Cold Case S03E13 Debut

Season : 3
Episode: 13
Directed by: Tim Hunter
Written by: Karin Lewicki and Kate Purdy
Production Number:
Airdate: 29 January 2006
Date of Crime: 14 December 1968
Previous: Detention
Next: Dog Day Afternoons

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Lilly re-opens the 1968 case of an 18-year-old girl who died -- apparently accidentally -- at the night of her debutante ball. Now her mother comes forth with new evidence when a local art dealer is accused of murdering his wife in the same manner the girl died.


December 14, 1968. A group of girls are in a ballroom waiting for their Debutante to begin. As a Emma departs from the group, it is easy to see that she isn’t used to being in high society, and especially not used to walking in heels. Her mother quickly approaches her bubbling with excitement but Emma doesn’t share the same enthusiasm about the whole event. But Emma’s mother is sure that Emma debuting will bring about more opportunities. Finally the Debutante ball is underway as each girl is introduced and escorted off the stage. However, when Emma’s name is called, she is nowhere to be found. At the base of a flight of stairs lies the body of Emma Elizabeth Vine. A detective files away Emma’s case file as Richard Nixon’s inauguration is being played on TV.

Present Day. Lily, Vera and Kat Miller stroll into the office. He asks the two if one of them is interested in going to the Sixers Game with him on Wednesday, but neither one can make it for different reasons. Lily meets up with Stillman who introduces him to Lillian Vine. Mrs. Vine has come about Travis Whitman, the art dealer, whose wife died and he is now being charged with murder. Coincidently, Mrs. Vine’s daughter, Emma died back in ’68 on the night of her Debutant ball. Travis had been her escort and the two deaths look suspicious: both women died from falling down the stairs. Stillman informs Lily that Emma’s death was ruled as suspicious and nobody looked at the case too closely after that. But as Lily points out, it’s 2006, and they like to look.

Roll Intro

Lily, Scotty and Miller go over Emma’s file. She was found at the base of a flight of stairs with skull and spinal injuries. Nobody talked back then because upper society didn’t want a scandal on their hands. Their only suspect now is Travis Whitman. Lillian also said that Emma was wearing a ring that night: a gold swan with a diamond eye. It disappeared and hasn’t been seen since. At the time of the murder Emma was living in Fishtown, definitely not Debutante territory. Scotty pays a visit to Mrs. Vine. In truth she was the one that wanted Emma to debut since she had spent her whole life fascinated with those types of people. The only reason Emma got to debut was because of Lillian’s husband and Emma’s father, Timothy. Back in ’68 astronauts were huge and Timothy was on the list to go to the moon. Just like that, they were society.

Flashback In a fancy club Mrs. Vine and Emma are being asked numerous questions about the proposed launch date. There is a bit of an awkward moment when Emma reveals she would rather aim for being a pilot than the typical stewardess, but that is quickly covered up by Landon’s mother Irene. Since their Debutante season is starting soon, it would be an honour for Emma to make her debut. All Emma would have to do is attend parties all season, and then bow to her father onstage in a white dress. Landon offers up her boyfriend, Travis, to be Emma’s escort since she has to take Chip as a business deal between their fathers. Irene assures Mrs. Vine that there will be a spot open to Emma since she is the one in charge. Flashback to Present Mrs. Vine admits that Emma only agreed to debut after she pointed out all the possibilities that would be opened up to her, all the people she would meet. But it ended up being the mistake of her life.

Lily and Jeffries pay a visit to Travis’ art gallery. He is still sticking to his belief that his wife Sadie had a seizure and fell down the stairs, unlike Emma. Travis barely knew Emma, he only escorted her to the ball as a favour to Landon. All the girls took the Debutante very seriously and some were talking bad about Emma since she had taken someone else’s spot at the Debutante. That spot had belonged to Sloan, a girl known to be a boozer and an all-around floozy. Sloan wasn’t too pleased to find out that Emma had taken her spot. Flashback At a party, Landon introduces Emma to Sloan. Her dad’s going to be the first man to walk on the moon and Emma wants to be the first girl to go to Harvard because they have the best Physics program. Travis is intrigued and offers to show Emma the echo spot in the ballroom when they’re at the Debutante ball. Sloan is shocked and angered to find out that her spot has been replaced by Emma.

Flashback to Present Travis also lets it slip that Sloan was there at the ball that night, fuming mad. If they don’t believe him Lily and Jeffries can go and ask Chip, his best friend. But he doesn’t expect the detectives to believe Chip since they don’t believe him. Back at the station Lily, Scotty and Stillman go over the case. Lily still insists that Travis is the doer; there is no way that lightening can strike twice. But flipping through the photo album, Scotty recognizes Sloan in one of the pictures: staring daggers at Emma. As Scotty and Vera make their way to Sloan’s house, Vera brings up the subject of Miller and the mystery Veronica. Vera even went as far as overhearing Miller ordering flowers for Wednesday night. Scotty points out that maybe Miller didn’t want to share with the rest of the team because it’s none of their business. Sloan tells the two detectives that she wanted to be a Debutante more than anything in the world. She managed to get out of bed that night to attend the ball because Chip wanted her around for afterwards. For the most part she was upstairs in their hotel room. She had already done her worst by then, and her plan had failed. Sloan had found out a bit of information, and ran with it.

Flashback During a dance rehearsal, Sloan overhears Travis and Emma talking. Travis points out the fact that Emma doesn’t seem as excited as all the other girls at the parties. Emma relates all their dancing to different aspects of Physics. When the couple accidentally bump into Landon and Chip, Travis instructs Emma not to look at anyone else but him. Flashback to Present Sloan thought that Travis and Emma were falling for each other. Sloan told Landon the news in hopes of getting her spot back, but it didn’t work. When Landon heard the news she was like a child throwing a temper tantrum: a child that had never heard ”no”. At a Debutante rehearsal, Landon (now Mistress of the Rose and in charge of all the organizing) insists that when Sloan told her the news, she didn’t get angry because ”a lady doesn’t get angry.” What she did instead was worse.

Flashback At the end of the dress rehearsal Landon’s father Matthew asks if Emma needs a ride home. He’s impressed to hear that she’s been reading up on Physics lectures and goes to get the car. Landon finally drops the news to Emma: Travis and his family are Jewish but they all hide it well. The two girls know that Jews are not allowed. Flashback to Present Landon admits that was her way of trying to keep Travis to herself, even though she could see he loved Emma. If the Whitman secret had been revealed, it would have been the end of Travis and his whole family, both socially and economically. It was how it was, not how Landon thought it should be. Back at the art gallery, Lily tells Travis she’s found out about his little secret. His family changed their name from Wiceman to Whitman back in ‘55 because back then Jewish families could only climb so high. But Travis admits that there were no threats: the both of them came clean. Flashback In her backyard, Emma is peering through her telescope when Travis shows up to return Emma’s ring. He had tried to flag her down but she seemed to be avoiding him. Emma knows about his family secret and doesn’t find that a problem, but she wonders why he would hang around people who didn’t like the real him. She goes on to reveal that her dad is no longer going to the moon: he got pulled off the list, but Mrs. Vine still wants the two of them to keep up appearances. Emma also reveals that she doesn’t want to stop being around Travis. The two share a kiss.

Flashback to Present Travis and Emma had planned to deal with everything after the ball but then she died. Travis didn’t tell Lily before because he was sure she didn’t want to hear it, that she only wanted to arrest him. Just before Lily leaves, Travis has some news to tell her. From a second autopsy conducted by the city’s medical examiner, it was discovered that Sadie did in fact have a seizure before she fell down the stairs. Lily leaves in disbelief. Back at the station Mrs. Vine insists that she still knows that Emma was killed by Travis. She begs Stillman and Lily not to drop her case. She admits that when she found out that her husband had been pulled from going to the moon, there was no choice but to go and tell Irene. She thought that she and Emma would get kicked out, but on the morning of the ball they found Matthew instead, and he turned out to be their angel. Flashback In the mansion, Mrs. Vine and Emma meet up with Matthew to explain the circumstances. Since Timothy won’t be able to make it to the ball and therefore Emma won’t be able to make her bow to him, they will have to drop out. Matthew suggests that Emma can make her bow to him; he’d be honoured to present the first woman astronaut. But Landon appears, angry. Why should she have to share her father with someone else? Landon wishes that they had never met Emma.

Flashback to Present Mrs. Vine admits that the two of them knew each other growing up: her and her mother used to clean their family’s house. She didn’t envy the material things of the upper class, she envied their security and thought Emma could have a piece of that. She admits that when they were alone, she and Matthew were friends. That night as Scotty, Jeffries and Vera are pouring through Debutante photos, Miller asks the location of the address she’s supposed to go to. After she gets the needed information and leaves, Vera is certain the address is where Miller is going to her ”date” on Wednesday night but Jeffries and Scotty insist that it is none of their business. Looking through the photos of the 2006 Debutantes, Jeffries notices that Landon’s daughter is wearing Emma’s ring. Landon however, insists that the ring came from her father’s family. Landon admits that what her father did upset her, because she didn’t’ want to share. She confided in her friends, and they said they had a way of cheering her up.

Flashback Chip, Sloan, Travis and Landon are upstairs in the hotel room when Emma shows up. If Landon wants, she’ll say no to her father, refuse to bow in front of him. But Landon doesn’t want to hear it, and fights hard not to cry since she’s wearing mascara. When Chip pops a Jew joke, Travis laughs along with him, causing Emma to leave the room. Flashback to Present A few minutes later they all went downstairs to start the bows. Except for Travis, who had slipped off to find Emma. Just then Lily appears, informing them that Travis had quietly put up two pieces of jewellery for auction, and one of them was the swan ring. Travis tries to tell Lily and Scotty that there are probably a thousand of those rings but the two detectives know there are only two. Landon’s grandfather had those two rings made as Christmas present: one for his daughter, and one for the daughter of his housekeeper, Lillian. Travis insists that he loved her, and that was the only piece of her he had. He was trying to change... but he couldn’t, not fast enough.

Flashback As Emma leaves the room, she turns and sees a full moon in the window. Travis catches up to Emma and she tells him she understands how he could have laughed at Chip’s joke, they’re like his family. But because of Emma, Travis knows that’s wrong. As the music starts to play, Emma realizes it’s a Waltz, she knows that because of him. She knows he doesn’t want her and he can go and find someone else who will fit in with the rest of high society. But Travis wants her. Except Emma doesn’t want to be like Travis. In anger, Travis pushes Emma down the stairs before he realizes that was a fatal fall.

Flashback to Present Scotty and Lily arrest Travis. On TV, Sloan watches breaking news of Travis’ confession. Stillman hands back Emma’s ring to Mrs. Vine. Vera, Jeffries and Scotty pull up to the address that Miller mentioned and see a bunch young girls in tutus standing outside. Backstage, Landon watches her own daughter debut. Miller comes up to the car to say hi to the rest of team. She then goes over to her own daughter who waves at the detectives, leaving Vera red-faced and Jeffries and Scotty laughing at him. Mrs. Vine walks out onto the porch to see Emma and her telescope.


Main CastEdit

Guest CastEdit



  • Tracie Thoms became a member of the main cast of Cold Case from this episode, having guest starred in several previous episodes.
  • This episode is loosely based on the case of Michael Peterson.
  • The song "Daydream Believer" by The Monkees is also used in the episode Forever Blue, which also takes place in 1968.


  • B.J. Thomas "Hooked on a Feeling"
  • The Monkees "Daydream Believer"
  • Melanie "Beautiful People"
  • The Rascals "A Beautiful Morning"
  • Pyotr Tchaikovsky "Waltz" from the ballet "Sleeping Beauty"
  • 5 Alarm Music Library "Air on the G String"
  • Master Source Music Catalog "Danny's Waltz"
  • Steppenwolf "Magic Carpet Ride"
  • Closing Song: Henry Mancini - Moon River"