Murder, She Wrote (1984–1996)
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Powder Keg 

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The justice system is tested when a group of angry rednecks form a lynch party and plan to hang a murder suspect.


Peter S. Fischer (created by), Richard Levinson (created by) | 4 more credits »


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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Angela Lansbury ... Jessica Fletcher
Pat Corley ... Frank Kelso
Mariclare Costello ... Cassie Latham Burns
Cindy Fisher ... Linda Bonner
Brian Lane Green ... Matthew Burns (as Brian L. Green)
Jackie Earle Haley ... Billy Willetts
Dorian Harewood ... Sheriff Claudell Cox
John Dennis Johnston ... Peter Fargo
Bill McKinney ... Charlie Demsey
Jeff Osterhage ... Ed Bonner (as Jeffrey Osterhage)
Craig Stevens ... Prof. Ames Caulfield
Stuart Whitman ... Mr. Bonner
Larry Wilcox ... Andy Crane
W.K. Stratton W.K. Stratton ... Deputy Morgan (as W. K. Stratton)
John Alvin ... Dr. Frazier


When her friend Professor Ames Caulfield takes Jessica along to recover in the country after a literary conference, his car breaks down in southern Roper County, they'll have to stay a few days in the inn of Cassie Latham Burns, to his amazement a former student of his, whose charming adolescent son Matthew performs Country in Frank Kelso's saloon. Ames witnesses how the kid is publicly humiliated by slutty waitress Linda Bonner's brother Ed and his goons, including service station employees Andy Crane and Billy Willetts, all storm out furious and shouting threats. After Ed is found dead with stab wounds behind the rectory, his dad farmer Bonner uses his considerable clout to weigh on Sheriff Claudell Cox, who assures Jessica Matt is safest in jail, while after pulling a knife on Kelso the lynching-minded rabble assembles outside till Bonner breaks them up; the sheriff admits taking the bloody knife all the way to his home across town where it was found without dumping it in the river... Written by KGF Vissers

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Crime | Drama | Mystery


TV-PG | See all certifications »






Release Date:

9 February 1986 (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?


When Jessica ( Angela Lansbury )and Prof. Ames Caulfield ( Craig Stevens ) are checking into the hotel, the clerk tells them that she has two adjoining rooms in a private wing. Then, when Jessica and Ames are in Jessica's room, Ames tells Jessica that after she's freshened up to knock on his door and that he's right across the hall. Rooms that are on opposite sides of the hall can't be adjoining. See more »


[first lines]
Jessica Fletcher: Oh, Ames, I'm so grateful to you for inviting me to loll around your estate for a few days. You know, that writer's conference really wore me out.
Prof. Ames Caulfield: Nonsense. You loved it. And they loved you, he admitted enviously.
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Murder She Wrote Theme
Written by John Addison
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User Reviews

Adding Sparks to an Explosive Situation
24 November 2009 | by WeatherVioletSee all my reviews

This episode marks one of the last appearances by, and final television episode role for Craig Stevens, who has been acting in films and on television since 1939. John Alvin, who has been acting in films and on television since 1943, and Pat Corley, who has been appearing regularly since 1974, have also since passed.

The "Widowed Parent" theme runs frequently throughout the course of the "MSW" series, this often involving a poverty-stricken widowed mother of a teenage boy, who must quickly grow to take on the responsibility of "the Man of the House," or the crusty widowed father of a young adult daughter, who doesn't approve of her eligible suitor for fear that she would elope with him, or the usually wealthy widowed parent whose children and grandchildren stand at odds over the will and mostly end up as murder suspect in the process, once Jessica comes to town to stumble across the body next to the fireplace poker.

This time around, we see a combination of the widowed mother, Cassie Latham Burns (Mariclare Costello), with the responsible young adult son, Matthew Burns (Brian Lane Green), and the widowed father, Mr. Bonner (Stuart Whitman), with the loving daughter, Linda Bonner (Cindy Fisher), and her rebellious brother, Ed Bonner (Jeff Osterhage), who also doesn't approve of Linda's planning a future with Matthew, who aspires to become a Country music entertainer, should Linda manage to accompany him to Nashville one day.

Cassie Latham Burns operates an inn with Matthew at her side, in Hoopville, Alabama, near Kelso's Bar, operated by the gruff Frank Kelso (Pat Corley), who employs Linda to serve tables, and offers Matthew a chance to perform with his band.

Rowdy brother Ed Bonner and his gang of friends, Andy Crane (Larry Wilcox), Billy Willetts (Jackie Earle Haley), Demsey (Bill McKinney) and Peter Fargo (John Dennis Johnston), know how to cause a ruckus to interrupt what little peace can be found around Kelso's Bar, they ordering customers from tables, threatening Matthew's stage show, and standing up to Frank Kelso at every turn.

With his office in the heart of downtown Hoopville, Sheriff Claudell Cox (Dorian Harewood) serves as the county law enforcement officer, an African-American not accepted by townsfolk as having authority over the populace, even with blond Sheriff Claudell Cox (Dorian Harewood) Deputy Morgan (W.K. Stratton) at his side. They do not readily lean toward heeding the law regardless of the race of their capable Sheriff.

It is into this climate of "Powder Keg on the Verge of Exploding" tension that Professor Ames Caulfield (Craig Stevens) travels with fellow author Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) through Alabama, to stop over for the evening in Hoopville.

But when they request rooms at the desk of the inn, owner Cassie Latham Burns appears from the back room, when she and Professor Ames Caulfield recognize each other, she a student of his before she left school to start her family. When Ames and Jessica meet Matthew in the lobby, Matthew is on his way to sing at Kelso's. Jessica slips to her room to read, but hears Ames' returning into his room at a very late hour, around 2:30 AM.

The next day, when Matthew is arrested for murder, Cassie pleads with Ames and Jessica to defend his innocence, but Hoopville is only beginning to spark with controversy and belligerence, as Jessica fears the worst for Matthew, Linda, Ames, Sheriff Cox, Doctor Frazier (John Alvin) and anyone standing in the way of a potential lynch mob as the "Powder Keg" environment expands toward an explosive climax of after a double homicide.

The cast is rounded out by Debra Dusay as Desk Clerk, and customers at Kelso's Bar: Muriel Minot as Woman, Hartley Silver as Man, Dave Adams as Barfly, and Helen Kelly in an uncredited role.

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