|Jessica Beatrice Fletcher|
|Murder, She Wrote character|
Angela Lansbury as Jessica in a Murder She Wrote promo shot 1996
|First appearance||"The Murder of Sherlock Holmes", 1984|
|Last appearance||Murder She Wrote: The Celtic Riddle (TV movie), 2003|
|Created by||Peter S. Fischer
|Portrayed by||Angela Lansbury|
Dr. Marshall MacGill (brother)
Johnny Eaton- (nephew)Grady Fletcher (nephew)
|Spouse(s)||Frank Fletcher (deceased)|
|Birthname||Jessica Beatrice MacGill|
|Location||Cabot Cove, Maine, US|
Jessica Fletcher (born Jessica Beatrice MacGill, known as J.B. Fletcher when writing) is a character and the protagonist portrayed by veteran Tony-winning actress Angela Lansbury on the American television series Murder, She Wrote. Fletcher is a best-selling author of mystery novels. In 2004, Fletcher was listed in Bravo's "100 Greatest TV Characters". AOL named her one of the "100 Most Memorable Female TV Characters". The same website listed her among "TV's Smartest Detectives". She was ranked at number 6 on Sleuth Channel's poll of "America's Top Sleuths". Guinness World Records called her the "most prolific amateur sleuth".
Jessica's ancestors hailed from Kilcleer, County Cork, Ireland. She has two brothers and two sisters. Her brothers are Marshall, a doctor, and Martin. Jessica's maiden name was MacGill, inspired by Angela Lansbury's mother's real maiden name. Before she met and married Frank Fletcher, Jessica was studying at Harrison College in Green Falls, New Hampshire, to become a journalist. In the episode "Alma Murder," she mentions being a member of Delta Alpha Chi sorority.
Fletcher lives at 698 Candlewood Lane in the town of Cabot Cove, Maine 03041. While teaching criminology at Manhattan University, she stays in Manhattan at the Penfield House Apartments, 941 West 61st St. Cabot Cove is a town of 3,560 inhabitants near the ocean. Based on the number of murders that occur in a given season of the show, the town seems to have probably one of the highest murder ratios of any town or city. This has even been remarked in the show by the town sheriff, Mort Metzger. He noted in season 5, episode 21 ("Mirror Mirror On the Wall Part 1") that this was his fifth murder in one year. Given the population of the town to be about 3,000 this is a fairly high murder rate. Given the murder rate in this town, it has about the same murder rate of a town 20 times its size. This trend was noted and parodied many times.
Her travels as an author very frequently take her to places around much of the English-speaking world, which gives her writers a little more ability to stretch the character and her situations than rural New England alone would have provided. One of them takes her to Hawaii, where she shares a case with private detective (private investigator) Thomas Magnum, star of Magnum, P.I..
Fletcher was widowed from her beloved husband, Frank. They had no children – Fletcher stating that she and Frank just "weren't blessed that way" – but had a seemingly endless collection of nephews, nieces, cousins, in-laws and other relatives or friends who always need her help. Especially prone to get into trouble is her nephew Grady Fletcher, who was raised for a period of time by Jessica and Frank. Grady always seemed to meet the wrong girl, until he finally married Donna several seasons into the show.
It is established early on in the series, that Jessica cannot drive. This was written into the programme after it was revealed that Lansbury had no license.
- Marshall MacGill (brother)
- Martin MacGill (brother)
- Neil Fletcher (brother-in-law)
- Constance Fletcher (sister-in-law)
- Louise Morton (sister or sister-in-law)
- Victoria Brandon (married to Howard Griffin, played by Jeff Conaway)
- Carol Donovan
- Pamela MacGill-Crane (via her brother Marshall)
- Nita Cochran (Nita's grandmother is Agnes)
- Tracy MacGill (via her brother Martin)
- Jill Morton
- Audrey Fletcher-Bannister
- Carol Bannister (great-niece)
- Carrie Palmer
- Grady Fletcher
- Johnny Eaton
- Frankie Fletcher (great-nephew, Grady's son)
- Abigail (Abby) Benton Freestone (Lynn Redgrave)
- Emma MacGill (Angela Lansbury)
- Ann Owens Lawton (Shirley Jones)
- Helen Owens (Doris Roberts)
- George Owens (Robert Walker Jr.)
- Calhoun "Cal" Fletcher (second cousin once removed through marriage)
- Mildred (aunt by marriage)
- Amanda (great-aunt through marriage)
- Walter (uncle; deceased)
- Sarah (great-aunt; deceased)
- Henry (great-uncle; deceased)
- Cyrus (uncle; deceased)
Fletcher began her career writing on an old Royal typewriter, but as her career progresses, she eventually purchases a computer running Windows 3.1. Among her friends she can count both multi-millionaires who own Beech Starships and down-on-their-luck homeless people, moving effortlessly between the social strata. The format of the show usually has Jessica solving the mysteries within five minutes of the end of each program, unless the producers felt they could prolong the suspense across two episodes. Perhaps her most notable experience was encountering a Mr. Potts who preferred to be called Mr. Bond—he did at least have an Aston Martin DB6, in which Jessica herself ended up racing to the rescue.
Fletcher's relationship with law-enforcement officials varies from place to place. Both the sheriffs of Cabot Cove were used to, or resigned themselves to, having her meddle in their cases. However, most detectives and police officers did not want her anywhere near their crime scenes, until her accurate deductions convince them to listen to what she had to say. Others were fans of her books and gave her free rein. With time, she makes friends in many police departments across the US, as well as a British police officer attached to Scotland Yard.
Fletcher is a retired teacher-turned-author of detective fiction under the name J.B. Fletcher, but constantly finds that her work and personal life overlap. In every episode she is introduced into a situation where someone is killed shortly after her arrival. She is generally forced to solve every mystery herself in the style of one of the characters from her book, as the police prove to be incapable of doing so without her help. In fact, on at least one occasion a law enforcement officer is actually unmasked as the killer, when cult TV actor John Astin appears as the villainous Sheriff Harry Pierce.
Episodes usually follow a formula. The episode opens as Fletcher arrives, either in her fictitious town of residence (Cabot Cove, Maine), or visiting elsewhere (typically in New York City or Boston) and meets several characters. These characters are usually Mrs. Fletcher's friends, family, relations, or business associates (in connection with her role as a successful author). Several of these characters are shown to have motive with respect to the potential demise of (either themselves or) one of their associates (typically an unlikeable individual). Often at least one of them is heard to make a threat against this individual, and therefore will become the principal suspect. About a third of the way through the episode, if not earlier, the likely victim is found dead. After a brief investigation, the authorities arrest the most obvious suspect, but Jessica believes that the arrested suspect (who is an amiable person, often a friend, or relative of Jessica) is innocent, and sets out to prove it.
An unrelated conversation will often suggest to Jessica the solution to the mystery, at which point she will rush off to confirm her suspicion (without telling the viewers what she has in mind and sometimes even says she thinks she knows the culprit but must still figure out how to prove it before she reveals who). The next scene will present Jessica at the place where the crime was committed, where Jessica will find one of the characters, usually alone. She enters into a conversation with this character and in a few minutes accuses him or her of being the killer, explaining how and why this person did it. The murderer first denies guilt, but Jessica describes a few clues which she observed and which the episode viewers may or may not have had an opportunity to see. Sometimes Fletcher will make up evidence which was not actually found, but the discovery of which will seem plausible to the killer. At this point, the murderer admits guilt and confesses, whereupon Jessica shakes her head sadly. Sometimes the killer will draw a weapon and attempt to kill Jessica but will be thwarted by timely police appearance from a hiding place to arrest the true killer. Once Jessica almost met a deadly fate at the hands of her own nephew, Grady, who served her a salad containing radishes without realising she is so strongly allergic to them that one mouthful could mean instant death.
The episode concludes with a final scene in which the innocent former suspects say goodbye to Jessica and thank her for the happy ending. Almost every episode then ends with a freeze frame shot of Jessica laughing or smiling. Of course, the above is only a formula and there were some unusual shows, such as an episode in which, while Grady and his heavily-pregnant wife were house-sitting for Jessica, someone was murdered in the basement. Fortunately Jessica, who had been blissfully unaware of the murder for half the show, solved the crime over the phone.
Novels by Fletcher that are mentioned during the series:
- Silden, Isobel (August 17, 1989). "It's No Crime When Yesterday's Stars Get Into 'Murder'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 20, 2010.
- Michaelson, Judith (December 10, 1985). "Angela Lansbury Clues Us In". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 20, 2010.
- "Bravo > 100 Greatest TV Characters". Bravo. Archived from the original on July 16, 2007. Retrieved November 11, 2006.
- Potts, Kim (March 2, 2011). "100 Most Memorable Female TV Characters". AOL TV. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
- "TV's Smartest Detectives". AOL TV. November 18, 2011. Retrieved February 3, 2013.
- "America's Top Sleuths". 2006. Retrieved February 3, 2013.
- "Most prolific amateur sleuth". Guinness World Records. Jim Pattison Group. Retrieved 16 February 2015.