Murder, She Wrote (1984–1996)
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The Way to Dusty Death 

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A tyrant's demise puts Jessica on the trail of several of his betrayed executives.


Nick Havinga


Peter S. Fischer (created by), Richard Levinson (created by) | 2 more credits »


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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Angela Lansbury ... Jessica Fletcher
Joanna Barnes ... Lydia Barnett
Richard Beymer ... Morgan McCormack
Lynn Carlin ... Nicole
Nancy Dussault ... Kate Dutton
Jenilee Harrison ... Serena
Richard Jaeckel ... Dr. Leon Chatsworth
Andrea Marcovicci ... Anne Hathaway
Sandy McPeak ... Spruce Osborne
Joanna Pettet ... Virginia McCormack
Lawrence Pressman ... Tom Dutton
Ray Walston ... Q. L. Frubson
Cornel Wilde ... Duncan Barnett
Jay Robinson ... Paddock
Hank Brandt Hank Brandt ... Lt. Grayson


As company board member, Jessica is among old chairman Duncan and Lydia Barnett's weekend guests who hear the rumors of a take over by Spruce Osborne or resignation are false. Would-be successor Morgan McCormack's wife, Virginia, decide it's time to hurry nature by doctoring his nightly brand with extra digitalis heart medication. He is found dead in the hot-tub with a TV but it is deemed an accident and the TV was knocked into the tub when he had a heart attack. Jessica refuses rushing to cast the decisive vote for Morgan or Tom Dutton. She works out with Dr. Chatsworth that four digitalis pills are missing, as well as the brandy glass which was full when the corpse was discovered, but the autopsy finds no overdose. She finds out Osborne's much younger girlfriend, Serena, was planted by Duncan, while Osborne had a man on the board, gets a confession for the failed murder attempt and traps the successful killer. Written by KGF Vissers

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | Drama | Mystery


TV-PG | See all certifications »






Release Date:

25 October 1987 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Universal Television See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


The last acting role of Cornel Wilde. See more »


Mrs McCormack threatens Jessica with a lawsuit for libel due to something Jessica said. However, libel is for the written word; slander is for the spoken word. See more »


[first lines]
Paddock: There are times when the forces of life combine to create a power where all things are possible, where a strong man can act with speed and decisiveness. For the timid, a moment never realized. For the bold, a moment that can catapult him to undreamed-of plateaus of personal wealth and power. Your will is extremely powerful, Mr. McCormack. It shall overpower those with whom you compete. And I can tell you, that will be soon, very soon.
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User Reviews

Dissension in the Corporate Ranks Leading to Murder at the Country Estate
26 November 2009 | by WeatherVioletSee all my reviews

Well, it's certainly very nice to see that this star-studded entry, "The Way to Dusty Death," becomes perhaps the first "MSW" regular episode to receive three IMDb reviews thus far, preceding this one with two helpful and very nicely-constructed User Comments, so let's please keep these coming, as well as appreciating the many fine contributions to promote this series (for which I have no professional connection in any way).

Readers upon the "MSW" Message Board frequently enter questions regarding individual episodes, along the lines of "Where is the setting?" or "How does this cast fit together?" and inquiries of this sort of nature, and so I attempt to tie up the lose ends in episode reviews, without revealing the victims or the perpetrators, as well as adding background information, such as....

This episode features the final appearance by Cornel Wilde, star of many films of the 1940's and 50's, who began acting in 1936, and appearing on television since 1956. Hank Brandt, acting since 1961; Richard Jaeckel, since 1943; Sandy McPeak, since 1976; and Ray Walston, since 1954, have also since passed. This also signals the first acting role for Bob Snead, as well as one of the first appearances by E.R. Davies.

As noted by another reviewer, Joanna Pettet, acting since 1964, delivers one of her most recent performances to date, in "The Way to Dusty Death," which also features the most recent performance to date by Lynn Carlin, who has been acting since 1968, and one of the most recent by Joanna Barnes, who has been acting since 1956.

Now, Duncan Barnett (Cornel Wilde) and Lydia Barnett (Joanna Barnes) host at their grand estate outside of New York City, a retreat for executives and their wives, as well as for other board members of Barnett Industries, even though Duncan elects not to talk business, announcing that he has no plans to step down as Chairman of the Board.

Tennis, lodging and murder are on the agenda, with a guest list including Executive Morgan McCormack (Richard Beymer) and his determined wife, Virginia McCormack (Joanna Pettet); Executive Tom Dutton (Lawrence Pressman) and his ambitious wife, Kate Dutton (Nancy Dussault); Corporate Raider Spruce Osborne (Sandy McPeak) and his fling, Serena (Jenilee Harrison), who has been planted by Duncan to attempt to manipulate Spruce; Executive Anne Hathaway (Andrea Marcovicci), Paddock (Jay Robinson), and Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury), who represents the interests of Barnette Lumber Mill and its employees, many of Jessica's friends and neighbors of Cabot Cove.

The resulting murder isn't exactly dusty at all, but centers around a hot tub in the private bath, into which several guests somehow take turns entering even though the spouse of the victim remains upon the premises.

So, has the victime experienced a natural death, a poisoning, or an electrocution? Lieutenant Grayson (Hank Brandt) and Doctor Chatsworth (Richard Jaeckel) are summoned to investigate, along with the capable assistance of Jessica Fletcher, who discovers clues around the hot-tub, in "The Way to Dusty Death."

Back in the city, Morgan McCormack, Tom Dutton, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Fletcher vote along with two other Board Members, upon Executive Chairman in a special election, with the guidance of Administrator Nicole (Lynn Carlin), and the presence of Q. L. Frubson (Ray Walston), who secretly represents Spruce Osborne. Needless to say, no agreement can be reached, and so it is up to Jessica to offer a workable solution in his scheme.

But the murder has yet to be solved, as so Jessica, naturally, adjusts her priorities to solve the problems of the corporation, the lumber mill and the police and medical investigation.

The cast is rounded out by Flo Di Re as Maid, Bob Snead as Board Member #1, and E.R. Davies as Board Member #2.

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