Suave, womanizing photographer Sean Brantlet and his shrewd and
beautiful business partner Diane Hunter are co-owners of the men's magazine
"Bachelor's World", a showcase of the world's most beautiful young
"nymphs". Diane, who's also Sean's lover, is fed up with Sean's errant ways and
has decided to sell her controlling interest in the magazine to one Sir Harry Matthews, a
British media tycoon. If that happens, it would surely mean the end for Sean's lavish
lifestyle. No more mansion. No more exotic animals. No more nightly parties. No more
nymphs. Sean's got to do something. He begs Diane to change her mind. Why not sell him the
stocks? Diane laughs. With what money? Sean spends everything he makes and then some. They
have an argument in Diane's office, which her assistant eavesdrops in on and tape records
at Diane's prior request. Diane has made up her mind. She knows Sean doesn't love her and
she's going to sell to Sir Harry.
That night, in the middle of a lavish party, Diane leaves with packed bags. Sean
sarcastically wishes her a safe trip. She gets in her limo and has Cosner,
the driver, stop off at her favorite restaurant to pick up some food for the
flight -- she can't stand airline food. They get to the restaurant and park
in the alley. Cosner goes in through the kitchen door to get the food and hears
what sounds like a shot ringing out in the alley. He runs back outside.
Everything seems normal. Nobody else in sight. Must have been a car backfiring. He goes
back in the restaurant to get the food and returns to the limo to find Diane in the back
seat with the tinted partition up -- all Cosner can really
make out is her silhouette. When they get to the airport, Cosner's surprised
to see Diane all covered up in fur coat, hat, scarf and sunglasses. It looks
like she's trying to disguise herself.
Next day, Columbo arrives at the mansion. He admires all the exotic animals
and bathing suit beauties that roam the grounds of the estate. Columbo then
finds Sean who's in the midst of a photo shoot. He tells Sean that Scotland Yard called.
Apparently, Sir Harry reported Diane missing when she failed to meet the
limo that to help Columbo with the case. After all, if something happened
to Diane, he wants to be the first to know.
They both drive with Cosner to the restaurant alley to re-create the night
of the disappearance. Columbo thinks that Diane was shot and then somebody
switched places with her. Sean says how? There wasn't much time. Besides,
Cosner would have seen another car driving down the alley. Columbo thinks
the double hid inside the car. He shows Sean a fold-down jump seat, under
which someone could curl up and hide. The killer then shot Diane and placed
the shell casing in the alley to confuse the police. The killer kept Diane's
body hidden in the back seat and changed into Diane's clothes on the way
to the airport. Wouldn't there have been blood in the car? Not if the killer
used a special splatter bullet. At close range, those kind of bullets
don't leave a lot of blood. What about Diane's body? Where is it? The
killer's accomplice would have removed the body after Cosner parked the
limo back at estate. That means that the body must be buried somewhere at
the estate. In essence, Columbo thinks that Sean and his new "nymph of the
month" girlfriend Tina worked together on this one. She killed Diane and
Sean disposed of the body. Sean says prove it.
Next day, Columbo and his team are at the mansion searching for the body
-- they leave no stone unturned but don't find any trace of Diane. Meanwhile,
Sean has notified the press and Diane's disappearance/murder has become
front page news. Columbo asks why Sean' s involving the press and he says
that maybe Diane will see one of the newspaper headlines and come home.
Meanwhile, the police chief is putting added pressure on Columbo because
of the media scrutiny. Columbo, however, is convinced that Sean and Tina
are guilty -- in fact, nobody saw Tina for 28 hours after Diane left.
That's ample time to fly to London and then hop on the next flight back.
Without a body, however, Columbo can't prove a thing.
Then a funny thing happens. Sean shows Columbo a postcard from Europe that
Diane sent him. Columbo has the labs analyze the handwriting and the results
are inconclusive. Sean, meanwhile, is living large -- the publicity surrounding
Diane's disappearance has boosted "Bachelor's World's" circulation to record
highs. Columbo decides to hound Tina, hoping that she'll confess where she
was for those 28 hours. No dice. Columbo decides to have Tina arrested as a
ploy to get Sean to confess. Sean instead sticks to his guns and even shows
Columbo an antique clock that Diane just sent him from Italy. Before Columbo
has a chance to react, a cab pulls up in front of the mansion and out pops a
very much alive Diane. It turns out the whole murder was a scam to boost
"Bachelor's World" circulation. And it was all thanks to Columbo, who feels
very much the fool. Later, Sir Harry approaches Diane and says his offer
still stands. She says that the magazine is worth a lot more now because of
increased sales. Sir Harry ups his offer considerably and Diane accepts much
to Sean's surprise. Diane tells Sean the whole reason she went along with
his disappearance hoax was to boost her sale price. She was planning to sell
the magazine all along. Of course, now Sean has a real reason to kill Diane.
Later that night, he goes to Diane's bedroom and twists her neck until it snaps.
He then places her body in a garment bag. Zips it shut. Hides it. Meanwhile,
Tina drives off the grounds dressed as Diane. When Diane is nowhere to be
found the next day, everyone thinks she has simply taken off again. Everyone
except for Columbo that is.
Columbo goes back to the chateau. He checks Diane's room. Most of her
jewelry is still in her jewelry box. He rifles through her closet, checking
the fur coats. He also notices some workers in her bathroom plastering a
wall. Then Columbo confronts Sean. Tells him that he knows the woman in
the car wasn't Diane. He shows Sean a video from the guard gate. Tina
(dressed like Diane) waves to the guard. The only problem is that she
doesn't have Diane's special beeper bracelet on her wrist. Columbo couldn't
find the bracelet in her room and, besides, Sean himself stated earlier
that she takes that bracelet everywhere with her. The first time was a
hoax but this time Sean really killed her. Columbo also knows that
Sean's agreement with Diane stipulates that if Diane's gone for more
than 30 days, Sean gets control of the company. Also, Tina is wearing
Diane's fur coat but there is no empty gannent bag in the closet. All
her other fur coats are hanging in the closet in garment bags. Columbo
thinks that Sean put Diane's body in that gannent bag to keep it from
smelling. Sean tells Columbo to get the hell out of there. He says O.K.,
but he has to make a phone call first. Columbo dials some numbers and a
beeper starts to go off very faintly. He follows the sound of the beeper
and it leads him to the bathroom and the freshly plastered wall. Columbo
uses a crowbar and breaks open the wall to reveal Diane in her garment
bag. Her beeper/bracelet is going off. Columbo flips it open and shows
it to Sean. The message says "gotcha".