has found the Serial Killer
's lair, complete with messages in blood
and newspaper clippings of the murders
. He needs backup, so he leaves the scene and informs the proper authorities. But when they get there, the room is bare, with no evidence that anyone was here. All the hero can say is, "It was here, I swear." Sometimes the killer has left some item to taunt him with
, or a clue to the next killing
The hero may not be tracking a serial killer, but could have uncovered evidence of a Government Conspiracy
or the plan of some Diabolical Mastermind
. It may even be evidence of some form of The Masquerade
, or a Not-So-Imaginary Friend
. The key thing is, the evidence won't be there when he returns. The fact that the witness loses all ability to communicate rationally
If the witness hadn't told the other person anything except "You've got to see this"
, then — after some moments of wide-eyed bewilderment — he may be reluctant to inform them of what he had really seen, for fear of appearing crazy or dishonest; he'll just say "trick of the light, I guess; sorry". The cleaned-up room may contain some mildly interesting thing that wasn't there before, leading the authority character to say "You rushed me here to see a butterfly
?", or "Um, that's not a vampire, it's a picture of one."
Some The Men in Black
shows have actual divisions called "Cleaners" or "Sweepers"
for whom this is their entire job. To show up (in black vans
, always) at a location filled with alien gore and debris and completely clean it up and remove all forensic evidence in 15 minutes or less. Maidservice on Steroids. Also, witnesses get Laser-Guided Amnesia
. Sometimes The Men in Black
will ensure the incident will be Mistaken for an Imposter
Of course, the heroes will never actually walk in on the sinister government mooks or the brilliant serial killer in the process of cleaning everything away and thus catch them even more red-handed because there are No Delays For The Wicked
Technological advances may eventually make this trope obsolete; after all, who today (in the First World, at least) doesn't have a cell-phone with a digital camera feature? Of course, writers already hate cell phones.
In the rare case this is
used, expect there to be a problem with the photograph—or the phone—that makes it useless. (If the photograph doesn't show the unusual thing at all, but is otherwise okay, either the phenomenon is immune to photography, or another trope
is in play.)
Compare Cassandra Truth
, Devil in Plain Sight
, Nothing Is Scarier
, Not-So-Imaginary Friend
. See also The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday
. Contrast Crying Wolf
. Can involve a character's friend who just got turned into an Unperson
. See also Gaslighting
, Through the Eyes of Madness
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Anime & Manga
- In the backstory of One Piece, probably the grandest and most tragic example of them all happened to the explorer Montblanc Norland, where he finds a legendary gold city on the island of Jaya, but when he goes back with the king of his homeland in tow, the island is gone (most of it, at least), having been knocked into the cloud kingdom of Skypeia by the Knock-Up Stream some time ago. Which, along with most of the crew dying from their own inexperience because they were the king's bodyguards rather than actual sailors, leads to Norland being executed, and him and his descendants becoming the subject of ridicule for centuries.
- Kanoko's corpse in episode 4 of Ookami Kakushi. Unusually, the person Hiroshi tells about it believes him anyway.
- A Misaka clone's corpse in episode 11 of A Certain Magical Index disappears by the time the police arrive. The police then berate Touma for "prank calling" them. Touma later finds that the other Misaka clones cleaned up the crime scene while he was busy calling the police.
Films — Animation
- In The Road To Eldorado, exiled ex-High Priest Tzekel-Kan is planning on revealing his city of gold to appease the recently arrived gang led by Cortez. Upon learning of this, Tulio and Miguel devise a plan that would bury the entrace to the city behind rubble, which would have the drawback of preventing them from ever returning as well. Their plan succeeds, and Tzekel-Kan is taken for being a "lying heathen", with nothing to show for his claims.
Films — Live-Action
- Matt from The Power of Five becomes victim to this when he's living in the Town with a Dark Secret. Someone who believes Matt is brutally murdered, and Matt sees the room where it was done. He goes to get someone, and comes back less than ten minutes later. Everything is perfectly in order. Say what you want about the formula of Anthony Horowitz's writing, that was a freakin' creepy scene.
- In Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees, the protagonist and his friend discover a secret room in a public building lined with mysterious tapestries and filled with (illegally smuggled) fairy fruit. By the time they return with the authorities, the room is completely empty, much to their frustration. It is implied that this is because the first time they entered the room they accidentally gave the correct password while cursing at the locked door, while the second time they didn't remember what they had said and just broke down the door instead.
- Used in Killer when the girls tell the police about Ian's death, and his body is gone from the forest when they return.
- A few times in Galaxy of Fear. In the first book, people keep disappearing, even their footprints. This happens to some thugs chasing Tash, and her uncle tells her she just dreamed there were thugs and ran out of the house. During the second, whenever Zak tries to tell people about the zombies there's no longer any evidence. In the fourth book Zak comes across the Big Bad experimenting on people, and he's taken back to the place and told that it's an I Know What You Fear hologram machine. Later books have Zak, Tash, and their uncle all trusting each other enough, and made Genre Savvy enough, to take these claims seriously, and this element phases out.
Live Action TV
- In the episode "One Giant Leap", Eden and Mohinder find Sylar's apartment, which has the message, "Forgive me. I have sinned" written in blood. When they return with the police, everything in the room has gone.
- Also, in "Ink," Matt who has Sylar's consciousness in his head so only he can see him ends up finding a stuffed animal, a ransom note from a hostage, a mind-read location of the victim and then the body of the victim found under the stairs. When his partner returns to find Matt beating the hell out of the hostage, Matt tells him to look under stairs and the body is gone. The ransom note and toy are gone too. Turns out Mental!Sylar used Matt's powers against him to make him see all that and thus have to use his powers to erase his partner's memory of the lack of evidence.
- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode "Anonymous" focuses on the hunt for a serial killer. Grissom concludes that the killer is Paul Millander, who owns a Halloween supplies company. When Grissom leads a raid on Millander's warehouse, it is bare apart from a stool with an envelope addressed to him. It has a blank piece of paper inside, a sign that Grissom interprets as meaning, "We have nothing."
- In "Mr. Monk Is Up All Night," Monk is walking in the middle of the night, and hears an argument behind a diner window. He peers into the kitchen and sees an apparent drug deal that's turning sour as two of the men are arguing about whether the third guy, an Asian is a cop. When the Asian suddenly flashes a badge and pulls a gun to arrest the others, a fight breaks out, and the Asian is shot dead by the drug dealer, who hustles a bald man to a car outside and drives away. Monk runs to a payphone to call the police, but the scene is spotless. That's because what Monk saw was an elaborate con game — the bald man was being tricked into thinking he had seen a cop's murder, so that three con men could trick him into giving them some of his antique coins under the pretense that it was hush money.
- Also used once as a clue in "Mr. Monk Takes a Vacation". It was the maids who killed one of the other maids to cover up their committing insider trading by viewing the belongings of business men staying at the hotel. Monk figured it out because they were the only people who could clean up a room that fast.
- In "Mr. Monk Goes to a Rock Concert," when Monk, Natalie and Kendra Frank are searching Stork's trailer, Kris Kedder snatches an incriminating envelope while they are distracted by Natalie noticing a photo of a little girl. Monk notices the envelope's absence after Kedder leaves and asks Natalie and Kendra if they touched anything, but neither woman has. Once Natalie finds a registered mail receipt, and Monk deduces that Kedder did not write a song they heard him performing earlier, Kendra belatedly realizes that Kedder has stolen the envelope and they need to get it back.
- The Invaders. About Once per Episode, any evidence that David Vincent could have gathered on the Invaders disappears before he can show it someone else.
- The X-Files
- Every. Single. Myth Arc. Episode. Oh my God.
- Notably in "Je Souhaite", when Scully finally has solid proof of the supernatural in the form of the corpse of an invisible man. Of course, when she brings in the experts to look at it, it's completely gone. Just a few hours later, Scully herself starts to wonder if it was real, much to Mulder's annoyance.
- In the Babylon 5 episode "Passing Through Gethsemane", Brother Edward encounters the message "DEATH WALKS AMONG YOU" scrawled in blood on a bulkhead; it's gone when he tries to show it to Garibaldi. In fact, the message was a chemical that sprayed on the walls that looked like blood, then reacted with air and disappeared. Traces of it were found later in the episode.
- In Seinfeld, George Costanza gets himself invited to a night club populated almost entirely by beautiful model-types by... well, It's a Long Story. Once he shows up after losing his "credentials", the next day the same building is devoid of anything but a meat-packing plant.
- Defied when Shawn refuses to leave a corpse at its dump site because it'll be gone when they get back. They take the corpse with them instead, hiding it inside a school mascot uniform.
- Inverted in the episode "Extradition II: The Actual Extradition Part". Despereaux breaks out of prison to commit a crime, but by the time Shawn manages to report him to the authorities he's slipped back into his cell. The entire escape apparently went unnoticed.
- A variant appeared in Pushing Daisies where the body of Dwight Dixon undergoes a mysterious vanishing act from its grave, along with accompanying evidence that would have linked Emerson and Ned with his death. The body is later found in other (false) circumstances, planted by Ned's father to throw suspicion off Ned and his friends.
- Inverted in Season 1 of Life: the hero, Det. Charlie Crews has a locked closet in his home where he assembles evidence against the conspiracy that framed him. The DA's office obtains a search warrant for a related murder, and Charlie gets home too late to stop the search, but when the cops break into the closet, all the evidence is gone, having been removed by Charlie's roommate, Ted.
- There's an earlier episode in Smallville where Lana is chased by the "ghost" of a childhood friend. Said ghost turns out to be a clone, and they find a room filled with lots of clones of the same girl. But when the police gets there, guess it, it's goooone. The sheriff even tells Clark that "David Copperfield must have gotten there first".
- In one episode of Life On Mars, Tyler tries to prove he's not crazy by showing off many parts of his life that suddenly disappear, including Windy's apartment, where he informs her he wants her to talk with the people, and then when he brings them by to do so, the entire apartment is empty and Windy is nowhere to be found, nowhere near enough time passing by and making Tyler further doubt his sanity.
- The pilot episode of Stargate Atlantis, Sheppard and Rodney find the shuttlepod bay (eventually named "Jumpers"). Upon finding that Sheppard can pilot them, Rodney runs off to find Weir to inform her of the revelation. When they return, the Jumper is missing. After Rodney gives this trope's name, John uncloaks to impress Weir.
- Subverted in an episode of Leverage, "Three Days of the Hunter Job". Nate and the episode's bad guy walk into what she thinks is the apartment belonging to someone who is unraveling a government conspiracy, to find the material gone and Eliot coming out, cleaning up.
- Doctor Who
- Used in its standard version in "Black Orchid" with the Doctor finding a body and trying to tell someone about it. The first time he tries to tell someone it is indeed there, but the second time it's not. True to the trope, it's been replaced with a mildly interesting thing (a doll). Later he tries to tell the police about his TARDIS, and leads them to it. Of course it's not there either.
- Inverted in "Shada" where a man tells a police officer that a room has been stolen and so isn't there and of course when the policeman looks, it is.
- In the second episode of Sherlock, John discovers a wall painted with graffiti that is vitally important evidence. By the time he finds Sherlock and brings him back, however, the evidence has been wiped clean. It's subverted, since that trick is a lot more difficult to completely pull off when people have camera phones that allow them to take instant photos of such things...
- Sherlock also believed John instantly, and was only concerned about how much of the graffiti John would be able to remember, since the human mind is on average only capable of remembering "62%" of what's it's seen. But the above spoiler solved that problem, too.
- One episode of The Rockford Files features a Stalker Shrine for Beth Davenport mysteriously vanishing before the police can see it.
- Immediately subverted: she says "I saw them," Lt. Becker says "I'm sure you did," usually a lead-in to a patronizing "you're just stressed" until he points to tiny holes in the walls, saying "They were put up with pins."
- Merlin regularly stumbles upon a Cassandra Truth. He either has no evidence or the evidence disappears.
- Inverted in "The Hunter's Heart" when he tries to prove Agravaine is a traitor by saying he stole the plans to the siege tunnels. When Arthur checks, Agravaine has already duplicated them and put the original back.
- A Mash episode has a variant of this. Klinger goes to a traveling black-market bazaar called "Little Chicago" to buy back a camera that was stolen from BJ and Hawkeye. On the way back he's nabbed by M Ps for having stolen merchandise, and when he tries to take them back to "Little Chicago" to clear things up, the place has already moved on without a trace.
- Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura; The (in)famous X-Files quest ends this (as well as You Have to Believe Me) way: when you try to expose the conspiracy, you realize your proof was just, let's say, stolen. For added trauma, when you return to the secret facility where you found it, there's nothing, not even a brick.
- In Nancy Drew "The Final Scene", Nancy's friend is kidnapped and she knows the friend is being kept hostage in the building she's staying in, but the police don't believe her. She sees her friend tied up in a hidden room through a peephole, but by the time she gets there her friend is gone. There are still pizza boxes and her friends' shoe in the room and so she calls the police. However, she is later told that the police didn't find any of the things she found.
- Max Payne comes across an operation in progress, eliminating members of a conspiracy and any evidence of their existence. The assassins are even called "cleaners".
- In the first chapter of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, Keiichi stayed home from school because he was starting to get suspicious of some classmates. Two of the girls from his school showed up that night to bring him some food and tell him they hoped he was feeling better. While eating the food, he choked on a sewing needle baked into a pastry. After having a talk with the police, the half-eaten snack containing the needle was nowhere to be found. Its unexplained disappearance would be creepier if it weren't the sort of thing his parents could've reasonably thrown out with the garbage. The hypodermic syringe is another, slightly creepier case in this arc, although at that point, of course, no-one was left to actually say It Was Here, I Swear. This trope is arguably subverted in both cases since the sewing needle and hypodermic syringe actually were paranoid delusions.
- One of these events marks the halfway point in the plot of Policenauts. For added humiliation, it's revealed to be an Invoked Trope: the bad guys has had this trap set up at least since the moment you arrived on the station, just waiting for the right moment to lead you stumbling into it.
- The Simpsons
- Parodied in an episode of "Grift of the Magi", where Homer displays an unusual level of trope awareness:
Homer: Uh, is this going to be like one of those horror movies where we open the door and everything's normal and we think you're crazy, but then there really is a killer robot and the next morning you find me impaled on the weather vane? Is that what this is, Lisa?
- Used in the episode "Hungry, Hungry Homer", where the Springfield Isotopes' owner removes the evidence from his office closet. Just a trombone player giving him an appropriate flat note.
- Subverted in another episode, along with The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday. When the family asks Homer where he got a cursed monkey paw, he says "I got it from that stall that was right over... there..?", realizing he's pointing to a empty alleyway on the last syllable. Then, the camera pans, showing the stall, and Homer continues "Oh wait, there it is."
"You'll be sorry!"
- Used in Avatar: The Last Airbender when attempting to locate the headquarters of the Dai Li.
- Phineas and Ferb
- This problem, used as a comedic device, continually plagues Candace; whatever amazing and bizarre thing Phineas and Ferb are doing that time, there's no sign of it by the time Candace tries to show Mom. She shows flashes of Genre Savvy regarding it, but she still tries anyway. This happening Once per Episode is the premise of the whole showe. Phineas and Ferb's creations must have Plot Armor in reverse or something. Candace and sometimes Phineas and Ferb tries extremely hard to show Mom what Phineas and Ferb did, but the creations are always completely destroyed. Candace even "discovered" a nonexistent sensor that was buried in the family driveway and triggered a creation's invisibility.
- Likewise, Doctor Doofenshmirtz's daughter, Vanessa, attempts to show her mom (and his Ex-Wife), that Doofenshmirtz is an evil genius, but the evidence disappears. Ironically enough, it's shown that Doofenshmirtz's scheme (usually the B-Plot) is often what does away with Phineas and Ferb's thing, and when his scheme is the A-Plot, Phineas and Ferb do away with it.
- In The Movie, Candace is shown to be believing in a mysterious force that protects the boys. She later shows how Genre Savvy she's become as, when the city is being attacked by killer robots, she knows that trying to show it to her mom will ensure they all disappear. When she finally drags her mom to the now empty streets the mom just watches in confusion while Candace cheers about how she saved the world.
- Defied in Justice League Unlimited season two, where half the season is about combating and investigating Cadmus, the shadowy government organization whose mandate is to prepare to take down the Justice League in the event that they overstep their bounds. When The Question is kidnapped and tortured by Cadmus the Huntress, recently kicked out of the League, goes to Superman for help and becomes frantic out of the fear that they will never find their headquarters. Superman, however, is perfectly at ease because the League already knows where Cadmus is. They have held off on actually attacking the base because they have been quietly amassing evidence in preparation for going public about Cadmus's true activities, and when the secret facility is moved after Superman and Huntress break in to rescue the Question the League know when and where they moved. Batman explains it pretty clearly when he points out that they have been monitoring Cadmus for months, so of course they have kept track of its whereabouts. Ironically, it is only Lex Luthor who is kept out of the loop, and when he betrays Waller and attacks the now-abandoned headquarters Batman uses that as evidence that it was not the League, since they would not have attacked an abandoned warehouse.
- Doom Kitty is prone to falling into this scenario in Ruby Gloom, where she is especially handicapped by only being able to communicate through (sometimes frantic) pantomime. Played with in "Doom With a View", when she tries to communicate to Ruby and her friends that a pair of ghosts are still in the closet in question, but unfortunately, only she can see them.
- Used and then avoided in the Kim Possible movie So The Drama: Ron is chased across town by a horde of tiny robots until he reaches the hall hosting the Junior Prom. When he opens the door, the robots hide. It looks like there's nothing there and Erik notes how ludicrous the claim is, but Kim chooses to believe Ron anyway.
- This is essentially Michigan J Frog's PURPOSE in Looney Tunes. This was the premise of both shorts Michigan J. Frog appeared in, One Froggy Evenin and the sequel, Another Froggy Evening. In the first short, the box the aforementioned frog was found in contains a message stating that M.J. is part of a particular "species" of frog that sings only for their owners. The whole plot revolves around him being found, and performing so that only the person who found him ever sees it. Any time the man is actually about to get someone to witness it, he stops singing at just the right moment. Then the man is left to try and insist on his super special singing frog, only to be assumed a loon.
- He also showed up once in Tiny Toon Adventures with a slightly creepier variant. He's dead (or so it seems) and scheduled for dissection by Hamton, who is the only one he'll sing for. Whenever somebody else looks, he immediately croaks.
- This happened in the Adventures of the Gummi Bears episode "Toadie's Wild Ride". Tummi is the only Gummi in Gummi Glen to have seen Toadie enter the glen, but because he had been lying about who ate the cake that Grammi made earlier, the other Gummis initially don't believe him about there being an ogre in the glen. Subverted at the end when the rest of the Gummis finally see Toadie when he tries to make off with their supply of Gummiberry juice.
- Taz-Mania: Taz's attempts to convince Bushwacker Bob that someone is trying to murder them in "A Midsummer Night's Scream".
- Repeatedly subverted in Adventure Time episode "In Your Footsteps". Each time the bear does something strange, someone acts like this trope is in effect, only for it to turn out everyone already believes them.
- Used in the South Park episode "Obama Wins!" when Kyle leads the police to Cartman's bedroom only to find that the swing state election ballots that Cartman had stolen were gone. You Have to Believe Me ensues.