There's a person in the way. Maybe it's an Intrepid Reporter, or one of those Meddling Kids. It would be convenient if this inconvenient individual could be removed from the picture... permanently. But a murder rap would really make things even more inconvenient, especially if you're a Villain with Good Publicity who really cannot afford bad publicity. So your primary option as a Big Bad is to hire someone to take care of this little problem. But it can't look like murder, and it can't just be a mysterious death.
So what's the alternative? Make It Look Like An Accident. The villain or other inconvenienced party tells an assassin or other person that the inconvenient person has to die in a way that looks like an unfortunate happenstance, so suspicion will not fall on themselves or anyone else.
Note that the simple invocation of this trope is usually considered justification enough that the villains are playing by "real world rules", even if what they actually do can't be construed as being an accident by any stretch of the imagination.
This trope is probably thought of by many soon-to-be murderers, and so, a Truth in Television. Remember, just because it was ruled as an accident doesn't necessarily mean it truly was. MWAHAHAHHAHA...
Note: One reason a character may do this is to quickly gain their inheritance. In America (and probably most other countries), a person convicted of a crime is forbidden by law to keep any money they make as a result of the crime, so anyone killing for inheritance would probably try to make it seem like an accidental death.
Often used as a method of attempting to Murder the Hypotenuse, and as an excuse not to just shoot the bastard. Compare with The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much, and contrast with Suicide, Not Murder. Hunting Accident is a subtrope; if made to look like a death by animal attack, This Bear Was Framed. Unfriendly Fire can be a subtrope depending on how careful the killer is not to get caught. Similar to the inverted form of Murder by Mistake, in which a murder is dressed up to look as if the killer got the wrong victim.
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Anime and Manga
In Death Note, Light makes the deaths he wants to hide look like accidents (such as the bus-hijacking incident). The deaths he wants attributed to him, or at least his persona of Kira, are heart attacks.
Also inverted, as his stated long-term plan is for people to slowly become aware that he's killing non-criminals as well in subtler ways, which can't be distinguished from regular deaths. Once every single death is suspected of being his handiwork for that person's hidden sins, nobody will dare strive for less than perfection, creating a utopia and everything will go just as planned.
When the corrupt courts let a murderer go free and almost convict Togusa for trying to prevent the murder in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, the episode ends with a clerk at the garage of Section 9 watching a news segment about a man and his attorney being involved in a hit-and-run car accident. At the same time Bouma returns and leaves her the keys to a damaged car that needs to be disposed of. She just nods and barely looks up.
Many, MANY murder cases in Detective Conan are at first believed to be accidents. Then Conan (and sometimes other detectives) start digging in...
In Future GPX Cyber Formula, Smith makes Hayato's father's car crash to make it look like he lost control of his car in order to obtain Asurada's documents so he can use it to make Asurada a weapon of mass destruction. Thankfully, Schumacher reveals the truth while he's recuperating from the incident with Smith.
Within Stellvia of the Universe, this is Ayaka's solution to anybody who she views as a threat to her status at the best student. She takes the unwitting rival on "practice", where "accidents" occur.
Pulled on the Minister of Justice in Gasaraki, courtesy of Kazukiyo Gowa.
It's strongly implied in Gunslinger Girl Jean Croce had Raballo murdered and disguised it as a terrorist attack, when Raballo tried to expose (and presumably shut down) the SWA.
This is Angelica's backstory. Her parents decided to run her over with their own car, in an attempt to cash on her insurance. They failed in making it look like an accident though, and Angelica ended up in the SWA.
In Zeta Gundam, Yazan Gable pulls this when he gets Emma Sheen to fire at him, than dodges so that the blast will hit Jamaican, whom he hated.
In the X-Wing Series, after Isard has an agent shoot Admiral Lon Isoto in the back, she tells the agent to make it look like a suicide. ...Exactly how you do this with a blaster wound in the back is unclear. Maybe the girl just shoved him into grinding machinery and told everyone he'd thrown himself in.
In Preacher's backstory, Starr is ordered to kill a defector to the Grail who has currently been committed to a mental hospital because nobody believes his stories about ancient conspiracies. He is asked to make the death as non-suspicious as possible, lest people start taking him seriously. Starr subverts the heck out of this trope, by blowing up the institution, killing all the staff and patients. He justifies his actions with the fact that, with so many victims, the assassination became so indiscriminate that piecing together the correct motive would be nigh impossible.
In All Fall Down, AIQ Squared's plot involves this, Siphon, and a Power Nullifier on the moon.
In Dirty SympathyKlavier and Apollo always faced this threat early in the story. Kristoph would "hypothesize" what would happen if Apollo goes missing and Klavier knows that with Daryan'sconnections he can make it look like an accident. It nearly comes true when Klavier is nearly strangled to death by a "set malfunction."
In Mega Man Reawakened, Wily planned an explosion to kill Dr. Light, but ended up killing Robert's father instead.
This is part of Scar's bastardry in The Lion King, when he murders Mufasa and convinces Simba that his father died an accident for which Simba was to blame.
In An American Tail Fievel Goes West, during the train ride to Green Acres stumbles upon the cats discussing their plan to eat the mice in Green Acres. He's discovered, but instead of killing him outright, the Dangerously Genre SavvyCat R. Waul recognizes that a freak disappearance would raise too many questions and lets the mouse go. The minute he's gone, Waul instructs his lackey Chula to make sure Fievel falls off the train;
Cat R. Waul: Give him the Flying Ahh, and make it good.
In Frozen, Prince Hans revealed that he planned to "stage an accident" for Queen Elsa after marrying Princess Anna, to get closer to the throne. When Anna was accidentally cursed by Elsa's ice powers, Hans used this as an excuse to leave her for dead and execute Elsa, taking the throne himself.
Films — Live-Action
The villains of Hot Fuzz focus almost entirely on murdering people in such a way that it looks like an accident, to the point where the local police have been effectively brainwashed into reporting nearly every death as an accident without conducting a proper investigation It helps that the killers include both the Chief of Police and the local doctor, who doubles as the forensic pathologist, plus the entire neighbourhood watch. Poor Nicholas Angel is the Only Sane Man who believes otherwise. The fourth murder is actually witnessed by Angel and despite that, and the fact that she has a pair of shears stuck in her throat, the police still don't believe it wasn't an accident
In You Only Live TwiceSPECTRE agent Number 11 gets Bond into a plane under the ruse that she is betraying her employer...then jumps out with a parachute after trapping him, leaving him to die in a plane crash.
In MoonrakerChang first tries to murder Bond by sabotaging the Zero-G astronaut training he was taking part in (the Bond girl believes something had went wrong with the controls), and later Drax himself tries to have him shot and make it look like a hunting accident. Both attempts take place when Bond was on Drax's property as a guest and, when Bond leaves, later attempts are even more over-the-top but not set-up as accidents.
Hugo Drax: Look after Mr. Bond. See that some harm comes to him.
In A View to a Kill Zorin, playing a bit of Xanatos Speed Chess, takes advantage of a break-in by Bond and the Bond girl into City Hall, where the Bond girl worked under a Sleazy Politician in Zorin's pay, who had recently fired her. Zorin kills the guy and forces the pair into an elevator before setting the building on fire, making it look like they were responsible but were killed by the flames trying to escape.
In GoldenEye Bond and Natalya are strapped down in a stolen helicopter linked to the hijacking of a Kill Sat, and the missiles are set to fire and then return back at them. They escape before the explosion, but the Russian authorities show up immediately, and the Minister of Defence accuses them of being involved in both. Presumably, they were supposed to find only the bodies and assume that the two of them were the criminals they were after, and write the whole thing off as a weapon malfunction.
In Tomorrow Never Dies, Elliot Carver sends a hitman to kill Bond and his treacherous wife and make it look like a murder-suicide- he even had a taped news story made in advance. Bond is too late to save the girl but turns the tables and shoots Dr. Kaufman, at close range, making his death look like the suicide. It's heavily implied that this wasn't the only "suicide" Kaufman was responsible for while working for Carver.
Doctor Kaufman: I am a professor of forensic medicine. Believe me, Mr. Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938).
Frazier: I don't care how you handle Sullivan. But it's got to look like an accident with that priest.
Nick Portokalos: I've never seen my sister this happy, Ian. If you hurt her, I'll kill you and make it look like an accident.
An inversion appears in Practical Magic. Sally is trying to get her sister Gillian safely away from abusive boyfriend Jimmy Angelov. Sally accidentally poisons him (she was only trying to put him to sleep), but the police officer who shows up believes it was a straight-up murder attempt.
In the Warren Beatty Dick Tracy, Big Boy Caprice orders Tracy killed and he was assured by Flattop and Itchy that they can make it look like an accident. (Big Boy doesn't dare Just Shoot Him, because if Tracy were found murdered, he'd be the prime suspect.) Just how they can make a person found dead tied to a chair in a boiler room that had exploded look like an accident is never explained.
Throughout the film A Fish Called Wanda, Ken attempts to kill a witness to a robbery while making it look like an accident. Unfortunately, he ends up accidentally killing her various pet dogs.
Ironically, the death of the third dog causes her to have a fatal heart attack.
Which was then completely and entirely accidental, despite Ken's deliberate murder attempts.
The Boss in Lucky Number Slevin hires Good Kat to assassinate The Rabbi's son. He doesn't care if it looks exactly like an accident, it just can't look like a professional hit since the Rabbi will go to war if he knows the Boss was responsible. Goodkat's plan is to get some schmuck off the street to perform the actual killing, then kill the killer and stage the bodies so it looks like a mutual suicide pact. Except it turns out Goodkat is arranging everything behind the scenes, and just kills the Rabbi's son as another part in his scheme of revenge on the two crime lords.
The murderers in Double Indemnity have to make the death look like an accident — specifically, a train accident — in order to collect the insurance money they're after. It ultimately fails.
In Blue Thunder, Murphy's rival Colonel Cochrane attempts to kill him by sabotaging his helicopter during an evaluation flight.
One of the villains in the Bruiceploitation flick The Clones of Bruce Lee does this - after one of the titular Bruce Lee clones infiltrates a movie shoot (actually a front for a gold smuggling racket) as a martial arts stuntsman, the director realizes that the clone could be a government agent and schemes to have him shot on-camera through a staged weapons malfunction...which sort of becomes a "Funny Aneurysm" Moment when you recall what happened to Bruce's son, Brandon...
In The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone shows some Genre Savvy about this, warning the Dons of the other four families that if his son Michael meets with an accident on the way back from Sicily, he will assume that at least one of them was responsible and restart the Mob War put on hold after Sonny's death. He goes so far as to explicitly include Michael committing suicide, being shot by the police, or even being hit by lightning.
In the game, there are at least three people you're asked to kill this way. Apparently falling off a high ledge counts as one of these for the game's purposes.
The Blue Max: When the German High Command learns that fighter pilot and propaganda hero Lt. Bruno Stachel claimed two kills that weren't his and challenged another pilot to contest of skill that resulted in his death, they give him the job of test-flying a dangerous deathtrap monoplane fighter. They even instruct him to push the new plane to its limits, guaranteeing that it will crash and kill him.
The villains of North by Northwest try to kill Roger Thornhill, who they think is George Kaplan, an enemy spy, by pumping him full of whisky and making him drive a fast car on a cliff's edge. It doesn't work.
Conklin: You were supposed to kill him in such a way that the only possible explanation was that it was done by a member of his own faction!
This trope is the premise of Accident, Hong-Kong movie about a group of assassins who specialize on creating very cunning circumstances that lead to target's death.
The Dragon in Paycheck kills a scientist making it look like he fell out of his apartment window. Nobody buys it.
A Film With Me In It features the inverse; a whole load of people die in a Disaster Dominoes-prone flat in ways that are all completely accidental and which the protagonist had absolutely nothing to do with, but all happen to be either people who the protagonist would have a reason to murder, die in such a way that no one would possibly believe that the poor protagonist didn't murder them, or both.
Variation in military/mystery movie Basic, where Drill Sergeant NastyWest uses this as a threat to all of the potential recruits looking to get into his elite Ranger unit.
Those of you I find lacking will quit. And those of you who refuse to quit will have a training accident. This base suffers three training accidents a year. Unfortunate accidents that I will not hesitate to repeat if you cross me!
In the second WarGames movie, a scientist is hit by a car while jogging but it was an assassination made to look like an accident.
Blue Rajah: Yes, I've always suspected a bit of foul play there...
The Bowler: As have I.
The Shawshank Redemption: Apparently Tommy was killed by Hadley during the former's "failed escape attempt". Andy knows better. Presumably, the beating death of "Fat Ass" is covered-up in the same way.
Marta: Good enough for one. Two would have looked suspicious. (transforms into Kirk) Killed while trying to escape. Now that's convincing enough for both.
In Lethal Weapon 2, The Dragon, Vorstedt, reveals that Riggs' wife's death was not an accident after all and that he sabotaged the brakes to make her car go off the road, as he was trying to kill Riggs himself (who was not in the car).
The Fugitive. Richard Kimble thinks his wife's murder is the result of a botched robbery attempt. Only as the film progresses does he learn that it was an orchestrated hit. Later on, it's mentioned that a co-conspirator died in a hit-and-run car accident and strongly implied that this was a hit as well.
In Dredd Ma-Ma orders her mooks to make it look like the Judges walked in on a gang turf war and were shot in the cross fire. In the Crapsack World of the movie, it would count as an 'accidental' death.
The protagonist of The Ghost Writer believes that his predecessor's suicide was in fact murder made to look like a suicide. When it's mentioned that a potential witness is in the hospital following a fall down the stairs, it's heavily implied that this is a similar scenario.
Killer Elite has the sheik request this specifically, so the SAS won't retaliate after the assassinations are carried out. The problem is he wants confessions from the victims as well, complicating the assignment.
In The Housemaid, Hae-ra's mother feigns a stumble to knock over the ladder that Eun-yi is on while cleaning the second-floor chandelier. It fools no one in the house.
In Sunrise, a farmer and his mistress plot to drown his wife and make it look like an accident.
The 1966 Black ComedyLord Love A Duck takes an unexpectedly somber turn when Barbara's Lady Drunk mother kills herself. Alan discovers her, and, to make things easier for Barbara, sets it up to make it look accidental.
Also spoofed in Outpost: Black Sun. Wallace is talking to the protagonist, a woman from a family of Nazi Hunters.
Wallace: I heard about Matthew. I'm sorry. Car accident, right?
The Wild Geese II. The mercenaries plan to stage a car accident with the Vulnerable Convoy carrying Rudolf Hess, then carry him off in a fake ambulance. The driver they hire to fake the crash says he can use a specially reinforced car, but they insist it has to look real, so he uses an ordinary vehicle and gets killed.
In Harry Potter, Ron once daydreams about pushing Malfoy off a glacier and make it look like an accident.
The villains' plot in the fourth book revolves around this kind of plot to kill Harry: make him a contestant in the Triwizard Tournament, then use a time when he's alone during a challenge to murder him. Contestants die all the time in the Tournament, don't they?
In A Song of Ice and Fire, these kinds or murders are the speciality of the Faceless Men, a religious cult of extremely skilled assassins.
In addition, Robert Baratheon's death was caused by a boar on a hunting trip, after being given far to much wine by a Lannister servant.
David Gerrold's The War Against the Chtorr. The Uncle Ira Group attempts to kill two birds with one stone via this method. The rest of the world refuses to take the Alien Invasion seriously, arguing that the Chtorrans aren't particularly dangerous, while protagonist Jim McCarthy has unwittingly drawn attention to their secret organisation by publicly arguing otherwise. So they order McCarthy to stand guard at a public showing of a captured Chtorran worm, which 'accidentally' escapes from its cage and starts eating the delegates. Fortunately McCarthy took the trouble to practise with his newly-issued flechette rifle and succeeds in bringing down the creature on live television. Because McCarthy is now a hero, the Uncle Ira group makes the best of a bad situation and makes him a permanent member of their organisation instead.
In The Destroyer series of adventure novels by Warren Murphy and Richard Ben Sapir, removing problems that cannot be removed legally by "making it look like an accident" is the entire reason for Remo Williams existence.
In the fourth novel about Erast Fandorin, the Big Bad goes beyond this, deciding that an accident would look much too fishy and arranges for his target to die on a heart attack (by using a very rare poison).
A favored tactic of the Republic of Haven in the Honor Harrington series is to kill people in "accidental" aircar collisions - that is, when the people in question aren't simply "disappeared." This comes back to bite the new government of the Republic in the ass later on when a suspected traitor and his accomplice die in aircar accidents. One of them was arranged by the traitor's foreign paymasters to cover their tracks, and the other was a completely genuine accident, but they both inevitably got blamed on the government.
A specific non-Peep example occurs in Honor Among Enemies, where someone tries to off Ginger Lewis and pass it off as a suit failure. Unfortunately the culprit tried too hard.
Played with in The Man Who Never Was: the Germans have to be convinced that a dead guy washed up on the Spanish coast with a suitcase full of Allied battle plans is a courier, and the battle plans are the Real Stuff. The book (and subsequent film) were based on the real-life Operation Mincemeat, which went to extraordinary lengths to Make It Look Like an Accident. It isn't this trope straight because the body that was used was that of a man who had died of pneumonia — there was no murder at all.
Inverted in And Another Thing... where the dragons of Asgard are instructed to kill Zaphod Beeblebrox by accident, and to make it look intentional.
Max in Codex Alera has been dodging "accidents" for years, courtesy of an Evil Stepmother who wants the inconvenient bastard son out of the way. His mother already succumbed to one, and he's spent the intervening years being almost killed by things like a jar of rock salt, which hurts wind furies, falling on him while he's learning to fly and dropping him 30 feet to the ground and a legionaire recruit he's training "inexplicably" having his sword twist out of his hand and fly at Max's neck.
In the convoluted traditions of combat between Great Houses in the Dune universe, it is considered an extreme breach of protocol to kill a defeated opponent without offering them exile first; violation of this rule may cause the perpetrator to be exterminated by the other Houses, and there are Truthsayers to investigate any suspicious deaths. The solution: issue indirect orders to one's minions (who are unlikely to be subject to Truthsayer questioning) along the lines of, "No bodies must ever be found," and leave it up to their creativity to make the proper arrangements.
In The Dresden Files an Entropy Curse tends to cause deaths like this. Harry notes that the victim effectively dies of what looks like seriously bad luck. And then in Blood Rites, a group of rather unstable women finds a way to work a particularly strong one, and while the deaths caused certainly don't look like intentional murders, they are a LONG way from looking like mundane accidents. A few examples:
Death by allergic reaction to bee stings - specifically, twenty thousand bees that had somehow swarmed into a car in a couple of minutes.
Death by gunshot - but the gun had been aimed at someone other than the curse's victim, in the opposite direction and another room from the curse's victim, and the bullet ricocheted more than once before hitting the curse's victim.
Death by being hit by a car - while waterskiing.
Near-death by simultaneous blood loss and electrocution - because the victim was taking a shower which suddenly turned hot on her, causing her to fall through a glass door and slash her throat open, and then a light fixture decided out of nowhere to fall off the ceiling and land in the water with the wires exposed.
The most prominent example: death by laser-guided frozen turkey, apparently dropped from an airplane. And then the timer dings.
Harry: For my next trick, anvils.
In an early Nero Wolfe novel, The League of Frightened Men, the suspected murderer has sworn vengeance against a group of men who inadvertently crippled him. The first two deaths look like accidents. Subverted, in that they actually are accidents, which the "murderer" has simply implied he's responsible for.
Variant: When spy Simon Mead is murdered, his teammates disguise the death as a car accident.
Number the Stars. Annemarie's older sister, Lise, was hit by a car and died. In the end, it is revealed that she was intentionally hit by the Nazis, being part of La Résistance.
Occurs in some of the Alex Rider books, including the death of a business man made to look like he missed his footing stepping into an elevator, and the mass-murder plans of some of the villains.
Tigerclaw attempted this a couple of times: first the Thunderpath trap to try and get Bluestar to run onto the Thunderpath, and then when he told Fireheart to cross a branch over a flooded stream and then knocked it loose. Even Fireheart wasn't sure whether it was an accident or not until he noticed the way Tigerclaw was looking at him later.
Darkstripe gave Sorrelkit deathberries to eat; if Graystripe hadn't seen what happened, every cat would have just assumed she found the berries and didn't know what they were.
In Heart's Blood, pretty much every major death at Whistling Tor is made to look like an accident by Muirne.She would have gotten away with it if she hadn't tried to fire trick twice
In the Dale Brown novel Shadows of Steel, this is done with airplanes and military equipment. It Makes Sense in Context, but is justified in that the guy ordering it had to dance around the political sensitivities of traditional, highly visible overt action while still wanting to hurt the other side. It works.
In Matt Ruff's Bad Monkeys, the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons (aka "Bad Monkeys") which kills people who are determined to be truly evil, they use "NC guns". The NC guns cause the person that is aimed at to die of natural causes such as heart attack or stroke, hence the name.
The Smith brothers try to do this to James Bond in the Young Bond novel Double or Die; force-feeding him a bottle of gin and planning to throw him into the Thames so he drowns.
The drowning of Camille in Thérèse Raquin is made to look like Camille just fell out of the boat and couldn't swim rather than a murder.
The protagonist of Barry Eisler's John Rain series specializes in making assassinations look like accidental and (especially) natural deaths. The first kill he performs involves using a Palm Pilot to turn off a guy's pacemaker.
Subverted in the Robin Cook medical thriller Coma, in which a hitman is given orders to kill medical student Susan Wheeler who has been snooping into suspicious deaths at the hospital. He is instructed to "make it look like a rape", as though Susan were merely the victim of a random street crime rather than a carefully orchestrated murder.
Played straight in the film though.
Kelly: What'd you do that for? Hitman: They told me to make it look like an accident. [kills him]
This is what the killer in the Phryne Fisher mystery Murder in Montparnasse tries to do. He crushes one victim beneath a car so it looks like the jack slipped while he was working under it, and gets another drunk and drowns him in an irrigation ditch.
'Husbands die every day, Dolores. Why, one is probably dying right now, while we're sitting here talking. They die and leave their wives their money'.
Vera even hints that she offed her own husband by this line:
'I should know, shouldn't I? After all, look what happened to mine. An accident is sometimes an unhappy woman's best friend.'
President Snow uses the threat of killing the victors' families and loved ones like this to keep them in line and to make them do as he says. This is what happened to Haymitch's family and girlfriend after his Games, and it's implied to have happened to everyone Johanna loved. But even Snow admits that if he did this to Katniss herself because of her "stunt with the berries", no one would buy it.
Discussed in the Paladin of Shadows series. Though the Keldara never do it onscreen, they have a habit of making Kildars that are unworthy die mysterious deaths.
A professional driver/hitman tries to kill Bob Lee Swagger's daughter by ramming her car off a mountain road in Night of Thunder.
On 3rd Rock From The Sun, Dick suggested they kill Judith and make it look like an accident. When Mary refused, he replied "We're not going to make it look like an accident?!"
A later episode delivered this gem when referring to Evil Dick -
Tommy: "How should we get rid of him? You're the weapons expert!" Sally: "That doesn't mean I can just frag him with a grenade launcher while he's in the shower!" Harry: "Why not? People explode in showers all the time!"
Magnificent Bastard Al Swearengen says this early in the first season of Deadwood. Interestingly this is the only time he tries to conceal his involvement in a murder (it doesn't work), most of the time he doesn't care.
Al: Anyways, Sheriff, I'm gonna walk past that bloodstain that mysteriously appeared in my office and go oversee my business interests.
Bob Briscoe: So, Roz, who's the proud papa? You got it narrowed down yet? Roz: That's nice, very nice. Frasier, will you excuse us? Frasier: Just remember the baby's future, Roz. Try to make it look like an accident.
Nina Van Horn: She'll be gone by the end of the day.
Dennis Finch: Great; just make it look like an accident.
Nina Van Horn: No, no, no! She's leaving on her own.
Dennis Finch: Got it; we never spoke.
Titus episode "Tommy's Girlfriend". Titus tells Tommy to run into (meet) his old girlfriend and make it look like an accident. Tommy takes him literally, and does it with a car.
Parodied in a Mitchell And Webb sketch where one of the minions of a Diabolical Mastermind is attempting to get them to stop using so much Double Speak and False Reassurance. He brings up the time they were told "Let's hope Professor Rickson meets with an unfortunate accident". It ended up being several months of literal waiting before the mastermind clarified that it was an accident they were supposed to make happen.
Oz. An undercover policeman (posing as a drug dealer) is told he has to kill someone to prove himself. But because the new manager of 'Emerald City' has promised to turn a blind eye to the drug trade as long as there's no violence, he's told to "do it a long way from here, and make it look like an accident." The undercover policeman decides to kill two birds with one stone by offing a corrupt ex-cop (now a prisoner) who's threatening to blow his cover. He pushes him down an elevator shaft, after tricking him into going there supposedly to murder another prisoner who knows they're cops.
In Dollhouse a woman's murder is made to look like a heart attack using an overdose of a performance-enhancing drug for horses and a masking agent that made it difficult to detect after the fact.
The previous governor met with an accident that took quite some time to arrange.
In "The Time of Angels", the security officer chasing River Song on board the Byzantium tells his goons to wait for River to run and then shoot her, so it doesn't look like an execution, but rather that she was shot while attempting to flee. Which isn't much better, really.
In "Boom Town", a reporter mentions to the Lord Mayor Margaret Blaine that nearly everyone opposing her proposed Cardiff nuclear power plant has died in a variety of mysterious accidents.
Cathy Salt: And then just recently Mr. Cleaver, the government's nuclear advisor?
Margaret Blaine: Slipped on an icy patch.
Cathy Salt: He was decapitated!
Margaret Blaine: It was a very icy patch.
The killer in the Criminal Minds episode "Paradise" tries to do this, but he isn't very good at it.
A zigzag version in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby" (written by Roald Dahl): Mr. Appleby successfully kills his first wife by making it look like she tripped and fell on a rug (that he pulled out from under her), but his second wife is suspicious and leaves a note with her attorney to call the police should something untoward happen. The attorney calls to check on her, and when going to answer the phone she really does trip on a rug and fall!
In City Homicide Sean Macready manages to light seven fires over nine years, killing over a dozen children, and each time makes it look like an electrical accident, each time convincing the arson squad.
Leonard threatens Sheldon with this after getting fed up with his latest insane stunt (staying in his room and interacting with the world via TV Head Robot) in The Big Bang Theory.
Sheldon: At my age, do you know how I'm statistically most likely to die?
Ross McGovern is killed in what looks like a random traffic accident.
When Sir Richard Halton is killed, it's made to look like he drowned after falling and hitting his head on the side of his pool.
The reason why some of the cases on Cold Case went cold in the first place. What was really a murder was made to look like an accident (like in the episode "Blood On The Tracks", where a fatal explosion was thought to be due to a gas leak, only for the remnants of a bomb to be discovered 26 years later), suicide, or even natural causes ("The Good Death", where the victim was thought to have died from a brain tumor, only for it be a Mercy Killing).
A benevolent variation happens in the episode "Wednesday's Women". The victim is run down, and the victim's friends end up dumping her body near a busy road to make it look like she was accidentally hit by a car. They did this because they got turned away by a racist cop when they tried to get help.
In The Wire Stringer Bell orders D'Angelo Barksdale's murder because he was afraid D'Angelo would become a snitch. The killer made it look like a suicide.
In the Wallander episode The Man Who Smiled, the father of a friend of Wallander's is killed in this manner after he blackmails someone involved in organ trafficking.
Inverted in an episode of Life On Mars; a death with all the outward appearance of a murder turns out to have been an accident.
Subverted in an episode of Inspector Morse in which Morse believes the the trope is in play, but it turns out it really was an accident. However, the investigation uncovers an art fraud ring and at least one actual murder takes place during the episode.
In "The Rat Race", Donna Kaplan the secretary arranged four accidents and other inconspicuous deaths to climb the corporate ladder.
In "Flight Risk" Sherlock deduces that one of the the plane crash victims was dead before the plane crashed. It turns out that he stumbled upon the plane being sabotaged, was killed, and stowed away on the it.
In "A Landmark Story" Sherlock tangles with a contract killer, named Daniel Gottlieb, who specializes in this. He kills one guy by tracking his daily routine and then making it look like a window air conditioner broke loose and fell on his head, and is about to provoke a swarm of Africanized honey bees to attack a jogger when Sherlock catches him refilling their food supply.
MacGyver: The bad guy in "Deadly Silents" goes to great lengths to make his attempts to kill Pinky and MacGyver look like an accident. After multiple failures, he gives in to his partner's urging of Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him?.
Defiance: In the Season 2 premiere, a pair of brothers who have been arrested for protesting against the Earth Republic occupation of the town are being escorted to a prison camp when the transport stops so that the driver can pee. The doors to the transport then just so happen to unlock, allowing the brothers to run off... right into Hellbug territory. The number of coincidences required for this sequence of events to play out normally are so staggeringly high that when Amanda accuses Pottinger of having them set up to die in order to send a message, he doesn't even try to defend himself.
The Far Side had a dog hiring a "hit elephant" to get rid of a cat and "make it look like an accident".
A Nintendo Power comic dedicated to Blast Corps played this troupe ridiculously straight. While loading up the robot Cyclone to bust a scientist out of prison, the pilot is advised that "it has to look natural." The robot then proceeds to smash a single cell of the prison and get the scientist out. The crowning glory is that one of the prison guards says, "The fury of mother nature."
In Warhammer, the Tomb King codex specifies that it wasn't illegal per se for tomb architects to refuse being sacrificed and buried with their king, but it was accident-prone.
May be one of the oldest ones in the book as this happens in Hamlet. Claudius proposes a fencing match between Laertes and Hamlet in which Laertes will fight with a poison-tipped sword, so it looks like an accident.
He also gave out that Hamlet Sr. had died of a snakebite.
In the Hitman Blood Money video game, the best way to make Silent Assassin rank is to make the killings of your targets look like accidents, which you can do by many means in the game (falling chandeliers, explosively igniting grills, and other creatively nasty things). This is also the only means of killing non-targets without affecting rank or getting a cash penalty.
The Reincarnation Flash Game series has the protagonist kill targets respecting two conditions: they have to die after committing a sin, and as a result of circumstances or their own actions. The objective of the game is to manipulate the environment so that the latter happens.
The Big Bad of Full Throttle arranges for Ben to die in what appears to be a road accident (when, in fact, his goons sabotage Ben's bike), so that he can lead Ben's gang into a trap. Needless to say, Ben survives and gets back at him.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: Tenpenny is "Just a cop that died in a traffic accident". Also, San Fierro police occasionally shout "You know, I can make this look like a suicide".
A mission in Vice City similarly has you assassinating someone and your goal is to make it look like a car accident. Of course, in practice it's less an 'accident' and more 'relentlessly hounding the person until you make their car explode'.
Sandbox games tend to have 'Make it look like an accident' as a theme for many of their assasination missions. Just running up to the victim and firing off a clip doesn't always finish the mission.
One of the assassin missions in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion will give you a bonus if you can make the victim's death look like an accident by dropping a moose minotaur head on him.
Another one will give you a bonus if you can make the death look like natural causes, by secretly poisoning the already ill victim's medicine supply.
In Jade Empire, you're "encouraged" to kill your boss' boss in the Lotus Assassin fortress, which in this case means "kill him and then stick his body in the golem press" (you can also drop a golem on your boss as well, doubling the trope).
A more satirical example is Kang's suggestion you make Gao the Greater "fall down a flight of punches".
"Foxdie" in Metal Gear Solid is a genetically engineered virus that can be customized to only infect people with specific DNA sequences to make them either a carrier or cause a heart attack within 5 to 15 minutes. It's secretly injected into Snake by Naomi at the beginning of Metal Gear Solid to make sure that nobody who knows about Liquids and Ocelots plan leaves the island alive. In the fourth game, he's injected with a new version, which includes kill orders for Big Boss and EVA.
A rare benevolent variation from Disgaea. King Krichevskoy dying from choking on a black pretzel was merely what the people were told; he actually died sealingBaalaway, and this was kept secret to keep him from escaping.
Another sidequest in the same location has you investigate a murder that was made to look like an accident, though in that particular case, the murderer was a complete idiot and it was painfully clear that the victim's death was anything but an accident.
Some of the assassination plots in Crusader Kings are this, with incidents such as carriages falling over cliffs, a section of the castle wall suddenly breaking apart, or the target being bitten by a snake. However, it is always possible for the plot to fail and the perpetrators being caught.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm: One quest undertaken by the Alliance has your character attempt to take out several key members of the Dark Horde (not to be confused with the main faction called The Horde) in Burning Steppes using a certain tranquilizer. While this trope isn't explicitly in your mission orders, each one you take out dies in a manner that fits this trope (one falls from a great height, another falls into a lava pool, and a third is attacked by the hounds she keeps), which pleases your superior.
Subversion: In an episode of The Simpsons, Moe wants to get Mr. Burns off the bowling team because of how terrible he is, so he sinisterly suggests that Mr. Burns "just might have a little accident on his way to the tournament". Mr. Burns then walks into the building sporting a leg injury, but it's the result of an actual accident. Moe then sneaks up behind Mr. Burns in disguise and hits him in the leg with a lead pipe, but it actually pops his leg bone back into place.
Also parodied in "Mayored to the mob": The mayor, due to plot unrelated actions, got the mob anger on himself. cue Fat Tony to say on television that the mayor has to look out. "Because accidents happen all the time. Like the killing of you. By us."
Also added as humor by Willie, stating he could kill Bart with a hoe to the back, claiming he could make it look as if Bart committed suicide.
"Double Danger". The doppleganger Race Bannon tells the Thai Jungle Guide to get rid of Jonny and Hadji, and to make it look like an accident.
"Werewolf of the Timberland". The Big Bad of the episode tells Pierre over the radio that the Quest team team must not be shot, but must be killed in a way that makes their deaths look like an accident.
Mandragora taunts Faraday in Justice League Unlimited by describing a witness as having unfortunately wandered in front of a train.
In one episode of Cow and Chicken, The Red Guy plays a collection agent who threatens the titular duo with an accident. When they ask what kind, a train spontaneously runs The Red Guy over. "This kind."
Batman: The Animated Series: In "Bane", Rupert Thorne's moll, Candace, suggests that this might be a way of getting rid of her employer/lover.
Candace: With Batman out of the way, Gotham could be yours. So could I.
Bane: What about your employer?
Candace: Accidents do happen.
In the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Chill of the Night" Batman, with help from The Spectre, witnesses Joe Chill being contracted to kill Thomas Wayne, complete with "Just make it look like an accident." Since a mugging gone bad does not look like an accident, this shows the blurry line between "make it look like an accident" and "make sure it can't be traced back to me".
In Iron Man: Armored Adventures Magneto wants to get rid of Senator Kelly, but doesn't want to create a martyr for the Senator's cause. So he kidnaps Jean Grey to use her mental powers to make it look like a heart attack.
The King of the Hill episode "Fun with Jane and Jane" opens with Buck Strickland telling Hank to go shoot his emus because the bottom fell out of the market. The last thing he says before he leaves is "Make it look like a heart attack."
After the escape from Stalag Luft III (which was dramatized in The Great Escape), fifty prisoners were shot after recapture as revenge but to cover their tracks, the Germans attempted (but Epic Failed) to use this trick in the reports of the shooting. Claiming that around fifty men had all tried to overpower their guards and escape after stopping to relieve themselves at the roadside in multiple incidents across the German countryside (with none wounded) was too unbelievable to take anyone in, and the perpetrators were hunted down after the war.
In 1994, a FedEx cargo plane was hijacked by disgruntled employee Auburn Calloway, who intended to use the plane in a suicide attack on FedEx headquarters while somehow making it look accidental, as his death in an accident would enable a payoff from the $2.5 million life insurance policy he had taken out on himself. Riding along in the jumpseat, he used hammers to attack the flight crew, hitting each in the head, injuries which would be virtually indistinguishable from those incurred in a crash. Despite severe injuries, Captain David Sanders and Flight Engineer Andrew Peterson retaliated, and a struggle began with the two attempting to pin their attacker while co-pilot James Tucker stayed at the controls. Tucker being a former Navy pilot, he began turning the plane in a wild, unpredictable manner intended to keep Calloway off balance, nearly rolling it on its back and taking it near uncontrollable speed. Eventually Calloway was pinned, and the captain, also former Navy, took control and began an immediate landing. Due to trauma and blood loss, all three were losing strength, and they needed to get on the ground or risk Calloway breaking loose again, so there was no time to dump fuel. They had to land overweight, at a dangerously steep angle, at a recklessly fast speed, but the captain pulled it off. Calloway was arrested, but the flight crew was too injured to ever fly again.
Truth in Television for the Indian Police, who would often cut the heavy red tape that would ensue by catching a criminal by shooting them instead, and they always play it off as an "encounter", i.e. shooting in self-defense.
Ronald Clark O'Bryan poisoned his son's Halloween candy to collect on a life insurance policy, hoping to take advantage of the widespread Urban Legend about the dangers of Halloween. It didn't work, though.
Similarly, in North Korea, political opponents are officially reported to have died in car crashes, even though there are almost no cars on the road due to the constant gas shortage.
With modern Real Life cars it would be a rather poor tacticto sever a brake line or pour oil on the brake discs. First, brake failure would become apparent to the driver while still at very slow speed in the parking lot, second, modern ABS braking systems have totally separated circuits in the ABS unit, unlike an older, mechanical, dual-circuit braking system (where the fluid may still leak from all the system even if only one circuit has been tampered with), so the modern car can brake just fine, albeit slower.
Practically any "hunting accident" with the nobility or royalty for any country anytime in history.
The suicides of Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader, Jan-Carl Raspe, and Gudrun Esslin in West German custody during the Cold War are believed by some to have been examples of this. The official version requires that: Firstly, they managed to smuggle a gun into West Germany's premier prison (two defence attorneys were later tried and convicted for smuggling the weapons). Then, Andreas Baader managed to fire it into his neck from 30-40 cms away, with the bullet transiting his neck, skull, and brain without deflecting, without getting fingerprints on the gun or gun residue on his hands (firing a gun without getting residue on your hands is considered impossible). There was no gunpowder residue around the supposed contact would either. Meinhof supposedly hanged herself. She was badly bruised, and her cell was painted and cleaned two days after her death, despite already having been painted 8 months before. Raspe had no powder burns. Esslin's suicide was not seemingly untoward, but coupled with the other questions raised....
Union activist Karen Silkwood died in a car accident as she was one her way to meet a reporter from The New York Times where she intended to expose the unsafe conditions at the nuclear fuel plant where she worked. It assumed by many that she was intentionally run off the road. Evidence does indicate this, but with no witnesses, the official cause of death is "accident".