A Stitch in Crime (Season 2, Ep. 6)


A Stitch in Crime sees Columbo investigate the killing of a nurse – but the real murder hasn’t even happened yet.


Dr Barry Mayfield (Leonard Nimoy) can’t wait to take over a prestigious medical research project – so much so that he plots to bump off the colleague standing in his way.

Mayfield performs a heart valve replacement on the older man, but uses dissolving sutures – i.e., the “stitch” that will eventually kill him.

When nurse Sharon Martin grows suspicious Mayfield murders her and frames a former drug addict.

A Stitch in Crime: the spoiler

Columbo immediately suspects Mayfield because he isn’t surprised to hear about Martin’s murder.

Later, Columbo starts to suspect WHY Martin was killed. That leads him to suspect the real murder (Dr Hidemann’s) – which hasn’t happened yet.

Firstly, Columbo unpicks the dissolving suture plot. Rather than meeting a drug dealer named Mac, Sharon Martin was trying to contact surgical supplies company Marcus and Carlson.

After Columbo openly accuses him of planning to kill both Martin and Dr Hidemann, Mayfield has to repeat the valve replacement operation – this time to replace the fake sutures before they kill Hidemann.

He almost gets away with it but at the last minute Columbo figures out where Mayfield has hidden the removed stitches: in Columbo’s pocket (also: gross).

Hidden detail: Mayfield dyes the dissolving suture to look like regular surgical thread. However, Sharon Martin recognises it’s not the real deal by the texture.

Just one more thing…

The big question is: do hospitals make Columbo queasy? He claims they do and, at first, it certainly seems that way. He appears nauseated by needles, and almost follows through when he accidentally witnesses a live operation.

But by the end of the episode, however, he’s peering into the operating theatre like it’s no trauma at all. So is Columbo play-acting at a phobia all the way through, or does he force himself to overcome his dislike?

Keep in mind Columbo (as always) uses other aspects of performance and persona to manipulate the killer into a wrong move.

That’s on display here in his confabs with Mayfield, where he seemingly accepts suggestions about the Martin case.

What’s memorable about the episode, however, is a rare flash of Columbo’s ‘true self’. He confronts Mayfield angrily, going so far as to slam the desk. Then he comes right out with his hypothesis: “I believe you killed Sharon Martin, and you’re trying to kill Dr Hidemann”.

Side note: comedian Tim Vine has a gloriously bizarre recreation of this scene on YouTube

This outburst is one more example of Columbo’s game playing. It nudges Mayfield to perform a second operation to remove the sutures – and gives Columbo the evidence to put him away.

Mayfield mirrors this phoney performance, too. When he manipulates Marcia Dalton into ‘remembering’ a suspect, he uses the same technique that Columbo does. Perhaps that’s where it comes from: Columbo’s whole schtick borrows from the criminal mindset.

The title is a play on the folk saying a stitch in time saves nine, i.e., a small but early intervention can stop a much bigger problem later on. Technically, this is what Columbo does in averting Hidemann’s murder. Of course, the stitch in crime also references Mayfield’s shenanigans in the operating theatre.

Also of note

A Stitch in Crime is a surprisingly funny episode, largely thanks to Nita Talbot’s Marcia Dalton (and an improbably high number of scenes in which characters walk into doors and trees).

Dalton’s philosophy about her career goals ends with the revelation that, “I never meet any single men until they’re ready for face lifts.”

Later, when Mayfield suggests Dalton may know more than she’s telling about the murder, Columbo archly suggests: “I think she knows less than she’s telling.” Ouch.

While Martin wants to help others, flatmate Marcia works in plastic surgery. Mayfield is equally self-driven, being willing to kill for career progression. Note too the conversations about plastic surgery which feature at his party: Mayfield and Marcia move in similar circles.

A Stitch in Time (1973), directed by Hy Averback

See also