Update 6/22/2020: The article now contains a clip of actor Peter Falk who thinks Columbo does has a wife but his massive family is nonexistent.
Update 6/25/2019: This article contains some updated information which I think proves she exists, check it out at the bottom
Columbo is one of the greatest characters to grace the small screen and is definitely among the top five detectives of all time. His soft personality combined with his loquacious attitude mixed with his attention to detail makes him a standout among other, harsher detectives. He lulls you in a sleepy sense of security and then nabs you with your guard down. Through his bumbling appearance, absent minded persona and his cheap-looking cigars, Columbo can trick the murderer into revealing details and lies that would otherwise be unnoticed.
One of the ways he does this is through his constant conversations about his adored wife, known simply as Mrs. Columbo. Columbo finds someway to bring up his wife to the killer when they are discussing about the victim, the murderer, or anything in general. This usually agitates the murderer and can then lead them to tripping on their own lies.
But let me ask you this, does Mrs. Columbo actually exist?
The answer seems easy to answer at first but once you think about it, you really have to question about her supposed existence. Just like last week’s article on the conundrum we faced towards the Batman-villain Poison Ivy and her diet, there’s more to this than it seems.
The thing is, we have never witnessed Mrs. Columbo before. We never see or hear her and yet she is one of the few reoccurring characters on the show due to her sheer presence brought by Columbo’s detailed descriptions of her life and personality. And it’s because of these intricate details that many have speculated that Columbo has made her up. It’s almost too coincidental that Mrs. Columbo happened to be a fan of Chef Paris or Maestro Benedict for instance. Columbo always has a right scenario for her to relate to the murderer’s life.
Unfortunately, to answer this riddle, we would have to dive into Columbo’s personal life, which is quite difficult given the show’s reluctance to allow us to accomplish that. It’s pretty funny actually. Many modern detective shows give us sooooo much information on the detective’s private life. They’re like an open book to us.
As such, it is these precious few moments of Columbo at his relaxed state that we must rely on. Particularly, before he meets the murderer and builds the slippery slope that will lead them to their demise.
One moment that we see this is in “A Stitch in Crime,” where Columbo briefly talks about his wife to a police officer before examining the body. Now, I find it hard to believe that Columbo would continue the Mrs. Columbo façade to a fellow officer. However, you could argue that he’s constantly on guard, so to speak, and he wants to be prepared when even a police officer murders somebody (which actually did happen in one of his episodes). Therefore, he can continue his shtick relentlessly without missing a beat.
A little bit more proof comes in the “Troubled Waters” episode where we see Columbo talking to his wife via a telephone. This is where we are getting into crazy territory if we were to assume that Columbo’s so devoted to having a non-existent wife that he keeps up this elaborate lie by talking to her on a telephone and lying to everyone on board that his wife won the both of them a pair of tickets to go on a cruise.
Thankfully, in that same episode, other characters have admitted they had seen his wife several times during the course of the episode. Granted, this is not total hard proof but I’m willing to be convinced by the evidence given in the examples I have mentioned and other that I haven’t. Columbo has a wife.
6/25/2019 Edit: A lot of people have commented on this article with their own hypotheses so read them when you get the chance but I found what I think is the proof that she exists in the episode “Identity Crisis.” In this episode, Columbo’s murderer, Nelson Brenner, is a CIA operator who murdered a double agent. In response to Columbo’s trademark persistence, the Brenner bugged Columbo’s home and revealed to him he knew many personal details about Columbo’s life. The scene is as follows
<Columbo is in Brenner’s lounge. Brenner puts on “Madame Butterfly,” on his music box and its starts playing>
Columbo: “That’s ‘Madame Butterfly!’ That’s my wife’s favorite piece of music!”
Brenner: “I know!”
Columbo: “You know…?….you have my house bug…”
Brenner: “But since the Director met with you, I had it removed.”
Columbo: “…Just I’m glad my wife could know about that.”
Brenner has confirmed to us that Columbo’s wife does exist. I would be HIGHLY surprise that if Columbo’s wife does not exist then Brenner would’ve revealed that information to Columbo or Columbo would have said it outright (“then you also know I don’t even have a wife…”). I want to doubly stress this as Brenner has been intimidating and blocking Columbo almost every turn this episode. He would’ve played this trump card (Columbo’s biggest lie) if it meant stopping Columbo from investigating him.
This piece of information gives me more confidence that his wife does exist.
As a bonus, here is a clip of actor Peter Falk from Inside the Actor Studio recorded in 1999 where he thinks Columbo’s wife exists. Although this isn’t concrete proof it does play into how Peter Falk has been interpreting his character.