Lt. Columbo and the “open” murder mystery.

An open and closed case?

A murder mystery requires a unsolved crime. It also requires an investigator to unravel the mystery. Someone to put the clues and evidence together to catch the criminal.

There are two ways this can be approached – Open and Closed.


The classic ‘whodunit’.

Neither the audience nor the investigator know the identity of the murderer. For this plot the story-line concerns finding out what happened and who is involved. Pertinent facts are revealed as the story progresses. The audience know as much, or as little, as the investigator along the way.


For these plots, the audience are shown the perpetrator committing the ‘perfect crime’. The audience know who did it and how, so they have more knowledge than the investigator.

The question throughout the story becomes is will the murderer get caught? The show follows the investigator as they attempt to unravel the story and unmask the guilty party.

Columbo  used the Open format. The shows began by showing the crime and its perpetrator. The story unfolded to show how they were finally caught and exposed. The show’s writers called this method of murder mystery a “howcatchem,” rather than a “whodunit”.

Lt. Columbo was ranked number 2 in America’s Top Sleuths by magnum-mania.




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