Murder, She Wrote 9.6 “Night of the Coyote”

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Jessica Fletcher is in New Mexico, visiting with an artist friend and learning more about the local history. They are in a place called Chaco Springs (a fictional place, although see my comments at the bottom of this post for where it’s likely to be located) and there is a nearby historical settlement called Silverville – a town that was abandoned in 1905 when its silver mine was tapped out. Silverville is now a tourist attraction that performs a re-enactment of the last stage coach robbery and is home to the Cutter McGee museum, devoted to the robber.

Just the facts:

Click on the text below to reveal spoilers.

Click to reveal the victim It was Max Teller, the owner of Silverville!
Click to reveal the killer It was Charles Strickland, the man writing a book about Silverville!
Click to reveal the weapon It was a gunshot wound to the chest!
Click to reveal the location The murder happened some time between 8pm and 10pm. He was found on the floor of his office the next morning, but he was actually killed in Coyote Canyon!
Click to reveal the motive It was money! The killer believed that Max had found Cutter McGee’s treasure.
Click to reveal the major clue The killer had books about celestial navigation, indicating that his real interest was finding Cutter McGee’s treasure!

Cast of characters:

In addition to her artist friend, Jessica makes the acquaintance of several people as she’s touring and researching the area:

  • Mariette Hartley plays Susan Lindsay, an old friend of Jessica’s who’s now a local painter.
  • Steve Forrest plays Max Teller, the owner of Silverville and Susan’s love interest. This is Forrest’s fourth of five total appearances on MSW; he previously appeared in “Murder in the Electric Cathedral”, “Trevor Hudson’s Legacy” and “Terminal Connection“.
  • James Stephens plays Charles Strickland, a professor from Albuquerque who is writing a book about Silverville history. This is Stephens’ third of four total appearances on MSW; he previously appeared in “The Grand Old Lady“.
  • Ernie Vincent plays the town librarian (he is credited as Mr. Wheatman but as a viewer I never heard him referred to by name).

We also meet several additional people with stakes in Max Teller’s Silverville operation:

  • Gary Kasper plays Earl, an employee who takes care of the stables as well as performing as the robbery victim in the re-enactment.
  • Laura Wernette plays Betty, Max’s secretary.
  • Nicolas Surovy plays Ben Judson, a local banker who wants to buy Silverville from Max knowing that Max is in financial trouble. This is Surovy’s first of three appearances on MSW.
  • Frederick Coffin plays Tony Sable, a man who just spent four years in jail after being sold out by Max, who subsequently took the money they were swindling from people and used it to buy Silverville. This is Coffin’s second of four appearances on MSW; he previously appeared in “The Sins of Castle Cove“.

And finally, Jessica meets several additional people via the local police:

  • Graham Greene plays Chaco Springs Sheriff Sam Keeyani. This is Greene’s first of two appearances on MSW.
  • Roman J. Cisneros plays the Chaco Springs Deputy.
  • Joanelle Nadine Romero plays Alice Chee, an employee at the mayor’s office and the sheriff’s love interest.
  • Floyd Red Crow Westerman plays Uncle Ashie Nakai, the sheriff’s uncle who knows a lot of the local oral history.

One thing I found curiously missing from the credits is the name of the actor who played Cutter McGee in the re-enactment that Jessica watches at the beginning of the episode. This is particularly intriguing since a few episodes back, in the episode “The Mole”, there was a character who was credited as “Cutter” even those his name was never given in that episode.

Final thoughts and other trivia:

Although Chaco Springs and Silverville appear to be entirely fictional places, it is possible to narrow down the probable location of the setting to the northwestern part of New Mexico as that is where real places such as Chaco Wash and Chaco Canyon are located. Additionally, the episode mentions nearby Coyote Canyon, which is also located in northwestern New Mexico (specifically in McKinley County).

Given this particular setting, I highly suspect that the writers of this episode were influenced by the Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee novels by Tony Hillerman. Those interested in a mystery series set among the Navajo can read the book series (which is currently comprised of 25 novels), or watch some of the film/TV adaptations that have been produced. These include:

Aside from that, there are two additional things of note within this episode for fans of Murder, She Wrote. First, the episode includes the scene used in subsequent versions of the opening montage in which Jessica is kissing her pen. And second, we get a brief glimpse of a J.B. Fletcher novel when Jessica is asked to sign Uncle Ashie’s paperback copy of The Corspe Swam by Moonlight.

A screenshot from the episode in which Jessica is holding her book and the cover for The Corpse Swam by Moonlight is visible.

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