderson, Leo’s mother.
The remaining characters revolve around the victim, Janet Carr.
- Elinore O’Connell plays Joanne Summerfield — the mother of Jeremy Summerfield who is the beneficiary of Janet’s life insurance policy.
- Christina Hart plays Sister Maria — a nun at the centre where Janet gave birth to a baby. This was Hart’s last ever on-screen role.
- Garry Walberg plays Sam Kendall. Kendall had a major role on Quincy, M.E.
- Robert Pine plays State Senator Andrew Grainger—to whom Janet made a phone call prior to giving birth. This is Pine’s second of five total appearances on MSW.
- Robert Lipton plays Colin Hale, Senator Grainger’s chief of staff. This is Lipton’s third and final appearance on MSW.
Minor roles in this episode include:
- Vicky Lynne Davis as Grainger’s Secretary.
- Robin Claire as Secretary.
- Holly Clark as Girl.
- Brett Stimely as Patrolman.
Final thoughts and other trivia:
Although the character of Jake Ballinger would never be seen or heard of again on Murder, She Wrote, this episode has many themes that would later be picked up by the show. For instance, Hallie Todd would go on to play a similar recurring role as Dennis Stanton’s secretary throughout Season 7. Even the concept of a crime solving insurance investigator (like the character of Mrs. Elizabeth Mills) is reprised in the series of episodes featuring Dennis Stanton.
Additionally, the idea of a crime solving university professor is returned to at the beginning of Season 8 when Jessica Fletcher moves to New York to teach a criminology class. The concept isn’t totally new, however, since I am aware of at least one show that had a similar premise–a season 5 episode of Magnum, P.I. titled “Murder 101” also had Thomas Magnum teaching a course at a local college and taking his students on investigative “field trips”.
If you’re a fan of this kind of premise, you might be interested in watching a series of Hallmark TV movies starring Dick Van Dyke.
- Murder 101 (pilot movie–2006)
- Murder 101: College Can be Murder (2007)
- Murder 101: If Wishes Were Horses (2007)
- Murder 101: The Locked Room Mystery (2008)
Some of the movies can be streamed on Amazon Prime Video, but all four have also been released as a DVD collection.