Columbo | 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. In other words, the “stitch” that will eventually kill him.

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

A Stitch in Crime: the spoiler

Columbo immediately suspects Mayfield because he isn’t surprised to hear about Sharon’s death.

Later, Columbo starts to wonder WHY Sharon was killed. This leads him to the bigger plot, the future murder of Dr Hidemann.

Suspecting Dr Mayfield’s faulty sutures, Sharon Martin had reached out to surgical supplies company Marcus and Carlson for intel. This is the ‘Mac’ she was in touch with, not a drug dealer.

After Columbo accuses him of killing Sharon, and of plotting to kill Dr Hidemann, Mayfield repeats the old man’s valve replacement operation. This time, it’s to remove the evidence (i.e., the fake sutures).

He almost gets away with it, but at the last minute Columbo figures out where Mayfield has hidden the dissolving stitches: in Columbo’s pocket. Also: gross.

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

Just one more thing…

Do hospitals make Columbo queasy? It certainly seems that way. He says needles make him queasy – and almost follows through during a live operation.

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, or does he force himself to overcome his dislike?

Well, it’s probably the former. In fact, Columbo’s temporary phobias come and go – usually as suits the episode in question. Compare his disappearing vertigo in Short Fuse, for instance.

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

What’s memorable about this episode, though, 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”.

Comedian Tim Vine has a gloriously bizarre recreation of this scene on YouTube

The 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 uses this kind of phony performance, too, such as when he manipulates Marcia Dalton into ‘remembering’ a suspect. Perhaps that’s where Columbo’s whole shtick comes from – the criminal mindset.

Also of note

A stitch in time saves nine” refers to an early intervention to avoid bigger problems later on. Technically, this is what Columbo does in averting Hidemann’s murder. It also references Mayfield’s shenanigans in the operating theatre.

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.

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

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