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Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot
Just a burglary at the Watergate Hotel. Nothing important.

"That's how it always begins. Very small."

Someone investigates a minor crime, or possibly something as major as murder, but finds something much bigger going on behind it. The first crime might be part of a Revealing Coverup, or it might be just a Red Herring; it can also be both the cause and effect of Crime After Crime. This is extremely common in crime fighting action films where the plot is more about building up a lead in from normal life and confronting the big secret; in other fiction there might be all manner of twists, turns and dead ends before it all links up. This is a staple of the detective variety of Film Noir.

Some of the more complex Evil Plans may stretch from the most trifling crimes to the mind-bogglingly evil in a mind-bogglingly complex manner.

Sometimes the Anti-Villain is revealed to be a Complete Monster; in other cases the Anti-Villain teams up with the heroes to fight the Big Bad.

Works in which several different crimes are committed (e.g. a Police Procedural TV series) sometimes follow the pattern that every Minor Crime reveals a Major Plot - the main characters can't investigate any crime, big or small, without stumbling upon an Evil Plan involving several different people and six- or seven-digit sums of money. This is largely an Acceptable Break From Reality: of course, in Real Life, thousands of crimes are committed each day without any sort of plan or conspiracy behind them – rebellious individuals torch the property of those they feel offended them. people are killed when petty arguments get out of hand, dastardly villains cross streets in illegal ways to get to the other side faster – but it makes for a more interesting story to have your master detectives slowly uncover the villainous plot of a Diabolical Mastermind than to have them book random mugger after random mugger.

Contrast Infraction Distraction, where a minor crime is committed to conceal a greater one.

Truth in Television. Real Life professional criminals will bend over backwards to make sure they don't trip up over something minor, because it's happened before. The best way to avoid capture is to not attract attention - at all. But many criminals do not maintain professional standards and are caught for things like not paying fare on the subway, or expired license plates.

As this is a trope about plots, 'many of the examples will contain spoilers. You have been warned. When it's the criminal who only intended to commit a minor crime, it's Unintentionally Notorious Crime.

Not to be confused with Wanted Meter.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  
  • Striker S Sound Stage X of Lyrical Nanoha: Murder of various Old Belka researchers → Terrorist plot to attack Mid-childa with the undead army of a legendary Dark King.
  • Detective Conan has the Black Organization. It looked like a simple case of blackmail, but they're actually an elite group of murderers that owns huge biological research facilities.
  • Subverted in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, where the murder of a policeman who discovered illegal surveillance devices appears to bring the elite hacker Laughing Man out into the open, but it turns out the guy was an imitator. However, later it's played as straight as a laser: hacker in government-run halfway house → conspiracy involving Japan's entire military industrial complex. Wall of Text - watch the freakin' anime!
    • The Made-for-TV Movie, Solid State Society, begins with a crime that is no means minor, but over the course of the story, explodes into an absolutely massive Milkman Conspiracy that actually tramples two other conspiracies going on at the same time: Suicides of several members of a deposed Korean military junta → A gigantic socio-economic engineering project led by Japan's invalid and elderly, via abducting at-risk children and manipulating legal records.
  • Paranoia Agent: Who/What is Shonen Bat?
  • Naoki Urasawa really loves this one.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist has at least two points that could be considered either the crime with the warrant that turns out too small or the far more sinister plot. They both go from the Elric brothers' attempt at human transmutation to the murder of Maes Hughes all the way up to outing and defeating an Ancient Conspiracy which may as well be called Amestris' very own Illuminati.
  • No. 6. One mysterious death, then more, leads to the truth of an entire utopian city being used as test subjects to revive Eliurias.

     Comic Books  
  • Watchmen: Investigating the murder of an ex-superhero → uncovering a plot to prevent nuclear war by destroying a city.
  • Tintin King Ottokars Sceptre: Kidnapping of an expert on Syldavian history → coup d'etat
  • X-Men Noir: Open-and-shut gangland murder → a secret brotherhood of Corrupt Cops
    • In the sequel: Murder of Cain Marko → a secret government agency training criminals to be the ultimate spies and assassins.
  • Suske en Wiske: the album "het Aruba dossier". The minor crime: two men ignore a red trafic light and crash into Professor Barabas' car, sending all three of them to the hospital. The major plot: once in the hospital, Barabas is accidently given a briefcase that belongs to the other two men. In the briefcase he finds a file that describes plans of a big criminal organisation to distribute a highly toxic substance as a new fertilizer for crops.

    Fan Works 
  • More like Major Crime Reveals Major Crime, but in Who Silenced Elly Patterson, investigating Elly Patterson's death ended up opening a cold case on a woman's disappearance when Gavin Caine came under suspicion of Elly's death and a house search found the woman's body. To make things worse, the woman was his first wife.
  • In Perfection Is Overrated Hitomi using Mind Control to force people to make withdrawals from their bank accounts (which later escalates to murder) → plot by SUEs to kill all the Himes and reshape the world.
  • Starlight Over Detrot starts with the investigation of a murder outside a swanky hotel, and quickly turns into race to stop a plot that could destroy the whole city.

    Film - Animation 

    Film - Live Action 
  • Ace Ventura: Pet Detective: Dolphin kidnapping → murder, kidnapping, and attempted murder of NFL star Dan Marino.
    • Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls: Bat kidnapping → plot to wipe out two indigenous African tribes and seize their land.
  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: Theft of the Oscillation Overthruster and kidnapping Penny Priddy → the Red Lectroids' plot to return to Planet 10 and conquer it, leading to a threat by the Black Lectroids to start World War III.
  • Alien Nation: Murder of a cop during a robbery → re-introducing a devastating alien drug.
  • All The Presidents Men: Two investigative reporters look into a minor robbery in hotel Watergate.
  • The Avengers (1998): Sabotage of a weather control project → holding Britain to ransom with the threat of a weather attack that will destroy London.
  • Basic: a training exercise gone wrong with an elite Army unit (with one person confirmed dead and others missing) tuns into a case of multiple murders, a major drug dealing scandal on the base involving highly placed personnel, and even rumors of a group of former special forces soldiers that have started their own cartel and are settling scores from their old Army days.
  • Beverly Hills Cop: Murder of a man in Detroit → international drug smuggling operation in Los Angeles.
  • Big Trouble in Little China: The kidnapping of a girl with green eyes → David Lo Pan's plan to rule the universe from beyond the grave.
  • Black Dynamite: Murder of the protagonist's brother → government conspiracy to shrink black men's penises.
  • Blue Thunder: Murder of a LA city councilwoman → a U.S. government conspiracy to eliminate political undesirables with the title combat helicopter.
  • Cast a Deadly Spell: Theft of a book and killing of the thief → conspiracy to call Cthulhu to Earth.
  • Cellular starts off as trying to trace a woman who was kidnapped by unknown men but soon found out some of the cops in involved in a greater plot
  • Changeling. The kidnapping of Walter Collins → The vast corruption in the LA police department
  • Chinatown: Who killed Hollis Mulwray? → Rape, incest, and massive corruption of the LAPD
  • Constantine: Suicide of a woman → a plot to bring the Devil's son to Earth and bring about Armageddon.
  • Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. Death (murder) of Doc's father → a plot to steal Indian land in Central America that contains a giant pool of gold.
  • Dreamscape: Murder of a woman while dreaming → creating a psychic assassin to kill the President of the United States in his dreams.
  • Dredd: Flaying and murder by very high fall of three men → elaborate plan to put slum tower on lockdown to kill the responding Judges and keep the massive drug market from being revealed, combined with four corrupt Judges helping the drug clan with this. Not that Judge Dredd sees this as being particularly eventful.
  • Drop Zone: Skyjacking and kidnapping → scheme to break into DEA headquarters, steal the names of all DEA undercover agents and sell them to the drug cartels.
  • The Fugitive. Murder of Kimble's wife → drug company conspiracy to market a deadly medical drug to an unknowing public.
  • The Golden Child: Kidnapping of a child → attempt to bring Hell to Earth.
  • Gone Baby Gone Who kidnapped the little girl? Not who you'd think.
  • Hot Fuzz Series of murders made to look like accidents → decades-old conspiracy that mercilessly executes anyone who would jeopardize the reputation the village has for serenity and cleanliness. "Have you ever wondered why the murder rate in this town is so low, and yet the accident rate is so high?"
  • Hudson Hawk: Theft of several items → using a gold-making machine to destroy the world's economy.
  • I, Robot Suicide → Zeroth Law Rebellion
  • In Like Flint. The President's golf swing taking 3 minutes → A diabolical plan to take control of the minds of women all over the world and put a nuclear Sword of Damocles in orbit around the Earth.
  • A common trope in the James Bond series:
    • Dr. No. Murder of a British agent → Dr. No's SPECTRE operation to destroy American missiles.
    • Goldfinger. Cheating at Gin Rummy, murder of Jill Masterson and gold smuggling → nuking Fort Knox.
    • Thunderball. Attempted murder of Bond → Hold the world ransom with two stolen nuclear warheads.
    • Diamonds Are Forever. Diamond smuggling → Hold the world for ransom with a laser-armed Kill Sat.
    • Live and Let Die. Deaths of three British agents → massive heroin smuggling operation.
    • The Spy Who Loved Me. Disappearing nuclear submarines → a plot to start a nuclear war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.
    • Moonraker. Disappearance of a space shuttle → a plot to kill all humans on Earth.
    • Octopussy. Smuggling stolen Faberge Eggs and murdering a British agent → nuclear sabotage, wiping out an American military base along with nearby cities and WW 3.
    • A View to a Kill. Using steroids in horse races → destroying Silicon Valley (though these two plot points don't directly connect)
    • The Living Daylights. A faked sniping attack on a fleeing general → attacks on British agents and a weapon smuggling network in the middle of the war between U.S.S.R. and Afghanistan.
    • GoldenEye. Theft of a prototype helicopter → crippling London with an EMP-based Kill Sat to cover up a massive electronic bank robbery.
    • Tomorrow Never Dies. An unusually fast newspaper article on a ship sinking → starting a war to gain exclusive media rights in China.
    • The World Is Not Enough. Murder of a prominent businessman → forcing a nuclear sub into meltdown and contaminating 90% of the world's oil supply.
    • Daniel Craig's Bond gets one that spans two movies: elimination of bomber-for-hire → The Reveal of an N.G.O. Superpower.
  • Judge Dredd: Murder of an investigative reporter → assassination of the Judges' Council and a coup d'etat.
    • In the remake, triple homicide → massive drug operation headquartered in Peachtrees
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: "Your case and my case... are the same fucking case!"
  • L.A. Confidential: What triggered the Night Owl Massacre?
  • Lethal Weapon: A simple suicide → a heroin-smuggling operation run by Vietnam War special forces troops.
  • Lethal Weapon 2: A traffic stop (of a car with a trunk full of Krugerrands) → an international drug smuggling conspiracy by South African government officials.
  • Lethal Weapon 3: A botched armor truck robbery → A corrupt officer stealing weapons from impound and selling them on the black market.
  • Lethal Weapon 4: A ship full of smuggled Chinese immigrants → A plot to sneak four Chinese Triad bosses into the country.
  • Looker: Murder of female models → company conspiracy to brainwash customers with subliminal advertising.
  • Men In Black: Disappearance of a man after encountering a UFO and a suicide → theft of a galaxy and possible destruction of the Earth.
  • Defied in Pulp Fiction. The Wolf asks Jules and Vincent if there is anything wrong with the car, which they had just cleaned thoroughly, so that if he is pulled over by the police, he knows any problems to talk about - and the police won't have a reason to inspect the vehicle, and find any hint of the body or blood the Jules and Vincent had spent time cleaning.
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The kidnapping of some German scientists → A plot to build a spaceship that will destroy all life on Earth.
  • Sneakers. The theft of a black box and the murder of its creator → a plot to cause the collapse of the world economy.
  • Soylent Green. Murder of a businessman → discovering a horrible truth about the entire food supply.
  • Star Trek: Insurrection: Data goes berserk on an alien planet → conspiracy to rob said alien planet of its Phlebotinumvengeful genocide of planet's inhabitants.
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. A routine hostage situation turns out to be an attempt to hijack a starship.
  • Star Wars Episode II Attack Of The Clones: Assassination attempt on a senator → A clone army, that no one seems to remember ordering, ready just as the Supreme Chancellor commissions a Grand Army of the Republic to deal with the Separatist Crisis → (finally discovered in Revenge of the Sith) Plot by the Supreme Chancellor to overthrow the Republic and destroy the Jedi.
  • Subverted in Strange Days: While investigating the murder of a rapper and a prostitute, the hero learns that the murders are related to a massive police conspiracy involving "death squads." In turns out that the guy telling him all this is just making it up to distract the hero. It's really just a murder cover-up.
  • Tell No One: Two bodies are discovered in the woods → an eight year old murder and the cover-up behind it.
  • Vantage Point tries to do this when the first warrant is for "Who shot the President?" Who infiltrated US Intelligence and tried to kidnap the President? is indeed somewhat weightier, //technically//.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: a private eye hired to take some dirty pictures → the murder of Marvin Acme and R.K. Maroon, probate fraud and the attempted destruction of Toontown and genocide of its residents, the Toons.
  • Invoked at the beginning of The Usual Suspects: The Suspects attack a police car so as to draw attention to a corruption ring that will escort wealthy criminals around town, protecting them from actual arrest. This ring apparently was active all throughout the NYPD, going as far up as the District Attorney.
  • Showtime: a drug bust leads to the discovery of a dangerous new weapon that is about to hit the streets. Admittedly, it's difficult to call a drug deal operation a "minor crime", but still. Also, the Big Bad was extremely upset that the drug dealer used one of his prototype guns, tipping off the cops.
  • A variation in Super Troopers. Two crimes end up hinting at the major plot, but neither can be considered minor. A routine traffic stop reveals a major marijuana smuggling operation through Vermont. A body found in a Winnebago ends up revealing that the local Spurbury police are running protection for the Canadian smugglers. The latter is subverted in that the state troopers don't really figure it out until Ursula pretty much has to show them what's going on. They do get credit for apprehending all the culprits, though.

    Literature 
  • The Dresden Files does this almost Once per Episode.
  • Fatherland: An alternate history in which Germany won WWII and a minor Nazi official discovers the Holocaust.
  • In the Lord Peter Wimsey series Murder Must Advertise. Murder of an advertising copywriter → massive cocaine-smuggling ring.
  • The Illuminatus! Trilogy starts off with this. Murder of a news columnist → Wheels within wheels conspiracy for control of Earth, involving rock bands, undead Nazis and Eldritch Abomination(s).
  • Ian Rankin's novel Bleeding Hearts features an assassin who is contracted to kill a tv reporter. When he carries out the hit but is nearly arrested, he believes he was set up and sets out to find out why, eventually uncovering and dismantling an evil cult. In an interesting use of the Detective Patsy trope, he was hired and set up by the same person, the reporter, in order for him to discover the truth about the cult.
  • Origin In Death: Murder of "saintly" doctor → massive decades-old illegal human-cloning and people-made-to-order operation.
  • The Cold War thriller An H-Bomb for Alice by Ian Stewart. A detective investigates the apparent suicide of the Australian Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. Although he was about to pass an important bill, there appears to be no motive for murder as no government or mining interests are threatened by it. It turns out the Soviet Union is planning to invade China, and a hidden strike force is waiting to seize the US surveillance station at Pine Gap which they fear will provide prior warning of the attack. The strike force was operating under the cover of a hippy colony that would have been evicted from Aboriginal land if the bill had been passed.
  • Sherlock Holmes stories had a lot of this.
    • "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons". A madman is stealing Napoleon busts and smashing them → The recovery of a stolen pearl.
    • "The Blue Carbuncle". Man loses his Christmas dinner → The recovery of the eponymous stolen gemstone (seriously).
    • "The Red-Headed League". Man was member of an exclusive club only for redheads → A bank heist using an underground tunnel.
    • "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches". A woman gets a too-good-to-be-true job offer → Turns out that she was there to take the place of the daughter of his employer who is imprisoned somewhere in the house.
  • Any novel by Jonathan Kellerman.
  • In Rainbow Six, the FBI carries out a search for a missing woman, believing it to be part of a kidnapping or serial killing, only to find a plan to wipe out most of humanity.
  • Harry Potter examples:
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Komarr starts with the investigation of a collision between a freighter and an orbital terraforming mirror. It makes a detour to a modest embezzlement scheme before settling on a plot to eliminate the only wormhole link between Barrayar and the rest of the populated galaxy that would actually, due to incomplete analysis of the underlying science, result in the destruction of at least one space station with several thousand residents and transients aboard.
  • In the Greg Egan novel Quarantine, an investigation into the disappearance of a severely developmentally delayed woman from a care home eventually reveals a plot to radically alter the nature of reality at a quantum level.
  • Discworld City Watch novels:
    • Men at Arms: A break-in at the Assassins' Guild → a plot to overthrow the Patrician.
    • The Fifth Elephant: The murder of a rubber goods manufacturer and the theft of a replica Scone of Stone → a plot to overthrow the Low King of the Dwarfs.
    • Thud!: The murder of a rabble-rousing dwarf, and the theft of a painting → a plot to prevent peace between dwarfs and trolls by obfuscating their shared history.
    • Snuff: The death of a goblin (not strictly murder except in the soul of Sam Vimes) → a massive smuggling ring and slave plantations.
      • Vimes actually lampshades this while talking with another character, referencing a case wherein a man had killed his dog, with Lord Vetinari ordering Vimes to search the man's house, stating that "where one finds little crimes, one often finds larger crimes." Vimes confirms to the other character that they did find larger crimes connected to the dog-killer.
  • The Barsoom Project: Electronic tampering with a high-tech LARP → multiple acts of lethal sabotage in support of covert corporate takeover scheme
  • In A Game of Thrones, investigation into the murder of Jon Arryn leads Eddard Stark to evidence that none of the heirs to the throne are actually the children of the king and the assumption that Arryn was murdered to cover up this fact. This knowledge eventually leads to a succession crisis called the War of the Five Kings, and Stark's own murder. Ironically, it is revealed later that Arryn wasn't murdered to cover up the Queen's affair at all, but rather because Arryn's wife wanted to be free to marry the man she'd been having an affair with for years.
  • In Hickory Dickory Dock (1955) by Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot gets interested in a student hostel because of a series of petty thefts. A kleptomaniac seems to be stealing random items, most of them with no real value. Poirot's investigation ends up uncovering connections between the owner of the hostel and a smuggling operation.
  • On Basilisk Station: routine policing to stop smuggling, and the murder of several local cops leads to the discovery of a plot for invasion. Amusingly played with in that the people doing the plotting try to call the invasion off and would have been able to do it unmolested if their plot hadn't been so revealed.
  • Half Moon Investigations has the young detective investigating a series of sabotaging attacks on various members of the community, but in the process he discovers that several of the events were carried out by a separate conspiracy. YMMV as to which conspiracy was the major or minor, but the fact that the one accidentally discovered was being carried out by ten-year-old girls with all the efficiency of an adult...
  • The Repairman Jack novels by F. Paul Wilson often start with Jack being asked to solve a small mystery, such as a missing person or a robbery. This mystery invariably turns out to be related in some way to the bigger 'Adversary Cycle' arc that spans the whole series.
  • Happens several times in the Artemis Fowl books.
    • The Arctic Incident: Gangsters smuggling AA batteries into Haven → high treason and an attempt to Take Over the World.
    • The Eternity Code: LEP space probes being hijacked → a crooked businessman's plan to illegally destroy his competitors.
    • The Opal Deception: A high-profile criminal escapes from prison → a plot to start an interspecies war.
    • The Lost Colony: An imp being kidnapped → an effort to exterminate the demon race.
    • The Time Paradox: The theft of an endangered lemur → a conspiracy to achieve ultimate power.
  • City of Devils starts with a simple missing mummy case and spirals into the discovery of a ring of powerful monsters including some law enforcement, illegally kidnapping humans and turning them into monsters on film as a bizarre form of pornography.
  • In Nerve Zero, the hero just wanted to find an old flame to get her offworld and ended up discovering a cult, an investigation by the secret police, and a plot to evacuate the planet.
  • "Coldheart" a novella in the League Of Magi collection of the same name, starts with a missing woman and goes into hundreds of kidnappings, immortal sorcerers, superpowered beings, monsters, and oh yeah, a ritual summoning of a wendigo.
  • The mid-war Phillip Marlowe Novel The Lady in the Lake starts with finding a missing (possibly run away on her own) wife, and leads to three murders and mafia involvement in defense industries.
  • The Laundry Series usually has Bob, one of the titular organization's field agents/computational demonologists/IT guys sent out on a minor call, only to pull the string on something larger:
    • The Atrocity Archive: Extract a British national being kept inside America by the CIA's occult wing → stop an Eldritch Abomination from crossing over from a world where the Nazis won World War II.
    • "The Concrete Jungle": Get sent to Milton Keynes because there are one too many concrete cows → uncover and prevent an internal coup within the Laundry.
    • The Jennifer Morgue: Go to a conference for occult intelligence across the EU → get roped into a James Bond plot and have to stop a mad billionaire from resurrecting an ancient cyborg war god.
    • The Apocalypse Codex: Get sent to oversee an external contractor who's looking into a televangelist's close relationship with the Prime Minister → stop said televangelist from summoning an Eldritch Abomination in the middle of Colorado Springs.
  • In The Day of the Jackal, the French police are baffled by a series of seemingly-unconnected bank robberies and jewelry heists. It turns out they're being orchestrated by the OAS terrorist group to fund the titular assassin's plot to kill Charles De Gaulle.
  • Several of Andrei Belyanin's Tsar Gorokhs Detective Agency novels use this trope:
    • The very first (eponymous) novel starts with the theft of the Tsar's chrysoprase ring and a chest of gold coins. This leads to the unraveling of a massive conspiracy to destroy the city.
    • The second novel, The Plot of the Black Mass, starts with several merchants complaining about the theft of black fabric. This leads to a mad rush to stop a demonic Summoning Ritual that would leave the land in ruin.
    • The third novel, The Flying Ship, starts with the theft of the blueprints for a latest novelty invention. This leads to an attempt to stop an Evil Overlord from building a fleet of flying warships capable of laying waste to any city.
    • The fourth novel, Bride Elimination, starts with the theft of a diplomatic gift. This leads to an attempt by a foreign diplomat to start a multinational war.

     Live Action TV  
  • Castle: This appears to have been the case for Beckett's mother's murder. Decade-old murder of a lawyer → wide-ranging corruption and conspiracy, the full extent of which has yet to be revealed.
    • Also, murder of a taxi driver → plot to detonate a dirty bomb in New York.
    • But subverted with a second season episode where vehicular homicide of a bike messenger → terrorist attack. The attack idea came out of the sender being listed S. Nadal Matar, who turns out to be on the terror watch list. ESU breaks down a door to discover an old lady named Sally Neidermeyer.
      Castle: Our bad.
  • State of Play starts off with a murder, an affair and a suicide which are all investigated by the newspaper who find that they are all related to a much larger government conspiracy.
  • Several Leverage episodes do this, albeit on a smaller scale than a lot of the examples:
    • "The Homecoming Job". Coverup of a friendly fire investigation → multi-billion-dollar money-laundering scheme.
    • "The Snow Job". Negligent home contracting job → nationwide foreclosure-related fraud.
    • "The Stork Job". Spanish Prisoner scam with orphans → weapons smuggling.
    • "The Gone-Fishin' Job". People being scammed by fake IRS agents → anti-government militia planning a terrorist attack
  • Weeds subverts the hell out of this early in the third season. The second season Cliff Hanger ends with Silas arrested for petty vandalism with a trunk full of marijuana but Celia drives away in his car before the cop sees it, and a few episodes later a DEA agent shows up at the Botwins' door while they're bagging product but never gets in the door so he doesn't notice it.
    • Also played straight at the end of the third season: stolen cross → new grow house.
  • Twin Peaks: The murder of a teenage girl → otherdimensional demonic conspiracy (to confuse the audience).
  • Not a few Law & Order episodes start with some minor problem, such investigating a noise in an alley, lead to a dead body (or two), and often then into something much, much worse, often involving murder, prostitution, and/or financial skulduggery. Fairly common on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, but turns up on the other variations as well.
    • An early episode has the murder of an off-duty officer actually turn out to be a suicide, evidence of which was hidden by the officer's fellow cops so his family wouldn't lose his pension. It then leads to an investigation of why an all-accounts honest cop would kill himself, and it uncovers a history of childhood sexual abuse by his priest, and he wasn't the only victim.
    • One episode opened with a dispatching error sending Briscoe and Curtis to what they think is a murder, but turns out to be the discovery of a dead horse instead. Much to their frustration, their Lieutenant tells them to look into it anyway (there being no other pressing cases at the time) and their investigation eventually leads to a con artist who may have murdered his millionaire patron.
    • In another, the burglary of a safety-box depository uncovers wads of cash being stored there that date to an armed robbery/homicide from the 1960s.
    • This can sometimes be done to a ridiculously huge degree. One episode involves finding the body of what looks like a hobo in a stairwell, and ends up with a UN trial involving the Russian mafia.
    • The 14th season finale of SVU involves the arrest of a man for indecent exposure; he eventually turns out to have perpetrated multiple sex crimes, up to and including sexual torture and murder, in several different states, but has managed to escape conviction in every case.
  • The Wire: Season Two: Warfie with suspicious amounts of money buys a stained window for a church → bulk smuggling of drugs, prostitutes and goods; multiple ethnic gangs, murders agogo. Hilariously, or depressingly, the guy who tipped the unit off to the church window doesn't give a shit about the vast criminal network they uncovered, he just wants his slobby dockworker nemesis to pay big-time, and he'll gladly fuck his own people over if it will ensure that it happens.
  • This has happened frequently on CSI: Miami.
  • This seems to be the point of the Buddy Cop Show, The Good Guys. An old Noble Bigot with a Badge Cowboy Cop is paired with a young By-the-Book Cop and sent to investigate minor crimes (vandalism, shoplifting, etc.) to keep them out of trouble, but the duo almost always stumble across something much bigger (drug smugglers, car theft ring, etc.)
  • Pretty much every Myth Arc episode of The X-Files, and several Monster of the Week ones as well.
  • The Shadow Line: The death of a drug baron → A Government Conspiracy using drug money to fund police pensions.]]
  • Criminal Minds: DEA raid on a suspected meth lab → an impending terrorist attack using nerve gas.
  • Starsky & Hutch does this almost every episode.
  • Bones: A recovered skull → A cannibalistic serial killer who ends up recruiting Zack as his apprentice.
  • Happened on occasion in Due South. One notable example was Frasier and Vecchio stopping to ticket a man who had parked in a fire lane, only to discover the guy's trunk was full of illegal firearms.
  • In a few Monk episodes:
    • In "Mr. Monk and the Class Reunion," the murder of a retired college nurse leads Monk to discover a murder plot involving Trudy's freshman roommate.
    • In "Mr. Monk Is On the Run" (both parts), Monk is framed for a shooting by a dirty county sheriff. Once Monk escapes, he finds the shooting tied to a plot to assassinate the governor.
    • In "Mr. Monk Buys a House," the death of a wheelchair-handicapped man who fell down a flight of stairs in his own house is tied to money from an unsolved robbery.
    • In "Mr. Monk and the Magician," Monk's upstair neighbor Kevin is killed by Torini the night he debuts as an amateur magician. The reason: he had stumbled upon discrepancies in Torini's airline receipts that were evidence of Torini's involvement in a drug trafficking ring.
    • In the Tie-In Novel Mr. Monk In Outer Space, the heart-attack death of a fast-food company CEO that is dressed up as a shooting causes the discovery that said man had been embezzling to be exposed.
  • Happens regularly in Person of Interest. Attempt to murder one person → exposure of whatever crime they were trying to use the murder to cover up.
    • This is actually The Machine's job, finding the simple links that would prevent terrorist attacks. The fact that it finds the same connections in more conventional crimes was purely accidental.
  • Lois and Clark: Frogs being stolen from a pet shop → A conspiracy to replace the President of the United States with a clone who'd then sign a pardon for Lex Luthor.
  • Teen Wolf: A dead woman is found in the woods → Werewolves exist, so do some other creatures, and there's a war-type-thing going on between the werewolves, the other creatures, and the people who hunt them.
  • Elementary: Murder of a conspiracy theorist → A member of a group that created a terrorist plot for a government training simulation that worked too well killing/mentally incapacitating the other members of said group to prevent knowledge of their plot from spreading. It turns out that the two cases are completely unrelated; the conspiracy theorist was killed by another conspiracy theorist over a disagreement about a different theory.
    • Someone attempts to poison a prize race horse → the capture of a world-infamous drug cartel assassin.
    • An older man is found dead of an apparent heart attack dressed in a leather gimp suit → the nanny of the dead man's children was accused of killing her abusive father in a similar way → turns out the dead man was a child molester who sexually abused his older son; the older son poisoned his father to prevent his little brother from being abused, and tried to frame the nanny.
    • Detective Bell is investigating a break-in at a dockside warehouse → discovers his boss is a Mafia plant and barely averts a city-wide mob war.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The pilot has the team investigating how an Average Joe gained superpowers. This leads to the discovery of Project Centipede; the season-long investigation into this group and its enigmatic leader, The Clairvoyant, ultimately leads to the uncovering of HYDRA's plot to destroy SHIELD from within.
  • From the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part episode "Unification": Theft of a Vulcan ship from a scrapyard → Romulan plot to take over the planet Vulcan.
  • A bomber in the third season of The West Wing is busted when he gets pulled over for a broken taillight.
  • JAG: In "Brig Break", a handful of prisoners busting out of the brig gradually escalates into a plot to destroy the base with a nuclear explosion and selling stolen nuclear weapons to Saddam Hussein.

     Tabletop Games  
  • One Shadowrun supplement, about Lone Star Security, mentions how police in the Robbery division often wind up investigating major crimes: ones that'd started out looking like a simple robbery due to cover-up efforts by the perpetrators.
  • This happens with amusing regularity to COMMISSAR CIAPHAS CAIN, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!!. With the caveat that "minor crime" is usually a planet-engulfing war, and "major plot" is something with the potential to severely upset the balance of power across the galaxy.
  • Call of Cthulhu supplement Masks of Nyarlathotep. The murder of author Jackson Elias by cultists leads to a worldwide conspiracy to open a Gate and let the forces of the Cthulhu Mythos conquer the Earth.
  • Magic: The Gathering: In the Dissension novel, Agrus Kos is sent to infiltrate the Simic Combine to find out their involvement in a potential Dimir plot...and is surprised and chagrined when guildleader Momir Vig begins monologuing about his own, completely unrelated plan to Take Over the World.

     Video Games  
  • Max Payne: Murder of Alex Balder → Massive government conspiracy involving a failed attempt to create a Super Serum for the military which Max's family was killed to protect.
    • 3: Kidnap attempt on Rodrigo Branco + kidnap of his wife Fabiana → cooperation between illegal paramilitaries and Dirty Cops organ harvesting of the poor, staged by a Sleazy Politician to get himself elected on an anti-crime ticket, with those cops being his private army.
  • Baldur's Gate: An Iron shortage due to bandit attacks → plot to spark a war between Baldur's Gate and Amn. Attempted assassination of some nobody orphan → resurrection/replacement of a dead god.
  • Happens on occasion in the Ace Attorney series.
    • The last case of the third game is probably the biggest example: the murder of a children's book author is ultimately tied into a gigantic revenge scheme.
    • Investigations: Seemingly disconnected murders of a police officer, a plane flight passenger, a prosecutor and a defendant → An international smuggling ring. One that had a politician/ambassador of a country on the edge of war as the ringleader, incidentally..
    • In the second case of the first game, trying to solve the murder of your mentor leads to you discovering a massive blackmail chain. It gets better too: the investigation reveals a reference to the "DL-6" incident, which becomes prominent later on.
    • Almost every case in the fourth game has this.
      • Murder of a unknown guy in a restaurant - Victim is actually protagonists step-father, defendant's old client and the real murderer's motive is tied to do with the events of seven years ago.
      • None-fatal hit and run, a panty-snatching and the theft of a noodle stand leads to a murder where the defendant is the son of the city's biggest crime boss, and is also all but dead thanks to a turf war that caused him to get shot.
      • The murder of a singer's manager during a concert is pretty big, but when that manager turns out to be an Undercover Interpol Agent who was killed by a smuggler of a substance that is on the top of Interpol's list, it gets even bigger.
      • An isolated painter is found dead. Oh, and he happens to have drawings depicting all the cases that the titular character has worked on up to that point. And as if that wasn't enough he turns out to be a forger who was apparently responsible for making the evidence that got Phoenix disbarred seven years ago. And to top it all off, it turns out that his murder was actually supposed to happen seven years ago during those events, but the "time bomb" that the killer set for him got delayed, thanks to some luck, that happens to tie into the Apollo's Sister's family being a group of famous magicians. ...Quite a complex web for a case that starts out as your run of the mill murder.
  • In Police Quest 3, the endgame involves the investigation of a house linked to a series of murders. When it turns out that the place is fortified, the player must go back to the courthouse and get authorization to use the departmental battering ram, which uncovers a cocaine manufacturing ring.
  • Mass Effect: An unprovoked attack on a human colony → The destruction of all sentient life by Eldritch Abominations.
    • The sequel gives us: Human colonies disappearing → Creation of an Eldritch Abomination.
    • The Arrival DLC has: Admiral Hackett's friend Dr. Kenson has been kidnapped by Batarians → Eldritch Abominations will arrive and begin the galactic extermination in 2 days.
  • The entirety of Resident Evil and its mess of a biological war can be traced back to the first game and its prequel - an investigation of the murder of ten people, seemingly eaten, allows the massive conspiracy behind Umbrella and its viruses come to light.
  • This happens in pretty much every game in the Jak and Daxter series:
    • In the first game, the quest to change Daxter back to normal resulted in the group stumbling on a plan to flood the world with Dark Eco.
    • The second game, in which Jak is out for revenge against Baron Praxis, leads to him saving the city from the Metal Head Leader.
    • The third game opens with Jak and Daxter only trying to survive in a harsh new environment, and ends up pitting them against an Omnicidal Maniac working for dark versions of the Precursors.
    • In the fourth game, a racing spinoff, Jak and friends are coerced into entering a competition, only to find out they're in the middle of a gang war.
    • In the fifth game, an Interquel that focuses on Daxter, he's just trying to make a living and figure out how to rescue Jak, only to to uncover the brewing invasion plot by the Metal Heads.
    • In the sixth game, Jak, Daxter and Keira set out to find more eco and restore balance to the world, but things quickly escalate into stopping a power-hungry madman.
  • Chrono Trigger: Save the Princess → Prevent the End of the World as We Know It.
  • Daggerfall: Exorcise a walking spirit and deliver a letter → Shape the future of The Empire.
  • Dragon Age II: Sneak a free Qunari mage out of Kirkwall → Halt a Chantry plot to spark open conflict between humans and Qunari.
    • Humorously played with the Bone Pit mine, going from an invasion of small dragons to a Coterie plot to steal shipments to a High Dragon taking over.
  • Touhou 8: Imperishable Night: Bad Moon Rising → alien conspiracy from the antiquity.
    • Touhou 11: Subterranean Animism: Strange creatures from Beneath the Earth → nuclear conspiracy going out of hand.
    • Inverted in Touhou 12: Undefined Flying Object: cultists trying to awaken Pandemonium monstrosity → decent people wanting their saintly leader back.
  • Persona 3 has your team investigating the mystery of the Dark Hour and why your school turns into a freaky tower every night. You end up saving the world
    • Persona 4 has you and your team exploring The Midnight Channel and stopping people from being killed by facing their enemies without. You end up uncovering a Dirty Cop and an Assimilation Plot by the goddess Izanami to turn everybody into Shadows and form one, collective conscience.
  • The standard plot of Tex Murphy games. Tex gets a small, simple gig (find my missing friend) and it turns into a save the world scenario.
  • Fallout: New Vegas: Find the man that shot you and stole the package you were supposed to deliver, get said package back, and finish the delivery → decide which of the factions vying for control of New Vegas and the rest of the Mojave Wasteland emerges triumphant, or make your own power play and take over for yourself.
    • There are others, too.
      • Prostitutes being abused → Omertas plotting to attack the Strip.
      • Sabotage of an NCR base → a terrorist attack on the monorail.
      • False radio reports → high treason
  • True to its genre, L.A. Noire has one: Series of house fires → a giant real estate scheme.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir: Sabotage of a trade ship → yuan-ti plot to take over the world.
  • Eternal Darkness: Investigate your grandfather's violent murder → Stop a two thousand year old "liche" from summoning a world-destroying Eldritch Abomination.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: The sidequest "Laid to Rest". Investigate a suspicious house fire that killed a woman and a child → Break up a plot by vampires to take over the town and enslave its inhabitants.
  • Shadowrun Returns Dead Man's Switch campaign: Investigating the murder of your old runner buddy Sam Watts → victim of an organized organ-harvesting plot → mastermind is also part a plan to create an Insect Spirit hive in Seattle and kill its entire population.

     Web Original 

     Western Animation  
  • American Dad!: Parodied, and played straight. Steve does a research project on peanut butter and discovers a secret conspiracy dating back to the days of Abraham Lincoln. The parody occurs earlier in the episode in the form of a Noodle Incident where Snot claims that he gave up sleuthing after "the case of a missing bike horn turned into a double rape homicide".
  • 1973-74 Super Friends episode "The Planet Splitter". The theft of diamonds weighing 100+ carats → A plot to split Cygnus Uno, a planet in another solar system.
  • Happens in several episodes of The Simpsons
    • "Bart the Fink": Bart not getting a check signed by Krusty the Clown himself → Krusty is arrested for tax fraud.
    • "24 Minutes": Bullies steal expired yogurt from the Kwik-E-Mart → Plot to unleash a stink bomb on the school's bake sale.
    • "Mona Leaves-a": Homer fulfills his late mother's final wishes → Uncovering Mr. Burns' plan to send a rocket full of radioactive waste to the Amazon rainforest.
  • A common plot in Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers. Finding a missing kitten —> foiling a plot by a mad scientist to level the city with lightning. Reuniting a nightingale with a Chinese ruler → foiling a plot by said ruler's sister to take over the throne. Helping a kid find his lost science project → foiling a plot by the same mad scientist wanting to level the city...again. Even their first mission had a case of a stolen ruby turn out to be part of a scheme to rob the world gold depository.
    • One such episode even has Chip lampshading the idea: he doesn't want to help a bird migrate to Capistrano because the case is "too small", only for it to turn into a case of a woman using a giant magnet to screw up birds' sense of direction in order to capture them and bake them into pies, which ends up bringing down an entire airplane in the end.

     Real Life  
  • The Cuckoo's Egg tells of how astrophysicist Clifford Stoll was asked to resolve a 75¢ discrepancy in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory computer usage accounts, and ended up uncovering a German computer hacker selling secrets to the KGB.
  • Watergate. A foiled "third-rate" burglary at an upper class hotel uncovered attempts to influence the US election that go right up to the POTUS himself. As well as adding a new suffix to the English language.
  • The Los Angeles Police Department Rampart Scandal in the late 1990s, which was the inspiration for the movie Training Day and the TV series The Shield, started with the arrest of one police officer for stealing cocaine, and ultimately implicated more than 70 officers in serious misconduct, as well as contributing to the Police Chief, District Attorney, and Mayor of Los Angeles all eventually being not re-appointed or re-elected.
  • Initially, the only question people had about Enron was whether its stock was overpriced. People trying to figure that out found themselves trying to untangle the incomprehensible accounting practices Enron used, which led to more questions and eventually, the whole scandal (and company) imploded in fraud charges.
  • They certainly already knew about the crime, but Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was initially arrested for driving without license plates and (as the officer noticed on pulling him over) having an illegal gun. McVeigh nearly made bail before he was connected with the bombing.
  • The serial killer 'Son of Sam' (David Berkowitz) was tracked down because his getaway car was ticketed for illegal parking at the scene of one of his murders.
  • The Manson Family was originally arrested for car theft, and it wasn't until one of them bragged to a fellow inmate that they were implicated in the string of high-profile murders occurring at the time.
  • Accountants are taught to consider even tiny discrepancies in financial data important, as even the smallest shortfall can be a clue to large-scale embezzlement or fraud.
  • Ted Bundy's initial capture was this: On August 16, 1975, an off-duty cop driving around his own neighborhood in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah saw a VW Bug that didn't belong there driving with its lights off. Bundy promptly took off. The cop eventually chased him down and cited Bundy for failure to stop for an officer and possession of burglary tools. A detective connected Bundy with an open case of kidnapping and attempted murder. He was soon linked with some two dozen murders and became America's most notorious serial killer.
  • Serial killer Joel Rifkin initially drew the attention of a patrolman for driving without a license plate. When he was stopped (after a high-speed chase), police found the body of a dead prostitute in the trunk. Rifkin was eventually convicted of 17 murders.
  • Similarly, Leonard Lake and Charles Ng kidnapped and killed upwards of 25 people together and were only stopped when Ng was caught shoplifting from a hardware store, having driven there in a car that belonged to one of their victims.
  • The "Festina Affair" that first blew the lid off the systematic doping by teams at the Tour de France in 1998 began with one of the Festina team's cars being routinely stopped by customs at the France-Belgium border and the discovery of steroids, EPO, syringes and other paraphernalia in the car's trunk.
  • In Nine Eleven, a documentary about 9/11, this trope happens. Jules and Gedeon Naudet and James Hanlon are making a documentary about probationary firefighter, Tony Banatatos, in his journey to become a full fledged firefighter in New York City. Weeks go by and they get great footage of the life of firefighters, but no "real" fires happen. Then, the firefighters investigate a gas smell. The date? September 11, 2001. While filming this, Jules captures a plane hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center—the only footage of the first plane's impact.
  • Real life police officers are taught to take extreme care when pulling over a car at a traffic stop. The reason is this trope. If a criminal is pulled over for speeding, but committed a much more serious crime, he will likely believe he's being pulled over for the latter.
  • It's possible for someone abducted and locked in the trunk of a car to invoke this trope. If the car is an older model or the interior trunk release is disabled, it may be possible to pry off the lining to get at the cords leading to one of the tail lights. Disabling one increases the chance that the car will be noticed by the police for the minor violation.
  • The PTL scandal could have its beginning linked to a 1980 scandal involving a sexual encounter between PTL founder Jim Bakker (temporarily separated from then-wife Tammy Faye) and a young church secretary named Jessica Hahn (depending on whether you believe either Hahn's account; accusing Bakker of essentially date raping her, or Bakker's version; stating the sexual act was consensual and possibly an attempt at revenge due to Tammy Faye's infatuation with music producer Gary S. Paxton). What got the Charlotte Observer's attention was initial concerns of financial misdeeds such as the $1,000 lifetime partnerships for their Heritage USA theme park; along with later revelations that $265,000 was given to Hahn as "hush money" to keep the sexual incident quiet.
  • In the 2003 Antwerp diamond heist, which is one of the largest at over $100 million, the criminals were largely caught thanks to littering when they made a rather unlucky choice of where to dump their trash and it was quickly found the next day by an annoyed resident.
  • Deliberately invoked by a woman in the IRS in order to nail Al Capone. They couldn't indict him for his mob's innumerable violations of the Prohibition laws, or its almost as numerous cases of blackmail, extortion or racketeering, because the local authorities had all been bought and no witness was willing to testify. So they hit him for what they could prove: he hadn't paid any tax on his tremendous income.
  • In 2012, a chef at the Virginia Governor's Mansion was fired for stealing food from the mansion. The investigation into the small-time food theft ended up revealing a far more serious crime involving Governor Bob McDonnell accepting extremely expensive gifts in return for illegally using his office to market a dietary supplement. The chef ended up with two misdemeanor embezzlement charges, the Governor and his wife were convicted of a combined 19 felony charges relating to corruption and fraud.


Mind-Control ConspiracyThe Index Is Watching YouMoon Landing Hoax
The MigrationPlotsMiss Conception
Might as Well Not Be in Prison at AllCrime and Punishment TropesMiranda Rights
Gray Rain of DepressionFilm NoirPrivate Eye Monologue

alternative title(s): A Far More Sinister Plot; Gonna Need A Bigger Warrant
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