A mysterious man who briefly stops by Jessica's house turns up dead -- supposedly swept overboard during a hurricane before Jessica even met him.



(created by), (created by) | 2 more credits »

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Episode cast overview:
Doran Clark ...
Nancy Earl
Ralph / Stephen Earl
Marilyn Hassett ...
Maggie Earl
Terry Jones
Grace Earl Lamont
Brian Shelby
Lisa Earl Shelby
Jonathan Bailey
Carol Swarbrick ...
John Petlock ...
Nils Andersen
Robert Beecher ...
Elias Cobb


A certain Ralph appears at Cabot Cove penniless but insists to earn a breakfast from Jessica by odd jobs, she even throws in her late husband Frank's pipe. Cosmetics tycoon Stephen Earl is reported missing presumed death from his yacht in a storm by his four adult daughters. Jessica realized the coordinates they gave must be false, at the time in the eye of the storm; now Maggie confesses to have shot him the night before, but an old obituary photo of Stephen makes Jessica realize he's alive: it's 'Ralph'. Shortly after, his corps lies in the surf, shot twice in the chest, now Maggie recants claiming it was a set-up to unmask fortune-hunter Terry Jones, sister Nancy's earlier paid-off ex, the coroner confirms. Written by KGF Vissers

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | Drama | Mystery





Release Date:

7 October 1984 (USA)  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


This episode features the introduction of Cabot Cove citizens Sheriff Amos Tupper and Captain Ethan Cragg. Cragg has been friends with Jessica for many years, whereas Tupper seems to barely tolerate her, resenting her interference in a police investigation. This is also the first mention of the never-seen Letitia, the phone operator in Cabot Cove. Frank Fletcher smoked a pipe that, according to Stephen Earl, was 'a fine-looking meerschaum'. Meerschaum is a soft, white mineral that is most frequently used to make pipes. Stephen Earl picks up a recent book of Jessica's from the counter entitled Dirge for a Dead Dachshund. The book was in pre-publication at the time, and was not yet released for publication. Maggie Earl refers to having read Jessica's 'latest book', indicating that Dirge for a Dead Dachshund is at least her third book. Cragg also makes mention to Amos 'reading too many of Jessica's books' indicating, again, that Dirge for a Dead Dachshund was not her second work. See more »


The dead body pulled from the water is seen blinking while being identified at the coroner's office. See more »


[first lines]
Jessica Fletcher: [while typing during a storm with the lights flickering] Oh, please, three more paragraphs and I can go to bed.
See more »

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User Reviews

"Hatred, Defiant and Old: Climb Aboard; We're Approaching Cold"
18 December 2009 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

And now, in the aftermath of the pilot episode, which launches the "Murder, She Wrote" (or "MSW") series, we arrive at its first weekly episode to be broadcast.

But first, a few prefatory remarks: I have no connection with the production of this series nor any of its fan sites although it can prove interesting to discover those little mistakes which each and every last one of them contain. As we proceed through this series extending episode reviews, should I mistakingly blunder in mixing up one fact with another, please feel free to correct any mishap, as we strive to communicate "what the episodes are all about" as a sort of learning process, based upon content as our source of information (without familiarity of any first-hand "MSW" production source).

By the series start, we are aware that retired schoolteacher-turned-Mystery Novelist Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) resides in Cabot Cove, Maine, Seat of Cabot Cove County, for which Sheriff Station is based. Sheriff Amos Tupper (Tom Bosley) investigates Cabot Cove County homicides during the first four "MSW" seasons. At times, a deputy takes center stage during a Sheriff Tupper episode, but for the most part, Amos operates without a steady deputy at his side (except in a couple of cases of a recurring role). In this episode, Deputy Emma (Carol Swarbrick) supports the Sheriff. For the remainder of the series, the Cabot Cove Sheriff does have steady deputies, along with extras to function as suspects or victims on occasion.

During Cabot Cove episodes, Jessica keeps company with an authoritative male confidant, to accompany to community functions and to help to study murder evidence. Throughout much of the series, he is the Doctor, who also provides medical examinations upon the victims, or the newspaper publisher, who helps to research and report upon local murders.

But, during Season One, her confidant comes as Fisherman Captain Ethan Cragg (Claude Akins), with whom Jessica conducts fluent conversations about navigating, knot tying, and anything to do with sailing. This knowledge comes in handy when studying evidence in the aftermath of Cabot Cove's premiere murder.

So, before we get into "Deadly Lady," here's a chance to see whether I mix up these three supporting actors: Jonathan Bailey (Tom Bower) as the fisherman who spars with Ethan, Nils Andersen (John Petlock) as the stranger in town, and Elias Cobb (Robert Beecher) as the Medical Examiner? All right, the remainder seems relatively smooth sailing--at least for now....

One day, Jessica receives a visitor, Stephen Earl (Howard Duff), who presents himself as "Ralph," and volunteers to perform odd jobs in exchange for a stipend. Jessica agrees to employ Ralph to assist with her yard-work while she types a potential manuscript or accompanies Ethan on a boating session. She learns little about Ralph but finds his knowledge refreshing and his company enjoyable.

But Ralph suddenly disappears after a team of four sisters dock their craft in Cabot Cove harbor.

When Grace Earl Lamont (Anne Lockhart), Lisa Earl Shelby (Cassie Yates), Maggie Earl (Marilyn Hassett) and Nancy Earl (Doran Clark) report to Sheriff Tupper that their father is nowhere to be found and believed to have fallen overboard during a storm, Sheriff Tupper suspects foul play, and one of the Sisters Earl confesses to shoving her father, Stephen Earl, to his death.

Jessica realizes that the account doesn't add up, without disclosing the fact that she has met Stephen, a.k.a. Ralph, after he was reportedly murdered and manages to convince Amos to release the suspect on the grounds that no crime has been committed.

Grace, Lisa, Maggie and Nancy "Nan" Earl then check into a Cabot Cove motel, at which Brian Shelby (Dack Rambo) arrives to stay with wife, Lisa, during this time of distress, for whether or not her father was murdered, he is still missing, and Jessica has no idea what has become of Ralph/Stephen.

Terry Jones (Richard Hatch) soon arrives in Cabot Cove to meet his fiancée, Nan Earl, this eventually leading Jessica to question everyone connected with the Earl family.

What Jessica learns is that the wealthy widower Stephen protects his daughters to the point of controlling their lives in a manner overbearing to them. While Stephen has destroyed Grace's marriage, he has also prevented Maggie from marrying, and also does everything in his power to keep Terry away from Nan. Lisa, on the other hand, has no intention of allowing Stephen to come between her and Brian although he is suspected of marrying her for a share of her father's great wealth.

During the course of this investigation, the plot thickens when a body is discovered and has a direct bearing upon the Earl family's in-fighting.

When one of the sisters is subsequently arrested for murder, Jessica places together the pieces of the larger puzzle to realize that she has been framed, but suggests that Amos hold her in a cell at any rate, for her own safety.

This episode introduces to the series Anne Lockhart, Cassie Yates, Marilyn Hassett and Doran Clark, as the Sisters Earl. Each of these lovely actresses goes on to appear in at least three "MSW" episodes, often in chameleon-like fashion, sporting a variety of hairstyles, and interchanging playing innocent or guilty or victim, perhaps. And, as this episode indicates, the four are each invariably paired with nice-looking co-stars in future episodes, whether or not any will serve in the function of "Deadly Lady."

Claude Akins, acting in film and on television since 1953, and appearing in four "MSW" episodes in the character of Captain Ethan Cragg, Howard Duff, film and television star since 1947, and Dack Rambo, performing since 1962, and appearing in three "MSW" episodes as different characters, have unfortunately since passed.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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