Columbo (1971–2003)
32 user 9 critic

Ransom for a Dead Man 

A brilliant tort attorney gets rid of her boring husband by faking his kidnapping and keeping the ransom. The FBI may be fooled, but not Columbo.



(teleplay by), (story by) | 3 more credits »

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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
... Columbo
... Leslie Williams
... Michael Clark
... Agent Carlson
Patricia Mattick ... Margaret Williams
... Hammond
... Phil
Charles Macaulay ... Richard
Hank Brandt ... Attorney (as Henry Brandt)
... Pat (as Jeane Byron)
... Perkins
Norma Connolly ... Celia
... Paul Williams
Bill Walker ... Crowell
... Bert


Leslie Williams, a brilliant tort attorney is bored by her husband, a respected member of the state supreme court. After trading on his famous name to get ahead, she tries to get her freedom by murdering him and concocts a scheme to make it appear that he's been kidnapped and held for ransom. After she pays the ransom to herself, his dead body is found. She may have fooled the FBI but not Lt. Columbo, who is aided by her vengeful stepdaughter. Written by

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


TV-PG | See all certifications »




Release Date:

1 March 1971 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Lösegeld für einen Toten  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Peter Falk and Lee Grant costarred in the Broadway production of The Prisoner of Second Avenue. See more »


When Columbo is in Barney's Beanery eating chili, and Margaret Williams comes to meet him, they move from the counter to a booth. When they leave the counter, Columbo has stirred his chili but he has not eaten any. When they get to the booth Columbo's chili is about half-eaten. Furthermore, Columbo picks up a large portfolio and tucks it under his arm as he leaves the counter and he seems to have lost it when he gets to the booth. See more »


Leslie Williams: You know, Columbo, you're almost likable in a shabby sort of way. Maybe it's the way you come slouching in here with your shopworn bag of tricks.
Lt. Columbo: Me? Tricks?
Leslie Williams: The humility, the seeming absent-mindedness, the uh, homey anecdotes about the family: the wife, you know?
Lt. Columbo: Really?
Leslie Williams: Yeah, Lieutenant Columbo, fumbling and stumbling along. But it's always the jugular that he's after. And I imagine that, more often than not, he's successful.
Lt. Columbo: I appreciate that compliment, Mrs. Williams, and I ...
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Referenced in The Simpsons: Virtual Springfield (1997) See more »

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User Reviews

A good start proper to the series – not perfect but needs very little tweaking
2 October 2005 | by See all my reviews

Leslie Williams is a very clever lawyer and has just become an equally clever murderer. Shooting her husband and dumping his body, Leslie uses a tape recorder and some threatening letters to make it appear that her husband has been kidnapped. Naturally she contacts the police and drops off the money only for her husband to be found dead with the police all lamenting their failed attempt to get him back alive. However the liaison with the local police (Lieutenant Columbo) has one or two things that just don't ring true and suspects something other than a simple kidnapping.

As with many TV film series (such as Perry Mason), if you like one or two of them then you'll pretty much like them all. This entry in the Columbo series pretty much follows the usual formula – we know the killer and the "perfect" plan but then watch Columbo follow his hunch and gradually starts to pick holes in the story he is told before eventually finding enough to prove his suspicions. Knowing this ahead of time won't ruin anything for you; it is simply what happens in all the films. With this strict adherence to formula it is usually down to several factors whether or not the Columbo film stands out or if it is just average. However with this film we are really in the territory where the formula was created. This second pilot sees a murder committed in the first few moments, Columbo brought in and filled with doubts and suspicions. In essence the plot is solid and interesting, with Columbo picking away at small things that bother him but it doesn't quite ring true.

The film brings in Columbo quickly, which is a good thing, but it seems to spend too much time on Margaret, which is a bit of a drag. The film could have lived with her in a smaller role but outside of her the rest is still pretty strong. Falk is much, much better as Columbo than he was in the first pilot (Prescription Murder) as he is much more animated and quirky rather than flat as he was then. He is funny and dogged and, although he isn't as good as he would quickly become, he is still pretty good. Grant is strong and is a good foil for Columbo – shame they do not have as much time together as other films allow. Mattick is annoying and, like I said, she gets in the way and is a misjudged part of the film generally.

Overall a good start proper to the successful series. The majority of the formula is in place and it is surprising how little tweaking it needed to make it run and run from there. Fans will love it of course but it has an appeal beyond that (it was released in cinemas in the UK) and is worth a look.

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