Famous photographer Paul Galesko plans to kill his wife. He does so and then sets up an ex-con he met during a prison photoshoot, Alvin Deschler, to look like his kidnapped the wife. Galesko goes to "pay" the ransom to an unwitting Deschler, shoots him, then shoots himself in the leg to make it look convincing.
A perfect crime, but Columbo isn't satisfied. Why did Deschler cut up newsprint to make a ransom note, but there's no cut-up newspaper in his uncleaned hotel room? Why did Deschler go in to renew his driver's license test the day of the kidnapping? And why did the kidnapper toss away his first photo of the "kidnapped" wife because of poor shot-framing? The trail soon leads the lieutenant to Galesko, but he needs to break the man's alibi. Columbo develops the photos from Deschler's camera and in an evidence room filled with cameras, claims that the clock in the shot disproves Galesko's alibi. Galesco points out that Columbo reversed the shot, and hands Columbo Deschler's camera and tells him to check the original negatives. Columbo points out that only the murderer could have known which camera was used, and Galesco has framed himself.