Just One Little Mistake

The detective has finally cracked the case, figuring out who committed the crime and how it was done. He gathers everyone together and delivers The Summation, describing in meticulous detail how the crime was pulled off, before finally fingering the perp by name.

The accused looks down in bewilderment, and it's clear to the audience that he's the murderer. Just when you might expect him to break down, confess and launch into a Motive Rant, he looks up confidently, laughs, and calmly comes back with...

"Interesting theory, detective, but where's your evidence?"

The implication is, of course, that while the detective's line of reasoning may be rock solid, and he may have successfully deduced how the Locked Room Murder was committed, he still doesn't have any strong evidence that proves the accused was involved in the crime.

However, the detective can in fact prove it, and has an ace-in-the-hole piece of evidence in his possession that he was just waiting to trot out at the right moment. The detective will reveal that the perp made Just One Little Mistake, and then, much to the accused's chagrin, produce a decisive piece of evidence that completely buries him. Cue the Big "NO!".

This might happen in a Clueless Mystery. Also see Bluffing the Murderer, Pulling The Thread.


  • In Death Note, both L and Near deduce very quickly that Light must be Kira. The rest of the series they spend trying to get Light to make Just One Little Mistake.
    • And he does. He declares that he won before Near was supposed to die.
  • Detective Conan. Literally almost every episode ends with this, immediately preceding the Motive Rant.

  • Subverted in Hot Fuzz, when Nick Angel accuses Simon Skinner. The trope is set up perfectly and Angel even triumphantly announces his evidence of Skinner's Just One Little Mistake - a cut on his leg sustained in a chase. Except the cut isn't there, and Skinner smugly hands over evidence that he was in his grocery store all day.
  • In 36 Hours (1965) WWII German agents use a Faked Rip Van Winkle deception on a captured American officer in an attempt to learn the details of the upcoming D-Day operation, including changing his body while he was unconscious to make him look and feel six years older. He notices that he still has a minor injury that ought to have healed if so much time has really passed.

  • The talk between Harry and Voldemort in the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Paraphased and with coarser language, it goes something like this. "You made just one little mistake! You didn't know that the ownership of the unbeatable wand transferred from Dumbledore to Draco Malfoy, and from him to me, giving me instant victory in this duel, BIATCH!"
  • Delivered oh-so-smugly at the end of Empire from the Ashes to "Mister X", who otherwise might have escaped detection completely thanks to elaborate contingency plans and preparations. The mistake? Making absolutely no mention of orchestrating the heirs' assassination—what should have been a crowning achievement—in the supposed diary of the guy taking the fall.
    • Although, to give them credit, Colin himself pointed out that it only told them something didn't quite add up. That only got them looking harder. If we were to look at everything, we would probably find other places where "Mister X" slipped up. Then again, Colin also notes that it was that little mistake that got them to write off the guy taking the fall, and made them look at other people which could have pulled off what they know was pulled off... which was a very short list.
  • Encyclopedia Brown was this, aimed at kids.
  • Agatha Christie uses this trope in several novels.

Live-Action TV
  • The Columbo series did it pretty much every episode, and Columbo's trademark reveal was when he would touch his forehead absently and say, "There's just one more thing."
  • In an episode of M*A*S*H, circumstantial evidence points to Hawkeye being responsible for a series of petty thefts around the 4077th. He lets it be known that the stolen items have all been collected in one location for fingerprinting, anticipating that the real thief would come for them to conceal the evidence. When the evidence goes missing that night, Hawkeye gathers the staff and informs them that the stolen items had all been covered with a chemical compound that would turn the thief's fingernails blue. Everyone in the tent looks at their hands — except for Ho-Jan who immediately hides his hands under the table. He then holds them up, happily showing his fingernails are normal, but it's too late. Hawkeye had been bluffing about the chemical and was just watching to see who would panic.
  • Monk. Very frequently. Some examples:
    • In "Mr. Monk and the Candidate," Monk's clue that the campaign manager is responsible for hiring the assassin who has killed two people is that he knew where the shooter was firing from and even pointed at said apartment though balloons were blocking his view and the gunshot created an echo through the skyscrapers in the area.
    • In "Mr. Monk Meets Dale the Whale", the crucial mistake is that the killer, who was supposed to be a fat and heavy man, did not break the chair he stood on to disconnect the smoke alarm despite his weight. That's because he was the fat man's accomplice, wearing one of his empathy fat suits.
    • In "Mr. Monk Is on the Air," the jockey's mistake in hiring a dog to rig his wife's death was that the dog took one of his shoes.
    • In "Mr. Monk's 100th Case," the second killer, trying to frame a serial killer for the killing of his girlfriend, made the mistake of strangling the victim from behind, not from in front like the other victims.
    • In "Mr. Monk Gets Hypnotized", the mistake Monk calls Sally Larkin out on in murdering her husband is that the piece of gum he found stuck on her shoe is a piece of Randy's chewing gum that Stottlemeyer had spit out when they were questioning Sally's husband at his house, proving that she had actually been back to her house and had not been chained up to some floorboards in a rural cabin for three days.
    • It was a mistake of the biologist's assistant in "Mr. Monk on Wheels" to wear tire sandals when she killed her accomplice because of the footprints.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent exploited this in one episode, in which Goren let it slip to a suspect's wife that their recovered body was missing a tooth cap. The perp, who prided himself on clueless murders, proceeded to tear his garage apart looking for the tooth cap, and the detectives strolled in in the morning to see him cackling madly about dental equipment. Of course, turns out there was no tooth cap.
  • According to Sherlock, the murderer always makes a mistake. In the aptly named first episode, A Study in Pink:
    Lestrade: What mistake?
    Sherlock: PINK!
  • Castle is fond of this. They'll get the suspect pinned down (usually in the interrogation room, sometimes not), and Castle will explain what happened. The suspect will smirk, say something like "That sounds like a very good story, something out of one of your books," and then Beckett will pull out the witness statement or DNA evidence or whatnot and the smirk fades.

Video Games

Real Life
  • The notorious Son of Sam Serial Killer was caught because his car got a parking ticket, which gave the police a vital clue to find him.