Murder, She Wrote 7.20 “Murder, Plain & Simple”

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Jessica Fletcher is on book tour in Pennsylvania and decides to take a detour to Lancaster in order to find a handmade Amish quilt for her nephew’s wedding anniversary. (While not mentioned by name, the couple is likely Grady and Donna.) While driving with her publisher’s assistant, they are driven off the road by a buggy and end up being stranded after crashing their car into a couple of mailboxes.

Just the facts:

Click on the text below to reveal spoilers.

Click to reveal the victim It was Jacob Beiler, an Amish deacon!
Click to reveal the killer It was Sarah Lapp, a young pregnant woman who is being shunned by the Amish community!
Click to reveal the weapon It was a pitchfork!
Click to reveal the location He was found in the field dressed up as a scarecrow! (But he was actually killed in his barn and the murder weapon was hidden in a cave by a river.)
Click to reveal the motive Jacob attacked her after she threatened to reveal that he impregnated her. While on the ground, she picked up a pitchfork in self-defense, and he tripped and fell onto it! (Afterwards Reuben Stoltz moved the body and hid the murder weapon because he was convinced the murder would be pinned on him.)

Cast of characters:

At the heart of the mystery are members of the Amish community. The elder members include:

  • Jay Robinson playing Bishop Burkhardt, the head of the community. This is Robinson’s second and final appearance in MSW. He previously appeared in “The Way to Dusty Death“.
  • Michael Sarrazin playing Jacob Beiler, a deacon in the community. This is Sarrazin’s second and final appearance on MSW. He previously appeared in “Joshua Peabody Died Here… Possibly”.
  • Arlen Dean Snyder playing Franz Kaufmann, the father of a young rebellious Amish man. This is Snyder’s second and final appearance on MSW. He previously appeared in “A Very Good Year for Murder“.

The younger members of the community include:

  • Todd Eric Andrews playing Ethan Kaufmann, a young Amish rebel and the son of Franz Kaufmann. This is Andrews’ first of two total appearances on MSW.
  • Jennifer Runyon playing Rebecca Beiler, Jacob Beiler’s wife. This is Runyon’s second and final appearance in MSW. She previously appeared in “Seal of the Confessional“.
  • Martha Byrne playing Sarah Lapp, a young woman who has been shunned for being pregnant out of wedlock.

Outsiders to the community include:

  • Hunt Block playing Reuben Stoltz, a liaison to Jessica’s publisher and a former member of the Amish community. This is Block’s second of three total appearances on MSW. He previously appeared in “Seal of the Confessional“.
  • John Ireland playing Sheriff Hainer, local law enforcement. Ireland co-starred with Angie Dickinson in a short-lived ’80s detective show titled ‘Cassie & Co.’
  • Ed McCready as a driver for the towing company. This is McCready’s third and final appearance on MSW, each time playing minor roles. He previously appeared in “Showdown in Saskatchewan” and “See you in court, baby“.

Final thoughts and other trivia:

I found it interesting that Hunt Block and Jennifer Runyon make another appearance together after having appeared in “Seal of the Confessional“. Even though they are playing different characters here, it’s notable that both episodes had a somewhat religious theme. Additionally, it’s interesting that Hunt Block is playing a different character here, even though Father Barnes (the character he played in “Seal of the Confessional”) was mentioned just a few episodes earlier in “Prodigal Father“.

Also notable is the creative presentation of the episode title (as seen in the header image at the top of this post). “Murder,” appears first and is then followed with the addition of “Plain and Simple”. While the title refers to the plain and simple Amish life, thinking back on this episode it also feels like the plot is fairly plain and simple with a very limited cast of characters.

Finally, I also wanted to note the filming locations used in this episode. It appears that scenes in the main town were shot at the Universal Studios “Colonial Street” lot. This same street would later be used to stand in for “Wisteria Lane” in Desperate Housewives — although, from what I’ve been able to gather, the old church and school house building (which is standing in for the Sheriff’s office here, has since been demolished.

On the left you can see Colonial Street at Universal Studios with the church, school house, and shops visible. On the right, you can see a screenshot from this episode showing the Sheriff’s office in place of the “school house”.

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