Created By: Nothingtoseehere on February 11, 2012 Last Edited By: Lawman592 on February 25, 2012

Digging Up A Body

Characters, accidently or otherwise, exhume a body.

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Trope
Needs More Examples, Needs a Better Description, Rolling Updates

"Diamond" Joe Quimby: Can't we have one meeting that doesn't end with us digging up a corpse?

Character A is just digging in his backyard and, oops! Found a dead guy. There are several ways this can play out. Character A could be promptly Mistaken for Murderer, anger a ghost, or sttract the Big Bads's attention by knowing too much.

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Examples

Films
  • Henry and co. in GoodFellas dig up Billy Batts, a made man who was killed by Tommy DeVito because the land they buried him in six months ago is being developed and the crew face dire consequences from Paulie and his syndicate if his body is discovered. And to make things worse, he's decomposing.
  • In Young Frankenstein, Fredrick and Igor are digging up a crimal when the Hositle Weather hits.
  • In Poltergeist not digging up a graveyard to build a housing tract was the instigation for the haunting.
    "You son of a bitch, you moved the headstones but you left the bodies, didn't ya? You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones! YOU ONLY MOVED THE HEADSTONES!"
  • During the climax of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Tuco and Angel Eyes end up exhuming an actual grave when they mistakenly believe gold is buried there.
Literature
  • A major plot point in The Chinese Nail Murders: exhuming a dead body without very serious justification was one of the most serious crimes in Imperial China and Judge Dee risks his career and very life by exhuming a body of a man he believes was murdered despite it looking like a natural death.
    • In one of the short stories, the judge is tasked with finding a way to find out if the coffin of an Imperial princess has been opened and used as a hiding place for weapons, without committing the crime of actually opening, or even touching them.
Live-action TV
  • Dexter does this to a serial killer's victims and shows them to him.
  • Several Bones episodes, justifed, given solving crimes with bones is the show's premise.
  • CSI occasionally as well, though less often than Bones.
  • An important step on Supernatural, is to salt and burn the corpse to kill ghosts and related apparitions, or to confirm cause of death. Rarely done in later seasons, which tend to have more recently deceased people in morgues.
  • In the Cadfael book/episode "Potter's Field", a body is found in the title area when the monks are performing a blessing of the field and it gets plowed for the first time in a while.
  • Digging up various bodies was a staple in The X-Files, starting from the very pilot, where Mulder arranges to exhume a body and Scully determines that it could not have belonged to a human being.
  • Happens a lot on Misfits.
    • In Series 1, the protagonists dig up two bodies they'd buried in the first episode because a construction project is getting close to their location.
    • In Series 2, an immortal character who has been Buried Alive gets rescued in this way.
    • In Series 3, two characters exhume a character's body in order to bring her back to life.
  • Alias: Sloane suspects his recently deceased wife Emily is still alive and taunting him. He eventually digs up her coffin to be sure. It's empty.
  • In House, House's new team is assigned to dig up the corpse of a man to see if he had the same disease their patient might have.
Western Animation
  • Parodied in a Family Guy episode where Peter digs up an Indian Burial Ground in his backyard in order to install a home theater.
  • In the Futurama episode "Luck of the Fryish", Fry, Leela and Bender go to the grave of Fry's brother, whom he believes stole his lucky clover and his identity. It then turns out that the Philip J. Fry buried there was actually Fry's nephew, named after him. Bender, meanwhile, takes the opportunity to do some extra grave digging of his own.
    Bender: There. Now no one can't say that I don't own John Larroquette's spine.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Lisa The Iconoclast" they agree at the town meeting to exhume the body of the town founder. Leads to the page quote.
Real Life
  • Truth in Television in the case of the Fred and Rose West and John Christie (Ten Rillington Place) murders, and probably many others.
Community Feedback Replies: 23
  • February 11, 2012
    chicagomel
    • Several Bones eps, justifed, given solving crimes with bones is the show's premise.
    • CSI occasionally as well, though less often than Bones.
  • February 11, 2012
    wanderlustwarrior
    An important step on Supernatural, to salt and burn the corpse to kill ghosts and related apparitions, or to confirm cause of death. Rarely done in later seasons, which tend to have more recently deceased people in morgues.
  • February 11, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • In Poltergeist not digging up a graveyard to build a housing tract was the instigation for the haunting.
      "You son of a bitch, you moved the headstones but you left the bodies, didn't ya? You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones! YOU ONLY MOVED THE HEADSTONES!"
    • Parodied in a Family Guy episode where Peter digs up an Indian Burial Ground in his backyard in order to install a home theater.
  • February 12, 2012
    Koveras
    Do the intentional exhumations count, e.g. in police procedural shows?
  • February 12, 2012
    TonyG
    In the Futurama episode "Luck of the Fryish", Fry, Leela and Bender go to the grave of Fry's brother, whom he believes stole his lucky clover and his identity. It then turns out that the Philip J. Fry buried there was actually Fry's nephew, named after him. Bender, meanwhile, takes the opportunity to do some extra grave digging of his own.
    Bender: There. Now no one can't say that I don't own John Larroquette's spine.
  • February 12, 2012
    SKJAM
    In the Cadfael book/episode "Potter's Field", a body is found in the title area when the monks are performing a blessing of the field and it gets plowed for the first time in a while.
  • February 12, 2012
    Nothingtoseehere
    ^ ^ ^ Yes
  • February 12, 2012
    CrypticMirror
    In The Simpsons episode "Lisa The Iconoclast" they agree at the town meeting to exhume the body of the town founder. Leading to Mayor Quimby lamenting:
    "Diamond" Joe Quimby:Can't we have one meeting that doesn't end with us digging up a corpse?

    I suggest that as a page quote.
  • February 12, 2012
    Koveras
    • Digging up various bodies was a staple in The X Files, starting from the very pilot, where Mulder arranges to exhume a body and Scully determines that it could not have belonged to a human being.
    • A major plot point in The Chinese Nail Murders: exhuming a dead body without very serious justification was one of the most serious crimes in Imperial China and Judge Dee risks his career and very life by exhuming a body of a man he believes was murdered despite it looking like a natural death.
  • February 12, 2012
    TwoGunAngel
    • In Goodfellas, Henry and the crew have to dig up the body of Billy Batts, a made man who was killed by Tommy DeVito because the land they buried him in six months ago is being developed and the crew face dire consequences from Paulie and his syndicate if his body is discovered. And to make things worse, he's decomposing.
  • February 12, 2012
    Embryon
    Live Action TV:
    • Happens a lot on Misfits.
      • In Series 1, the protagonists dig up two bodies they'd buried in the first episode because a construction project is getting close to their location.
      • In Series 2, an immortal character who has been Buried Alive gets rescued in this way.
      • In Series 3, two characters exhume a character's body in order to bring her back to life.
    • Alias: Sloane suspects his recently deceased wife Emily is still alive and taunting him. He eventually digs up her coffin to be sure. It's empty.
  • February 12, 2012
    Lawman592
    Film:
    • During the climax of The Good The Bad And The Ugly, Tuco and Angel Eyes end up exhuming an actual grave after they mistakenly believe gold is buried there.
  • February 12, 2012
    LeeM
    Truth In Television in the case of the Fred and Rose West and John Christie (Ten Rillington Place) murders, and probably many others.
  • February 13, 2012
    Chabal2
    • Another (partial) Judge Dee example: in one of the short stories, the judge is tasked with finding a way to find out if the coffin of an Imperial princess has been opened and used as a hiding place for weapons, without committing the crime of actually opening, or even touching them.
    • House: House's new team is assigned to dig up the corpse of a man to see if he had the same disease their patient might have.
  • February 13, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    Literature:
    • In Deryni Rising, Morgan, Duncan and Kelson find they have to open Brion's tomb to retrieve a piece of Requisite Royal Regalia that was (mistakenly?) buried with him. This turns out to have been a good thing, in that Charissa left Brion's soul bound to his decaying corpse, and a bad thing when the trio is framed for the desecration of the tomb and the deaths of several people.

    FWIW The description needs some fleshing out (in re police procedurals and other intentional exhumations).
  • February 14, 2012
    c0ry
    How tropeable is this? Exhuming a dead body can happen for multiple reasons in fiction, making the act itself relatively devoid of any particular meaning as it carries different weights in different genres and stories. This seems like People Sit On Chairs to me - a unique activity, but one with no common thread of thematic significance.
  • February 14, 2012
    Nothingtoseehere
    ^ Hmm... maybe we should split it. One for accidental and one for intentional?
  • February 16, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    ^ Well, there are usually different factors at play. I think accidental ones tend to kick start plots (see the Cadfael example), and there's surprise/consternation since the corpse is often not supposed to be where it's found. Intentional ones are nearly always done when the body is supposed to be there, and the surprise (if any) is something found in the body or grave (like a belated autopsy/toxicology test that uncovers evidence of poison).

    Speaking of the latter: Literature: in the Ngaio Marsh novel Final Curtain, the deceased actor is exhumed and found to have been poisoned with thallium. In the live-action TV version, one of the victim's sons and Inspector Alleyn are shown looking into the coffin (shot from the corpse's point of view) and reacting to the corpse's appearance the man had lost all his hair from the thallium.
  • February 16, 2012
    reub2000
    I'm kind of confused as to what this trope is. The description makes it sound like it's about running into an ad hoc burial.
  • February 16, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    Well, the OP said (in a comment above) that police procedurals count, so lots of examples were added involving planned exhumations. It seems to be developing into two tropes: one for the stumbling upon a corpse while digging for some other reason and one for planned (often offical) exhumations. I hesitate to offer a rewrite for it until I know if/how it's to be split.
  • February 16, 2012
    reub2000
    Okay, Monk has had both types of exumations.
    • In Mr. Monk vs. The Cobra they exhume the body of Sonny Chow because of suspicions that he might still be alive. (official police exhumation)
    • In the final episode Monk at gun point forces the Judge to start digging in his back yard. The shovel eventually hits the skull of the midwife that had gone missing.

    Also:
    • In one episode of the The Simpsons a hypnotist uncovers a repressed memory in Homers past of finding a corpse while swimming in a quarry.
  • February 16, 2012
    Unknown Troper
    Nothingtoseehere is right, accidental exhuming and the intentional exhuming of a body are way to different to really count, its like pervert and the accidental pervert, they are done very differently. Also the accidental one might not just be by digging, corpses in tv are found in other places than just the ground.

  • February 25, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    @ Nothingtoseehere Do you want to start splitting this or shall I?

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=4d8f2mrw7s5blsc1vgljl480