As the bounty on Massacre Girl rose, so did the number of imitators.
If you want to make a big splash on the criminal scene, you've got to make your crime memorable. And what's the best way to do that? Why, to duplicate a crime that's already
This is Jack the Ripoff's modus operandi. In fact, you could say that Jack doesn't actually have a modus operandi at all, because he's just copying the M.O. of some past crime (not his own, of course; that would make him a serial criminal). Usually an especially (in)famous one or one that was never solved. There can be any number of reasons to commit a copycat crime:
- Plenty of recognition with very little imagination needed
- A genuine fixation with the original crime/criminal/victims
- To confuse investigators; for instance, if a suspect has been arrested and the crimes continue (thanks to Jack The Ripoff), the suspect will look innocent.
- In order to disguise an unrelated crime as part of another criminal's M.O. in order to deflect suspicion to the original killer.
Copycat killers are a very common plot twist in police dramas, movies, and mystery novels where the plot involves serial killings. The copycat may occasionally serve as a Red Herring
- the detectives think they've caught the killer, but it turns out he was just a copycat and there's still a serial killer on the loose. (Although, in Real Life
, investigators of a serial killer often keep some details from being released to the public in order to
tell a possible copycat apart from the main suspect, and some realistic crime novels mention this as well.) Alternatively they could be tempted to doubt they have the right guy because the crimes haven't stopped.
If the original killer is still around, don't expect him to be pleased (unless he sees it as a compliment). Authorities investigating the copycat may be looking to consult with the original killer
in trying to catch their suspect.
For cases where a real-life serial killer inspires imitators in fiction
, see Ripped from the Headlines
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Anime and Manga
- In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, everyone is doing this, trying to keep their true intentions unknown by making their crimes look like the result of Oyashiro-sama's curse. As we learn in the second season, the real Oyashiro-sama is not pleased.
- In Paranoia Agent, the boy who is initially arrested turns out to be merely a copycat acting like Lil' Slugger, using whatever information he happens to hear as the basis for his outfit and modus operandi. Lil' Slugger kills him, the first time he goes beyond just a whack from his bat. Then again, the kid was suicidal.
- In Death Note, Higuchi and Misa both attempt to rip off the original Kira, Light. Higuchi, in fact, was given a death note in the first place to imitate Light, and supposedly prove his innocence.
- Happens at least once in Case Closed - a man is murdered in a similar modus operandus as a serial killer whose original slayings neared the Statute of Limitations, but Conan deduces that the victim was the murderer, killed by one of the victims' vengeful family members through the victim's Dying Clue. ( The dead man put blood on the CTRL and C keys and died grabbing the mouse by its cord to imply that the murderer was a copy cat.)
- It was defied in the Naniwa Serial Murder arc, when Heizo, like what the lead mentioned, withheld some information from the press (Namely, a knife was stabbed through the victims' wallets) so that he was sure further incidents were not due to this trope.
- One anime episode of Pokémon featured a town where the cops use Spinaraks instead of Growlithes because, one hundred years ago, an officer used a Spinarak to catch a famous cat burglar who used a Meowth. Team Rocket decided to impersonate that criminal.
- The second story in New Line Cinema's Tales of Horror had a guy copycatting Freddy Krueger, complete with replica hat and sweater.
- The Hack/Slash story Double Date had the nephew of the original Father Wrath follow in his footsteps, becoming Father Wrath 2.
- A pimp in Green Arrow who kills according to the MO of the "Seattle Slasher," Arrow knows he's a copycat because he witnessed the assassin, Shado, kill the real slasher in order to save the copycat's victim.
- In the film The Hero and the Terror, Chuck Norris is forced to deny that a criminal is loose because the last time the killer went on a spree, there were loads of copycats.
- The movie Copycat is about a serial killer whose M.O. is copying the crimes of famous serial killers.
- Sort of invoked by Freddy in Freddy vs. Jason; the people in his town have forgotten who he is and no longer are afraid, so he can't kill them in their dreams. The solution: wake up Jason Voorhees, lead him to Elm Street, and let Jason put the fear back in them. The problem: once Jason does start killing off stupid horny teens, he won't stop, leaving nobody for Freddy to kill.
- The Bone Collector sort of fits, as the killer based his crimes on a century-old series of crime novels. The cops didn't make the connection until literally piecing together the puzzle-piece like clues left by the killer that pointed them to a book documenting the original crimes.
- In The Human Centipede 2 (Final Sequence) the main character becomes so obsessed with a DVD of the original movie that he goes out to create his own centipede.
- The title character of Mr. Brooks commits a very similar murder to the one his daughter commits in order to confuse the authorities.
- In My Bloody Valentine and its 3D remake the modern day killer turns out to not be a returned Harry Warden, but someone driven insane by the murderous rampage he went on years earlier.
- In Virtuosity, Sid 6.7's personality is an amalgamation of 200 notorious criminal personalities. So, when he gets a physical body, he starts murdering in the style of assorted killers (i.e. writing "death to the pigs" in blood like Charles Manson).
- The title character of the Diagnosis: Murder tie-in novel The Silent Partner is a serial copycat: one copycat each for multiple serial killers.
- The second killer in A Stab in the Dark
- In Friday the 13th: Road Trip, a state trooper, driven off the deep end by catching his best friend in bed with his wife, makes plans to kill them, and make it look like Jason's work. He succeeds, but is killed by the real Jason (who is possessing a guy) shortly after.
- A flashback in A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Dealers reveals a main character's father had killed a girl in a fit of rage years earlier. To cover his tracks, he used a box cutter to slash up the corpse, and make it look like the girl was a victim of the then active Springwood Slasher.
- Before the Criminal Minds episode "Zoe's Reprise" described below, the spin-off book Killer Profile featured a villain who copycatted several other serial killers, including Dahmer, Bundy, Berkowitz, Gacy, Wuornos and an original character named Herman Kotchman (who buried his victims alive). Near the end, he escalated to trying to copy spree killers and mass murderers, like Richard Speck.
Live Action TV
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Adam shares musical taste with Charles Manson. His ultimate goal is also similar: to provoke a racial war, leaving only himself standing amongst the ashes. Adam is also shown to be very charismatic among vampires and demons alike.
- In an episode of Law & Order, the detectives think they have a copycat to an older crime, but it turned out it was the original killer anyway, and who they thought was the killer was locked up wrongly.
- In the first episode of Castle, the killer makes it look like someone is copying the crimes from novelist Richard Castle's books. The bestselling author is brought on as a consultant, and the police are surprised to realize how useful a Genre Savvy mystery writer is in solving crimes.
- NCIS and 90 Minutes had this, all perpetrated by the killer's lawyer.
- The CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode "The Execution of Catherine Willows" had the team thinking they had caught a serial killer, but it was a copycat (and the real killer's former partner).
- Criminal Minds has had several:
- "Won't Get Fooled Again": A bomber terrorizing Palm Beach turns out to be a copycat of the imprisoned Boston Bomber, the man who single handedly killed Agent Gideon's original team.
- "A Real Rain": A vigilante is on the loose in New York, and at one point a wannabe tries copying him in order to steal all the praise the actual killer is receiving.
- "Jones": A copycat of the actual Jack the Ripper (but with genders reversed - the killer is a woman, and the victims are all male) resurfaces in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
- "Doubt": A college girl emulates an arrested killer, in order to get him released, so she can coerce him into killing her.
- "Identity": After his mentor, a serial killer, commits suicide, the man's accomplice has a breakdown and tries copying him, even going as far as taking his name and altering his appearance to look like him.
- "Birthright": The killer was copying his long dead father, a serial rapist and killer.
- "The Angel Maker": A woman obsessed with an executed serial killer continues where he left off.
- "Zoe's Reprise": A fledgling serial killer emulates other infamous killers, in an attempt to find his own style (and succeeds).
- And many more...
- A first-season episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent features a serial killer seducing a scientist studying him into carrying out a copycat crime to free him. It gets more twisted from there.
- The sixth-season premiere features what appears to be one of these, except the killer uses a detail that was never released. It actually was a copycat who was the daughter of the original investigating officer, and therefore knew the detail.
- The second season of Dexter has the titular serial killer catches the eye of the press as 'The Bay Harbor Butcher', and the police fear that it will lead to copycat crimes, especially considering the vigilante-theme of the killings. Sure enough, Dexter gets a copycat, and since he knows that any 'copycat killings' will lead to a much greater FBI presence - and thus worse odds for himself - he takes out the copycat while sending a clear message to other pretenders...
- In the finale of the third season, Dexter copies another serial killer so that he can kill a notable public figure without simply having him disappear into the ocean, which would lead to too many questions.
- He also routinely copies the killing method of the killer he's killing, if it's reasonably practical. He'll copy any specific knife or blunt instrument, but not electricity/poison/drowning/etc, since his thing is blood. And he also occasionally uses their actual weapon, if he can procure it; most notably Trinity's hammer in season 4, given to him by Trinity himself.
- The Lie to Me episode "Blinded" dealt with a jailed killer being copycatted. Subverted (somewhat) in that he was a "mentor" figure to the new killer, which the cast figured out early on.
- Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger had a one-shot villain that not only mimicked the MO but the physical appearance of previously-appearing villains, made easier by being The Faceless. Power Rangers S.P.D. adapted this story very closely, even renaming the villain Slate, as in "blank slate".
- The last season of The Wire features Jimmy and Freamon faking a serial killer rampage to get the Baltimore police some much needed extra funds. Eventually another body that they didn't plant turns up with the same MO.
- The ITV series Whitechapel deals with copycat killers. The first series involved a copycat of Jack the Ripper, recreating the killings down to committing them as close to the original crime scenes as possible. The second series had someone recreating the murders committed by the infamous Kray Twins, as part of a bid by two criminals, who were brought up with the belief that they were Ronnie Kray's sons, to take over the London underworld.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
- Inverted in "Or Just Look Like One" - the SVU track a homicide that leads them to a cop/serial killer who suffocated and strangled prostitutes. He then mentions that the original murder they were running down isn't one of his, because he wants his count to be accurate.
- The episode "Scavenger" dealt with a copycat of a BTK-based killer (who also appeared to have a little Zodiac thrown into the mix, considering the complicated puzzles, and his use of a black mask).
- Another featured a woman who was trying to win back her convicted-serial-killer ex-boyfriend by killing women and arranging them in a particular fashion. At the trial, he (who considered his killings True Art) looks over the crime scene, and says her work "lacks enthusiasm". He wants nothing more to do with her.
- In the Monk episode "Mr. Monk's 100th Case", there is an interesting use of the withheld details issue: a homicidal photographer named Douglas Thurman strangles and kills three young actresses and takes each victim's lipstick. After a SWAT raid on Thurman's photo studio, evidence is found linking him to the murders, but Thurman is gone. Hours later, a young actress named Kate Kindel is found dead, killed in similar fashion to the first three victims. Monk then realizes that Kindel's murder can't fit in with Thurman's movements, because Thurman killed himself when cornered by police in a southern California hotel several hundred miles south of San Francisco, and had Mexican currency because he was fleeing for Mexico, and would have had to go out of the way to murder Kindel. Also, Kindel was strangled from behind while the first three victims were strangled from in front. He then determines that the documentary's host James Novak killed Kindel because she was his girlfriend and was threatening to tell his wife, and was able to frame Thurman for the crime because he had access to details about the case that the police never released to the media. To kill her, Novak went to Kindel's apartment the night before the police raided Thurman's studio, took some photos of her with a film camera (as Douglas Thurman was a rare photographer who still used film instead of digital work), then strangled her and took her lipstick. He went along with the SWAT team during the raid, and planted the roll of film while no one was looking.
- In the Midsomer Murders episode "Echoes of the Dead", Barnaby recognizes the murders as recreations of famous murders of the early 20th century, except for the last one, which he's not able to place. When the murderer is caught, Barnaby asks about it, and the murderer shrugs and says, "I was in a hurry and I couldn't think of anything".
- An episode of Tracker had an alien serial killer impersonating many of Earth's most famous serial killers. He impersonated John Wayne Gacy and a couple of others in the US and then traveled to London, where he began impersonating Jack The Ripper.
- The Mentalist: One of those appeared in the very first episode. The killer wanted to cover up a crime by killing a potential witness. Because the criminal whose modus operandi he decided to copy was known for killing families, he killed the witnesses' wife as well. One of the first things that made the main character suspect they were dealing with a copycat rather than the real serial killer was how the copied card was placed. The serial killer usually places it where people can see it before seeing the victims.
- The serial killer in question (Red John) could almost be considered a Jack the Ripper homage himself, given their shared penchants for targeting (young) women, stabbing them to death and mutilating their corpses.
- American Horror Story: Asylum has the infamous serial killer Bloody Face who committed his crimes in the 1960s, and then re-appeared in the present day, killing a married couple who were poking around the abandoned Briarcliff manor. It turns out that a group of thrill-seekers posing as Bloody Face had accidentally killed the husband. And then the real Bloody Face shows up. He kills the copycats and kills the wife, revealing himself to be Bloody Face's son. He was actually attempting to emulate his father.
- The entire plot of The Following is that imprisoned Serial Killer Joe Carroll has created a cult of copycats duplicating his own Edgar Allan Poe-inspired killings. That said, some of the cultists want to copy Carroll's killings exactly, while others think he wants them to branch out and find their own methods.
- Crops up several times in Hannibal:
- In the episode "Entree", a murderer imprisoned at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane kills one of his nurses using the MO of the notorious "Chesapeake Ripper". He claims its because he is the Ripper, but really he's been psychologically conditioned to believe he's the Ripper by the Smug Snake hospital administrator, who wants credit for having found the Ripper out. The real Chesapeake Ripper soon makes it known that he's still at large.
- Dr. Hannibal Lecter himself, in addition to having his own successful career as a serial killer, also commits a handful of copycat murders during the first season. One is a deliberately crude imitation of the Minnesota Shrike, whom Will Graham and the FBI are trying to catch, and the details of the copy are so off that they actually help Graham build an accurate profile of the Shrike. Another was done to cover up his own malfeasance and pin the death on the latest killer being hunted by the FBI. At the end of the season, it's revealed that Hannibal has been preparing to frame Graham for the murders the whole time.
- In the second season, Matthew Brown kills someone in a way that combines elements from all of the copycat murders in order to create reasonable doubt for Will. Many suspected Hannibal - which would have made him a serial killer pretending to be a copycat killer being inspired by kills that he did himself, which were themselves copycat killings.
- Rizzoli & Isles: In "No One Mourns the Wicked", the team pursue a killer who is copying the M.O.s of previous serial killers.
- Barney Miller:
- In one episode a man commits crimes based on recently seen TV movies. He gets caught when he tries to hijack a money train.
- When a serial arsonist is on the loose, Mr. Cotterman (a local liquor store owner who is robbed a lot) tries to set his place on fire for the insurance, but just before the fire is scheduled to start he learns that they've already caught the arsonist. He rushes back tohis store to put out the fire.
- In Persona 4, Mr. Morooka's murder superficially looks like the yet-unsolved earlier ones, but there are a number of details that don't fit the pattern. Turns out it's a copycat crime, of course.
The interesting part is that once the cast figures out who did it, they all come up with reasons why he would have committed the other crimes as well - an illustration of how the human mind can fool itself. (They're all desperate to stop the murders, and it's more comfortable to think the same guy who did this one did the others.) It also helps that Mitsuo is delusional enough that he's mostly convinced himself that he committed them, too.
- Ripper, of course, the killer was inspired by a Jack the Ripper game. The killer is decided at random upon game start out of four persons (or can be forced through a start up parameter. You can in fact kill an innocent in the last scene.
- In Heavy Rain, Gordi Kramer is responsible for the death of Joseph Brown and attempts to cover his own tracks by making it look like the work of the Origami Killer. This is the main reason that the real killer, Scott Shelby, is interested in investigating Kramer.
- "Serial Killer X" from Condemned: Criminal Origins has an interesting take on this: he kills other serial killers according to their own MOs, making them look like one more victim of that killer's spree and thus keeping his own involvement unknown.
- In The Dragon Doctors, a young woman is trapped in a cave by an evil magic user and forced to use some of her own magic to turn herself to stone. It's revealed that the guy who did so was copying something similar that was done to him earlier; trapping someone in stone and drawing power from their mental anguish. Not exactly a serial killer in the strictest sense, but definitely a serial criminal of some stripe, considering he did this to many people.
- Peter Sutcliffe aka "The Yorkshire Ripper" was a ripoff of the actual Jack the Ripper.
- As was Jack The Stripper, who unfortunately was never identified.
- The New York Zodiac Killer and the Japanese Zodiac Killer.
- Kenneth Bianchi, one of the Hillside Stranglers, convinced one of his groupies to kill a woman so that the police would "realize" that they had the wrong man in custody. Fortunately, the intended victim was able to get away. Not until the cops revealed to the woman that she was one of several women he had duped like this did she realize how much she'd been set up.