Where the Truth Lies

"Well, whatever it is, it sure must be most unusual. Uh, the reason I say that is because, you know, when my wife and I try to remember what happened yesterday or the day before, well, we don't agree on anything."
- Lt. Columbo (Dagger of the Mind, 1972)
A warning to the reader: this is going to be a filler-post involving conflicting memories, parallel universes, Columbo and Dr. Watson's brain. This is your only chance to turn away and come back within a day or two when I have regular review up. You've been warned!

Recently, I stumbled across a website, The Mandela Effect, collecting shared, alternate memories of events and popular culture that contradict the recorded history of our plain of reality – indicating to some that we're sliding between parallel universes.

A popular series of children's books, The Berenstain Bears, is central to this phenomenon, because people across the world swear they remember the name being spelled as BerenSTEIN.

It became enough of a thing that (reputedly) the son of the creators, Mike Berenstain, felt compelled to respond to a particular blog-post to explain the history of his family name and how "most people have just misread the name." A reasonable that has done nothing to make the debate subside. Other examples include confusion over the date of Nelson Mandela's death, the number of states within the U.S. and the titles of TV-series or movies. 

Dr. John H. Watson
As a consummate reader of detective fiction, I was immediate reminded of a phenomenon known within mystery circles as Dr. Watson's faulty memory, which is especially notable in two particular short stories: "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" from His Last Bow (1892) and "The Adventure of the Resident Patient" from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893).

The stories open on a very similar, almost identical scene that has Holmes performing a mind-reading trick on Watson, which was the result of some editorial acrobats, but in their universe it's Watson's unreliable memory that recollected that moment at the start of two completely different cases. And this wasn't the only time Watson's mind became fuzzy on the finer details. He ascribed the first name of James to both Holmes' arch-nemesis, Prof. James Moriarty, and his brother, Col. James Moriarty, which makes no sense at all!

So I agree with Mike Berenstain's simple explanation. However, I can understand why some people would freak out over this, because I have a crispy clear memory of an alternative ending to one of my favorite Columbo episodes. A faulty memory I had shelved away as a Watsonian lapse of the mind, but when I came across the Mandela effect I saw an opportunity for a filler post! 

Columbo: Oh, the mind boggles, sir!
Try and Catch Me (1977) is arguably one of the greatest Columbo episodes, in which Lt. Columbo's opponent is one of the most likeable murderers you'll ever meet on the small screen: a small, somewhat elfish-looking mystery writer, named Abigail Mitchell, who avenged her niece by locking the murderer inside her walk-in safe – which eventually began to lack the oxygen needed to breath.

Well, I was quite surprised, even a little shocked, upon re-watching Try and Catch Me for the second time, because I remembered a completely different ending to the episode. I remembered Columbo allowing Abigail Mitchell to get away and even handed over the car keys, a key piece (pun!) of evidence, to her, but that was not the ending I saw the second time around. On the contrary! Columbo makes no bones about it: she's coming with him to the police station.

Abigail Mitchell even asks Columbo if he "would consider making an exception" in her case. After all, she's "an old woman, quite harmless, all in all." To which Columbo replies, "you're a very professional person in your work and so am I." However, the episode ends with a line suggesting an alternate time-line, "if you had investigated my niece's death, all this need never have happened," but that would've made for an entirely different story altogether.

There's nothing in the episode that would justify the ending I initially remembered, but I've got a possible explanation as to why my mind butchered my recollection of the episode: it was during the time I began to discover the detective genre in earnest and wanted everything to be exactly like my favorite detective stories, which, at the time, included Agatha Christie's The Murder on the Orient Express (1934) – which is a book that shares in the blame of turning me into the mystery addict you know today. If you know the solution of that mystery and its morally ambigious ending, you probably understand why my mind did what it did.

Well, that's all I've to say on this subject. I wish I could've delivered the definitive proof of dual realities, but hey, what you gonna do.

Hopefully, I have a new review up before long and meanwhile, you could check out my recent reviews of Freeman Wills Crofts' classic debut novel, The Cask (1920), or Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee at Work (1967), which is collection of short stories.

Oh, and my sincere apologies for wasting your time with this post.


  1. I love the quote from Dagger of the Mind which as it happens I watched a couple of weeks ago. I've been rediscovering Columbo in a big way recently.

  2. Hey, TomCat—

    Could you have possibly gotten it confused with “Forgotten Lady,” in which Columbo does let the killer go? Also with an aging and wonderful actress (Janet Leigh in this case).

    By the by, I found your post because I’m having my own Columbo Mandela Effect (the “help request” on my blog now). I’ve been talking to a ton of people who also remember it, but it doesn’t seem to exist! It’s really baffling us.


    1. An excellent point about Forgotten Lady, but I clearly remember Columbo handing over the car keys to Mitchell. Even though that's not what happened. So, unless shifts in parallel universes are a thing, I'll have to blame Watson's memory and my enthusiastic admiration.

      I think I have read your post, but didn't had an answer for you at the time. Johnny Cash episode was also the first one that came to my mind. Perhaps you remember an episode from another crime series, but from the same period, because I recently came across a YT video of someone uncovering a link between Columbo and The Rockford Files.

      There are two episodes from both series that use the same (filler) scene of a party, but, when played back-to-back, it looks like a cleverly hidden crossover between both series with the detectives being at the same time and place – except that they're engaged on different cases. So perhaps the episode you remember used airplane footage from the Cash episode.

      You can watch the video here.

    2. P.S. I edited my blog-post and corrected some mistakes. I'm not even going to pretend I'll ever learn to proof-read my posts before slamming into that publish button. That's a skill I'll never manage to master.