"'I speak without fear of contradiction...' is the opening sentence of the ideal debriefing."
Uh-oh, you did something bad! Looks like someone will have to take the blame. But who?
Why, how about someone who can't defend themselves? Someone who has no active way to clear their name after you've framed them? Someone to whom nothing can happen if they are framed, and thus there is little to no guilt in doing so?
Like a dead guy, maybe even one you killed yourself!
In a sense this ploy can only really work in a Fascist, but Inefficient
state, since a real detective will find a deceased fall guy to be a wee bit too convenient for serious crimes.
See also the Blame Game
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Anime and Manga
- Used by Lelouch in Code Geass. Taken to its extreme at the end of R2, when he sets himself up as the ultimate fall guy, and has Suzaku assassinate him to bring world peace.
- In Sword Art Online, Akihiko Kayaba is given all the blame for all of the deaths that occurred because of his death game, while the Player Killers, who knew or didn't believe that killing other players would kill them in real life, get off with counseling at worst (well, those that survived the game did- many PKers were PKed in turn). Kayaba, of course, died with the game.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, after the A-Laws are defeated, it is suggested by The Movie that the organization and their actions were blamed on Alejandro Corner, a season 1 villain who died five years prior. Why the actions and existence of Ribbons Almarck would need to be kept secret is a bit of a mystery, though it may have something to do with keeping the existence of Innovators/Innovades a secret.
- In Schindler's List, a Nazi officer is looking for a thief and shoots a man in cold blood to tell the Jews he isn't playing. The dead man promptly gets blamed for the theft.
- In Miller's Crossing, Tom suggests doing this to the Dane after Bernie kills Johnny Caspar, but then says they can't and kills Bernie because the timelines wouldn't match up. Played with in that Tom's primary motivation for killing Bernie is simply that he knows he'll betray him again if he doesn't.
- Minority Report: Used to fool the Precrime murder precognition. Normally, murders cannot be committed because they are predicted by pre-cogs and the police stop them before they happen; sometimes, a pre-cog sees images of a murder that's already happened, which is dismissed as a worthless "echo". The villain hires one of the Crazy Homeless People to try and (inevitably) get caught killing a woman he wants out of the way so he can do it himself later (reenacting the attempted murder exactly) and pretend that the prediction of this murder is an echo.
- Clear and Present Danger: The President threatens to do this to the recently deceased former boss and mentor of Jack Ryan in The Movie and blame him for the illegal actions the President ordered.
- In Saw VI, Detective Mark Hoffman names the recently deceased Agent Strahm as being the latest Jigsaw killer. It doesn't work.
- Heavily zigzagged in this mid 90s Dolph Lundgren film The Shooter. (Hidden Assassin in the US.) Lundgren is an Intelligence agent working for America. He and his partner start the film by being assigned to secretly capture an infamous female assassin who is suspected of being hired to attack an international treaty convention in Prague. Eventually she convinces him that she's innocent, and a conspiracy was going use her as the fall guy for their plan. They work together to bring down the conspiracy, but she gets killed along the way, and it turns out that Dolph's partner is involved in the conspiracy and is the one who is really going to attack the convention. After Dolph saves the day, the good guys in his department decide to save his partner's reputation, (and the partner's pension for his wife and children) by pinning the blame on the dead female assassin, and pretending the partner died a hero. It's that kind of movie. Little wonder that Dolph's last action is to say Screw This, I'm Outta Here!.
- In Swimming with Sharks young studio assistant Guy snaps when he realizes that his boss has been lying about passing word about Guy's good work up the chain of command, so he breaks into his boss' house to torment him and get revenge. Towards the end Guy's Love Interest (who the boss had also had a relationship with) shows up and begs for him to leave the Hollywood studio scene behind and come with her. Instead Guy and the boss kill her, blame her for the boss' injury and torture, and Guy's advancement up the ranks is now secure.
- The Usual Suspects: At least enough for the real Keyser Soze to get away.
- Done for laughs in Mulholland Dr., where the killer has to kill several extra witnesses and make it look like a bizarre shootout.
- Inverted in The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent had become a symbol to Gotham. So Batman decided he would take the blame for the murders committed in Dent's final hours. In the third movie, Gotham's new stellar law enforcement record was somehow enabled by a bill inspired by Dent's example, at least until Bane exposes the truth by reading Gordon's speech to the media.
- The Bourne Series: In The Bourne Supremacy, Ward Abbott tries to pin the Berlin assassination and the money theft on Conklin, who'd died in The Bourne Identity, and Bourne, who was to be killed before the CIA could find him.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Tywin Lannister tries to put the blame of Elia Martell's murder on the recently deceased Amory Lorch. Oberyn Martell does not believe it.
- In Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel Demons one of the villains convinces a character who is undergoing an existential crisis to commit suicide and write note in which he claims to be guilty of crimes actually commited by the villains. Some Fauxlosophic Narration ensues as the characters ponders whether 'tis nobler to be or not to be the fall guy.
- The Mad Hatter Mystery: A variant occurs in this John Dickson Carr novel; the killer tries to frame the mad hatter, knowing that the dead man is the mad hatter.
- In Tony Hillerman's Hunting Badger, robbers murder a talk show host and fake a suicide note with a confession.
- In the Ciaphas Cain novel Cain's Last Stand, Cain defuses an argument between Inquisition and Mechanicus personnel over who had leaked the existence of the Shadowlight to Chaos forces by blaming it on the late renegade Inquisitor Killian. Based on the logic he used when designating the already-punished scapegoat, he might even have been right.
- The Thin Man: George Wynant, the eponymous thin man, is the main suspect since he is presumed to have run away. The discovery of his body reveals that it was actually his lawyer who killed both Wynant and his former lover.
Live Action TV
- Used several times in the first season of Boardwalk Empire. Corrupt Politician Nucky Thompson attempts to aid Margaret Schroeder, a poor & pregnant immigrant who came to him for help, but is enraged that her husband Hans subsequently beat her into the hospital, (and a miscarriage) and went gambling with the money Nucky gave her. Nucky has his brother/sheriff Eli and his men kill Hans and blame him for a crime committed by Shell-Shocked Veteran Jimmy, who is Like a Son to Nucky. Then, at the end of the season, Nucky's men wipe out the D'Alessio brothers, a group of hired thugs causing him problems, and then blames them both for their own crimes and ones committed by Nucky's administration.
- On Burn Notice, a rival spy posing as Michael Westen steals a lot of money from a druglord, then has to kill an assassin looking for him. Westen's plan to get the druglord off his back is to make the dead assassin look like the real thief.
- In another episode, a Dirty Cop pulls this on his partner after stealing a stash of heroin... unfortunately for him, the deceased was a friend of Sam's.
- Castle, episode one "Flowers For Your Grave": the real killer sets up a mentally challenged guy because said guy wouldn't be able to defend himself, afford a private attorney, and is an easy to believe scapegoat.
- It's also uncovered that the serial killer in "Tick... Tick... Tick..." / "Boom!" has this as his recurring MO.
- The plot of the Columbo episode Negative Reaction has a photographer kill his wife, then kill another guy, making it look like the latter killed the former.
- Dexter: Dexter had doubts about the success of framing Doakes as the Bay Harbor Butcher... at least until he got blown up and wouldn't be around to make a fuss.
- In Game of Thrones, Lannister men are looking for Gendry. Arya claims that a Night's Watch recruit they had just killed was Gendry. Her gambit is aided by the fact that the recruit had stolen Gendry's distinctive helmet before he died.
- A minor example is when Davos reveals to Stannis that he can read. Davos claims he was taught by his son Matthos, in reality he taught by Princess Shireen. Since that tutelage consisted of her sneaking into the prison to help him read, he has good reason to not mention her help.
- Used in Monk a lot:
- In "Mr. Monk and the Garbage Strike", union accountant Ron Neely has been embezzling money from the sanitation union's pension fund. But when the union goes on strike, he knows the pension fund's books will be audited, necessitating that he find a fast way to cover up the theft of the money. So he shoots and kills union boss Jimmy Cusack, makes his death look like a suicide, and blames him for the theft of the money.
- In "Mr. Monk and the Birds and the Bees," sports agent Rob Sherman lures a career burglar named Dewey Jordan to his house to ostensibly participate in an insurance scam, but once Dewey is inside, Sherman draws one gun and shoots him. His wife comes downstairs to investigate the noise, and Sherman shoots her with a different gun, which he plants in Dewey's hand, then fires to make it look like Sherman shot him in self-defense.
- In "Mr. Monk Goes to the Asylum," Dr. Morris Lancaster shoots and kills Dr. Conrad Gould, then steals drugs from the medical supply room to make it look like a patient did it. He then administers a lethal overdose of the drugs to a patient named Bill LaFrankie.
- On NCIS Agent Michelle Lee shot and killed Agent Langer and framed him as the mole revealing secret military information, in order to cover her own guilt.
- Used by Alex on Nikita. She knows Division's found out Nikita has a mole, and she's just been forced to kill Thom in self-defense, so she figures she might as well let them think it was him.
- On NYPD Blue a stick-up man who snitched for Simone told him and Sipowicz that an old unsolved murder had been committed by a notorious killer who was recently deceased. Sipowicz scoffed, pointing out that snitches all over the city had been trying to pin murders on the killer since his death, but the stick-up man knew details of the crime that were consistent with the evidence. It comes full circle at the end of the episode, when the stick-up man has been shot and tells Simone, "I got no bodies unaccounted for, Robert. Don't let 'em clear no cases off me," before dying himself.
- Used in Sons of Anarchy. ATF agent Stahl finds herself wrongfully shooting an escaping prisoner in the back. Scared that it might torch her career (or worse), she initially frames Gemma Teller for the crime. However, through a series of deals going sour and rash moves, the frame job becomes impractical... so Stahl seizes an opportunity to shoot her own partner during a firefight, then frames her for the whole mess, including framing Gemma. She confessed all of it just before she died, too !
- Star Trek: The Next Generation. This sets off the plot of "Sins of the Father". On discovering that the colony on Khitomer was betrayed by a traitor, Worf's deceased father Mogh is blamed instead of the real culprit (who is also dead, but whose House is too powerful to risk antagonising). The Klingon High Council wrongly assume that Worf, being raised in the Federation, would have little interest in Klingon affairs. Unfortunately for them Mogh had a second son (secretly raised by another House) who tracks down Worf in order to get his help in restoring his father's honor. Eventually, and very reluctantly, Worf is persuaded to go along with the ruse to prevent the Klingon Empire from falling into civil war.
- In Breaking Bad, this is defied by Walter White. After Gale Boetticher's death, DEA agent and Walt's brother-in-law, Hank Schraeder, gets all of Gale's lab notes and starts believing he's the illusive Heisenberg. Walter initially appears to go along with this, until Hank starts praising Gale as a chemistry genius responsible for the purest meth he's ever seen. Both drunk and consumed by Pride, unwilling to let anyone take credit for his work, Walter turns Hank off of the idea, noting that his criminal mastermind is probably still out there somewhere.
- Used a few times in Hollyoaks: Paul Browning gets away with Lynsey's murder by pinning it on the deceased Riley, and Freddie Roscoe covers up his murder of Fraser Black by trying to make Sam Lomax's death look like suicide out of guilt over killing Fraser. Subverted when Justin Burton is blamed for the death of Macki: when he tries to tell the truth (that the real killer is Ali, who was killed by a car as he ran away from the scene) no one believes Justin, because of this trope.
- Used frequently in Paranoia, where the main corebook notes (quoted above) that being the only one alive at the debriefing stops your (self-flattering) story from being contradicted. Even The Computer does eventually get suspicious about sole survivors, though, so one suggested alternative is to bribe/blackmail some of your teammates into supporting your story. And in a pinch, you can always just make up a culprit and ask for permission to go hunt them down.
- In Macbeth, the titular character frames his two guards for the murder of King Duncan, then kills them, while saying it was ordered by Duncan's sons, who flee for their lives and look even guiltier (although they get theirs in the end).
- At the beginning of Skies of Arcadia, Alfonso attempts to avoid blame for losing to the heroes by killing his vice-captain and claiming that the latter betrayed him. Alfonso's superiors see through the ruse.
- In Tactics Ogre, at the end of the second Lawful chapter, Leonard is killed after assassinating the Duke. With his dying breath, he tells Denim to scapegoat him for all of the evil deeds of the Walsta Liberation Army, thus reuniting the Walstanian liberation forces under his command.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, the Legion version of the quest "I Put a Spell on You" has the Courier doing this to Private Davey Crenshaw
- Ace Attorney:
- Quercus Alba tries this twice in Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. First he tries to blame the smuggling ring solely on assistant-Bahbalese ambassador and co-conspirator Manny Coachen. Later, he pins Manny's murder on his dragon, Shih-na/Callisto Yew (who wasn't dead but already placed under arrest for another crime). Lang is especially outraged by his doing so.
- Earlier on, in the fourth case, Mack Rell and Byrne Faraday are set up to make it look like they killed each other, but the real murderer decides to try to frame Gumshoe instead.
- And earlier still in the series, in the second case of the second game, this trope is applied in a way that could only happen in this series. 14 patients at the Grey Surgical Clinic died, and Dr. Turner Grey blamed the deaths on a nurse, Mimi Miney, mixing up their medications. Miney confirms this. Two weeks later, Mimi Miney dies and her twin sister Ini is badly injured in a car accident. People blame Grey for this accident (perhaps thinking that Mimi's confession was coerced and that she was killed so that she wouldn't be able to recant it). Grey then uses the fact that spirit channeling is an accepted phenomenon in the Ace Attorney world to try to shift the blame to Mimi for her own death. It fails, of course, because Ini was actually the one who died, and Mimi tried to hide from her past by taking on her twin sister's identity. Grey's attempt to channel her to extract a confession would naturally fail, since she wasn't dead, and so Grey ended up being killed.
- In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, it's strongly suggested that the drug addict alleged to have killed Satoko's aunt was a deceased fall guy for Satoshi.
- In Futurama this is Zap Brannigan's MO; he uses Bread and Circuses to ensure the loyalty of his crew, talks them into a Heroic Sacrifice and then escapes and takes all the glory.
- King of the Hill: In the episode "A Fire Fighting We Will Go," a dead elderly man is blamed for inadvertently burning down the firehouse that Dale burned down. Everybody in the group just agrees with the argument, except for Boomhauer, but nobody understands him.
- The main crew of Metalocalypse uses this when they find out that they've been embezzling from themselves.
- Archer manages to use this on KGB mole Kremenski to hide his inappropriate expenses. After Kremenski outs himself as The Mole, he steals $50,000 from Archer's account while taking him prisoner. When Archer kills him, Cyril notices the theft and suggests Kremenski had been doing it all along, which Archer goes along with.
- A guy in Illinois murdered his wife and another man and tried to blame it on the dead man. He got away with it until his mistress came forward and helped convict him.
- After Henry Hudson's crew mutinied against him (after having to spend the winter in northern Canada, with Hudson still pressing him men to continue the expedition to find a route to Asia), when the crew return to England, they blamed the mutiny on the men who died en route back so as to escape the charge of mutiny (which would have seen them executed).
- This is the core of the controversial argument by British historian AJP Taylor on the beginning of World War 2. He argued that while Hitler may have been evil, the actual war was sparked off by incompetent and muddled diplomacy by Britain and France that created an opportunity for Hitler (or, potentially, any other German nationalist leader) to take advantage. After Hitler was defeated and the full extent of his evil was revealed, the argument went, the Allied leaders simply buried their own incompetent diplomacy while placing all the blame on now dead Hitler and his incontrovertible evil.