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Finger in the Mail
In the event of a kidnapping or Hostage Situation where characters are held for ransom, when the kidnapper is ready to make his demands known and/or make sure he is taken seriously by his hostage's loved ones or law enforcement authorities, the kidnapper will send severed extremities from his hostage to the family/police. Fingers are very common, but ears, teeth, toes, hair, etc. are frequently fair game, as well.

In other circumstances, the situation can involve a Serial Killer mailing more gruesome body parts (typically internal organs or severed heads) from recent victims to both taunt the police or detectives tailing him and to prove to them that they are receiving correspondence from the suspect they are after. If the body part is delivered to a loved one of the victim in this circumstance, it's typically a way to convey the gruesome fate met by the victim to that character who receives the body part.

See Also: Fingore, Past Victim Showcase.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Happens in GUNNM when Gally shows up at Desty Nova's lab looking for her foster father, Ido. When she demands that Desty tell her where he is, he casually tosses her a head-sized metal box and tells her to take a look for herself.
  • Used in Heat Guy J. A Corrupt Politician kills Ian when the latter was caught spying. The guy then cuts off Ian's hand (with his Phi Beta Kappa ring on the middle finger) and sends it to Ian's boss (and friend), who then declares war on the senator.
  • In Black Lagoon, Balalaika has a yakuza boss who betrayed her killed and (offscreen) cut into pieces. She then sends a box containing some of the pieces back to his organization as a reminder that she's not to be trifled with.
  • Used in MPD Psycho: A killer sends one of the detectives looking for him the armless, legless torso of the detective's girlfriend in an ice chest.

    Comic Books 
  • In Batman: Dark Victory, someone steals the body of previous untouchable crime lord Big Bad Carmine Falcone (who was killed by Two Face in an attempt to "do what is necessary" to take down organized crime) and, later, sends his daughter, who has taken over the crime family, his finger, which her aide recognizes as an "old style message," meaning that someone means to take everything from her, "piece by piece." At the end, the person who stole the body is revealed to be Two Face who, throughout the story, was acting leading nearly all of Batman's rogues gallery to take down the Falcone family and its associates.
  • In the "Five Years Later" run of Legion of Super-Heroes, the crazed killer Roxxas blows up the rock Legionnaire Blok and mails the pieces to the other Legionnaires.
  • The maniacal doctor Hush from Batman turns this around by sending Batman the entirety of Catwoman... minus her heart.
  • In Sin City, Hartigan gets a severed finger in the mail instead of his usual letter from Nancy. Junior couldn't find her, so he tricks Hartigan into tracking her down.
  • In the Emma Frost origin comic series, Emma and her boyfriend Troy are kidnapped by loan sharks that Troy owed money to. When they find out that Emma is the daughter of a millionaire, they ship a box full of her hair and an ear to her family, along with a ransom note. The ear, it turns out, was actually Troy's, him having been killed earlier trying to save Emma.
  • The Judge Dredd story arc "Origins" begins with a small box containing a ransom note and a sample of living tissue belonging to Judge Fargo, the first Chief Judge of Mega-City One and the founder of the Judge system, being delivered to the Hall of Justice.

    Fan Fiction 

    Film 
  • The Blair Witch Project has a variation of this when Josh's blood-soaked hair and teeth are left outside Heather's tent, packed in sticks wrapped with scraps of his shirt.
  • Dirty Harry: Scorpio kidnaps a 14-year-old girl, sending the police her bra, a lock of hair, and a bloody tooth "pulled out with a pair of pliers".
  • In Escape from New York, a creepy punk taunts the government troops with the kidnapped President's severed finger.
  • At the end of Se7en, a package is received from the captured Serial Killer containing the head of his latest victim — Mills' wife.
  • In Split Second, a long-vanished Serial Killer returns and taunts the protagonist by sending him a metal briefcase that turns out to contain the heart of the first new victim packed in ice with a very large bite taken out of it.
  • In The Hitcher, the protagonist stops at a roadside diner to call the cops on the serial killer who's been pursuing him. The killer slips a human finger into a plate of fries the waitress brings him.
  • In The Big Lebowski, the eponymous "Big" Jeffrey Lebowski is sent one of his wife's, Bunny, toes after a botched money exchange. Although this is actually a ruse to make Lebowski think they have his wife, and it turns out that one of the conspirators had his poor girlfriend provide the toe.
  • In Clean Slate, Dana Carvey is supposed to testify against a criminal who is missing his thumb, because he was kidnapped as a child and his father refused to give in to the kidnappers' demands.
  • In Under Siege, Strannix recounts a tale of how he sent his CIA superior the fingers of two assassins who were sent to kill him.
  • Referenced in A Life Less Ordinary, when incompetent kidnapper Robert asks his victim what he's supposed to do next. Celine tells him about the last time she was kidnapped, when she was 12.
    Robert: "So what did they do next?"
    Celine: "They put a needle in my arm and took a pint of blood, and sent it to my father. The next week they did the same, and the same the next week till he paid up. He waited six weeks. That's what happens to the victim."
  • In The World Is Not Enough, Renard mutliates Elektra King's ear and sends her father the lobe as a warning. Elektra was actually a willing participant in this.

    Literature 
  • In one Forgotten Realms novel, the crimelord who has the halfling Regis captive has one of his men give Drizzt and friends (out to save Regis) a package when they reach his city: a halfling's severed finger. Not only is it from Regis, the crimelord does it again as they're breaking into his lair.
  • In Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept series, the villains kidnap Clip, one of the protagonist's unicorn allies, and send him Clip's horn as proof. Clip is rescued, and the protagonist uses his magic to reattach the horn.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • The Bloody Mummers cut off the Kingslayer's sword hand, intending to send it to his father with a ransom demand.
    • Ramsay Bolton sends flayed skin from Theon Greyjoy to a number of lords. His letter mentions the inclosed "piece of prince."
      • The TV show has his father receiving Theon's "favorite toy", implied to be his penis.
  • The Erast Fandorin book The Coronation includes a subversion of the ransom demand variation; the hostage was killed immediately after the finger was cut off as part of the villain's Evil Plan.
    • Ramsay Bolton sometimes sends people letters with pieces of flayed skin in them.
  • Used in the Firekeeper books, when kidnappers send Citrine's fingers to Lady Melinda. Her only reaction is to burn them.
  • In Mercedes Lackey's Arrows Fall, a villain asks sweetly, "How will your Queen react to receiving her favorite Herald...but a small piece at a time?"
  • In one of the Alex Rider books, Alex swaps rooms with a friend he made in hospital to protect him from kidnappers (the friend's father is rich). They threaten to do this to Alex once they finally show up, forcing him to admit the truth.
  • In Myth-Inc Link, Skeeve receives a package containing a severed finger. Recognizing the ring it's wearing as one he'd foisted off on Queen Hemlock to force her to give up conquering the worldnote , he concludes that she cut it off to free herself from its magic and is once again a threat. At the end of the book, however, both Skeeve and the reader learn that things aren't quite what they seem. The finger was Roderick's, and Hemlock sent it to Skeeve to tell him that she'd figured out the rings were just a bluff when Rod died of natural causes.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Rogues in the House", Murilo is given a recognizable ear as a hint.
  • The Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" has a pair of ears placed in a box but delivered to the wrong person.
  • In the novel Sick Puppy, the protagonist, in his efforts to force a lobbyist to shut down a proposed resort development program that existed purely to funnel pork to cronies of the governor, holds the lobbyist's dog hostage and mails the man the ear and paw of a Labrador Retriever. Subverted in that the parts had been taken off another dog who had died in an accident, not the lobbyist's dog.
  • In Sammy Keyes and the Runaway Elf, the people who kidnapped the prize dog of a Rich Bitch mail her a box full of said dog's fur. This also doubles as a way to hide it in the kennel it was being kept at.
  • In The Tamuli, instructions to Sparhawk from Ehlana's kidnappers include a lock of her hair as verification.
  • In American Psycho, when Patrick Bateman is listing his priorities before Christmas, one of them is "saw a hardbody's head off and Federal Express it to Robin Barker – the dumb bastard – over at Salomon Brothers".
  • In the fifth Pendragon book, St. Dane leaves Bobby a bag containing Gunny's severed hand.
  • An eponymous example in Ghislain Taschereau's french novel Inspector Spector and the Dead Finger where the Big Bad gets the inspector involved by leaving a dead severed finger on top of a mailbox for no apparent reason. Fortunately, the inspector has a secret weapon: he sold his soul to the Devil to be the world's greatest detective.
  • In Joyce Carol Oates' My Heart Laid Bare, an entire body is delivered this way, cut up into parts and then stowed in appropriate boxes (the head in a hatbox, feet in a shoebox, etc.)
  • In the Phryne Fisher novel Away With the Fairies, the Ruthless Modern Pirates who abduct Lin Chung mail his ear to Phryne.
  • In The Bishop's Heir of the Deryni series, Loris sends Kelson Bishop Henry Istelyn's finger (still wearing his bishop's ring) in a show of defiance. Istelyn's head later follows.
  • The Rifter: How Laurie summoned John into a trap to use him to open the Great Gates: sending him one of his lover Kyle’s fingers. She chose the ring finger, because she was furious that John got his lover back when she couldn’t have her dead husband.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alias: Sloane receives his wife's ring finger through the mail as proof she's still alive and being held hostage. It's actually a plan set in motion by Sloane himself. His wife cut off her own finger and mailed it to him.
  • In the 80s, the Canadian comedy show Bizarre parodied this, with a skit featuring a man and woman waiting anxiously for correspondence from their son's kidnapper. After revealing that they'd been sent a few pieces of him already (fingers and toes) they received a new box. When the wife asked what part of him was in it this time, the answer was, "His shit." In an alternate ending, it was instead his foot, to which the parents happily exclaimed, "Now we have enough to put him back together again!"
  • In Black Mirror the kidnapper mails the Princess' finger to the press after it is revealed that the PM is using a body double in a sex tape. However, forensic examination shows it's NOT the Princess's finger. In an appallingly extreme bluff, it's the kidnapper's.
  • Used on Bones quite often.
    • Especially during the Gormogon arc and with some from crime scenes involving scavenger animals, winds, or other such scattering mechanisms.
  • In an episode of Cold Case, a coyote (smuggler of humans along the US-Mexico boarder) would kidnap the children of families that missed payments, cut off their ear and mail it to the family, then kill the child if there was still no payment received.
  • Similarly, the season 1 finale of Criminal Minds features a variation on this trope; SSA Jason Gideon receives, at his cottage, a baseball card and a head in a box via courier, which sets the BAU's targets on this new case.
  • One CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode featured a man who had found the cut off index finger of his mistress in her apartment. Later, they find the body and it is revealed that it was the man himself who had killed her. To avoid suspicion of the murder, he staged it as a kidnapping gone wrong.
  • An episode of CSI: New York dealt with the heir of a wealthy family who'd been abducted at a young age with his brother. When the family was slow with the ransom money, his brother's ear was cut off and sent to the family; later, the brother was killed. The surviving man kept the ear in a jar of preservative.
    • In 'Seth and Apop',Christine's kidnappers taunt Mac with a tongue in the mail. It turns out not to be hers,though.
    • In "Brooklyn 'Til I Die", kidnappers send a millionaire his son's finger in a ring box, with a distinctive ring still attached.
  • This was a recurring theme throughout the whole of season one of Dexter, but never quite so strongly as the time that the Ice Truck Killer mailed a jar of blood with a hotel room key in it to the homicide division. The hotel room key turned out to lead to a hotel room (duh) with walls covered with even much more blood.
  • In Frasier, when Niles is taking care of a sack of flour as though it were a child, he tells Frasier about his nightmares where the sack of flour is kidnapped and he starts receiving muffins in the mail.
  • In one episode of The Golden Girls, the girls' young neighbor Daisy holds Rose's teddy bear for ransom. At one point, Blanche receives one of his ears in the mail.
  • Subverted in an episode of /Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, where it turns out the kidnapping was staged, and the body part belonged to somebody else (the "kidnapper" was working at a job that gave him access to dead bodies).
  • Parodied in Season 4 of House, when Drs. Cuddy and Wilson try to force House to hire a new team. Wilson attempts blackmail by "kidnapping" House's guitar. When House still won't give in, Wilson sends him the torn off whammy bar as a threat.
  • In the Jonathan Creek episode "Angel Hair" a kidnapper sends a tuft of hair to the hostage's lover. (Kind of...the hair and the kidnapping itself was completely staged, in an attempt to make the hostage look as though she were faking her own kidnapping in order to extort money out of her married lover. The hair ends up being a major continuity problem for the person pulling the strings, as the woman is in a hair-pulling Cat Fight just before the actors grab her and cut her hair off, making it seem like she's grown a full head of hair back in a matter of seconds.).
  • Inverted/subverted in a Law & Order: Criminal Intent season finale, when Goren receives a human heart while investigating the death of his brother Frank and possible kidnapping of his nephew. Turns out it actually belongs to serial killer Nicole Wallace, who had killed Frank and was subsequently killed by Goren's unhinged mentor, who wanted to remove himself, Nicole and Frank from Goren's life in one fell swoop.
    • In the Special Victims Unit episode "Weeping Willow", the de-ear-ing of WW's boyfriend happens on-camera to show that the kidnappers are serious.
    • In another SVU episode, a serial killer, who uses riddles to lead the team to his victims, cuts off the ear of his first victim and sends it to them, warning them that they are running out of time before he kills her.
  • Done with an added layer of Squick on Luther where the kidnappers cut out their hostage's tongue just to prove they're serious. Later, they send further body parts.
  • The serial killer variation showed up on Millennium where a sinister figure known as "the Judge" has criminals committing vigilante killings and mailing body parts to the victims' victims.
  • Parodied in a Mr. Show sketch in which a kidnapper calls the wealthy father of the boy he's kidnapped and demands to know whether he received his son's toe in the mail to prove his serious intent. Except he forgot to mail the toe. And he appears to have accidentally removed his own toe, instead of one of the kid's. And he's already released the kid. And the police are able to track his call while he's dithering about all of this. The kidnapper ends up trying to sell the father his own toe for $50.00. Obviously, he's not a very effective kidnapper.
  • In "Mr. Monk and the Kid", a kidnapper's plans start to go awry when a toddler wanders off with the severed pinkie finger meant to be left for the victim's family to find.
  • An NCIS investigation got started when a pair of eyeballs, mailed as a threat, was unwittingly sent to an address where the intended recipient wasn't even living anymore.
  • Also parodied on the Nickelodeon show Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, where the school bully, Loomer, takes the title character's Life Science baby care project doll and sends it back to them piece by piece. The horrified Cookie exclaims, "What do we do now?" to which Ned smiles and replies, "Nothing." Backfires when the day before the babies are to be inspected the teacher suddenly moves up the deadline they still don't have the head.
  • Used and subverted in a 2000 episode of Swedish soap opera Nya Tider. The series's Big Bad, Carl Gripenhielm, is sent a package containing his son Philip's index toe, as a taunt to make him send money to the kidnappers. Some scenes later it is revealed that the son cut his toe off himself, and is faking the kidnapping, together with Depraved Homosexual friend Hampus.
  • In Oz, African-American inmate Johnny Post kills Italian inmate Dino Ortolani on the orders of Homeboys leader Jefferson Keane. In retaliation, the Italians dismember Post and send Keane his penis in a box.
  • In an episode of Police Squad!, Frank and his co-workers tell the mother of a kidnapped young lady about a similar case they had in which the victim's ear was cut off and mailed to her parents. The story, naturally, horrifies the woman.
    • In another episode, mobsters have kidnapped a boxer's girlfriend to make him throw a fight. They start by showing a few of the normal items, then they show him her toaster (complete with toast popping up). During the fight, he checks the crowd and the mob's man is sitting there, with her clothes dryer...
  • Played for Laughs in the Scrubs episode "My White Whale". In a Cutaway Gag after Dr. Cox denies acting like a complete lunatic, doll enthusiast Dr. Norris receives a parcel containing the hand of a doll that went missing after he refused to break his schedule to look at Dr. Cox's son. Soon after, Dr. Cox reveals that the hand belongs to another doll—not the one that Dr. Norris is missing.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Arkham Horror, Jenny Barne's Personal Story revolves around her search for her sister Isabelle. Should she fail, the flavor text reveals that she's received two envelopes of this nature: one containing a finger, the other a toe. A box on her doorstep implies a third delivery that makes Jenny cry out in horror...

    Video Games 
  • In one of the quests for the Dark Brotherhood in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the player is tasked with killing a recently retired commander of the Imperial Legion, and for a fat bonus, chopping off a finger and planting it in the desk of his successor as a warning.
  • Screw up the investigation of the first murder case in Visual Novel:Kara no Shoujo and a suspiciously large crate will be delivered to your office. Contents: the body of your good friend's wife, minus her right leg, uterus, and the unborn child she'd been carrying. Made even worse once you discover that she's still alive.
  • Case #20 of Criminal Case opens with the player character receiving a severed finger mailed to him/her at the police station.

    Web Animation 
  • Parodied at Homestar Runner when Strong Bad's old computers kidnap his Lappy, they send him her "toe" (a keyboard key) through the mail.

    Webcomics 
  • Parodied in the printed precursor to Freefall, when Helix is kidnapped. Since he's a robot, his compatriots just reassemble him as the parts arrive in the mail. The last thing to arrive is his head. He then comments on his "rescue".
  • Similar to the above example, Amazing Super Powers makes a gag out of reassembling the kidnapped victim as they receive severed appendages, but instead of a robot, detectives plan on reassembling a child.
  • In The Perry Bible Fellowship, after the Candy King discovers a chocolate spy, he sends the Chocolate Kingdom a box containing the spy's "nut".
  • In Guilded Age, the heroes come across a town seeking to fulfill quests, to build popular support for their attempt at forming an Adventurer's Guild. Expecting tough competition, they instead find, to their dismay, that no quests whatsoever have been fulfilled thanks to an ongoing war, and the bulletin is covered in unanswered behests. One in particular involves a kidnapping, wherein the kidnapper promises to send a piece of their victim for every week their ransom remains unpaid. And the bulletin in question had been up for several months by that point.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons episode "Pranksta Rap", Bart pretends to be kidnapped and makes a call to the rest of the family while posing as the kidnapper. Homer immediately demands that the kidnapper send body parts to prove that he really has Bart. Marge objects.
    • In another episode, when the Simpsons find Mr. Burns's beloved teddy bear from his childhood, Bart suggests they send Burns one of its eyes.
    Bart: He'll pay more money if he thinks the bear's in danger.
    • A disturbing example is discussed in "Homer Goes to Prep School" where Homer flatly says that he wouldn't pay ransom for Bart in the event of his son being kidnapped and would likely feed an ear cut off Bart to the dog. Even more disturbingly, Bart is fine with this, aside from telling his father that the dog wouldn't eat his ear unless it was wrapped in cheese.
    • In "Days of Wine and D'ohses", Homer and Bart find that Milhouse's parents have thrown away his blanket and Homer gets the idea to sell it back to him piece by piece.
  • In the American Dad! episode "Wheels and the Legman and the Case of Grandpa's Key", Steve and Roger apparently get one of Stan's fingers in the mail. Subverted; it turned out it was a ruse by Stan and that the "finger" was really a mozarella stick with the crumbs licked off.

    Real Life 
  • In the 1970s, young heir John Paul Getty III got his ear cut off a la Electra King and sent to his grandfather as a proof of him being kidnapped. He was rescued in the end, but ended up drug-addicted and later comatose.
  • Jack the Ripper sent half a human kidney to the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, George Lusk, which is alleged to have come from the body of Catherine Eddowes (the Ripper's fourth victim).
  • Tsutomu Miyazaki, the infamous Otaku Killer who murdered several young girls (and blamed it on a side of his personality he called "the Rat Man") sent a box containing the ground-up bones of one of his victims to her parents, as well as several of her teeth.
  • In Canada, a man named Luka Magnotta murdered a man and sent parts of his limbs to the two major political parties.
  • In a deeply weird self-inflicted case, the eccentric medieval knight Ulrich von Liechtenstein once did this as a romantic gesture. During an attempt to woo his lady love on the tournament circuit, he claimed that he had injured his finger in a joust for her honour. When she expressed doubt, he cut off the damaged finger and mailed it to her. Records indicate that whilst she was touched by the gift (metaphorically, not literally), she turned him down anyway, leading him to undertake a second round of tourneys, the 'Venusfahren', whilst wearing a blonde wig and an oversized woman's dress over his armour. Fortunately for the tattered remains of Ulrich's dignity, that one worked.


Epilogue LetterMail and Delivery TropesFlying Postman
Dead Guy on DisplayViolence TropesForced to Watch
Faked KidnappingI Have Your IndexGo-Go Enslavement
Final SolutionDeath TropesFinish Him!
Fiery Cover UpCrime and Punishment TropesFinger-Licking Poison

alternative title(s): Mary Kellys Kidney; Head In A Box
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