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Dead Man's Chest
Hey! If you were looking for the movie, see Pirates of the Caribbean.

What do you do if you have a dead body on your hands and somebody snooping around that you don't want to see it? Why, stuff it the body into a convenient empty chest or trunk until that busybody goes away, of course. This is only a temporary solution and you will still have to move the body later, but what could possibly go wrong?

This trope comes in two versions: dramatic and comedic. In the dramatic version, the person hiding the body (usually the killer but not always) will suddenly realise that a body part or piece of clothing is protruding from the chest just as someone (detective, loved one of the deceased, etc.) is poking around and have to desperately conceal the fact. And there is still the matter of moving the body later. In the comedic version, expect the box with the body to go missing, get mixed up with an identical looking box or to have all kinds of people wanting to open the chest for all kinds of innocent reasons. Hilarity Ensues.

Note that the chest in the song "Fifteen men on a dead man's chest" was probably the equivalent of his footlocker.

Not to be confused with the real, original Dead Man's Chest, which was the name of one of the Virgin Islands. If the hiding place is someplace a lot odder than a footlocker, that's Body in a Breadbox. For another way to conceal a body inside something, see Carpet-Rolled Corpse.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


Examples

Anime & Manga
  • Sakura no Ichiban!: In chapter one, the killers stuff wooden crates full of the corpses of dead women they've killed. Misao discovers this when the box Asami was standing on broke and her feet got tangled with one of the dead women's long hair. In her attempt to free her feet, Asami manages to flip the corpse on top of her.
  • This is ultimately what happens to Umino in A Lollipop or a Bullet. She tells the protagonist they should run away together but she goes to her house to get some stuff. After 1 hour of not returning Nagisa sees her dad come out crying, with a luggage bag. Nagisa enters the house and finds a bloody machete, the same one Umino's dad had used to dismember their dog a few days prior. Nagisa and her brother go to the same place the dog was and they find the dismembered remains of Umino.

Comics
  • Sin City plays with this trope in "That Yellow Bastard", Shlubb and Klump have a conversation about what to do with the dead body they are sent to collect. Klump steals a Cool Car due to the Rule of Cool, only for Shlubb to quickly point out that there is no trunk.
  • In The Maze Agency Annual #1, a dead body turns up in one of Gabe's moving boxes when he is moving into Jennifer's apartment. Naturally this leads Gabe and Jen into investigating where the body came from.

Film
  • Naturally in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.
  • Alfred Hitchcock loves to use this trope in his movies:
    • In the film Rope two killers strangle a victim, hide the body in a chest and then serve a cold supper to the victim's friends and family off the lid of the chest. This might well have helped inspire the infamous dinner scene in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
    • The Trouble with Harry involves various persons finding Harry (a corpse), and hiding him, only for others to find him and hide him, until they all get together and decide on the ideal place for the police to find him.
    • In Frenzy, the killer hides a body in a sack that he dumps in the back of a lorry full of sacks of potatoes. He then realises that his tie pin is still clutched in the dead woman's hand and has to retrieve it from the back of the moving lorry. And the movie ends with the tie-strangling rapist dragging an empty trunk up the steps to dispose of his latest victim, where he meets the police inspector, who dryly observes: "Mr. Rusk, you're not wearing your tie".
    • In Rear Window, Jeff thinks Thorwald stashed his wife's body in a chest... but he actually cut her up and disposed of her remains all over the city, and the chest actually contained her clothes.
  • In Young Frankenstein, Frankenstein and Igor are trying to hide a body in a wagon, but the arm is still sticking out when someone comes along. Frankenstein places himself in such a way as to pretend the arm is his, and Hilarity Ensues.
  • The first scene of Keeping Mum depicts sweet, polite Rosie Jones setting out on a journey by train - while her large case in the luggage compartment seeps blood. (It turns out, though, that her case doesn't contain a body, just pieces of one!)
  • Death at a Funeral. The funeral is the father of the protagonists, and when a man shows up threatening to expose their sexual relationship to the wife if they don't pay him off, the resulting scuffle kills him. Their solution? Hide him in Dad's coffin. Which of course leads to the inevitable scene later where it turns out he's Not Quite Dead when he emerges from the coffin in the middle of the proceedings.
  • In Ginger Snaps, the protagonist sisters hide the body of a girl who, while wasn't murdered, slipped in their kitchen and died of severe blunt trauma to the head. They stuff it in the fridge (though it's not an example of Stuffed into the Fridge).
  • In Fernandel's movie L'armoire volante, the protagonist's aunt gets frozen to death during a moving journey, so the workers put her body in a wardrobe closet among the moved furniture. This closet, however, gets lost and Hilarity Ensues as the protagonist chases and searches the closet all over the country.
  • Weekend at Bernie's: Inverted, as the protagonists must actually keep the body on display, pretending that Bernie is still alive.
  • The cheesy Exploitation Film Axe! shows a young woman kill an attempted rapist with a straight razor and stuff his body into a trunk.
  • A character's body is stuffed in a freezer in Cornered!

Literature
  • In The Day of the Jackal, the Jackal leaves the body of a photographer who tried to blackmail him in a chest. In this case, though, putting the corpse there was less because of being in a hurry and more to ensure that it wasn't likely to ever be found. He even rationalises away the possibility of Revealing Coverup by noting that the photographer had done work for the underworld before and thus there would be quite the gaggle of possible suspects to run through. In fact, his isn't one of the deaths that gives the Jackal away.
  • Cornell Woolrich's "The Dilemma of the Dead Lady" is a fine example. A jewel thief murders his unwitting accomplice, but because she's kind of wearing the stolen jewels, he needs to take her along on his ocean voyage—and things get worse from there.
  • Edgar Allan Poe examples:
    • In "The Tell-Tale Heart", the body is dismembered and hidden under the floorboards. There's no actual clue that would give the location away to the police, who are about to leave on peaceful terms when the narrator begins to hallucinate that he can hear the corpse's heart beating....
    • And "The Black Cat", wherein a murder is given away by his own pride and a karmic pet he buried with his wife.
  • In Bloodsucking Fiends, a chest freezer serves this purpose, not once, but twice. Our protagonist is stuck with the problem of explaining that not only did he not kill either of the people in the freezer, one of them isn't even dead.
  • In "The Muddle of the Woad" (one of Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy stories), the men who are delivering the Duke's coffin discover that there's already a body hidden in it. And before that, the corpse had been hidden inside a "preservator" — a large chest enchanted to keep foodstuffs preserved.
  • The Hercule Poirot short story "The Adventure of the Clapham Cook" by Agatha Christie, a killer gets rid of a body by stuffing it in a trunk and having the trunk set to a railway station marked 'to be collected'. He later sends to trunk on to Glasgow in an attempt to lose it. This story was later adapted for small screen as part of the Poirot television series.
  • Played with in Thud!. Sam Vimes gets threatened by two trolls from the troll equivalent of the Mafia. When Vimes meets with the boss later, he apologizes to Vimes for his underlings' disrespectful conduct and offers to install a new rock garden in Vimes' home... all the while sitting next to a very suspicious box that Vimes notes is too small to contain a whole troll...
  • In the Ellery Queen short story "The Three Rs" (in the Calendar of Crime collection), it is made to appear that the victim's body has been placed in his trunk, covered in quicklime and shipped off to his summer cabin.
  • In Aunt Dimity's Good Deed, Gerald Willis produces a box containing the remains of Sybella Markham Willis and explains the story of how the Willis family came to be on both sides of the Atlantic. Willis Sr. promises to arrange for the remains to be buried with her husband in the Willis' family plot in Boston.
  • In the Tabitha King/Michael McDowell Posthumous Collaboration Candles Burning, part of the humor/horror is that a human body won't fit into a footlocker without some...rearranging.
  • The Robert Bloch short story "Frozen Fear" has a man kill his wife, dismember her, and store the parts in a freezer (he plans to dispose of them the following winter by burning them. Supernatural karmic revenge ensues. Notably adapted as a segment of the 1972 British horror anthology Asylum.

Live-Action TV
  • The Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Bad Actor" has a guy who kills someone and uses the bathtub and some strong acid to get rid of the body, after dismembering it. Needless to say, when he finally gets down to the head, company comes calling, and he has to hide the head in an ice bucket.
  • Fawlty Towers: The episode "The Kipper and the Corpse" features Basil stuffing the dead body of a guest into things, and some hapless guest into the things the corpse has also been shoved into.
  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation:
    • One episode featured a spurned lover who stuffs his ex-boyfriend's body in a trunk, which is kept in private storage. Problem is, the body won't fit, so he cuts off the head and leaves it in a car which is then stolen.
    • Another episode involves a bouncer stuffing an annoying homeless man inside a duffel bag, and dumping him (to his death) down a hill. The Nevada desert heat, as well as several months of decomposition, give the cadaver the consistency of chunky soup. Never mind the stench, the bag sloshes when moved.
    • In "Long Road Home", a body is stuffed into a gear box containing a set of drums and dumped in an alley.
  • NCIS
    • One episode involved— eww— bodies in barrels. They sloshed, at best, and they'd been out in the sun for quite a while.
    • Another body was disposed of in a sealed barrel, leading to the corpse turning into soapy goo.
  • Law & Order has had at least two episodes in which corpses turn up in chest freezers.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has also had at least one case of Dead Baby In a Cooler.
  • Psychoville did this in an episode which parodies Hitchcock's Rope. Minutes after serial killers David and Maureen have dispatched their latest victim, a man claiming to be a police inspector shows up at the door. He's really an actor auditioning for a role in one of the "murder mystery" acts the victim ran. Hilarity Ensues as they hide the corpse in various places around the room while trying to keep the inspector off their tail (and David having to pretend to be the victim so as not to give away that the man is dead)
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, "Inca Mummy Girl", the mummy hid the body of the real Ampata in one of his trunks.
  • In one episode of Monk, a vanished murder victim is found in a trunk; in fact, said trunk was used in a public advertising display, thanks to some quicklime to suppress odor.
  • Done in a disturbingly cold-blooded fashion on Desperate Housewives.
  • Midsomer Murders: A dismembered body is placed in a wicker hamper and left in a railway station in "Echoes of the Dead".
  • Ringer: Bridget stuffs her self-defense victim into a red chest.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Vampires of Venice", desiccated bodies of several victims are kept in trunks in the basement.
  • In the Soap Opera Sunset Beach, Tim gets stuffed into a chest temporarily after being murdered, before finally being buried in cement.
  • In The Mentalist epsiode "Redline", the killer stuffs the body into the trunk of a sports car when security shows up unexpectedly. The killer is unable to retrieve the body and the car ends up on the showroom floor.
  • Castle: In "A Chill Goes Through Her Veins", a body is hidden inside a freezer to allow it to be smuggled out of an apartment building. The freezer is later placed in a storage unit and turned on, and that is where the body remains for years.
  • This happens several times on The Closer:
    • In one episode, a morbidly obese man is stuffed in the trunk of his own car for several days. The decomposition and the sheer size of his body makes it impossible to get him out of there in one piece.
    • In another episode, a cooler containing a body is left in a storage facility for five years. The owner of the facility has no idea what's in it but nevertheless thinks there's something not quite right about someone abandoning a cooler sealed with duct tape, and tries unsuccessfully to get the LAPD to take a look at it. Finally, he has enough and mails the box to the Major Crimes Division.
  • In an episode of Major Crimes, The Closer's After Show, the body of a a young man is found in a barrel labeled "Hazardous Waste" at a recycling center. The killers know that the owner ships the barrels labeled hazardous up north to a landfill without opening them, where they are to be buried for a thousand years. Had their plan been successful, the body would never have been found, but unfortunately for them, while the barrel is still at the recycling center it's accidentally tipped over and the lid comes off, thus exposing the body.
  • New Tricks: In "The Little Brother", a trail of clues leads Brian to a woman's body inside a box in a storage unit.
  • In the first season of Misfits a rather hilarious version of this happens. The Misfit's probation worker goes crazy thanks to the storm and kills one of them, and to avoid blame (they're all juvenile delinquents) they bury the bodies under a bridge, transporting it using Kelly's boyfriend's car. Then they find out the bridge is being demolished to make way for a wildlife centre, so they dig up the bodies, hoping to rebury them under the concrete of the new centre. However, Kelly's boyfriend won't lend his car out anymore, so they steal their new probation workers car to move the bodies. Then before they can move to bodies out of the car their probation worker appears and drives home. The next morning she comes into work, smells something in the back of the car, and Nathan has to distract her by throwing a brick at her car to avoid her noticing the two corpses in her car boot.

Music
  • In the video for Golden Earring's "Twilight Zone", the spy protagonist hangs up the phone, then leaves his hotel room, pausing to shove the hand that's protruding lifelessly from a footlocker down into it and out of sight.

Newspaper Comics
  • In Dick Tracy, murderous musician 88 Keyes kills his singer/accomplice and hides her body in his grand piano; planning to have the piano put into storage. As it is, Tracy caught the movers as they were just about to haul the piano away, searches it and finds the body.

Theatre
  • The play (later a Frank Capra film) Arsenic and Old Lace centers on a series of dead bodies being hidden in unlikely places like basements and window seats. Needless to say, Hilarity Ensues.
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and its movie adaptation: Sweeney Todd does this with the body of Pirelli, his very first victim. It's both the dramatic and comedic variety — Pirelli's still-twitching hand is sticking out of the chest, but Todd is able to buy time by promising Pirelli's mentally-challenged ward, Toby, a bottle of gin.

Video Games

  • In The Last Express one of the ways to stop anyone from finding the body is to stash it in your bed, this is only a temporary solution though. You can also just chuck it out the window, but then the police will find it and search the train at the next stop.
  • An important technique in Hitman: Blood Money... leaving bodies just lying around is asking for trouble, and unless somebody actually sees you do it, stuffing it into a handy container will ensure that it isn't discovered 'till well after you've vacated the premises.
    • The Hitman movie does this as a Shout-Out to the original games. He not only puts the bodies in a shipping crate but nails it shut as well.
  • Killer7 has the dead body of Harman Smith hidden in a safe in a Seattle elementary school, where Emir Parkreiner stuffed it after killing him.
  • (At least) two murders in two separate Ace Attorney games involves corpses being stuffed into handy containers, once a car trunk and again with a safe. Upon seeing the rope outline of the bodies in both murders, Phoenix's assistant somehow comes to the conclusion that the victims died when the doors slammed shut on them.
    • In Investigations, our 'chest' is a ridiculously garish suitcase.
  • In Wizardry 7 there's a chest with someone's remnants and personal possessions. Players may also learn the cause of death... ones too careless to learn Identify spell may learn this by demonstration.
  • Though the Thief games don't encourage murder, living and dead bodies could be dragged to concealment. Unless you're going for total ghosting gameplay, the efficient way to deal with guard patrols is to knock on the backs of their heads and move them out of view of the others. In maps with meandering patrol routes, this meant running back to move a body more than once, especially if you're not familiar with those routes yet.
  • Happens to Archibald Carrington in the second Laura Bow game. He's locked in a trunk with a bunch of flesh eating beetles, whilst his doppelganger gets impaled on a stuffed porcupine.
  • At the beginning of Police Quest: Open Season, you find the corpse of a 6-year old boy in a dumpster. Near the end of the game, there's a refrigerator with a severed head in it.
  • In Full Throttle, the main character is disposed of in the dumpster behind the bar he was ambushed in. Subverted in that he wasn't killed.

Webcomics
  • Fishbones: Young Ferris stumbles upon one of these, which tips him off that his father's business partners are in the mafia.

Western Animation
  • Sponge Bob Square Pants, "The Nasty Patty": Spongebob and Mr. Krabs think they've killed the health inspector (actually he just fainted) and have to keep him hidden from two cops.
  • Adventure Time, "City of Thieves": Inverted; Finn finds a small treasure chest stuck inside a skeleton's chest cavity.

Real Life
  • The "Unicorn Killer", Ira Einhorn, Philadelphian and co-founder of Earth Day killed his then-girlfriend Holly Maddux and stuffed her body in a trunk in his apartment. Einhorn was arrested for the murder, but denied it, saying that the FBI and CIA framed him because of his hippy political views. Defended by attorney Arlen Spector and set free on bond raised by the heir to Seagrams wine family, Einhorn skipped bail and fled, eventually settling in France. He changed his name, but was tried in absentia and found guilty. Einhorn was arrested, but fought his extradition back to America for over 20 years before he was returned to Philadelphia, where he was found guilty and then sent to prison for life.
  • The Brighton trunk murders.
  • Jeffrey Curley's murderers stuffed his body in a storage bin and dumped it in the Charles River.
  • This was thought to have happened to the victim in the "Shark Arm Murder Case", but they Never Found the Body other than the arm that the shark disgorged.

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