Dead Person Impersonation
The ploy of taking over a dead person's identity.
This can be for any number of reasons. Perhaps the character was a drifter
, with no identity of their own worth speaking of and enticed by the possibility of assuming the role of their recently deceased acquaintance. They may have promised to protect the person's loved ones, want to escape their old life, or less heroically intend to con their new "family" out of money. If anyone questions their changed appearance, accent, or other details, there's often a Conveniently Unverifiable Cover Story
they can use to explain it away.
Usually the impostor will end up Becoming the Mask
, falling in love with the life that isn't his, and be exposed. Happily, though,
he will regain the trust he lost by some act of heroism, and remain among his new loved ones. Whether it's with his own or the new name varies.
More maliciously, a villain will do this after they kill
the other person. A common occurrence in murder mysteries is for the killer to do this in order to throw off the time of death and give themselves an alibi. Having such an impersonation can create Dramatic Irony
if the audience is aware of the ploy, or a plot twist if they are not.
Occasionally the impostor will be played sympathetically, in which case they may be forced to assume the dead person's identity to escape death themselves. Or, in a subversion, they could have been misidentified after a mass-casualty incident, and refrained from pointing out the mistake due to fear of prosecution, sympathy for the dead person's loved ones (who believe the deceased "miraculously survived!"), or even amnesia.
Related to My Sibling Will Live Through Me
. Compare The Mole
, Rags to Royalty
, The Real Remington Steele
, Prince and Pauper
Contrast Lost in Character
, where a professional actor takes on a role and forgets their original self. If you don't just take the other person's identity, but also their appearance, it's Replicant Snatching
. If it's a temporary thing, a sort of masquerade where characters pretend the dead one is alive, it's an Of Corpse He's Alive
situation, or the El Cid Ploy
. If you're a time traveler, and are doing this so history stays on track
, it's You Will Be Beethoven
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Anime and Manga
- Basilisk's Kisaragi Saemon is the reigning champion of this trope, due to being a Master of Disguise and a skilled Ninja. Of course the show being what it is, it eventually comes back to bite him in the ass.
- Monster's Johan likes to steal the identity of parents' dead sons.
- Char Aznable from Mobile Suit Gundam is apparently one of these, but only in the Alternate Continuity manga Gundam: The Origin. In it, we find out that the Char we know - "Casval Daikun", in hiding as "Edward Mass" - befriended a real Char Aznable, a young man physically identical except for their eye colors. Due to a Twin Switch and an assassination attempt by the Zabis, the "late" Edward assumed the identity of the late Char, using Cool Shades and an equally Cool Mask to help avoid suspicion. He's found out quite later by his boss, Lady of War Kycilia, but she doesn't kill him on the spot and attempts to rope him in her own plans... which backfires massively when he blows her head off at the end of the series.
- Similarly, All There in the Manual reveals that there was a real Quattro Bageena, a pilot who died during the One Year War, and again, looked somewhat similar to Char. When Char joined up with the AEUG, he bought Quattro's ID off the black market in order to hide.
- Something somewhat like this happens in Pretty Face. Masashi Rando survives a bus crash and awakens from a year-long coma to find that a talented but insane plastic surgeon reconstructed his face... based on the picture of his crush in his wallet. On fleeing the doctor's office, Rando learns that his family is gone with no forwarding info and that pretty much everyone hated him. Then he runs into his crush... who assumes he's her long-lost twin sister. He keeps up the charade because the girl really missed her sister. Said sister comes back near the end...
- Used with quite a twist in Mobile Fighter G Gundam. One of the Gundam Fighters who faces the recently mutated Devil Gundam is the Neo German Schwarz Bruder, who loses and dies. The brainwashed pilot of the Devil Gundam, Kyouji Kasshu, uses his last bits of sanity to gather DG cells, merge them with Schwarz's corpse and create a clone of himself with them, who takes up Schwarz's identity while keeping Kyouji's memories and purposes as well as his looks (the true Schwarz is much older, but his Mask Power helps keep the masquerade).
- Also used with a twist in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing Endless Waltz. When the engineers working on the Gundam Heavyarms learned that Operation Meteor entailed a Colony Drop, they were horrified and refused to go along with it. Trowa Barton, the Jerkass son of the operation's founder and the soon-to-be-pilot of Heavyarms, threatened to turn them all in... and was suddenly shot dead by an engineer who snapped on his boss because his family was on Earth. At that point, the youngest of the remaining engineers stepped up and volunteered to take on the dead man's identity to maintain the cover-up and thwart the original genocidal Operation Meteor - that young man being the person known as Trowa Barton throughout the television series.
- Shima-kun in CLANNAD After Story, who took the identity of the person he was close to so he can complete his last wish after he died.
- Yuno Gasai in Mirai Nikki. The original Yuno is the third corpse in her house, which was revealed by Akise after he DNA-tested it with her umbilical cord that her orphanage held onto.
- Somewhat subverted, because it actually turns out that she is Yuno. She is actually the Yuno from an Alternate Universe; as in this universe, she and her world's Yuki were the last two left in the game and decided on a Suicide Pact. Things went wrong and Yuno survived, leaving her as winner of the game and the new God of Time and Space; since she couldn't resurrect her world's Yuki, she instead used her powers to create this universe, killed this world's version of herself and took her place in the game, in order to be with Yuki once again. So Yuno has been, in a sense, impersonating herself.
- Used in The Kindaichi Case Files. A girl who became a drug addict and murdered (in self defense) the man who got her hooked nearly commits suicide off of a cliff, only to discover that another girl jumped not long before her and left her purse behind which contained the deceased girl's identification. The former-drug addict girl used the identification and plastic surgery to start a new life as a police officer.
- Nuriko from Fushigi Yuugi taking up his dead little sister Kourin's identity to deal with the trauma coming from such a loss, is a classic example.
- A variation occurs early in Shakugan no Shana. Yukari Hirai, the girl who Shana assumes the identity of on Earth, isn't just dead; rather, she faded away from existence. And we get to see how this happens.
- In Vagabond, a highly fictionalised telling of the life of Miyamoto Musashi, Musashi's childhood friend Matahachi finds a certificate of swordsmanship on the body of a samurai who had been kind to him earlier. He decides at first to deliver the certificate to the samurai's family, but soon finds it easier to pass himself off as the samurai instead and live off the dead samurai's reputation. Later, it turns out that the samurai was only delivering said certificate to Sasaki Kojiro, the arch-rival of Musashi. Since the real Kojiro is still out there, (and is becoming more famous by the day) and Matahachi is using his name, this eventually causes Matahachi some problems.
- Code Geass has a very confusing example thanks to the Zero Requiem plan devised by Lelouch and Suzaku. Short version: Suzaku fakes his death, takes on the identity of Zero, and kills Lelouch (the original Zero) to get rid of the source of the world's anger and suffering. Of course, most people didn't know Lelouch was Zero, and for those who did the implication of the final episode is that they catch on but go along with it.
- Used interestingly in a Detective Conan case. In either the late sixties or The Seventies, a Japanese man named Yoshifusa Yabuchi went to live in Brazil, had a Brazilian family and became both friends and associates with Dickson Tanaka, a half-Japanese/half-Brazilian man. When Yoshifusa and his wife died, leaving a young son named Carlos behind, Dickson found out that Yoshifusa's older brother Yoshichika (the patriarch of a very rich family) had also perished in Japan just few days after learning of Yoshifusa's death. Upon realizing that the Yabuchis were a Big Screwed-Up Family, Dickson decided to make sure that his sort-of adoptive son Carlos wouldn't be cheated out of his dad's share of the massive inheritance; knowing that Yoshichika's relatives wouldn't remember how Yoshifusa looked like since they were extremely young when they left, Dickson took up Yoshifusa's identity and made Carlos pass as his bodyguard, so he could observe the family closer and keep Carlos safe. His gambit worked, but at a very high price: Yoshichika's greedy Smug Snake of widow, Machiko, tried to kill Dickson in the bath and, as a skilled martial artist, he killed her in self-defense.
- In Revolutionary Girl Utena, Anthy impersonates the deceased Chida Mamiya to fool Mikage, who is implied to have mentally blocked out Mamiya's death (it's also suggested that Akio is using More Than Mind Control on Mamiya too).
- In Part I, Orochimaru stole the former Kazekage's identity. And skin.
- In the Land of Birds arc the daimyo Sagi is revealed to have died some time prior. His twin sister Toki faked her own death and assumed Sagi's identity in an attempt to hunt down his killers.
- Uchiha Madara is revealed to have been Dead All Along, meaning Tobi was impersonating him. The trope becomes somewhat tangled when it's revealed Tobi was Madara's chosen successor and is himself the assumed-dead Obito.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds: Following Yusei's death in an alternate future, Z-ONE underwent surgery to become Yusei all but literally, including learning Accel Synchro. He then travels back in time and duels the real Yusei.
- Michio of MW impersonates Miho and Mika, the daughters of his targets.
- In the Read or Die manga, Paper Master Ridley Wan disguises himself as Yomiko's deceased lover Donny. He does such a good job that Yomiko doesn't realize the deception until he voluntarily unmasks himself - after she slept with him. Quite impressive, when you consider that not only had Yomiko been present when Donny died, she was the one who killed him.
- In the manga version of Bokurano, while planning a newscast on Zearth, the plan is to have Anko and Komo, the former being the current pilot and the latter being the only known Zearth pilot, be shown piloting Zearth. Unfortunately, by this point, Komo, like all the other pilots, is dead, so they end up having Youko dress up as her, wearing a wig to make her resemble Komo and showing her from behind. It mostly goes well, apart from a few times when Anko calls her by the wrong name.
- In Lupin III: Dead or Alive. Lupin is hiding his identity during much of his time in Zufu. Disguised as the dead Prince Pannish.
- In Excalibur, evil other-dimensional dictator Sat-Yr-9 vaporized Courtney Ross, her counterpart in this reality (and incidentally a love interest of Captain Britain), and then calmly stepped into her shoes. The deception wasn't exposed for quite some time.
- Quality Comics character the Black Condor adopted the identity of murdered Senator Thomas Wright. Who just happened to look exactly like him.
- If memory serves, Batman's "Matches Malone" persona was swiped from a real guy who got himself killed in Bats's presence.
- Also from Batman is Jane Doe, a definitely villainous example. She doesn't just kill her new identity; she studies them down to the last detail, perfectly recreating his or her voice, body language, and thought patterns. It would be less creepy if she was actually a shape shifter, especially since this lack of superhuman ability makes her finishing touch of skinning her victims and wearing them as suits a necessary part of her modus operandi.
- In the Firefly comics, it's revealed that Shepherd Book did this some time before joining Serenity's crew.
- In her first appearance, the Golden Age Wonder Woman, fresh from
Themiscyra Paradise Island, has a chance encounter with an Army nurse named Diana Prince, who's distraught because she lacks the funds to join her fiancee in South America. They look exactly alike, and thus, Princess Diana pretty much buys Lt. Prince's identity from her so that she can afford to, well, desert.
- A slight variation appears in the back story for Cybersix, who poses as a man by day because her Secret Identity was lifted from a young boy who died with the rest of his family in a car crash. She didn't know the boy beforehand; she just found the body and realized he looked a lot like her.
- Strangers in Paradise's David Qin was born Yousaka Takahasi, the son of a prominent Yakuza family and a member of one of the numerous violent teenage gangs. He accidentally killed the Chinese-American David Qin after administering a brutal, and completely pointless, beating in the street. His influential father and his lawyers got him off on all criminal charges, but a confrontation with David's sister, combined with his already considerable guilt, led to his taking David's name and abandoning the criminal ways of his youth and family.
- Isn't this technically what Martian Manhunter does? By happy coincidence, his name even sounds like the dead man's (Jonn Jon'zz / John Jones).
- At the end of the V for Vendetta graphic novel series, Evey assumes V's identity after V dies.
- False Face attempts to do this to Lady Blackhawk in order to infiltrate the Birds of Prey, but ends up having her ass kicked by her would-be victim by the end of the issue.
- In the Postboot Legion of Super-Heroes continuity, the Corrupt Corporate Executive Leland McCauley is murdered by the immortal Batman villain Ra's al-Ghul, who steals his identity and considerable fortune to further his plans.
- The modern version of the Spider-Man villain the Chameleon uses this. He studies, kidnaps and murders his victims before spending a day living that person's life. Quite a violent upgrade for a guy who used to simply leave his victims tied up and gagged in their undies so that he could steal their clothes.
- Happens in the second volume of Dark Avengers, where the team visits a Bad Future where the world is under the control of evil versions of 616 heroes. The real Carol Danvers has been dead for months, but some of the superhero factions do not know this. Taking advantage of the situation, Dark Doctor Strange dresses Moonstone in Carol's old Captain Marvel uniform and forces her to assume the deceased heroine's identity.
- Batman villain Black Mask did this in the "War Games" arc, by adopting the identity of Orpheus, who he just killed in a Xanatos Speed Chess gambit to become Gotham's main crime lord.
- This was sometimes how the original version of the Unknown Soldier worked to infiltrate enemy lines.
- Used against the villain in Brian Azzarello's version of El Diablo.
- Neil Gaiman explores this trope in The Sandman, and how it can end very badly. Philip Sitz, the editor of a serial killer magazine, tried to pass himself off as the long dead Bogeyman at a convention of serial killers. It was painfully clear to anyone he spoke to that he wasn't the real Bogeyman, compounded by the Corinthian revealing the Bogeyman died three years ago. When Sitz is found out he starts claiming he came here to learn from them. So the Corinthian and two others decide to teach him. They even take turns.
- In The Goose Girl, this is the threat the maidservant uses to extract the promise from the princess that she will not reveal the truth of the Bride and Switch.
- A major plot point in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.
- Taking Lives
- Mrs. Winterbourne is a Lighter and Softer version of the Cornell Woolrich novel mentioned in the Literature section.
- In There Will Be Blood a man comes up to Daniel Plainview claiming to be his half-brother, with a letter as proof. Daniel believes the man until he notices some inconsistencies in his story. The man eventually confesses at gunpoint that he knew Daniel's real brother, who died of tuberculosis and assumed his identity. Daniel shoots the man shortly afterward.
- Ace Ventura: Pet Detective: Disgraced kicker Ray Finkle becomes Detective Lois Einhorn when s/he goes insane after missing a potential game-winning field goal kick in a Super Bowl. The real Lois Einhorn was a missing hiker, whose article about her search being called off, gave Finkle the idea to become a woman to kill Dan Marino. Unless he was actually the one responsible for Einhorn's disappearance in the first place.
- This is the premise of Houseguest. Sinbad is on the run from the mob and finds Phil Hartman and his family waiting to pick up his childhood friend, so Sinbad impersonates the friend and goes with them. When he's caught, it fortunately turns out that the friend grew up to be a jerk.
- In X-Men & X2: X-Men United this is standard operating procedure for Mystique. She impersonates Senator Kelly's aide who Magneto casually mentions "has been dead for some time" then effectively becomes Senator Kelly after his artificial mutation apparently kills him.
- Used by the murderers in Double Indemnity to make it appear that the victim was killed by falling from a train — a vital component of their Insurance Fraud scheme.
- The main character in Detour hitches a ride with a man who dies soon afterward. He takes the dead man's car and identity. Of course, this being film noir, he soon encounters a dodgy dame and things go from bad to worse.
- Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha (Shadow Warrior). A thief is hired to impersonate a dying daimyo, and given stringent training by both the daimyo's brother and his retainers, in order to prevent the province from being destroyed by ongoing power struggles after the daimyo's death. Originally supposed to be merely a figurehead, with all power wielded by the deceased mans's retainers and family; he gradually takes on more power and responsibility, along with his personality coming to increasingly resemble that of the dead man.
- Die, Mommie, Die!: The mother's confession. They were twin sisters who formed a singing duo - unfortunately only one of them could actually sing. The singer went on to be very famous but also an abusive jerkass while the non-singer became homeless and eventually wound up in jail. The singer took pity on her and brought her to her Big Fancy House as a maid/nanny. Nonsinger was horrified at her sister's treatment of her children, killed her, and took her identity. Unfortunately guilt and access to drugs and alcohol made her just as bad as her sister was, hence the title.
- The Majestic where the character played by Jim Carrey has amnesia following an automobile accident and is found in rural California, where he is mistaken for a local war hero thought dead. For most of the middle of the movie, he tries to fit into the mistaken identity role without really knowing who he is.
- A variation of this forms the basic premise of Dave. Everyman Dave Kovic bears an uncanny resemblance to the sitting US President, whose handlers hire him as a body double for "security reasons" (read: to cover up the President's extramarital affairs). The President has a massive stroke which leaves him comatose, and his handlers coerce Dave into assuming the President's identity.
- Fantômas does this often, especially in Jean Marais/Louis de Funès movie adaptations. Usually, he's also the cause of death.
- Subverted and played straight in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (2010). Played straight in that when Robert Loxsley dies, Robin takes on his identity as the messenger to avoid being killed as a deserter from the army, and also to return the crown to the royal family. Subverted in when Robin takes the sword back to the late Loxley's father and doesn't pretend to be anything other than who he is. Then played straight again when Robin pretends to be Robert Loxsley so Marion can inherit the estate after Walter Loxley's death. And, of course, to help rally the people in battle.
- After escaping the prison, Dr. Niemann in House of Frankenstein orders his new hunchback assistant to kill a travelling showman and takes his place and uses this to get near those who got him to prison.
- Friday the 13th Part 2 has the Final Girl attacking Jason while pretending to be his mother.
- This scene was straight ripped off in Death Valley: The Revenge of Bloody Bill.
- The final girl in Humongous uses a similar method to avoid the killer.
- In Sommersby (a remake of The Return of Martin Guerre), a man returns from the Civil War. Previously a jerkass, he now makes the town a better place by getting bank loans for farmers and former slaves. Then the police arrest him for murder. In prison, the man confesses to his "wife" that he is actually a friend of her husband's from the army. Though the wife tries to get him confess his fraud to save himself, he responses, "And ruin this? All the loans are through me. If I tell the court I'm not your husband, the bank can recall the loans as a fraud and this town will lose everything."note So he is hanged for the crimes of the man he impersonated.
- The Stepfather had a sequel where the titular stepfather escapes from a mental institution and assumes the identity of a random guy he saw in the obituary section of a newspaper.
- Silence of the Lambs: To escape from jail Lecter pretends to be a wounded guard and is rushed to an ambulance. When the real guard's body drops from the elevator roof, this doubles as an Oh Crap moment. See it here.
- In Imitation General an army general visiting an area under German siege is killed and his aide realizes that only the sight and authority of a high ranking officer can hold the trapped soldiers together. He takes the general's place even though he knows his action could save or cost lives and make or break the general's reputation. It's a comedy though so...
- In Barbarosa, fugitive Karl Westover is befriended in the desert by the title outlaw, who introduces him to a Mexican clan with whom he has a tangled relationship. When one member of that family ambushes and kills Barbarosa, Westover takes over his identity to honor his legend.
- In The Bridge on the River Kwai, it's revealed that "Commander Shears" was actually an enlisted man serving under Shears aboard the USS Houston. After the ship was sunk and Shears killed, the seaman (whose real name we never learn) switched uniforms with him and took his name and rank in the hope of getting better POW treatment from the Japanese.
- In Highlander, Connor McLeod concealed his immortality for years by assuming the identities of long-dead children.
- Moon Over Parador was about an American actor hired/forced to impersonate the recently deceased dictator of a Banana Republic.
- In Reindeer Games, Rudy, a car thief just out of prison, assumes the identity of his recently murdered cellmate Nick and commences a relationship with Ashley, a woman Nick had been corresponding with via letters. It's the first part of a Gambit Pile Up which culminates in the revelation that Nick faked his death as part of a master plan with Ashley, who was already his lover on the outside, thus making this a subversion.
- In the horror anthology film Body Bags in "The Gas Station", Anne's co-worker Bill isn't the real Bill, as she finds out. He's actually the escaped serial killer mentioned on the radio earlier on and has been impersonating the original gas station owner.
- In Return to Cabin by the Lake, the presumed to be dead serial killer Stanley infiltrates the film set of a movie chronicling his own life by murdering the Assistant Director JC Reddick (a nephew of one of the Executive Producers) and impersonating him for the remainder of the shoot.
- In To Be or Not to Be, after The Mole Siletsky is killed by La Résistance, Jozef Tura disguises himself as him to further thwart his plans.
- A minor character in Edge of Tomorrow is revealed to have done this, sending the his pay to his fallen friend's family.
- At the end of the film The Double, it's implied that Simon is going to assume his double James' identity.
- A major plot twist in John Dickson Carr's book The Three Coffins/The Hollow Man involves this.
- Agatha Christie did it at least twice, both in A Murder Is Announced and A Holiday For Murder.
- In a plot twist not used for the book version of And Then There Were None, the Hollywood versions reveal that "Philip Lombard" is in fact Charles Morley, who came in Lombard's place after the real Lombard committed suicide upon receiving UN Owen's letter. This is also used for the game, where you not only get Charles Morley, you also get Gabrielle Steel, who has been impersonating Emily Brent in the "villain kills another person and takes over their identity" variety.
- And a related plot twist was used in The Body in the Library. There were actually two murders: the main victim, Ruby, and another girl of about the same age, Pamela. The murderers killed Pamela, dressed up to resemble Ruby, at a time when Ruby was known to be alive, and then identified Pamela's body as Ruby's, giving themselves an alibi for the time of death.
- Agatha Christie does it twice in Hercule Poirot's Christmas, when Pilar and Stephen Farr are both impostors, who opportunistically decided to take the identities of Simeon Lee's grand-daughter, and his best friend's son. They end up together!
- H.P. Lovecraft's The Whisperer In Darkness, in a way. The whisperer impersonates a man using parts of his corpse, but said man is still alive as a Brain in a Jar.
- Dorothy L. Sayers used the short-term "throw off the time of death" variant at least twice, in Whose Body? and The Five Red Herrings.
- For the malicious version, in The Talented Mr. Ripley, he kills his friend and takes his identity for a while.
- Doom of the Hills in Deltora Quest.
- Happened in one Poirot novel.
- Josephine Tey's mystery novel Brat Farrar has an interesting use of this trope, as it's about a young man who starts off as the malicious version, passing himself off as a member of a wealthy family who disappeared as a child, but then turns detective when he realizes that the boy he's pretending to be died and anyone not believing his charade is likely to be the murderer.
- Used in Cornell Woolrich's novel I Married A Dead Man, where a poor young woman who is pregnant and has been abandoned by her lover meets a wealthy pregnant woman on a train who looks similar to her along with her husband. When the train crashes and the couple is killed, the poor woman passes herself off to the husband's family as his wife.
- Benoit Notre-Dame turns out to have done this in A Very Long Engagement, although he's only really taken the dead man's name, and still lives with his own wife. He also turns out to have set Manech up with a dead man's identity as well; although the amnesiac Manech doesn't realize the deception, he's taken in anyway by the dead man's mother, who does.
- Father's Arcane Daughter by E.L. Konigsberg.
- The short story Improbable Impostor Tom Castro by Jorge Luis Borges revolves around the eponymous character's success as an impostor by virtue of being entirely dissimilar from the person he's impersonating.
- One The Witcher short story involves a doppelgänger assuming the identity of a dead inquisitor. Nobody catches on, despite a rather radical shift in personality (they assume the man has changed due to a near-death experience and generally being old).
- In Animorphs, David uses this after acquiring the DNA of Jake and Rachel's cousin, Saddler who was in critical care. As morphing constructs the form anew from DNA, he has no injuries and is perfectly healthy. The family was overjoyed, thinking that a miracle occurred, but Jake knew better ... Whether or not David actually killed Saddler isn't addressed, but he's definitely dead, and Rachel indicates they eventually find the body.
- In Star of the Sea, one of the principal characters kills a man and takes his identity because he believes he'll die otherwise (he's a cripple with no way to support himself). However, none of the people he convinces had ever met the real man before, and he eventually gives up the pretense and disappears when the real man's mother starts wondering why he's not answering her letters.
- An odd version of this happens in the novel Over the Edge. Gina is on a plane that gets hijacked, and the hijackers specifically call out for one passenger, the daughter of a senator. Gina is the only one on the plane who knows the girl didn't make the flight due to lost paperwork, and she bears a resemblance to her anyway, so she claims to be Karen.
- The Culture
- Use of Weapons. Book-spoiling spoiler: Cheradenine Zakalwe is actually Elethiomel, the Chairmaker. He kills Cheradenine's sister and makes a chair out of her bones. Cheradenine then commits suicide and Elethiomel assumes his life.
- In Consider Phlebas, the shape shifting Anti-Hero does this a couple of times.
- In a twist, Giles Denison, the main character of Desmond Bagley's spy thriller The Tightrope Men, has been press-ganged (with plastic surgery and partial brainwashing) into playing the role of scientist Harry Meyrick. Meyrick is a brilliant jerk who "uses sarcasm as a weapon, but if you put him in a real fight he'd collapse. Denison is a quiet-spoken, civil man" who handles himself quite well in a tight situation. And neither he nor the British agents he's helping know who turned him into Meyrick's double or why.
- Done in the X-Wing Series in a way that straddles this trope and Of Corpse He's Alive. The Wraiths captured a small ship and killed its captain before anyone could send a message back to the enemy fleet; hence the enemy was unaware of this. They decided to continue the ship's mission, masquerading as the original crew of the Night Caller, including her wildly egotistical captain - if he'd stopped commanding, the enemy would've noticed.
- In Double Vision, by Mary Higgins Clark, it's five years after Caroline's twin Lisa was murdered, and the killer's now after the survivor. It turned out that the killer actually intended to kill Caroline, unaware that she was a twin. When he returns to do the job properly, she manages to talk him out of it by convincingly lying to him that she really is Lisa. She explains that she had been The Unfavourite of their parents, so when he killed Caroline, she assumed the identity of her twin sister so their grief wouldn't be as profound.
- The Expendable Spy, by Jack D. Hunter, is an American agent parachuted into Bavaria in World War II. When his contact is killed by an air raid, he assumes the man's identity, but then finds the contact was a Gestapo agent sent from Berlin to help organize the "Werwolf" underground. Worse, his new "boss" gets suspicious and sends his description off to Gestapo HQ asking for confirmation that this is the hotshot they sent. Unnervingly, the response to the description is not only, "Yes, that's him," but includes a photo. Of the American agent. So he's left wondering who in Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin is on his side.
- In Miyuki Miyabe's All She Was Worth, detective Shunsuke Honma investigates the disappearance of his nephew's fiance Shoko Sekine, only to find that the fiance had killed and assumed the identity of the real Shoko in order to avoid loan sharks. She'd also tried once before to kill another woman and steal her identity, and after disappearing was planning on doing it again.
- Robert A. Heinlein's Double Star starts as Emergency Impersonation and turns into this at the end.
- In Michael Slade's Ghoul, a woman kills another, then dresses in her clothes and a concealing scarf to move the body, tucked inside a large suitcase also belonging to the victim. As she destroys the body with a bath in Hollywood Acid, the investigators wouldn't even realize the victim had died at all, had the acid-bath not left a couple of undissolvable gallstones behind. Even then, the killer's ruse is only foiled because a witness mentions that she had large breasts, and the victim she impersonated was poorly endowed.
- In Addie Pray, the basis for the movie Paper Moon, young Addie impersonates the granddaughter of a New Orleans aristocrat, in order to help her nephew bilk her out of her fortune—-and when the fortune turns out to be imaginary, Addie switches sides and helps the aristo bilk her nephew.
- One of the characters in Dread Empire's Fall, Lady Caroline Sula took over the identity of the real person whose name she's using, and does a lot better with it than the original would have ever done.
- Ten Soon from Mistborn
- Played with in that the person he was impersonating was another shapeshifter.
- At least twice in the NUMA Series: Inca Gold and Atlantis Found.
- In the Flashman novel Flash for Freedom, Flashman finds himself working on a slave ship and at one point, one of his fellow sailors, Beauchamp Comber, is killed, and as he dies, reveals he's actually a fervent abolitionist and part of a campaign to stop the slave trade. Since Comber has connections in America and had papers that Flashman could use to blackmail his father-in-law (who financed the slave ship), Flashman ends up taking on his identity in America. Flashman being what he is, ultimately ends up as a wanted criminal under the Comber identity (although this means that later on, he can return to America as Flashman, British war hero, without most people connecting him with Comber).
- In Vanishing Acts, Andrew does this when he runs away with his child Delia. Their real names are Charles and Bethany, however they manage to acquire birth certificates and identification under the names Andrew and Cordelia Hopkins, who were a father and daughter that died in a car crash. However, this happens in the late 70s and early 80s.
- The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim features an identical English gentleman and German spy. The mystery is whether the German killed the Englishman and is impersonating him, the Englishman is impersonating the German impersonating himself.
- In the first (chronologically speaking) Drizzt Do'Urden novel, Alton DeVir disfigures himself to assume the identity of the very recently deceased (And horrifically maimed) master wizard known as the Faceless One after his family is murdered. After twenty years under this alias, he starts to wonder if at some point some student of his will kill him and take his place, leaving an endless succession of Faceless Ones at the academy, with nobody noticing (Or, given drow tendencies, caring).
- The Sweet Valley books used this several times. One example is the Sweet Valley University book Very Bad Things. A young stalker's victim takes out a restraining order against her and transfers to Sweet Valley to escape her, so she has surgery to look like a girl from their old school (who died), assumes the dead girl's identity, and follows the guy to Sweet Valley.
- Two occurences in A Song of Ice and Fire
- Jeyne Poole is forced to impersonate Arya Stark, who isn't really dead, but the people who want to marry her off can't find the real one, and think she's most likely dead by this point.
- During the Battle of the Blackwater, Tywin Lannister has someone impersonate the highly charismatic and popular (but very much dead) Renly Baratheon (mostly by wearing his elaborate armor) in order to support her allied troops' morale and gain the smallfolk's support. Tywin being little short of a strategic genius, it works out well.
- In The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor, Brian takes on his brother Philip's name and persona after he dies.
- In Bioshock Rapture it's revealed that the character that players of the game know as "Frank Fontaine" actually murdered the real Frank Fontaine in order to take over his fishing business and gain access to Rapture. Though "Fontaine's" real first name is indeed "Frank" (which he lampshades), his real last name is never revealed (it's even mentioned that only a handful of of people in the world know it) .
- In the Indian novel The White Tiger: Balram takes over Ashok's identity after he kills him.
- This is a major plot twist in Going Down For the Count by David Stukas. The eponymous count is murdered before the story starts, and the man who meets and romances Robert is an impostor trying to frame Robert for the murder.
- The Mortal Instruments: Valentine killed Michael Wayland and his infant son (using that baby to make Jocelyn believe her son Jonathan was dead) and took over Michael Wayland's identity while raising Jace (who was Stephen Herondale's son. It's complicated).
Live Action TV
- In Exalted, we have this played out by the devious Deathlord known as the Eye and Seven Despairs. Publicly, his wife seduced his three lieutenants and they all conspired to have him destroyed (by putting him in a coffin and throwing it into the Oblivion), and now they rule together, all three lieutenants enjoying the widow's favors. In reality, the shrewd Deathlord had expected things to happen this exact way, so he swapped the body in the coffin with that of his treacherous wife, disguised himself as her, and he is now playing his three ex-lieutenants against one another using seduction and cruel mind games, both to make them pay and to continue controlling them. Do I need to mention he is as mad as he is cunning?
- Vampire: The Masquerade has a few examples, thanks to Obfuscate and Vicissitude, but "Melinda Galbraith," Regent of the Sabbat, is a prominent example. The real Rebecca Galbraith was found dead and rapidly decomposing by a Tzimisce drag queen fleshcrafted to look like her for a big social gather. As he'd recently been disgraced, he knew he'd be blamed for her murder, and thus stepped into her shoes. Now he's just praying no one finds out...
- The plot of Sizwe Banzi Is Dead is based on the eponymous character, living under apartheid in South Africa, switching places with a murdered man in order to be allowed to stay in Port Elizabeth.
- And of course, the musical Martin Guerre. This version makes the real Martin and his imposter friends, and the imposter truly believes Martin is dead when he unknowingly assumes his identity, including falling in love with his wife. Of course, the trouble is, Martin's Not Quite Dead...
- A common strategy in the Ace Attorney series. In the second game, there was a witness who got into a car crash with her sister. Her sister died and her face was mangled by the accident, and when surgically reconstructing her face, they mistakenly used her sister's driver's license photo. She assumed her sister's identity to escape from the consequences of her actions, including the fact that she was responsible for the crash.
- Adrian Andrews never changes her identity, but models her hard-boiled, no-nonsense personality after her "mentor" Celeste Inpax as a coping mechanism after the latter commits suicide. When she reappears in the third game, she's reverted to what seems to be her genuine personality—upbeat and slightly bumbling.
- Besides the above examples however, Furio Tigre takes the cake. He not only took over the identity of the person he had just killed, he did so to stage a different crime scene in order to throw off the time of death and frame the waitress in the restaurant where the murder took place. He THEN impersonates (badly, but the less-than-perceptive cast don't realize) the title character himself, to make sure said waitress is successfully tried due to his bad representation.
- This is inverted in the final case of Trials and Tribulations, where the ghost of Dahlia Hawthorne, being channeled by a spiritual technique where the channeler takes on the appearence of the one being channeled, pretends to be her still-living twin sister in order to frame Phoenix's sidekick Maya for murder.
- This is used in Dual Destinies by The Phantom who, a international spy who, for the entire game, was disguised as the already dead Detective Bobby Fulbright. Yup, the guy you took as the run-off-the-mill "explain the facts for you while having a silly personality" guy is actually an international spy/terrorist, and is the person behind most of the game's events, as well as the guy who bombed Courtroom No. 4, which the trailers and even the game events lead you into thinking Ted Tonate must have done, by rule of the series. This is probably the biggest and most "twisty" Plot Twist in the entire series.
- Happens with Weiss in Agarest Senki 2. The real Weiss tried to kill Chaos, but has a doubt in the end when Chaos told him that killing him would end badly for the world. Unfortunately, Faz, who is actually Mobius in disguise has another plan, so he stabbed the two and transferred Chaos's soul inside the dead Weiss's body, and this is the Weiss you're controlling all this time.
- This is the modus operandi of a Snatcher.
- In Final Fantasy VII, Cloud, rendered mentally unstable by experimentation and trauma, and with little self-esteem before that point, takes on the life story of his best friend, Zack. In the original, it was portrayed as Cloud finally snapping for good - in the remade scene in Crisis Core, it was portrayed as a conscious decision to live in Zack's honour. Either way, Cloud ends up genuinely believing that he was Zack, and the illusion comes apart in the most painful way possible later on.
- Even if it did seem to be portrayed as a conscious decision in Crisis Core, you can still tell that Cloud was... unraveling.
- Similarly, Setzer of Final Fantasy VI takes on the personality and reputation of his mentor, Daryl, after she dies. There's also Cyan, who writes letters claiming to be a woman's long-distance boyfriend after her real boyfriend dies.
- At the beginning of The Last Express, the main character finds his murdered friend's body in a train carriage, and assumes his identity in order to track down the killer.
- In Rondo of Swords, a prince is killed in the first chapter, and he requests that his Body Double (the main character) assume his identity, protect his sister, and save the kingdom. Depending on the path you take, the protagonist is either exposed and gains a new identity of his own or assumes the prince's life permanently.
- The original Metal Gear Solid has more than one example:
- The most obvious being Decoy Octopus, who took on the identity of the DARPA Chief Donald Anderson after the real Anderson was murdered by Revolver Ocelot.
- Throughout the entire mission Liquid Snake comes into contact with his brother Solid Snake under the guise of Snake's former drill instructor Master Miller. It isn't until near the end of the mission that Snake finds out that the real Miller died in his home three days prior.
- Dr. Naomi Hunter bought the identity of another "Naomi Hunter" who disappeared in the middle east a few years prior to the events of the story.
- Probably the ultimate example of this is in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, in which Link is taught a magical song that allows him to extract evil curses from the living and worldly sorrows from the dead to create magical masks. These masks allow him to shape shift into whoever they're from, so he ends up impersonating individuals of different species - the Goron hero Darmani, Zora guitarist Mikau, and a Deku Scrub boy who is heavily implied to be the murdered son of the Deku Palace butler.
- One of the victims in the Sierra game, Laura Bow: The Dagger of Amon Ra is actually impersonating a dead professor. Whom you also find as a skeleton.
- Occurs at one point in Siren. The catch is that the game never shows you the scene where the character is murdered and replaced, so for a while you continue to play believing that the character in question is the original.
- Another catch is that the person who murders and impersonates the deceased is his identical twin.
- Countess Crey from City of Heroes is the "assume the identity of the murder victim" variation.
- Occurs in Resident Evil: Code: Veronica, though it's not intended as a ploy and the dead person in question turns out to be alive.
- "THE POLITO FORM IS DEAD, INSECT."
- The background story for "Fall from Heaven" features the Buggane, a type of demon who's preferred hunting style is to find a married couple when one of the people is away from home. It first impersonates the missing person all day, until it's in bed with the other spouse to kill them. When the distant spouse returns it does the same thing in reverse.
- In Mass Effect 2, if you kill Samara at the end of her loyalty mission, her daughter Morinth will take her place, pretending to be Samara to hide what you and she did. All but Kelly Chambers and Kasumi Goto don't ask any questions.
- In the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, Liara takes the place of the Shadow Broker after you kill him.
- Liara figures out easily the current Broker did the same to the previous... possibly he did the same as well. There's a distinct Dread Pirate Roberts retirement style going on there.
- In Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World a single character impersonates two entirely different dead people at the same time, but the second case is unintentional. It's convoluted like that.
- The original game gives us Kilia, who killed the Governor-General's daughter (or, at least, she died without Dorr noticing) and took her form to keep tabs on Palmacosta.
- Can happen in Team Fortress 2 occasionally, if a Spy backstabs the player in question then disguises as the same class as the person they just stabbed. By doing this they'll sometimes appear with their last victim's name, completing the ruse.
- A quest from House Hlaalu in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind requires you to dress up as a dead person (depending on your gender) and retrieve some secret orders from House Redoran while wearing a helmet that the dead person always wore.
- Prototype does it so thoroughly that even the impersonator is convinced. Learning who the original really was subverts Becoming the Mask.
- Persona 2 has Nyarlathotep use this as a continued effort in Kick the Dog.
- In Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army, Sukuna-Hikona does this to General Munakata. To make it worse, to make the deception work, he keeps driving the corpse.
- Seven Days A Skeptic: The protagonist hijacks an early victim's identity.
- Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag has Edward Kenway as a pirate who ends up killing an Assassin and taking his identity. It turns out that the Assassin was defecting to the Templars, so Edward is more than happy to play along, seeing an opportunity to get rich. Then the Templars figure out the truth, the other Assassins find him, and Edward ends up becoming the real thing. Bonus points for being able to pull it off for that long, having never previously heard of either the Assassins or the Templars.
- Happens with Principal Skinner in The Simpsons, who is actually Armin Tamzarian. There is an episode where "Skinner" is revealed to be an old war buddy of the real Sergeant Seymour Skinner (voiced by Martin Sheen, which is funny because he was in Apocalypse Now), and assumed the sergeant's identity to keep Skinner's mother Agnes from being alone after her real son was thought to have died in the war. When the real Skinner moves in, people start missing the "old" Skinner (even his mother, who preferred the easily domineered Armin over the naturally independent Seymour), culminating in Seymour being driven out of town and a judge giving Armin Skinner's identity. And it never comes up again.
- Except in a Continuity Nod Lampshade Hanging of the show's rampant use of the Reset Button.
- Also in The Simpsons, when Krusty opens a Klown Kollege and Homer becomes a Krusty. Homer nearly kills a costume character at Krusty Burger and the mob starts trying to kill Homer for Krusty's debt.
- In the fifth season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003), it is revealed that Oroku Saki, the Shredder, had taken both identities from a man-turned-demon in ancient Japan.
- On King of the Hill, Dale often uses the name Rusty Shackleford as an alias, claiming it was the name of a dead kid. Turns out the real Rusty Shackleford is very much alive, and wants Dale to stop using his name.
- Gorillaz's Phase 3 guitarist Cyborg Noodle is a replacement for original-flavour Noodle, who vanished and was presumed dead at the end of Phase 2. Real Noodle is back. The two haven't met onscreen yet, except for the "Family Portrait" poster design which depicts them posing with Murdoc and 2D.
- Zeta the robot from Batman Beyond and later The Zeta Project was programmed to be this way, but his A.I. eventually evolved into an actual personality and he decided he no longer wanted to continue killing and imitating his victims.
- The Raccoons: In order to cheat Cyril Sneer out of half of Sneer Industries, Sid Leech posed as Cyril's long-lost brother Simon.
- Reino Hayhanen, the incompetent fellow-spy of Rudolf Abel, was an ethnic Finn from the Soviet Union. A certain man had been born in the US but grown up in Finland, eventually dying. Hayhanen was smuggled into Finland (truck with a false bottom), where he lived for two years as the dead man. He applied for and got the dead man's passport—since the dead man had been born in the US, this allowed Hayhanen to enter and live in the US as a citizen.
- A slight twist: in WWII, a counterintelligence plot was conceived by the British, to feed the Germans false information regarding the invasion of Southern Europe. It revolved on making it appear that a plane, en route from Britain to their North African Army HQ, had crashed off the coast of Spain, and a messenger carrying a bag with some highly confidential papers floated ashore, drowned. To turn the corpse they obtained to that end into a "real" person that could stand scrutiny by enemy investigators (both in Spain, and possibly agents in Britain too), the person behind the plot, Captain Montagu, took on the identity of the messenger on several occasions.
- A man named Jeffrey Howe was murdered and his body cut into pieces so his killers could take his identity and home (after he decided to stop them being The Thing That Would Not Leave).
- On May 15, 1591, Tsarevich Dmitri Ivanovich, son of Ivan IV and half-brother of then-Tsar Fedor, died of a mysterious knife wound. Rumor initially had it that he was killed by Boris Godunov, father-in-law of Fedor and basically the ruler of Russia (Fedor had...problems), who wanted to become tsar after the childless tsar died. Anyway, the rumors go away, Fedor dies, and Boris becomes tsar. This goes well for him until around 1600, when in the midst of famine and a lot of social tension, a man in Poland claims to be Tsarevich Dmitri, gathers an army, and invades to kill the "usurper". Civil war ensues. Eventually, "Dmitri" takes the throne, but within a year he is killed by a conspiracy of boyars under Prince Vasili Shuiskii. Yet, rumors come out that "Tsar Dmitri" survived, the civil war restarts, and then another man claims to be "Tsar Dmitri." He is killed. Then ANOTHER man claims to be the now-thrice-murdered tsar. Then he is killed, Mikhail Romanov is made tsar, and the rest is history.
- A common past technique for creating a fake identity in the U.S. was to learn the name and birth date of a child who died in infancy fifteen years earlier, then apply for a Social Security number under that name, as if the kid were getting his or her first summer job. Not used so much nowadays, as federal and local demographic databases can more easily synch up and spot the discrepancy, and there are stricter guards on infant death certificates.note
- A similar trick was used in Britain to provide suitable cover identities for undercover police officers infiltrating supposed terrorist organisations, most of which turned out to be largely harmless environmental activists on closer examination when some documents were leaked to the media. The children's next-of-kin were not pleased.
- One of the most famous real life cases is the story of Martin Guerre, which has inspired a number of fictional works. The real Guerre abandoned his family, and several years later, a man returned claiming to be him. Things went well for a while, but then that man was accused by his in-laws of being an impostor. In this case, things went wrong because the real Guerre was still alive and returned, and the fake one, actually named Arnaud du Thil, was sentenced to death.
- The Borges Tom Castro story described under the Literature heading is a retelling of the Tichborne claimant incident. A man (real name Arthur Orton, AKA Tom Castro) claimed to be Sir Roger Tichborne, the disappeared heir to a wealthy and aristocratic English family.
- Many people have been disqualified from military service over the years due to medical conditions, most of which aren't all that serious. One (quite illegal) way around this is to enlist under a false identity. The person you're trying to impersonate need not actually be dead, though if not, it certainly helps to get his assistance before attempting a stunt like that.
- After the Russian Revolution and murder of the Romanov family, it was rumored that Grand Duchess Anastasia had somehow survived and/or escaped. For years, many people disputed this, and several claimed to be her, the most notorious impostor being Anna Anderson. After several DNA tests, the remains of all four Grand Duchesses had been accounted for, thereby proving that none escaped.
- One major avenue of Medicare fraud in the US (and no doubt having variants in other countries) is to steal many beneficiary identities and run them through fake procedures in scam mills. Sometimes, the identities used are of dead people.
- A man in Brooklyn put on a ruse as his own dead mother which looks like Black Comedy material. He fared pretty well too, until he decided to take out a lawsuit under her name.