Created By: SeanMurrayI on December 4, 2011 Last Edited By: SeanMurrayI on December 7, 2011
Troped

Consulting A Convicted Killer

A killer already behind bars assists a detective in catching another killer.

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Rolling Updates, Needs a Better Name?

A deranged Serial Killer (or an otherwise dangerous, violent criminal) is on the loose, and the Great Detectives and The Profilers running the investigation are completely stumped as to how to find the perpetrator before he strikes again. But luckily, law enforcement authorities do have another serial killer already in custody who, through knowledge of his own malfeasance, may be able to provide some help on the investigation and greater insight into the mind of the suspect the police and detectives are after.

Desperate for leads and not willing to "become" the person he is looking for, the detective running the investigation will make, at least, one visit to the jail cell of this special prisoner who is just as demented and evil and dangerous as the murdering maniac currently on the loose. Such a prisoner is typically so dangerous that special precautions (shackles, straight-jackets, etc.) need to be taken either to make sure he can't leave his cell or can't attack the detective visiting him. Nonetheless, this prisoner is the only person who can understand and figure out what that maniac is thinking.

Gaining this knowledge will usually come at a price, however. In exchange for any help he gives towards catching the killer at large, the prisoner will usually request to receive something in return, including freedom or greater/extended privileges within captivity. Occasionally, the detective paying the visit(s) may be personally responsible for the prisoner being behind bars in the first place, adding to the tension in their meetings. As such, the prisoner may hold ulterior motives for seeking vengeance or escaping captivity or may otherwise try to be deceitful. However, one way or another, the prisoner will usually be providing some clue as to who the killer on the loose is or where he could be found.

The Trope Maker is Hannibal Lecter from the Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs novels, written by Thomas Harris. Trope occurrences frequently act as a direct Homage to Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of the character in the film adaptation of Lambs. However, where much of Lecter's insight provided to the FBI in catching serial killers derived from his skill as a brilliant yet twisted psychiatrist, most other characters in this role will generally give insight based on the modus operandi of their own crimes in helping to catch a similar perpetrator, if not a flat out Copycat Killer.

Compare: Recruiting the Criminal, in which such a person is elected to carry out specific tasks at hand for which their devious skills are useful.

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • In Pluto, Gesicht is tracking a serial killer who might be a robot, and consults Brau 1589, previously believed to be the only robot who ever killed a human.

Comics
  • In The Long Halloween, Batman visits Calendar Man in his cell at Arkham Asylum to ask him where he might find the killer known as "Holiday". Calendar Man suggests that, the day Batman is paying this visit being a holiday, Holiday is likely looking to commit a murder--specifically, to kill Salvatore Maroni.
  • One brief Judge Dredd Story Arc followed Dredd aiming to catch a spree-killer in Mega-City One who disintegrates his victims' bodies, only leaving their right hands. Noting similarities to a past case involving a spree-killer who had a similar motive with left hands, which Dredd had solved, Dredd consults with the perpetrator of the original crimes, now in an iso-cube. The prisoner requests that he get "a cube with a view" for his assistance, but Dredd convinces him to provide insight unconditionally after threatening him. The prisoner then divulges what he could assume about his Copycat Killer, the most important part being that the suspect must come from Brit-Cit because that's the only place the prisoner's original crimes are given any recognition. Part One of this story arc was even titled, "The Silence of the Limbs".

Film
  • In Backdraft, Brian McCaffery approaches an imprisoned serial arsonist, Ronald Bartel, in need of assistance in finding the missing links between a string of recent fires that seem to be connected.

Literature
  • As stated above, the Trope Maker is Hannibal Lecter, who fills this role in two novels and, later, feature films.
    • Red Dragon sees Hannibal approached by FBI Special Agent Will Graham, the agent who had originally captured Hannibal, requesting his assistance in capturing a serial killer known as "The Tooth Fairy". Hannibal provides this help to Graham, while secretly corresponding with the Tooth Fairy behind his back, in exchange for a first-class meal in his cell and privileges to use the prison library.
    • In The Silence of the Lambs, FBI trainee Clarice Starling visits Hannibal in his cell on multiple occasions for help with catching another serial killer called "Buffalo Bill". Hannibal ends up giving Clarice cryptic clues in exchange for information about Clarice's unhappy childhood. Hannibal later uses an agreement to disclose Buffalo Bill's real name in exchange for a transfer to another asylum as an opportunity to escape.

Live-Action TV
  • In The Pretender episode "Once in a Blue Moon", Jarod is helping to catch a Copycat Killer, and consults the serial killer who is being copied.
  • In CSI Langston seeks the help of his nemesis, serial killer Nate Haskell, to catch the "Dr. Jekyl Killer". He isn't really that helpful and mostly just messes them around. His actual plan was to goad a guard into shocking him as to fall and break his own glasses... and using the broken arms from said glasses to stab Langston through the bars of his holding cell.
  • Happened twice on Criminal Minds, once when Mad Bomber Adrian Bale was called upon to help stop a copycat bomber and again when a serial hostage taker was asked to help stop a group of copycats. In the first case, Bale was unable to resist the opportunity to try and trick the team into blowing up a potential victim. Gideon caught on to this and stopped it. In the second, the guy hired the copycats so the BAU would have to consult with him, which gave him an opportunity to escape.

Video Games
  • In Fahrenheit, after Carla discovers similarities between Lucas' case and past murders, she visits Janos, the culprit of those past murders, at Bellevue Asylum in order to find out the link both cases.

Web Original
  • There Will Be Brawl re-imagines Kirby as an Expy of Hannibal Lecter, presenting him as an imprisoned cannibalistic serial killer that is consulted in the hope of solving other murders going on.
  • I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC's 's "Happy Hour" story arc sees Spider-Man and Batman visit Lex Luthor in custody to ask questions about how his android Lance works, after the Joker had acquired it and began using it for a nefarious purpose. However, Luthor was brainwashed by Joker before the heroes had arrived and informs Joker when they get to him. Luthor only provides helpful information after Batman acquires Wonder Woman's golden lasso, which he promptly uses on Luthor.

Western Animation
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Great Louse Detective", after a failed murder attempt on Homer, the Simpson family approaches Chief Wiggum in order to get help in finding out who would try and kill Homer. Wiggum declares that their case requires "someone who understands the twisted mind of a murderer". They end up seeking Sideshow Bob's assistance, which Bob agrees to under the condition that he have "around-the-clock access to all Simpsons... especially Bart". Because the Springfield PD are useless, Bob effectively takes a more active role in the task at hand and does the majority of the investigative work throughout the episode. Like Bob, the suspect they are after has a revenge-based motive for killing a member of the Simpsons family.

Real Life
  • In an attempt to catch the Green River Killer, members of the police task force assigned to the case periodically interviewed Ted Bundy. However, Bundy's advice wasn't very helpful to the investigation.

Community Feedback Replies: 42
  • December 4, 2011
    Rainbow
    There is one episode of The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob is enlisted to help figure out the question of "who is trying to kill Homer?"
  • December 4, 2011
    Oreochan
    I don't really have any problems with the title except the fact that it's too long.
  • December 4, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    The only "short" title that's popping into my head is The Hannibal, and I'm not going to to with that name for a whole mess of reasons.

    If anyone else thinks they can summarize the full context of the current trope and title in fewer characters, I'm willing to give your name a try.
  • December 4, 2011
    SharleeD
    "Convict Consultant"?
  • December 4, 2011
    dalek955
  • December 4, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    ^ That's not this trope. Related, but not this. None of these characters discussed here were "recruited" and taking active roles in adventures or "field assignments" (if not outright becoming full-on heroes through the course of a journey). They are only consulted while behind bars and don't become involved any further in the investigations.

    This and Recruiting The Criminal don't even have any overlapping examples.
  • December 4, 2011
    PaulA
    • In Pluto, Gesicht is tracking a serial killer who might be a robot, and consults Brau 1589, previously believed to be the only robot who ever killed a human.

    • In The Pretender episode "Once in a Blue Moon", Jarod is helping to catch a Copycat Killer, and consults the serial killer who is being copied.
  • December 4, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    Depending on whether or not more examples follow the more specific trends we've had so far, I might take out all the general language about "criminals" and more specifically refer to "killers / Serial Killers".

    That may also help towards finding a better trope name.
  • December 4, 2011
    Queequeg
    Donald Sutherland in Backdraft
  • December 4, 2011
    Oreochan
  • December 4, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    ^ That one definitely isn't bad. Depending on how much more we might be able to emphasize killers once we get a decent pool of examples, I thought Consulting A Convicted Killer might be nice. On that note, come to think of it, Consulting A Convicted Criminal wouldn't be too far off, either.
  • December 4, 2011
    c0ry
    Perhaps It Takes A Crook, as in it takes a crook to catch a crook, or Imprisoned Investigative Assistance
  • December 4, 2011
    randomsurfer
    "Literature:
    • "As stated above, the Trope Maker is Hannibal Lecture..."

    That'd be Hannibal Lector, who might give a Hannibal Lecture.
  • December 4, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    Never would've caught that. Thanks a lot.
  • December 4, 2011
    matsuiny2004
    Would Hannibal count
  • December 4, 2011
    Oreochan
    ^ He was already mentioned.
  • December 4, 2011
    Sheba
    This trope is kind of the whole basis for Criminal Minds, isn't it?
  • December 4, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    I wouldn't know. I don't watch that show. I didn't think it was though.
  • December 4, 2011
    Statalyzer
  • December 5, 2011
    Koveras
    • In Fahrenheit, Carla goes to visit Kirsten at an asylum after discovering similarities between his and Lucas' cases.
  • December 5, 2011
    Statalyzer
  • December 5, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    ^ That wouldn't be an entirely accurate name. A convicted killer or criminal is consulted and asked questions about a current investigation to build new leads, yes, but the convict doesn't usually catch the suspect.

    And with yet another example having to do specifically with a murder case, it might be a wise choice after all to emphasize "killers/serial killers" in particular and downplay any old general talk of "criminal". A new title would probably also need to do the same. Consulting A Convicted Killer is starting to feel more and more like the best name to try and go with... for now.
  • December 5, 2011
    Bisected8
    • In CSI Langston seeks the help of his nemesis Nate Haskell to catch the Dr. Jekyl Killer. He isn't really that helpful and mostly just messes them around. His actual plan was to goad a guard into shocking him to break his glasses and using the broken arms from said glasses to stab Langston through the bars of his holding cell.
  • December 5, 2011
    CompletelyNormalGuy
    A real-life example: In an attempt to catch the Green River Killer, members of the Seattle police department consulted Ted Bundy. While they did ultimately capture the killer, Bundy's advice wasn't very helpful.
  • December 6, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    So how is this one starting to look? Does anyone feel the need for improvement anywhere?
  • December 6, 2011
    Bisected8
    Once a title's been agreed on, I'd say it's ready to launch.
  • December 6, 2011
    Noaqiyeum
    Convicted Consultant, Criminal Consultant (though that really more brings to mind Jim Moriarty), Consulted Convict...
  • December 6, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    I'm still partial to wanting a name acknowledging killers, in particular, instead of just general "criminals" or "convicts" (Especially when that seems to be the way most examples play out). However that last one^ Consulted Convict, gives me a few ideas.

    Consulted Killer, Consulted Killer In Custody / Captivity, Consulting A Captured Killer...

    If I wanted to abandon the whole alteration thing, Ask A Killer comes to mind.
  • December 6, 2011
    Jordan
    There Will Be Brawl has Kirby of all people (creampuffs?) as a Lecter-expy, presenting him as an imprsioned cannibalistic serial killer that is consulted in the hope of solving other murders going on.
  • December 6, 2011
    Aspie
    Happened twice on Criminal Minds: Once when Mad Bomber Adrian Bale was called upon to help stop a copycat bomber and again when a serial hostage taker was asked to help stop a group of copycats. In the first case, Bale was unable to resist the opportunity to try and trick the team into blowing up a potential victim. Gideon caught on to this and stopped it. In the second, the guy hired the copycats so the BAU would have to consult with him, which gave him an opportunity to escape.
  • December 6, 2011
    crazysamaritan
    Why are you so focused on getting a name that indicates killers? Do we already have the supertrope of any convicted felon?

    Remember the ending of Catch Me If You Can, the premise behind White Collar.
  • December 6, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    ^I do. And neither of those works reflect what is being outlined here. Those stories involve outright Recruiting The Criminal to do a job, not having them consult with investigators on a different case while in prison.

    Fact of the matter is, the large majority of all the examples we've gathered are explicitly involving killers. There's no point in giving this a general name for all criminals just for the sake of placating one or two examples. Tropes are still flexible, anyway. If a convict in this situation isn't a killer, but everything else fits, it could still go here, no different than how mute female characters still get filed under He Who Must Not Be Heard.
  • December 6, 2011
    JMQwilleran
    I have an example that doen't quite fit the specific of being in prison as such, but still fits the spirit of the idea. In "Field of Fire" on the final season of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, there's a rash of serial killings on the space station. To aid in the investigation, Ezri Dax, a joined Trill who has a symbiont being in her boy, calls up the essence of Joran, one of the previous hosts of the symbiont. He helps her in the investigation, but also tries to subtly manipulate her into becoming a killer herself. In the end, the crime is solved and Ezri Dax sends Joran away, but he warns her that he won't be able to keep him buried as easily as previousu hosts Curzon and Jadzia did.
  • December 6, 2011
    crazysamaritan
    The ending showed Frank escorted by police; he was not released until after the consultation. In white collar, Neil is still under house arrest, and never allowed to go out without his handler.

    That's not what Tropes Are Flexible means. You're arguing to include The Same But Less into your trope. The "he" is because we don't have a non-specific gender pronoun in English. It is not a gender specific trope. You are creating a crime-specific trope and ignoring lesser crimes in regards to the description and naming.
  • December 6, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    This isn't about the The Same But Less. You have a list of trope examples, nearly all are serial killers, the only exceptions being one about a serial arsonist (who also killed people through his activities, anyway) and one more about a serial bomber (again, also killed people). Serial arsonists and serial bombers share so much in common with serial killers already that it is perfectly acceptable within the realm of Tropes Are Flexible that, pertaining to the concept discussed here, they are listed on a page that takes its name from the most popular group to appear on that list.

    And again, your examples are much more specifically referring to Recruiting The Criminal. This is concept related to that trope, but examples that better fit that description don't belong here.
  • December 6, 2011
    AFP
    Just for the sake of Added Alliterative Appeal, how about Convicted Consultant?
  • December 6, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    Well, the current title is already alliterative, anyway.

    Convicted Case Consultant, maybe. Convicted Consultant sounds a little too vague (Is that someone who was thrown in jail for his consultations?).

    I want a title that people are happy with and that can provide a relatively full summary (or as close to that as possible while remaining succinct) of the most important elements that drive the trope.
  • December 7, 2011
    Rytex
    {{I'm A Marvel And I'm A DC}}'s Happy Hour gets Spider Man and Batman to go interrogate Lex Luthor about his douche in relation to the current problem with the Joker.
  • December 7, 2011
    SushiSunday
    I'm okay with the current name. If it's changed though, I like Consulted Killer and Ask A Killer.
  • December 7, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    How are we feeling about the name? I feel content with it, but if other people have real problems with it, I'd like to know. At the very least, I'll probably look to make Consulted Killer and Ask A Killer redirects.
  • December 7, 2011
    Nitro378
    It seems weird to narrow it down to only killers, I'm sure there are some examples of other criminals being asked who arent killers. I like 'Convicted Consultant' too.
  • December 7, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    I originally had this written broadly referring to "criminals", but when all the examples I was getting were for serial killers and similar to that, I wanted to make sure the focus was adjusted to acknowledge this.

    I didn't initially propose this to specifically pertain to killers, but that's just what it has become through the examples that everyone else has been providing me with. If a detail that specific reappears over and over with an incredible degree of frequency within the gathered examples, as is the case here, then there's no point in refusing to acknowledge that in the trope itself. At best, the most general way of describing the typical character consulted in this sort of role would be, "A violent, repeat offender who poses an incredible danger to the lives of others." And out of that particular category, "serial killer" and similar perpetrators would still be the most widely common (and most realistic) characters to be found therein.

    If this trope is truly as broad as what I originally had written, before I got more specific in the description, I wouldn't be having examples that are only about murderers and similar violent activities.
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