Murder, She Wrote 9.5 “The Dead File”

Jessica Fletcher has just arrived back at her New York City apartment and learns from her doorman that she has been made into a comic strip character named Jessica Fox.  Apparently the comic strip is getting quite a few people riled up and Jessica is personally being accused of libel!

Just the facts:

Click on the text below to reveal spoilers.

Click to reveal the victim It was Ben Watanabe, the Hatterville letterer!
Click to reveal the killer It was Teddy Graves, the assistant at Hatter’s studio!
Click to reveal the weapon The victim was hit over the head with Hatter’s Reuben award!
Click to reveal the location The murder happened in Hatter’s studio, late at night! (But the body was then thrown out the window/balcony and found on the pavement below in order to make it look like a suicide.)
Click to reveal the motive The killer was hired by Whiting to draw comics based on the libelous material he got from Jerry Bozell! The victim surprised the killer by arriving at the studio earlier than usual.
Click to reveal the major clue Jessica noticed that the plant by the window must have been moved (since it was reaching away from the sunlight), which led to the discovery of the bloodied glove worn by the killer!

Cast of characters:

At the center of the episode are those involved in publishing the Hatterville comic strip:

  • Harvey Fierstein plays Stan Hatter, the creator and artist of the Hatterville comic strip.
  • Kris Kamm plays Teddy Graves, Hatter’s protégé/assistant.
  • Rodney Kageyama plays Ben Watanabe, the letterer for Hatter’s comic strip.
  • Diana Bellamy plays Paige Kindle, the head of the Empire Feature Syndicate which publishes Hatter’s comic strip. This is Bellamy’s second and final appearance on MSW.

There are also several people who may have it in for Hatter:

  • Patrick Macnee plays Dayton Whiting, the creator of the Biff Banion cartoon who believes Hatter stole his ideas. This is Macnee’s second and final appearance on MSW; he previously appeared in “Sing a Song of Murder”.
  • George Furth plays Jerry Bozell, a former tabloid journalist with a “Dead File” (a large file of libelous information) who was hired by Whiting to do surveillance on Hatter. This is Furth’s third and final appearance on MSW; he previously appeared in “No Laughing Murder” and “Dead Letter“.
  • Robin Gammell plays Roger Melton, a businessman who was the subject of one of the Hatterville comic strips. This is Gammell’s second and final appearance on MSW; he previously appeared in “Harbinger of Death“.
  • Jon Polito plays Lieutenant Peter DiMartini, another subject of the Hatterville comic strips who is suspected of stealing drugs from an evidence locker. This is Polito’s first of two appearances on MSW.

Throughout the episode, Jessica discusses her appearance in the cartoon with several people:

  • John Apicella plays Sid The Doorman in Jessica’s building who first brings the comic strip to her attention.
  • Mark Roberts plays Russell Yorke, Jessica’s lawyer whom she consults regarding the legal charges against her. This is Roberts’ second and final appearance on MSW; he previously appeared in “The Prodigal Father“.
  • Susan Kellermann plays Sergeant Martha Redstone, the police detective in charge of investigating the murder.

Additional characters that appear in the episode include:

  • Neal Kaz as a Van Driver delivering something to Hatter’s building. This is Kaz’s second and final appearance on MSW; he previously appeared in “The Body Politic“.
  • Mark Eric Howell as a Waiter at the hotel where Jessica meets with Whiting.
  • David Ault as a Policeman (referred to as Buckman) who is reprimanded for stepping all over the crimescene.
  • And finally, there is a brief cameo by real life cartoonist Mell Lazarus.

There are also several voices we hear over the phone (such as one of Hatter’s ex-wives), but these remain uncredited.

Final thoughts and other trivia:

For me, one of the greatest things about this episode are the glimpses of comic strips featuring “Jessica Fox” and “Biff Banion”.

A collage of the comic strips/panels visible in the episode.

Another thing I found interesting about this episode is that at one point Jessica mentions that “last Tuesday” she was in Italy and that she hasn’t been in Cabot Cove for three weeks. This in turn makes me wonder about the sequence of events depicted in the episodes this season. Presumably, her visit to Italy “last Tuesday” references the events of Episode 1 “Murder in Milan” as I can’t imagine she would make multiple trips to the same country less than two months apart. This in turn suggests that the sequence in which the episodes air is not the sequence in which the events happened. As a viewer, this is something to keep in mind if you’re ever trying to make sense of the continuity in the show.

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