Created By: BlackDragon on March 18, 2013 Last Edited By: BlackDragon on September 19, 2014

Offering The Killer His Own Poison

All the suspects in a case of poisoning are offered some form of food and drink. The killer refuses because he knows it's poisoned.

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A subtrope of I Never Said It Was Poison, specific to literal cases of poisoning. The police (or, more likely, a clever Private Detective or Amateur Sleuth) offers some item of food or drink to all the suspects of a case of murder-by-poison. The source of the poison hasn't been made public. They either say up-front that it was the same item that poisoned the victim, and arrest the person who refuses to eat/drink, or they wait 'till everybody's already started, and THEN do the reveal - and arrest the person who starts gagging and grabbing her throat.

In either case, it works the same way - only the killer would know that it was the coffee/tea/chili/truffles/whatever that was poisoned. And of course, since the police already figured it out, it's not ACTUALLY the poison-laced product...

A variant involved having a Corrupt Corporate Executive drink water from a heavily polluted site that he's insisted was perfectly clean when the locals started complaining about falling over with blue faces. Same deal - the fact that he immediately heads to the hospital to have his stomach pumped proves that he DID know about the pollution.

  • An episode of Bones combines this with The Fun in Funeral when a man who was apparently killed by an aneurism in the brain, turns out to have been killed by poisoned tea. The team discover it too late to run their usual forensic wizardry, so they instead offer all the mourners at the funeral a nice cup of tea...
  • An episode of The Mentalist uses it - a chef is poisoned during a Cooking Duel (by Gin - he was a relapsing alcoholic), and shortly afterwards, ANOTHER chef drops dead from the same poison, from a different source. At a subsequent memorial dinner, Jane doses the entree with the second victim's chili-powder (having deduced that this was the vector), and reveals the killer.

I've seen it several other times that I can't clearly remember... and I know I've seen that 'Corrupt Corporate Executive' version SOMEWHERE, I just can't remember where...

Oh, and a slightly less bulky name might be in order.
Community Feedback Replies: 25
  • March 18, 2013
    This crosses over with I Ate What.

    Pass The Poisoned Platter Police Ploy! (Probably too obtuse, but such alliteration...)
  • March 18, 2013
    Will likely lead to Discreet Drink Disposal.

    I've seen this in The Emperors New Groove, when Kronk forgets which chalice has the poison intended for Kuzco and blends all three cups, telling Yzma not to drink hers.
  • March 18, 2013
    @Drac Monster: Lol. I like alliteration as much as the next guy, but that's overkill. :D

    I think I read this in one of the in-universe books in The Elder Scrolls. I think it involved King Helseth being a Magnificent Bastard?
  • March 18, 2013
    Not sure how much this counts but, 'tis worth a shot.

    In the Star Wars the Clone Wars episode Senate Murders, Onaconda Farr is killed by a poison in his drink. After much investigation, they find out the poison only works on Rodians (Onaconda's species) meaning the poison was in all their drinks, and the only other Rodian is his assistant, who didn't have anything to drink.
  • March 19, 2013
    @Starsword: You're thinking of A Game at Dinner. Helseth makes his dinner guests think that he put poison on the cutlery of someone he knows was spying against him, then offers a tureen of antidote to anyone who confesses there and then. One of the spies loses his nerve and drinks from the tureen, but in fact Helseth was lying; the tureen contains the poison, not the antidote, and the spy dies painfully shortly after outing himself.

    I found this example on the Bluffing The Murderer page:

    • In One case in Ace Attorney, Mia Fey (the attorney the player controls in that case) proposes the theory that the real killer put poison into the victim's cold medicine in order to kill him. The killer then dismisses these claims, but Mia dares her to take some of the cold medicine stating that she should have nothing to worry about if the theory was not true. The killer then goes on to break down and refuses to take some, therefore proving Mia's theory.
  • March 19, 2013
    Isn't that just a variant of Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo?
  • March 19, 2013
    Mort has a variant where the Evil Chancellor of the Agatean Empire is eating with the Emperor, when he sees a piece of food in his bowl so rare and delicious he is unworthy of eating it, and flings it into the Emperor's bowl (it is, of course, poisoned, which he knows full well as he put it there). The Emperor, not exactly a halfwit, thanks him for his devotion, and rewards him by allowing him to eat it, flinging it back into his bowl. It goes back and forth a few times, until finally the chancellor is forced to eat it.

  • March 19, 2013
  • March 19, 2013
    Turns out The Mentalist did the 'polluted water' version too - they must be quite fond of this trope. A guy who's been dumping toxic waste in a pristine mountain lake is offered a glass of water from the lake when he refuses to admit it, and Jane nearly forces it down his throat before he breaks down and confesses. (Personally, I wouldn't want to drink unfiltered water from a mountain lake whether I'd been dumping toxic waste in it or not, but that's just me...)
  • March 25, 2013

    In the Discworld novel Feet of Clay, the Guild leaders scheming to discredit Vimes as watch commander have a bag of arsenic planted in his desk, to make out he is the one poisoning Vetinari. But Vimes gets to it first, and substitutes a bag of sugar. During the denouncement scene, Vimes trumps his accusers by eating the sugar straight from the bag. When he offers some to the Thieves'Guild leader Boggis, Boggis recoils and identifies it as arsenic...
  • March 25, 2013
    They either say up-front that it was the same item that poisoned the victim, and arrest the person who refuses to eat/drink, or they wait 'till everybody's already started, and THEN do the reveal - and arrest the person who starts gagging and grabbing her throat.

    Wait, what? In the first case, why would anybody eat it? In the second case, why would everybody else not be gagging or grabbing their throat?

    If you change "it was the same item that poisoned the victim" to "it was the food the victim ate", it makes sense, except for the fact that the detective just poisoned a bunch of innocent people.
  • March 25, 2013
    Parodied in both The Princess Bride and The Court Jester.
  • March 25, 2013
    I really like Dracmonster's name suggestion, but maybe just a little less of it: Poisoned Platter Police Ploy?
  • October 30, 2013
    • In The Golden Compass, Lyra tell young Gypsies about the time a Turkish diplomat came to Jordan College and was remarked by Lord Asriel while attempting to poison his glass; he then proposed the diplomat a drink, and the diplomat then died by his own poison.
  • October 30, 2013
    ^^^^I would expect that most of the time, if the detective knows or suspects that a specific ingredient poisoned the vicitm but it isn't general knowledge, they wouldn't actually use it but just say that it's been used, feigning that they don't know it's been poisoned. The only person who freaks out about being poisoned is the one who put the poison in it. For example, in the Bones episode they don't acutally use the poisoned tea, they just give everybody a cup of tea and say it's from the victim's private stock. The one who doesn't drink - or who freaks out afterwards if they only announce that after everyone has drunk some -is the one who knows the tea was poisoned.

    OTOH I could see someone like Patrick Jane from The Mentalist giving everyone (say) tea, and then saying that it was the victims and had been poisoned. Now the only one who isn't freaking out about being poisoned is the killer, because he knew not to drink in the first place. Again though, in this scenario Jane wouldn't have actually used the poison, just say he did.

    See Lying To The Perp.
  • October 30, 2013
    • Happens inadvertently in She, Lover of Death, where the Big Bad pours one of the heroes a glass full of sulfuric acid and a glass of vodka for himself. Unfortunately for him, he puts both glasses on a portable roulette, which spontaneously spins 180 degrees when he is distracted.
  • October 30, 2013
    • Snow averts this in The Hunger Games but though he survives the poisons, it still hurt him and he used some kind of fragrant drink to cover the smell. It's the variant, basically
  • October 30, 2013

    Edit- editing one example- now that I think about it, I believe the show version was different/doesn't fit the trope- IIRC, there, Cressen takes a drink himself as a show of good faith and then passes it to her- it's more like a suicide mission that ended up being pointless.
  • October 31, 2013
    I believe the CCO example the OP is thinking of is Erin Brockovich.
  • September 17, 2014
    • Implied, in "Hit and Run" episode of Nash Bridges: At the romantic dinner with Caitlin, Nash makes a seemingly baseless claim that the wine (being poured by the waitress) has gone bad and they'd like a different bottle. The waitress calmly protests and offers Caitlin to try the wine, making Nash repeat himself and then proceed to point out a breach of wine-serving etiquette (the bottle was brought in already-opened). Upon hearing the following offer to taste the wine herself, the waitress promptly attacks Nash with a scalpel, ultimately revealed as a hired killer.
  • September 17, 2014
    • In Redwall book Marlfox, Lantur's mother Silth debates the Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo problem (since she knows Lantur wants to kill her, but Lantur knows she knows) and uses this as the solution. Lantur is visibly panicked when Silth orders her to drink from her own cup. Lantur is clever enough, however, to have put the poison in Silth's cup in the first place.


    • In the third Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney game, Mia Fey uses this to finish off Winston Payne—who, while not a poisoner, earlier said that he would trust witness Dahlia Hawthorne with his life. He protests when Mia proves that Dahlia is the killer and proposes that Dahlia intended to kill Phoenix Wright using cold medicine... so Mia suggests that Winston take some of it, if he really believes Dahlia is innocent.
  • September 17, 2014
    Can occur during a Summation Gathering.
  • September 18, 2014
  • September 18, 2014
    ^ pretty much.
  • September 19, 2014
    Reminds me of I Never Said It Was Poison. The perp knows the food or w/e is poisoned but can't reveal that information, but also can't actually eat the dish.