Broadchurch and the best TV whodunits

As the country asks "Who killed Danny Latimer?", spare a thought too for JR Ewing, Laura Palmer and Nanna Birk Larsen


Tonight’s the night Broadchurch’s 6 million or more fans will finally get the pay-off for eight weeks of dedicated viewing. Whether they’ll be satisfied when 11-year-old Danny Latimer’s killer is finally revealed remains to be seen, but they’ll definitely have enjoyed the journey.


TV drama has had us sizing up murder suspects and charting plot twists for years (since long before the phrase “watercooler moment” was even in use this side of the Atlantic). So as we prepare for the big reveal, here are three more shows that have captured the imaginations of British audiences, ranging in size from half a million to more than 20 million, but all united by their need to know whodunit…

Dallas – Who shot JR?

In March 1980, the season-ending cliff-hanger of stateside supersoap Dallas saw a shadowy figure sneak into a darkened office to fire two slugs into JR Ewing, the slippery oil baron viewers loved to hate. The world had to wait eight months to discover who shot JR (and whether Larry Hagman’s character was dead or alive) but that only meant more time to place bets on their favourite suspect and enjoy their “I Shot JR” t-shirts. During the US presidential elections, Republicans handed out badges blaming the shooting on the Democrats, while Hagman used the hype to help negotiate a much-improved contract (including a cut of some of that merchandising goodness).

The suspects By the time he was shot, the ruthless, swindling, cheating head of the Ewing clan had racked up a list of enemies as substantial as his fortune, but among the prime suspects were Dusty Farlow, former lover of JR’s long-suffering wife Sue Ellen, Vaughn Leland, a banker JR had ripped off, and Kristin Shepard, Sue Ellen’s scheming sister-in-law, who had been having an affair with JR.

Whodunit? In an episode watched by an estimated 350 million people in 57 countries, the answer to the question Who shot JR? was revealed to be… Kristin Shepard. So, did she feel the full force of the law? Not exactly. After Kristin dropped the bombshell that she was pregnant with JR’s child, he decided not to press charges, and sent her away with the promise of a monthly allowance. Who said crime doesn’t pay?

Twin Peaks – Who killed Laura Palmer?

Beginning with the discovery of a teenage girl’s body wrapped in plastic on a river bank, David Lynch’s inescapably dark but wonderfully weird murder mystery devoted 17 episodes to answering the question “Who killed Laura Palmer?” (although series one did end on a JR-style cliff-hanger after FBI Agent Dale Cooper was shot in his hotel room by an unseen assailant). The original mystery was why anyone would want to kill the all-American homecoming queen, but as Cooper and local Sheriff Harry Truman probed deeper into the case, it became clear that Laura was leading a double life and harbouring some very dark secrets…

The suspects Suspects came and went throughout the course of the series. Laura’s psychiatrist Dr Lawrence Jacoby was revealed to be infatuated with her, while her boyfriend Bobby had been cheated on by Laura (and had in turn cheated on her). Benjamin Horne, the richest and arguably most corrupt man in town, was known to have hired Laura as a prostitute, while drug runners Leo Johnson and Jacques Renault had involved her in violent sex games. Meanwhile, a dream involving a one-armed man set agent Cooper on the trail of Bob, a malevolent denim-clad demon…

Whodunit? Bob may have been ultimately reponsible for killing Laura, but he had to possess a human vessel in order to do it. That unfortunate soul turned out to be Laura’s father Leland Palmer, although exactly how much did or didn’t know about what he’d been up to was never quite clear…

The Killing (Forbrydelsen) – Who killed Nanna Birk Larsen?

The series that ignited Britain’s love of Scandinavian drama saw Sophie Grabol’s stolid, jumper-wearing detective Sarah Lund investigating the rape and murder of 19-year-old Nanna Birk Larsen, whose body was found in the boot of a car submerged in a lake. The story wove together plot strands about Nanna’s family struggling to cope with their loss, the friends who knew more than they were letting on and the players in a key political campaign. 

The suspects Copenhagen mayoral candidate Troels Hartmann was linked to the case throughout the series, while his campaign manager Morten Weber also looked to be a suspect. At one point Lund and her partner were convinced Nanna’s teacher Rama was the guilty party, but in the end the answer was closer to home…  

Whodunit? Long-term Larsen business employee and family friend Vagn Skærbæk kidnapped and killed Nanna after discovering that she was planning to elope with her Muslim boyfriend – and he turned out to be behind the murders of Lund’s partner and a former girlfriend too.


The finale of Broadchurch is tonight at 9pm on ITV