This is the fate many humans suffer in Attack on Titan, due to the fact that many of them are Eaten Alive by Titans, which are essentially extremely tall, naked humans that behave much like zombies and are largely immune to damage except to a precision strike to the back of their neck.
The first Patlabor movie opens with Hoba, the programmer of the BABEL virus that was hidden in his operating system for the Labors, jumping off a large sea platform. Gotoh notes they never found the body. When the protagonist go to the supposedly evacuated platform to destroy it to prevent the virus from spreading, they pick up one employee on the sensors: Hoba. Turns out he really was dead though: he attached his employee badge to his pet raven, perhaps as part of a Thanatos Gambit.
Baam in Tower of God. This, however, was cleverly staged, as he was supposed to be declared Legally Dead and go undercover for the next five years.
Averted in a rather frightening way in Loveless, for while they did find the body of Seimei and even matched dental records — Guess what? He's alive.
Mazinger Z: Kouji, Sayaka and the remainder characters never found Dr. Hell's body and assumed he was dead. Granted, it would be hard to search and find his body given that in the original manga his Super Villain Lair / Humongous Mecha got blown up in middle of the ocean; in the anime series, the Cool Airship where he was fleeing got blown to bits and the remains sank in the ocean; and in another manga version, he was inside of his Super Villain Lair as it drifted spacewards, bleeding to death due to a stab wound. Still, he returned at the last season of Great Mazinger like The second Dragon-in-Chief of the Big Bad.
In episode 31, the bus where three workers of the Institute commuted crashed. The police believed they died, but Prof. Yumi refused to believe that because their bodies were not found. He was pretty Genre Savvy.
Subverted in Death Note - Naomi Misora's body was never found, but that was because Light stipulated in the Note that she would kill herself in a way that made her body unlikely to be discovered.
There are a couple of these in the Gundam multiverse.
This happens to Quattro Bajeena in the final battle of Zeta Gundam, as his trashed mobile suit is discovered afterwards with the cockpit hatch open.
Averted in Gundam SEED when the cracked helmet of Mwu La Flaga is seen floating in space after taking an anti-battleship cannon head-on. Then played straight in the compilation special as the helmet is edited out to set up his return in Gundam SEED Destiny.
There was some speculation as to the fate of the first Lockon Stratos in Gundam 00, but Word of God put a stop to all of that.
Not that it stopped almost anyone else who seemingly perished in the last couple episodes of the season from then being confirmed as alive.
The final fate of Amon and Robin in the last episode of Witch Hunter Robin. In fact, it is heavily implied that none of their colleagues believe the official story.
Justified in Fullmetal Alchemist: the body missing is of a person who can regenerate any injury, and the leader of one of the two allied armies present knows enough to find the body first, or he plans to betray his allies, and grab power for himself, one or the other.
Downplayed in the case of 2nd Lt. Ross. There is a body recovered, but it's so badly damaged that no one could be absolutely certain that it's actually hers. The "evidence" (dental records, etc.) found allow her to be considered Legally Dead.
Code Geass played quite a bit with this. You could say that if a character doesn't explode inside a Humongous Mecha or isn't shown lying on the ground in a pool of blood, they're probably coming back. Case in point, Nunnally and Sayoko were thought to have been killed on their shuttle in the FLEYA explosion that destroyed Tokyo. Justified later on because there were actually two different escape shuttles and Schneizel had arranged the whole affair beforehand. A few episodes later, it was revealed that Guilford joined the club.
Allen Walker in D.Gray-Man. Lenalee and Lavi watched a recording of him apparently dying, but all that was left was a card and a bit of a bloodstain on the forest floor. Then BAM! Guess who wakes up by the end of the episode?
They never found Cross Marian's body either. His guards were put to sleep, and his mask was found with a bullet hole in it in the middle of a pool of blood large enough that the blood loss ought to have killed him, along with his Empathic Weapon. However, the circumstances that led to it (and whether he survived) have yet to be explained.
One Piece did this with Pell, who was seen making a Heroic Sacrifice by flying a massive bomb out of the range of innocents, seemingly blowing himself up in the process. Sometime later, a limping Pell returns home, only to find his own grave. In One Piece, a character is not dead unless you see him die, otherwise he'll come back. After all, One Piece characters are Made of Iron.
One of the major indicators to the fans about Sabo's revival was the fact that his body was never recovered. Then come chapter 731...
Baccano! has a variation: a certain redheaded conductor was presumed to be dead because they did find the body...well, the horrifically mutilated remains that probably used to be his body, anyway. Of course, the body is really that of that one similarly redheaded and uniformed lackey of Ladd Russo, who made the mistake of assuming that the aforementioned conductor would not be absolutely Ax-Crazy. Said conductor cheerfully got off the train with a near-perfect alibi and nary a scratch.
Occurred in Yu-Gi-Oh 5Ds with Divine, who fell from the highest floor of the skyscraper he was in, after being attacked by Aslla Piscu. Coupled with the fact that the building's interior collapsed due to the damage, and everyone else in the series who lost a Dark Duel crumbled to dust upon defeat ( later undermined when one returned), it seemed at the time like he was well and truely dead. However, as with many examples of this trope, this wasn't quite enough...
Right before the Season Finale of Season One of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, Yuma, Kaito, Shark, and the supporting cast confronted Mr. Heartland and his army of Litterbots who were standing between tham and Dr. Faker. Heartland was last seen falling down a shaft that led to a portal to the Astral World, and his true fate currently remains unknown.
Occurred in Full Metal Panic! with Gauron. Again, and again, and again, and I think again. He just refuses to stay dead. Let's see... airfield hostage situation? Never found the body. Afghanistan (Helmajistan)? Never found the body. De Dannan's takeover? Never found the body. Before the series started, he was shot in the head. I guess they never found the body on that one, either.
In Utawarerumono, Hakuoro had Karula destroy a bridge suspended atop a high cliff with Touka standing in the middle of it. Everyone believed she died as the bridge collapsed, but in the next episode she survived unscratched.
It's different in the game. It's Touka who destroys the bridge (by accident) falls down the cliff, but manages to climb back... to the Wrong Side, and gets captured by Hakuoro's soldiers. Characters are understandably embarrassed by her silliness.
In Kyo Kara Maoh, Conrart and Yuuri are trapped by a bunch of opposing soldiers, and the last thing Yuuri sees before being forced back to Earth is Conrart getting his arm cut off. When Wolfram and Gwendal get to the scene, all they can find of them is Conrart's arm. He later turns up alive (and with a new arm) as a general for the army opposing Shin Makoku, but everyone pretty much thought he was dead.
Also shown later, when Cimaron General!Conrart turns his sword on Yozak and basically pushes him off the side of a cliff. Everyone witnessing thinks Conrart had just killed his best friend since childhood, but at the end of the episode Yozak shows up with the Shin Makoku army as back-up, and with only minor bumps and bruises.
It's played with in Simoun, and they seem to enjoy poking the viewer with it. Aresia "dies" in the very first episode, but they never find the body and, perhaps even more telling, she remains in the opening credits to the very last episode. You constantly expect her to reappear, especially when it is revealed that the action that caused her death is also a Time Travel thing-a-ma-jiggy ....except no, she never comes back, you never learn her ultimate fate, and everybody else moves on with their own lives. The end.
In the Tower Of Paradise arc of Fairy Tail they don't even try to find Jellal's body. They just assume that since since Erza was still alive he must have sacrificed himself to save her (which makes less sense in context), give him a Really Dead Montage, and go on with their lives. When he comes back in a later they're all shocked.
They also invert this with Lisana, who's body is found immediately after her death but turns out to have never died two years later anyway.
Pokémon Hunter J's ship fills with water and explodes, leaving no sign but her glasses floating on the water. Did we just see our first actual human death in the anime?
In Bleach three of the Espada sort of vanish after losing. Coyote Starrk, Tia Harribel, and Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez are scarcely, if at all mentioned after defeat and their defeats are rather open ended. The one most likely to have really died, Starrk, was cut down by a statedly powerful attack from Shunsui Kyoraku and sort of fell, apparently dying, into the city below. Harribel, after successfully fending off Hitsugaya, Hiyori, and Lisa, got offed by Aizen himself, but what Aizen does to her is very tame compared to what other characters have survived (not to mention that Aizen has a fairly poor track record of actually killing the people he cuts down), leaving speculation open. The most likely to have lived, Grimmjow, gets whacked by Nnoitra after losing to Ichigo. Ichigo stops Nnoitra from killing him, but he hasn't been seen or mentioned since.
The novels mention that, thanks to Orihime, Harribel and her fraccion managed to survive.
Tsukishima's fate is left ambiguous in the anime, as the anime omits the line from the manga where Orihime forgets about him, implying he may still be alive.
Sort of happens to Ulquiorra. After taking some very heavy damage in his last battle, his body turns to ashes, which then appear to be siphoned off somewhere.
Gin is last seen bleeding out, but since Orihime was in the area, there's a small chance he's still alive. Though with no mention of him after a Time Skip of seventeen months, those odds have been shrunk significantly.
Harribel is revealed to be alive and now ruling the Hollow World after Aizen's defeat, before being defeated by the new Big Bad.
Happened to a little girl named Momoka Oginome in Mawaru-Penguindrum. She died in a bomb attack in the metro, but all that was found of her was her journal... the infamous "Destiny Diary" that her sister Ringo would use 16 years later.
Sadakiyo's death in 20th Century Boys is never seen on-screen, and both the characters and the reader only hear about it through a news story (which could've been easily manufactured by Friend.) This, of course, sets up his return at the end of the manga.
The same goes for Kenji, who suddenly disappears from the plot after the first third of the story, and the reader is told that he apparently died on Bloody New Year's Eve. He eventually returns in the final third of the story after Taking A Level In Badass.
In Naruto, this is what happened with Obito — while he was undoubtedly buried under a ton of rock and understandably believed to be killed, his team was unable to secure his corpse due to both their mission and the insurmountable amount of debris that had crushed his body. Then, come chapter 599...
Yashiro Isana in K. Kuroh and Neko find his parasol after Mikoto kills him with an explosion, and both of them believe he's still alive.
Originally subverted in Alpha Flight with the death of Guardian. Guardian's suit malfunctions after a battle and his body is seemingly vaporized. A year later someone claiming to be Guardian returned from the dead gave Guardian's wife Heather a implausible story that he was warped through time and space and landed on Jupiter's moon Ganymede centuries in the past and repaired by aliens and sent back to earth in hibernation. The story proves to be false when Guardian is revealed to be the robot Delphine Courtney and that Guardian is really dead. Years later it is revealed that the bizarre story Delphine Courtney seemingly concocted was actually the truth and the real Guardian was indeed alive but now was a cyborg because of the aliens not understanding how human bodies work when they tried to repair Guardian.
Pick a comic book character, any comic book character; this trend continues into their animated adaptations.
Lampshaded by Robin in the animated Teen Titans. Cyborg tries to assure him that Slade is dead, but Robin reminds him, "We can't be sure. He was never captured. Never found."
Lampshaded, then subverted, in Young Justice. After being caught in a massive explosion, teenage supervillain-in-training Harm's body can't be found. After being told nobody could survive that explosion, Robin responds, "guys like that have nine lives." Turns out Harm did escape, only to be shot by his father, who'd spent the last two issues trying to stop him, shoots and kills him. He does come back as a ghost later, though.
Subverted in the Teen Titans comic. After Terra was revealed as The Mole, she fought the Titans and eventually used her earth-manipulating powers to destroy the underground lair they were in. As they start to dig through the rubble, Beast Boy says that she could've used her powers to escape... and then he finds her body a couple of panels later.
Also lampshaded by Batman at the end of A Death in the Family, where the Joker is in a helicopter that crashes into the sea. Batman shouts at Superman: "Find the body!", but he already knows that it won't be found, because the matters between him and the Joker always end up unresolved.
The Joker is well known for his frequent use of this trope. One can probably find a handful of other comics and Batman related media that will have the Joker falling to his "death" at the end (or something similar), only for him to show up sometime later without any explanation.
One need only to go back to his comic debut, Batmannumero uno. Intended as a one-shot character, he was apparently killed, but at an editor's behest Bob Kane scribbled up a final panel that left a back door open in case they wanted to bring back this clownish fellow....
"There's not too many actual rules to this game of ours but one of the big ones is: if there is no corpse the guy's alive."
Implied with steampunk cyborg Nazi Kroenen's backstory comic in the Hellboy movie art book: "In 1956, an unmarked grave was found in Romania. Dental records identified the remains: Karl Ruprecht Kroenen. Many, however, do not believe he is dead... Chief amongst them: Kroenen himself!"
Considering that he had already removed his own lips, genitalia, eyelids and replaced his bones with steel and his blood with sand or maybe cocaine by then, teeth don't seem like that big a deal, really.
The Kingpin realized immediately that Daredevil was still alive when he learned that the car he was locked in and thrown into the river didn't contain his body. Sure, he might have drowned trying to reach the surface and sunk into the mud but...
The Flash has often been one of the more Genre Savvy superheroes, and this is no exception. In one issue, the villainous Kadabra is caught in an explosion. A cop says, "There's no body. The blast must have incinerated the corpse. Guess that's the last we've seen of him." Flash looks like him like he's an idiot and responds "you're new to this supervillain thing, aren't you?"
Averted toward the end of the run of Manhunter, where that incarnation of Manhunter defeats an alien cyborg, watches him burst, burn, and fall from a great height. Then climbs down to confirm the kill, and FINDS him, dead.
In the first issue of Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing, Swampy goes picking through the remains of Arcane's airship looking for his body. Not, he muses, for the bodies of his friends - he's certain they're dead, given that they lacked superhuman powers and were, well, good guys. He finds all the relevant bodies, even Arcane's. Arcane still shows up again, possessing the body of Abigail's husband - a fact that Abigail doesn't discover until after several weeks have passed and she's had sex with him several times.
Again in Swamp Thing. Arcane is using a insect-hybrid body this time. Acrane is exploded, burned, and falls from a great height. And Swamp Thing goes down to check, because this it the third time Arcane came back from the dead. Yes, that body is dead, but is that the end? NO! Of course not, this is ARCANE! Hell can't hold him.
Invoked pretty much word for word when Dr. Rune falls off a building roof into the river in The Maze Agency Annual #1.
Seemingly averted when Calvin's dad once told the story Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablouie with a different ending, at least judging by the way that Hobbes afterwards remarked that "They never found Hamster Huey's body..."
In The Adventures of Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh, the unidentified drug cartel boss falls off a cliff near the end, but his body is not found. It is revealed in the follow up, The Blue Lotus, that this is none other than Roberto Rastapopoulos, who was reported missing in a newspaper article in Pharaoh.
Subverted in Tom Strong; during a confrontation with his old archnemesis, Tom learns that one of his old enemies who appeared to have pulled this trope in their previous confrontation at the Niagara Falls actually broke her neck and drowned that time.
After The Punisher is thought to have died after the destruction of Mutant Liberation Front's headquarters, the US army hire Federal Marshall's to find him, since his body was never found. They contact Spider-Man and Daredevil, his most frequent team-ups, and even though they both know he's a human with no special powers, they won't rule out his survival.
Just before Runaways got cancelled, Old Lace's body suddenly (and conveniently) disappeared. She later turned up alive in Avengers Academy, albeit stuck in another dimension; supposedly, the explanation was that Nico Minoru sent her there sometime in all the chaos that surrounded her death.
In 'Shadows Of The Past' Will is surprised to hear that both Megatron and Starscream had thought he was dead as they never found his body.
In The Dilgar War, Jenny immediately asks if they have found Jha'dur's body on the relic of her battlecruiser. It's a curious example, as the story is told by a very alive Jha'dur many years after her supposed death, and the reader knows that.
In The Vampire Diaries story "Let It Rain", Miranda Gilbert (Elena's mother) is said to have been ejected from the car in the crash and washed upstream. Though it shouldn't be surprising when she returns as a vampire.
Jewel Of Darkness: Robin lampshades this trope when explaining to Starfire his reasons for being certain that Midnight, who was last seen beaten half-dead, survived their climatic encounter and the destruction of her lair at the end of the Jump City Arc.
"No body, no death, in our line of work."
In the Total Drama story, Legacy, Izzy was reported to have been killed in the sinking of a ferryboat, but her body was never recovered. This is part of the reason why neither Duncan nor Courtney believes that she is really dead.
In thisGlee fanfic, Kurt vanishes in the middle of a school day and is never heard from again except for his car, which is found three towns over with dried blood inside. The author confirms that Kurt is, in fact, dead.
Robert Carlyle's character escapes the "zombies", leaving his wife to be killed by them. Later, she is revealed to have survived.
In his defense, he saw her get taken down but was unable to do anything at that point. Realistically, he had no way of knowing that she would be the first person immune to the effects of the virus and thus be capable of surviving an attack without becoming a "zombie"
The Avengers: Averted Trope. Agent Coulsonappears to die, but the scene cuts away before we find out whether he was really Only Mostly Dead and taken to a hospital room. Nick Fury plays the death for all it's worth in getting the bickering heroes to put aside their differences, but is explicitly shown to be a Consummate Liar about other things (including lying about the Captain America trading cards being taken from Coulson's body, rather than his locker!). Furthermore, the actor who plays Coulson has said he was assured by Joss Whedon that the character survives. As of Agents Of Shield, he's alive and kicking, and knowledge of this is restricted to 'level seven' clearance.
This is only sorta accurate. The Wham Episode reveals that Coulson did indeed die at Loki's hands, but was resurrected several days later (against his will) thanks to some sort of advanced S.H.I.E.L.D. technology.
In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it part of a deleted scene, Steve is reviewing files after thawing out in the 21st century. One of them lists Bucky Barnes as M.I.A., meaning that S.H.I.E.L.D. thinks he may be still alive, alluding to the fact that Bucky "died" by falling off a train, his body never being recovered. This was foreshadowing for the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier film, where the identity of the eponymous Winter Soldier is a Foregone Conclusion for anyone who has any knowledge of the comics.
Nah, he didn't pull a Ra's. But in some way he lived on... until the third film that is.
In the third film, the Genre Savvy Bane's Mooks capture Commissioner Gordon. Bane is furious that they brought him to his secret location. Gordon manages to fall into water and is washed away into a sewer pipe. The Mook claims that No One Could Survive That, but Bane demands to see the body before he'll believe it. When the Mook tries to complain, Bane puts a radio-beacon on him and shoots him, letting the Mook fall into the water.
The Bourne Series (The Bourne Ultimatum): Ends this way, but the audience is shown the truth; Genre Savvy Nikki knows the truth as soon as she hears the news report.
Brazil: They never do find Buttle's body, despite his wife's repeated cries through the film. It's lost in the bureaucracy.
The Dead Girl: One character's (Leah) sister was abducted fifteen years ago, and Leah insists (to her mother!) that her sister must have been raped, murdered and dismembered and then hidden somewhere she'll never be found. Much of her plotline deals with trying to find closure.
DOA: Dead or Alive: The film-of-the-game starts with Kasumi being told by Ryu Hayabusa about her brother Hayate's death in the DOA tournament. Kasumi immediately demands to see the body. Hayabusa tells her that there is no body. Kasumi then flatly states that Hayate is not dead and goes to find him. On the other hand, Ayane, who is secretly in love with Hayate, doesn't question that he's dead. Later on, Victor Donovan personally tells her that, after his fight with Leon, Hayate fell off a cliff, and his body was never recovered. Naturally, Kasumi assumes Donovan is lying, especially after fighting Leon and finding out he's a mediocre fighter at best (i.e. no match for Hayate).
Dredd: After wrecking a quarter of a floor with a trio of mini-guns trying to kill them, Caleb insists that the Judges aren't dead until they've at least found some pieces of them. He's right to do so - when he finds Dredd's body, it's still alive, and is in the process of throwing him off a 76th story balcony.
Eddie and the Cruisers: Overanguished Jersey rock star Eddie Wilson fakes his death by driving his car off a bridge into the Raritan River. They Never Found the Body, of course, and Eddie is seen in the last shot watching TV in a shop window. This becomes a plot driver in the sequel, when the Evil Record Company, which is cashing in on some previously unknown Eddie Wilson tracks, uses the lack of a corpse to build excitement by spreading the rumor that the tracks might have been recorded "after Eddie died." All this while Eddie is actually hiding out in Montreal, startled to be suddenly hearing his old music on the radio (sniff). As Agony Booth noted in their recap of the sequel, "Is it even possible in movies for someone whose body was never found to actually be dead?"
Freejack: Stable Time Loop version: In this Emilio Estevez movie, race car driver Alex Furlong appears to die in a car crash in 1991, but his body is secretly teleported into the futuristic year 2009 by a businessman for use as a transplant host. When Alex escapes and looks up his old friend, the friend is unsurprised to see someone who died 18 years ago, because... they never found the body.
The Fugitive: The title character leaps from the top of a dam to avoid being arrested. Most of the pursuing Feds are sure he's dead and one of the Marshals says their quarry is likely "fish food". Gerard doesn't believe it without a body and he turns out to be right, their fugitive survived the fall:
Not to mention Gandalf, though he actually died - as he was a maia (angelic spirit) he was brought Back from the Dead by his employers.
Man on Fire: In the 2004 remake, Pita (Dakota Fanning) is kidnapped, and later said to have been killed. At the end of the movie it is revealed she is still alive.
Man of Steel: Sort of speculation here Although the C-17 delivers its payload, the idea was to send the Zod's Mooks back to the Phantom Zone; which means they MAY not be dead, and all the people on the plane still kicking it may be trapped with everyone the Kryptonians ever threw into the Phantom Zone.
Maverick: Well, Porkchop Slim owed me too but he died and his widow used the money for the funeral.
Eugene: Oh, they never found the body.
Eugene: They never found his body.
Maverick: The widow Porkchop conned me? What is it with people nowadays, anyhow?
Max Payne: Max Payne is shot by the bad guys and falls into the sea. The bad guys don't bother waiting around to see if he gets back up, they simply presume he is dead. All it took Max was some painkillers and the drug and he was good as new.
Messalina, Messalina: This 1979 Italian comedy insinuates that Messalina and Silius may have escaped the Gardens of Lucullus.
Revolution 1985: Daisy is presumed dead when the British ambush her at Valley Forge. The ending reveals that she is alive and well.
The Rock: At the end, Stanley Goodspeed claims that John Mason was caught in a missile blast and either vaporized or blown to sea. When this report is made, Mason is standing right next to Goodspeed, totally unharmed. Mason then uses the report of his death to allow him to start a new life.
Ruthless People: Subverted Trope after the kidnapper and his car fall into the water at the pier. A short time later, we see the police fishing the corpse of the Bedroom Killer (who died earlier in the kidnapper's house by accident) out of the water (the kidnappers put him there as a decoy) while the kidnapper survives thanks to SCUBA gear and makes it to the beach to be reunited with his girlfriend and Mrs. Stone before the end credits roll.
The Shining: The original cut of this Stanley Kubrick film had an epilogue in which Wendy is visited in the hospital by the Overlook's manager, Mr. Ullman, who tells her that they never found Jack's body. Kubrick excised this scene shortly after the film's initial premiere.
Snatch: Brick Top guarantees this by feeding the corpses to pigs. In a scene, he describes the animal's eating process.
Subverted Trope twice. First, when Order 66 is executed and one character is shot off a cliff and falls into the sinkhole, Commander Cody orders his men to keep searching for a body. Again after a battle with Palpatine which ends in his opponent falling to what should be his death, Commander Thire reports that they haven't found the body. In response, Palpatine (or at least, one of his advisors) immediately (and rightly) assumes that he is not dead, and orders Thire to continue searching.
Star Wars actually has a number of these. Mace Windu being another prime example. Generally any Jedi who has a considerable fanbase will have somebody speculating their survival of Order 66 at some point.
The Stendhal Syndrome: In spite of all the things she does to him before pushing him over a cliff into rapids, Anna refuses to believe the killer is dead. Turns out, she's wrong. But there's a copycat. And it's her.
Striking Distance: Early in the movie, cop Jimmy Detillo apparently commits suicide by jumping off a bridge into a river. His body is never found, but he is given a funeral. Jimmy Detillo reappears at the end of the movie and reveals he was the mystery serial killer all along.
The Truman Show: Part of Truman's reasoning for why the man he saw could be his father after all. Naturally, part of the reason for his dad's disappearance and the way he returns follow the soap opera model.
Under Siege 2 Dark Territory: Gets a Lampshade Hanging twice. With Penn already having bitch-slapped a subordinate for thinking a SEAL team captain could die so easily, he himself falls folly to it and the below dialogue takes place (close to an exact miror of his own earlier speech). As he immediately points out though, alive or not, Ryback is not on the train (since Ryback is the hero, this situation-redeeming fact obviously doesn't last very long):
In the third film, Cyclops' body is never found after his death. The only mention of him after that scene is when Wolverine finds one of his personal effects. And the gravestone, of course. But you never hear anyone in that movie say "Gee, I sure miss him; maybe we should have a moment of silence for one of our MOST IMPORTANT teammates!"
HilariouslyLampshaded in Despicable Me 2, when Gru spots what he believes to be El Macho, a ''ludicuosly'' macho supervillian who died in the most macho way possible, by riding a shark into the mouth of an active volcano, with 250 pounds of dynamite strapped to his chest.
In Twelfth Night, both main characters assume that their sibling was lost in a shipwreck, and that they alone survived.
In The Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss and her squad end up doing this as when the Big Bad airs the security footage from their apparent deaths, they only show their faces, as their bodies had not been found. They're still alive, obviously.
In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000: Gaunt's Ghosts novel The Armour of Contempt, Gaunt is shown MkVenner's grave and later told they had erected it as a propaganda tool after his team had been wiped out without their recovering the body. We never see him again. However, the Ghosts' next best scout realizes there is someone nearby that he can't see, which only one person could have done, and Resistance fighters in the hands of the Inquisition nearby mysteriously vanish.
Also in The Guns of Tanith, a shuttle blows up, but someone onboard namely Mkoll appears later.
In Watership Down, General Woundwort is last seen furiously attacking a vicious dog which has driven off most of his military. One of his followers later says that since they never found his body, it meant he wasn't dead, just gone to find a more worthy warren.
Eva, mother of Marco and host to Visser One, in the Animorphs books. Repeatedly.
Agatha Christie used this several times, usually involving a supposed drowning in which the body was swept out to sea.
The Miss Marple short story "The Bloodstained Pavement" has an interesting variation. Person A was supposedly swept out to sea; the body washed up in a very battered condition sometime later. In fact, she had been murdered some time earlier up the coast, and an accomplice had taken her place to confuse the time of death and provide the killer with an alibi.
In the Miss Marple short story "The Companion", a woman who seems like an obvious suspect for an earlier suspicious drowning leaves a suicide note and herself is presumed drowned; her body is not found. In fact, she had been using a fake identity when she killed the previous victim and stole her identity; the faked suicide allowed her to return to her own identity.
The faux-death of Sherlock Holmes at the falls left open the means for Doyle to return to the series after the public hue and cry against the seeming end of it all was so loud that nothing else he wrote had a chance of getting published.
In Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's Book of the Dead Diogenes is pushed off of a volcano. There is much speculation since there seem to be several cases of this trope in each book of the Agent Pendergast series.
Even when there is a body, as with Margo Green in the same book.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Ichabod Crane, of course. All that was left was his hat and a shattered jack-o-lantern. And they never found the head of the Headless Horseman.
Subverted in Rick Riordan's The Last Olympian, where Percy knows that Beckendorf could not have survived the fall from a ship into water that is not Soft Water; he survived only because he's Poseidon's son. Poseidon's forces don't find the body either. But later Nico, being Hades's son, has talked to the ghost.
Looking even further back in time, around 200 C.E Achilles Tatius wrote a novel entitled Leucippe and Clitophone where the titular character Leucippe apparently is Killed Off for Real not once but twice. She is captured by desperados (and given up as Human Sacrifice) and after her miraculous return is later captured by pirates and beheaded. In the first case her body is carried away and in the second this trope is slightly subverted when they find the body... of the other women that got beheaded. This makes this trope Older Than Feudalism.
Dune expresses it as elegantly as anyone's ever gonna: "We Bene Gesserit have a saying. Do not count a human dead until you see the body; and even then, you can make a mistake."
Of course in the world of Dune, a dead person has a chance of coming back as Genetic Memory "possessing" one of his or her descendants as Baron Harkonnen does to Alia in Children of Dune.
An alternative pathway back involves the use of Gholas. These start out as reanimated dead flesh, not zombies but healthy human specimens, though later versions are more frequently grown from cell samples. Very helpful when you cannot find the body, or when the body might be headed into situations where it might not be recoverable.
When the mountain trail washes out in The Quest for Saint Camber, Kelson and Dhugal are seen to go over the falls with the others, but their bodies are not found. This fact is part of what sends Morgan and Duncan to go the site of the accident and join the search.
Another counterexample occurs in Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars Trilogy: A major character goes missing and never reappears during a raid in the second book. The other characters speculate that she was captured, interrogated and killed, but just to complicate matters, this character vanished and reappeared during the first book, so it's totally in character for her to just go away.
Lampshaded and subverted in Forgotten Realms: The Lady Penitent Trilogy.The battle between Vhaeraun and Eilistraee in the first book was witnessed by neither the reader nor the viewpoint characters. In the second book one of the characters cites the fact that no one saw it to argue that Vhaeraun is still alive. By that point, however, the reader has been shown his mangled corpse floating in the Astral Plane.
Just about everyone in the Star Wars Expanded UniverseX-Wing novels, at least the ones written by Stackpole. Of course, counting off, we see... Corran, Mirax, Tycho, Bror Jace, Jan Dodonna, Ysanne Isard, and all of Rogue Squadron (in fairness, that last featured a couple getting Killed Off for Real, but not the main ones). Several characters note that they just won't stay dead; one even theorized that they were actually getting cloned, after the incident where they were all supposed to have died. Fittingly, he gets shot by one of them as they execute their incredibly over-complicated plan.
Mirax: "I could help myself get over this, I think, if I could just finally accept the fact that Corran's dead. Listening to the comlink call when he went in, that was pretty nasty, but we never found a body. I know it's stupid to make anything of that, what with the building coming down on him and all, but my father always said that if you don't see a body, don't count on someone being dead. He did once-"
In John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos, the Greek gods assume Trismegistus is dead, merely because he was shot with several arrows by Phoebe, no less and fell into the Abyss. Indeed, ap Cymru justifies talking with him on the grounds it's not disobedience, as he was never forbidden to talk to him.
Hollyleaf's "death" in Warrior Cats: no one bothered to try digging up her body after the tunnels collapsed, and it turns out that she actually survived. A minor character - RiverClan elder Duskwater - got swept away in a flood and they never found her body.
A key problem the prosecution has in The Other Side of Midnight with their case against Noelle Page and Larry Douglas for the murder of Catherine, the latter's wife, is that her body was never found. That's because she fled the hotel before they could kill her and her rowboat capsized. But in truth, she was rescued by people employed by Constantin, whom Noelle is mistress to. Catherine, now an amnesiac, lives with an order of nuns; Constantin hides this so the lovers will pay for cuckolding him.
Referenced in Men at Arms. Because no one ever found Big Fido's body, legends that he's leading a wolf pack somewhere in the Ramtops live on, despite the fact that, as the narration points out, he more than likely got "recycled" by one of Ankh-Morpork's street people into a pair of gloves. May also be a reference to the Watership Down example above.
Not exactly. Gaspode did find the body, and did see the body get taken away by a vagrant who sold it for the pelt. But none of the other dogs saw the body, so they chose to not believe Gaspode's version of the story.
In Les Misérables, the recaptured Jean Valjean risks his life to rescue a man who fell from a ship's rigging; in the process he himself "accidentally" falls into the water, from which his body is never recovered. Guess who turns up a month later in Montfermeil?
Lampshaded at times in Andrew Vachss's Burke books with The DreadedShrouded in Myth Wesley, who supposedly blew himself up live on television. While Burke, as the closest thing to a friend the man had, is sure he is dead, the rest of the underworld is not because there was not enough left to tell.
At the climax of Lonely Werewolf GirlBig Bad Sarapen is killed on page Deader than Dead with a magic knife and yet despite this his body proves to be unrecoverable and goes missing. Uh-huh, wonder who will be back for the sequel then?
Simultaneously played straight and inverted in The Wheel of Time. At the end of the fifth book, Moiraine tackles Lanfear into the twisted doorframe, which is destroyed immediately after. Every character assumes them dead, particularly because Moiraine's bond with Lan seems to have been broken. Every fan assumes this to be an obvious case of No One Could Survive That, which just causes confusion when Cyndane appears in the eighth book, obviously an altered and/or reborn Lanfear. But in the thirteenth book, we find out that Moiraine is, of course, still alive, but that Lanfear actually was killed shortly after entering the doorway!
Done unintentionally and subverted in case of Sammael, who got killed when Rand looked away. To the point that Jordan had to go against his "read and find out" rule and confirm that he is, indeed, dead.
Subverted in the Harry Potter series with Sirius Black, whose body was never found, leading many fans to believe he was still alive. Turns out he really was dead. Specifically, Sirius' body was never found because his body was physically transferred to the afterlife, which is not a survivable or reversible event even if the spell he was hit by seconds earlier was non-lethal.
A similar thing happens later with Mad-Eye Moody. Special attention is given to the fact that his body is never found, and Ron even suggests he might really be alive. Then they find his eye...
Played straight with Voldemort- it's implied that his body sorta disintegrated by the rebounded Curse and was never actually found. Not that it would have mattered...
All they ever found of poor Peter Pettirgrew was a finger. Of course he cut it off himself so they would assume that was all that was left of his body. Given that the people who were really killed back then left considerably more of their bodies, one could have seen this as a reason to doubt Pettigrew really died. In fact, there's at least one Harry Potter fanfic where Sirius Black had a trial and this fact had been brought to the Wizengamot's attention.
Alistair Drummond in the second book of The Rampart Worlds. The protagonist, Asahel Frost, worries occasionally about whether he's actually dead. And then the guy turns out to be alive enough to steal Asa's identity while working with villainous aliens. When he's eventually killed off, the body is immediately in evidence, although mauled by a wolverine.
Used as a Survival Mantra by Murphy in Ghost Story and Aftermath. It is painful to read. However, she is right...
Invoked by the central character in The Highest Treason by Randall Garrett; facing death or capture, he arranges his death so that no body will be found, deliberately to promote a belief that he somehow got away and one day he'll be back.
Nothing but a few feathers is found of Bluddbeak, an old, blind, rheumy red kite from Triss. Considering he went up against a trio of adders, his demise is in no doubt.
In Cinder from Lunar Chronicles, it is mentioned that they never found the body of Princess Selene of Luna, whom had apparently died in a fire, since they did find pieces of her burnt flesh. Eventually Princess Selene is found- she is now a cyborg named Cinder.
Jurassic Park: It is strongly implied at the end of the first book, through meaningful looks, and head shaking when he's asked about, that Ian Malcom is dead, but no one ever actually says that he's dead, and he's back for the second book.
Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM) has had this happen so many times over the years that the Munitorum has finally decided to treat him as always alive (in spite of his funeral with full honors). Of course, some take the view that his burial itself was faked, so he could more efficiently serve the Inquisition.
Subverted in Sergey Lukyanenko's The Last Watch, where Anton believes Kostya is still alive because his body was never recovered, however, it's revealed that the body was found, only Geser decided not to show Anton the incinerated body of his best friend.
In Alethea Kontis's Enchanted, Sunday discovers in the end that Jack Jr.'s body was not found; Rumbold only found something owned by him in a wolf's stomach.
The Mortal Instruments: Valentine, after his ship is destroyed - which naturally means that he's still up and kicking. That is, until he gets stabbed by the angel Raziel in City of Glass, is cremated and has a funeral. He is dead for good. Unlike his other son.
All My Children is a prime offender. Characters go over waterfalls, drive off cliffs, or are lost in wreckage. Rarely is an established longterm character killed off without leaving such an opportunity to return.
The first death of Dennis "Dirty Den" Watts in EastEnders was perhaps the longest gap between killed and brought back, 14 years passed.
Every time Murdoc "dies" in MacGyver. You'd think Mac would learn to stop knocking him off cliffs.
When Harold Bishop was swept off a cliff in Neighbours (though he returned a few years later, alive and well.)
Neighbours seems to have a fetish for this trope, especially where the Bishop family is concerned. Liljana Bishop and Serena Bishop also supposedly drowned but no bodies were found. Not to mention Dee Bliss. Connor O'Neill was thought to have been murdered by Robert Robinson after his sudden disappearance but he was later revealed to be alive.
It's possible Connor was murdered and his body never found. Nobody has ever seen him in China and the mysterious appearance of his wallet and a gift from China seem a little too convenient in proving Robert didn't kill him.
Despite this, one later episode has Steph talking as though he's not only alive but they know how to contact him, so it seems that officially he's now alive. In the end, The Bus Came Back six years later and laughed at the idea of anyone thinking he was dead, so there's hope for everyone else on this list.
Cigarette Smoking Man on The X-Files was shot by a sniper because of his increasing closeness to Mulder and distance from the rest of The Syndicate, early in Season Five. His body was never found, but there was supposedly too much blood for him to have survived the shooting. He wasn't mentioned again until February Sweeps, when he was revealed to be alive and well and living somewhere in Canada. This was perhaps a bit different from the usual way this trope is played out, since it was pretty clear that the writers intended the death to be temporary from the start and the fans knew it; there was, perhaps, one blind five-year old who'd never seen a TV show before that might have believed CSM was really dead.
The fact that he came back only .....two..... episodes later makes it pretty clear that this wasn't as much of a Retcon as you make it sound.
The sixth season of 24 ends with two baddies - Grechenko and Philip Bauer - supposedly dead, but as their bodies are never actually recovered (and Philip may well have the indestructible Bauer gene), they will almost certainly return in future seasons.
Inverted with Stargate SG-1 baddies where finding the body is a prerequisite for the sarcophagus and resurrection. Apophis didn't die until he was left for dead on a Replicator-infested ship about to crash into a planet. Because of the number of times he actually survived things like this, the scene was complete with Replicators crawling across his Personal Shield, an inarticulate scream of rage and the viewers actually getting to see the ship crash.
It still didn't stop them from making a Lampshade Hanging in the very next episode, when Jack O'Neill, after claiming that there a 100 percent chance of Apophisbeing gone for good. He finds himself looking at the unconvinced faces of those around him and changes it to a 99 percent certainty.
Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis both frequently use this trope, with many of the Big Bads simply "dying" by ship explosion or freezing. See Anubis, a few dozen times, as well as most other system lords at least once, and Michael in Atlantis.
Given the fact that Anubis has no body, this trope is conspicuously accurate.
The cast of Atlantis doesn't believe that Weir is actually dead until told so by her replicator-clone, when they finally pack up her quarters after she's taken out. A copy of Weir is shown to be alive as intro to a plotline that isn't followed up on for awhile after the replicator planet is destroyed. She eventually comes back, in a different body and ultimately dies via Heroic Sacrifice.
Back in the first season an episode started with the rest of the team coming back through the gate saying that he had been incinerated by a gas vent, but shortly after his funeral it turned out that they had actually been abducted and everyone but Daniel had been given false memories and allowed to escape.
Much later he actually did die (and partially ascend) but the others had no idea of his fate and Jack vehemently refused to declare him dead, having noticed his tendency to turn up alive every other time.
What with the deaths and returns of The Master, Angel, Spike, and Drusilla, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer variant seems to be "never count a vampire dead unless their bodies turn to dust." And even then, there are ways around it (case in point: Darla, who for the record has died four times).
Invoked improperly after the Spike/Drusilla fight in "What's My Line, Part Two", which takes place in a burning church. Later, in "Surprise", the Scoobies suspect Dru may have survived, with Buffy saying, "We never found a body." Oddly, no one points out that vampires don't leave bodies, and checking for vampire dust in a burned-down church is nigh-impossible.
In Ashes to Ashes, it's said that the protagonist of Life On Mars, Sam Tyler, died in a car accident after spending seven years in 1973 onwards. One year later, when Ashes begins, his body has yet to be found.
In the opening episode of Series 3 Alex rediscovers Sam's file and keeps it for later reading, and a new DCI alludes to Gene Hunt's secret, heavily implying that it may have to do with Sam's apparent death...
It later transpires that this death was indeed faked, however he had 'died' in that world, just in a different way
The Time Lords. All of them. Allegedly, all of them were erased from existence except for the Doctor. And the Master. The Daleks were supposedly also wiped out as well, but that's been proved wrong many times now.
...And Romana, meanwhile, had gone to E-Space some time before then, and it's never been statednote In the Whoniverse, anyway; the Big Finish Doctor Who audios made her President of Gallifrey if she came back for the Great Offscreen Time War or not. She's potentially still out there.
Daytime soap As the World Turns has (a lot, like all soaps, but this one in particular is) Colonel Mayer, who jumped into the ocean to avoid being captured by the police. He is presumed dead by the entire cast, but the viewers just KNOW he'll turn up again the second something is needed to drive (another) wedge between Luke and Noah.
Colonel Mayer does return, but he gets sent back to prison.
James Stenback has done this numerous times, having been a villain on the show for decades. He is eventually killed off for real, and everyone is shocked (and overjoyed) that they have actually seen the body this time.
A grisly subversion in Bad Girls - Prisoner Yevone Atkins. Apart from Jim Fenner (her prison officer killer) everyone else thinks she has escaped, which was her plan. The problem: the building plan she and her escape partner had used didn't feature a wall which turned a corridor into a cell because the door to the corridor only opened from the outside. Fenner shut the door behind her and left her there. Her escape partner after spending weeks in solitary confinement (for a different matter) saw the escape route as still being viable as it wasn't discovered by the prison officers. She goes to make her escape only to find the wall blocking her path and Yevone's rotting corpse.
One of the earliest mysteries on LOST involved Jack seeing hallucinations of his dead father on the island. When Jack finally found his father's coffin, the body was not inside. Over the course of the series, Jack's father started appearing more and more often, and to other character to whom he may or may not have any connection, and even began interacting with them, casting obvious doubt on whether or not "hallucination" is really a good term to use.
Later, Eko discovers his dead brother's corpse in the drug smuggling plane. But when he returns sometime later, the body has vanished. Suddenly, his brother starts walking around and interacting with Eko. Eko finally has a conversation with the "hallucination" of his brother and addresses him as such. The person then replies "you speak to me as if I were your brother" and walks off, leaving Eko rather confused. When Eko pursues the individual, the smoke monster appears and kills him. This scene cemented in many fans' minds the theory that the smoke monster can impersonate others if it has a body to steal.
Confirmed in season 5, when Alex is quite clearly the Smoke Monster judging Ben.
This theory ends up being thrown for a loop in season 5. Locke's body is brought back to the island, and keeping with this theory, most fans assumed he'd come back to life. Sure enough, he did. Except then he began acting strange, turning into a Jerkass, and annoying Ben and Richard among others. In the season finale, a group of survivors from the new plane crash bring with them a container...and inside is Locke's body. As it would turn out, the mysterious archnemesis of Jacob (who had never been introduced before that episode) was impersonating Locke in order to use Ben to kill Jacob. And Season 6 confirmed he was the Smoke Monster, and had him confessing to Jack that he impersonated Christian.
In an instance not involving the smoke monster, Frank Lapidus is hit by a steel door pushed in by the water rushing into Widmore's sub after it blows up. We see Sayid get blown up by the bomb and bodies of Sun and Jin after they drown, but we don't see Lapidus' body and we were lead to believe this was the last we would see of him but he reappears, floating on a piece of flotsam a few episodes later in the series finale.
From that same scene, subverted with Sayid. The audience knows he's dead, but Hurley says something to effect of "We gotta save Sayid too!" and Jack screams that there's no Sayid left to save.
On Smallville, Clark has a routine of x-raying the graves of anyone who's supposed to be dead, like Emily Dinsmoore or Chloe, determining whether or not there's a body. Emily's body is used for Lex's cloning experiements and Chloe is shoved into an underground tunnel before her house blows up, although Lex lies to him and said there isn't a body to bury because she was blown into millions of pieces.
When Lex was stranded on a deserted island his father buried a coffin for him thinking that he must be dead.
Subverted in Sanctuary. Helen spends the entirety of "Eulogy" trying to prove that Ashley is alive... only to find out that, nope, she's history. Confirmed by Word of God that Ashley won't be back.
Nicole again and is Goren's reaction on when Nicole Wallace's heart is found, but a lab tech confirms it is, indeed, a DNA match. (Of course, if anyone could spoof that...)
It is later confirmed that Goren's teacher admitted he did in fact kill her.
This confirmation is sketchy, since that entire conversation, as well as previous ones, make it clear that the guy is absolutely out of his mind. He may have only thought he killed Nicole, and Nicole is certainly capable of using that to her advantage. Still, we may never truly know whether Nicole really is dead or not.
Lynn Echolls in Veronica Mars. Her abandoned car is found by a bridge and her body was never found.
Victor Comstock is struck and killed by a falling bomb during a broadcast from London at the end of Season 1 of Remember WENN. He shows up alive at the end of Season 2.
Morgan: He fell into a river? Of course Shaw's alive. Haven't you ever seen a John Carpenter movie?
In The Avengers, Mrs. Peel's husband Peter is discovered to be alive in the Amazon after a plane crash years ago, signaling her character's exit from the series.
Babylon 5: John Sheridan, on a hostile planet, dropped a nuclear bomb on his own location. While jumping into a bottomless pit. The other cast members couldn't even make sense of the reports about what happened, let alone find the body. Some of them refused to believe that he was dead. He was. He got better.
An established part of Minbari legend states that Valen, their warrior-prophet from 1,000 years previous, disappeared in this fashion, somewhere out in space. Some of them apparently believe he'll eventually return... and they're right, in an odd sense. The same thing happens to John Sheridan in the Distant Finale. Because his ship was found with sealed airlocks and no trace of him on board, many believe he'll eventually return too. And because both characters make up part of the trio known as The One, many fans take it to mean the same thing also eventually happens to the third member, Delenn
In the TV miniseries of Dune, Genre Savvy villain Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, upon receiving news that Paul and Jessica Atreides were dead after flying into a sandstorm, asks explicitly, "You've...seen the bodies?" He was right to doubt. The interesting part, though, is whether the Baron is truly Genre Savvy or not. In the novel it is more explicit, but his entire plan is based upon the fact that this means of executing Paul and Jessica would not leave bodies. Once his underlings are gone he himself states that they are undoubtedly dead, that nothing could possibly survive a sandstorm, and he was stressing the need to find the bodies as an educational experience to never take anything for granted, not because he actually feels this situation requires a body to be definite.
In one episode of Castle, a murder makes no sense... until near the end, Castle realizes this about an important participant in an event that took place 20 years earlier:
Beckett: Yeah, because she was vaporized in the explosion.
Castle: Well, maybe she was thrown clear.
In a much later episode, Castle shoots a serial killer several times, knocking him off a bridge. They never find the body - in fact, Beckett goes so far as to state, direct quote, "they never found the body". Castle postulates that the killer had planned the whole thing in an attempt to disappear.
Invoked in Band of Brothers when Easy Company is pulling out of a Dutch town swarming with Germans. Denver "Bull" Randleson was seperated from the main force and forced to hide until he can escape. Meanwhile his friends are trying to organize a rescue, and when told he was probably dead one responded "If there ain't no body then there ain't nobody dead."
At the end of the Burn Notice episode "Dead to Rights," a building explodes, killing recurring villain Larry and two Red Shirt security guards. However, the next day's newspaper headline simply said that two people were killed in the blast, indicating that Larry (who makes a habit of this) is still Not Quite Dead.
CSI: New York: Det. Taylor's wife died on 9/11 and not a speck of her DNA has ever been found interestingly, a flashback shows that she escaped the first tower's collapse... Considering that, you know, 9/11 actually happened and thousands of real people died and haven't been found, she's probably not going to show up with amnesia in the season finale. Fan fic writers, on the other hand...
She did actually tell Mac during their cell phone call that she wanted to go back and help other people. Mac told her to stay out where it was safe,and then the call was cut off. So, it's possible she died going back to help others.
In the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode "The List", the cops Never Found the Body but did find a torched car filled with the victim's blood and believed that proved she was dead. She wasn't, and the steps she takes to fake her death, including murdering her own sister, are so awful that they make her lover/partner-in-crime realize she can't be trusted.
In Once Upon a Time, the only thing found of Kathryn is the heart. In The Stable Boy, it's clear that the DNA results on the heart were tampered with when Kathryn is found alive
Subverted three times on Sherlock. First, Irene fakes her death. Sherlock views the body himself and confirms that it is hers, but she's still alive. They reconcile, and later she fakes her death again. Mycroft is positive that she is, in fact, dead this time, he says "It would take Sherlock himself to fool me." Well, Sherlock himself was there, and helped her. Finally, in the season finale, Sherlock jumps off of a building. John even takes his pulse and confirms his death. Somehow, he survived.
Also invoked by many fans of Moriarty, who shot himself in the head in the finale. However, a tie-in news report posted online doesn't mention a body being discovered, so many people think he'll return.
Steven Moffat also lampshaded it in an interview, stating that no body always means that they've survived.
Simon Kingdom in Kingdom is presumed dead after leaving his belongings on the beach and walking into the sea. He comes back in the first season finale, and in the end of the second season he disappears in a flood.
In the Season 1 finale (which also ended the series) of Blade, Krista throws Chase down the stairwell (a pretty big drop). A few minutes later, she looks down and doesn't see either Chase's body or ash. Van Sciver tells her that even if either of those things were found, he'd still look over his shoulder for the rest of his immortal life.
In an episode of Sliders, the group slides into a world where America has an aristocracy, and Rembrandt's double is a nobleman (for reference, Rembrandt is black). The press mentions that their Rembrandt was last seen dragged away by a river never to be seen again. After their Rembrandt is assumed to be him and impregnated (It Makes Sense in Context), the sliders start looking into the clues. They fairly quickly find out that this world's Rembrandt faked his death in order to escape all the media attention and enjoy a peaceful life. However, after finding out that his baby is in another man's body (once again, watch the episode for context), he returns to the world.
Irene Adler in Elementary. Sure enough, she turns up alive in the penultimate episode of the first season.
On a Behind The Scenes video for Breaking Bad, Tio's actor jokes that, even though he was inches away from a large explosion, this trope applies because the dead body wasn't shown onscreen.
Destinos: Rosario, Fernando Castillo's first wife, was apparently killed by a bomb during the Spanish Civil War, but it was never confirmed. Fleeing to Mexico, Fernando hid all evidence of his first marriage from his family, until a letter from Sevilla turned up indicating that she may have survived.
The pilot in Kim Wilde's song "Cambodia" goes missing in action just when his wife is expecting him to return home.
Mythology and Religion
Practically a staple of Cherokee folklore. Ulagu, Spearfinger, and other monsters are given uncertain demises that suggest they may just be biding their time.
Also a staple of the Judeo-Christian mythos. There's Elijah, Enoch, Mary mother of Jesus, and Jesus himself (although the text is not really clear if this is actually Never Found the Body after physical resurrection or Lost The Body). The ultimate form is The Rapture, which involves the resurrection of the dead, and every living member of the Faithful ascending into Heaven.
In WHO dunnit, the brakes on Tex's car are sabotaged by Butler, after he overhears Tex threatening Victoria. Tex drives off a cliff and the car explodes, but the body was never found. He gets plastic surgery, renames himself "Brono", and plots revenge on Victoria.
WWE chairman Vince McMahon's on-screen death in a car bombing already had wrestling fans speculating about how long it would take him to come back the day after it aired, both because this trope was repeatedly invoked, and because, even off-screen, McMahon is a Large Ham who has a problem taking himself off TV voluntarily. It eventually became a moot point, as the storyline was largely abandoned in the wake of wrestler Chris Benoit's real-life murder/suicide, with McMahon returning a few weeks later and handwaving the whole thing.
Outright suggested to the DM in Shadowrun's fourth edition rulebook, as a story-telling sleight of hand to avoid having to do in important NPCs before their time, regardless of what the rules and dice would otherwise say.
The original Dragonlance modules for Dungeons & Dragons suggested this tactic to the Dungeon Master, as the Myth Arc of the adventures relies on several key NPCs surviving until the end.
Module 16 Ravenloft. In the Back Story, Tatyana threw herself from the walls of Ravenloft castle and disappeared in the mists. Her body was never found. She appears in the module in another body, under the name Ireena Kolyana.
Breaking a Staff of the Magi causes a titanic explosion pretty much certain to kill everything in the area of effect...except, quite possibly, the one who does it. Performing the Strike has a 50% chance of casting you into the Astral Plane, where time flows...differently. You age (and consume supplies for) one day per thousand years.
The GURPS Advantage Extra Life is designed so that "no matter how sure your enemies are that you have been killed you'll come back". Of course, for purposes of game balance you have to pay points of each Extra Life.
Encouraged for Game Masters in the PDQ-system superhero game Truth & Justice. Where heroes get Hero Points to spend on bursts of luck and desperation-fueled skill, villains get Villain Points to spend on "really" being robot clones (and thus never being in the fight in the first place), to have their body never be found, or to make miraculous escapes from prison. Given the free-form nature of power acquisition in the game, it's entirely reasonable to have "Body Never Found" be a standard power for some villains, as a form of immortality.
The Death Defiance Heroic Knack in the Adventure! RPG allows for cases of this in order to come back when people think you're dead.
Spirit Of The Century has a stunt that lets Player Characters do this, but it's generally assumed that if anyone dies offscreen, then they're liable to come back. The stunt just lets you come back in the same session.
In Hong Kong Action Theatre, a character with the Mysterious Death signature move never dies in a way that would leave no doubt, and usually involves something that engineers a Never Found the Body situation. Then, upon spending all your Chi pool or a number of Star Power points, the character can come back.
When someone in Magic: The Gathering dies and doesn't leave a corpse, chances are they just became a planeswalker.
In BIONICLE, Word of God made it the official rule. Death off-screen, not found the body? So don't believe what other character say, they will come back.
At the start of Hotel Dusk: Room 215, the body of Kyle's traitor partner, Bradley, isn't recovered after he was shot. Kyle naturally suspects that Bradley is still alive and goes looking for him.
Played straight in Freddy Pharkas by Sierra, where at the end of the game it is revealed that Penelope Primm's body was never found within the ashes of the exploded schoolhouse, posing the potential for a sequel that ultimately never occurred.
GDI had an excuse the first time: Kane stood at ground zero of an ion cannon blast. Given the shown power of an Ion Cannon of the period, there wouldn't be a body left to find.
The second time, he was run through and then left in an exploding Nod Temple. The third time, Eastern Europe exploded. As in all of it. At least there's good reasons for GDI to not secure the body.
Amanda in Tomb Raider Legend. She apparently drowned during the flashback sequence, but when Lara returns to the cavern in the present day, there are no remains except an untied shoe. Later revealed to be Not Quite Dead.
At the end of Last Revelation, the temple of Seth collapses, and there seems to be no way Lara could survive it. As shown at the end of Chronicles, the recovery team found her backpack, but not the body. She was Not Quite Dead yet. Although she suffered a Fate Worse than Death gameplay-wise in Angel of Darkness. Heck, this whole story arc was retconned out when Crystal Dynamics took over the series.
Played straight in Call of Duty 4, where at the end of a special flashback mission the target you are assassinating gets hit in the arm. Your commanding officer congratulates you "Good shot Lieutenant, I think you blew off his arm. Shock and blood loss should do the rest.". Cut back to the present and it turns out that target is Imran Zahkaev who only lost his arm
This happens in Call of Duty Black Ops. During the mission Vorkuta Reznov and Mason orchestrate a prison break from a Russian Gulag that ends with them being the only two prisoners that successfully escape. Once outside the prison Reznov distracts their pursuers by drawing the Russians away from their escape train believing that freedom could only be achieved for Mason, though Reznov is seen later on. Later it is revealed that Reznov, officially speaking, died giving his life so that Mason could escape and that the Reznov we see is a hallucination in Mason's mind. Though it is revealed that the body was never found and a man heavily implied to be Reznov gives a CIA contact a e-mail telling him he is willing to help Mason out and provide freedom for both of them this time, things are looking up for his survival.
Jankowski in FEAR vanishes early on in the game. Although he continues to appear as a ghostly figure from time to time, his eventual fate is left unknown.
The World Ends with You, averts, inverts and subverts this trope repeatedly. In the game world, losers' bodies are erased. Averted because despite erasure being a kind of super-death, no trace of the body is found (at most an item of importance to the npc will found post-erasure.) Inverted because Dragon #2's/Sho Minamimoto's body is found intact, some fans speculate he's still alive. Subverted in a previous battle between Joshua and Sho Minamimoto the latter explodes a 'nuke' that presumably erases them both. Although they both turn up alive again, it's only through use of a revival. Joshua is the Composer and using his god powers jumps into another universe to avoid it, and Minamimoto planned his own death.
Despite the backstory not being revealed until, well, the final act, the main villain of Killswitch had this happen. When confronted by the protagonist in the backstory, he's told that he's dead, but counters with the question of whether or not they found a body (which they didn't). At the end of the game, after viciously killing the villain, the protagonist's Voice with an Internet Connection asks if the Big Bad is dead, to which to protagonist replies, "I see a body. Mission complete."
SNK pulled this with Geese Howard and Rugal Bernstein. Geese's version was more complex: he plummets off of the top floor of his tower in the first game, but manages to survive by the skin of his teeth. Then his next plot involves him achieving Immortality by using the Jin scrolls. It's implied that when he is Killed Off for Real (by getting a second boot off the tower from Terry) that when he falls to his apparent death, the body is not found. Rugal's was more subtle. He self-destructs his own aircraft carrier, and is presumed dead because there were no remains after the crash. This has caused speculation that the Rugal in '95 is an experimental clone used to monitor the Orochi power. It's also implied that he's working with NESTS somehow, as seen in 2002. Also, he doesn't flicker away like all the other "dead" strikers like Goenitz.
Turned Up to Eleven in Final Fantasy Legend 3 when Dion reveals he has a bomb built into his body as a last resort - which he then uses, blowing himself to kingdom come to eliminate an enemy forcefield. With just a couple tissue samples, the local super-scientist is able to fully reconstitute both Dion and the hero's years-dead father in a matter of moments - all memories intact.
Resident Evil does this frequently; the most recent example though has Jill Valentine push Wesker out a window and they proceeded to fall off a cliff. Their bodies were never found and they're presumed dead. Turns out she was brainwashed and dressed like a Venetian plague doctor.
Of course, considering the series, sometimes the person is dead, but you don't find the body because it got up and walked away anyway.
Somewhat subverted in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, where the game's intro has Solid Snake infiltrate a tanker carrying a new Metal Gear, and then watch as a group of Russian terrorists take over. He goes into the hold where the Metal Gear is kept, and then witnesses Ocelot claiming RAY as his own, and then Snake's clone/brother Liquid takes control of Ocelot using the arm that was transplanted onto him after Liquid's apparent death from FOXDIE. Shortly afterwards, the tanker explodes, and Snake is presumed dead. From then on, you play as Raiden, and soon enough you encounter and team up with the oddly-familiar Pliskin, who makes repeated attempts to assure you that Snake is dead. It's mentioned that they did find the body. Although it was missing an arm for some reason. Minor detail.
Zero in the Mega Man Zero series, after destroying a Colony Dropfrom the inside. All that remained is his broken helmet.
Inverted in a particularly bizarre way in Planescape: Torment. Your character is an amnesiac, regenerating immortal. At one point, you find your own corpse, and can wield your own desiccated, mummified arm as a club.
Subverted in Devil Survivor. Aya is a major character in the backstory, who disappeared without a trace into the demon world before the game starts. Even when you go there at the game's end, you never find her.
In the Return to Ostagar DLC for Dragon Age: Origins Duncan's body is noticeably missing. You can find his weapons still imbedded in the Ogre but not Duncan himself.
Word of God says he's dead—and since he hasn't made a reappearance up to the end of Dragon Age II, seven years after he started getting the nightmares leading up to his Calling, it looks likely he's not around anymore, making this trope averted in the usual spirit.
A Dalish Elf Warden can play this card throughout their origin whenever they're discouraged from looking for Tamlen on grounds that he's probably already dead. Well, it turns out he may or may not be, it just depends on what you consider "alive"...
Halo: For troop morale, "Spartans never die!", they only get listed as Missing in Action. Given the missions they are sent on, there are rarely any bodies to cover up.
Interestingly, Dr. Katherine Halsey, the creator of SPARTAN-IIs makes it a point of keeping track of which ones are really dead. This allows her to identify Kurt (whose EVA suit malfunctioned, and he was thrown into deep space), whose disappearance was orchestrated by ONI in order to recruit him to head the SPARTAN-III program. Before performing a Heroic Sacrifice in a nuclear blast to keep the Covenant away from Shield World Trevelyan, he updates his status as MIA.
In Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, it's stated that eighteen years previously Randall Ascot, the Professor's childhood friend and the one responsible for sparking his interest in archaeology, fell to his death while he and Layton were trying to find the Mask of Chaos, the titular MacGuffin being worn by the main villain. In the flashback depicting this, Randall is seen falling but not landing. It's later revealed that not only did Randall survive, he found the Mask of Chaos and is the one wearing it.
Bolvar Fordragon and Dranosh Saurfang, whose shield and armor respectively were all that could be found of them after their would-be deaths at the Wrathgate. To the surprise of the other characters, but not the playerbase, both of them showed up again in Icecrown Citadel.
In the Red Ridge Mountains, Bravo Company takes on the black dragon Darkblaze and die in a Heroic Sacrifice; while the rest of the team dies during the fight, their leader, John J. Keeshan leaps on the dragon and kills it mid-flight. His body does show up, alive and well, continuing the fight after taking another 30 levels of Badass.
The Tekken series does this a lot. In Tekken 3, Ogre killed a bunch of people and absorbed some of their moves. However, since it wasn't said outright, there is a plausible out for future games. Wang, Bruce, Lee, Anna and Baek were revealed to be OK, but Kunimitsu is "probably" dead. As for Jun... Well, Wordof God is still avoiding a straight answer 12 years later.
There are also several characters that, if not immortal beings, have identical successors (King and Armor King, Roger, Kuma, Law, possibly Yoshimitsu) or cyborg reincarnates (Alyssa, Brian), or are robots (All the various Jacks).
By the way, that is before counting the Mishimas, who frequently get shot, laser blasted, burnt, blown up, trapped underneath a haunted temple for 50 years with the supreme evil being, flung off cliffs, thrown out of helicopters, and in one notorious case dropped into a volcano, with no ill effects.
In Billy Hatcher and The Giant Egg, when you defeat a boss they fade away. Dark Corvo however, does not. He instead falls into a pool of darkness that materializes underneath him, without fading away, leading fans to wonder whether he's actually dead or not.
Subverted in Mass Effect 2. At the very beginning, Harbinger springs a surprise attack on Shepard's ship, the Normandy, in order to kill Shepard, given what s/he did to Sovereign at the end of the previous game. The Normandy is utterly destroyed, and Shepard does die, but Harbinger specifically sends out patrols to find the body just to be sure. As it turns out, this is justified; human-survivalist group Cerberus gets Shepard's body to resurrect him/her. A tie-in comic reveals that Harbinger actually got Shepard's body first, but Liara recaptured it for Cerberus.
In Virtua Cop 2, the plot states that when Joe Fang's helicopter got shot down, his body was never found, then he returns once again as the final boss in the final stage, except he now flies using a jetpack instead but still uses missiles as his primary attack as well as a sword.
In Fallout 3, you can discover the logs of a search party that went to look for a child named Cheryl, who they never found, and you only find one of the party members' corpses. Similarly, of the Brandice family that lived in Grayditch, you can only find the father's body.
The Black Knight from Fire Emblem Tellius. Ike kills him alright in Path of Radiance, but no one can find his corpse because the fortress crashes down after the final duel. He then comes back in Radiant Dawn to aid Micaiah and the Dawn Brigade, with no reason explained how he survived the whole thing.
The Ace Attorney series had this happen with Thalassa Gramarye. She turned out to be alive.
Pulled in an earlier game with Dahlia Hawthorne, though we knew she was alive before the trope came up.
And played with Ini Miney. Her body was seen, but so badly burned that she was mistaken for her sister Mimi, who went on to have plastic surgery to imitate Ini.
Oasis, from Sluggy Freelance, has been killed and returned several times; the trope was lampshadedhere. Later on, it became a plot point that you might actually be able to find a body and still count on her coming back.
Subverted with Riff and Zoë. Torg sees their piloted robot burn up, but since there are no bodies and he knows the DFA is built in, he assures Gwynn it will be okay. They did flux out, but Zoë was brain dead. Worse yet, the audience finds this out along with Riff... after months of thinking she'd died on arrival, followed by two years trying to find her on life support.
Subverted in this strip of Narbonic: "I watched the villagers burn you at the stake, chop your corpse into little pieces, and hop all over them!" "There's always an out, Beta. Remember that." (In the "filename story", it turns out that what she actually saw was a video brought by the family lawyer.)
Also, this strip about ANTONIO SMITH, FORENSIC LINGUIST.
And in another incident, after Big Bad Khrima accidentally destroyed a magic crystal, wrecking a sizable part of his fortress, Drecker mentions that Khrima hasn't been heard from in months. Ardam speculates that he might have died in the accident, and wonders if they've seen the last of him. There is a pause, then both heroes burst out laughing.
Seems to be going on in Girl Genius. Baron Wulfenbach died when his hospital exploded—but his body wasn't found, and indeed, one of his aides tried to rescue him before the hospital exploded and couldn't find him. When his son notes this, he's told that the Baron left clear orders: if the Baron ever seemed dead, they should immediately proclaim his son the new Baron.
"I always wondered how he planned to run off and leave you holding the bag. Impressive."
In Red vs. Blue, The Meta fell off a cliff after suffering injuries that no one else could survive, hooked to a falling Pelican. His body was ID'd by the army, as implied by the fact that the guy debriefing the Reds and Blues saying that they'd found three freelancers, and there were only three at Avalanche, including the aforementioned.
Played straight with Grif. Invoked and lampshaded while he's hanging there.
Invoked in Relocated. Lopez claims he killed Sister back at Blood Gulch. Grif doesn't believe it.
Grif: I'll tell you what: you produce a corpse, I'll believe it.
Grif: Listen, once when we were kids, we went ice skating, and she fell through the ice. She was under there for three hours, and when they pulled her out, not only was she still alive, she was pregnant. If you can explain that to me, I'll believe you when you tell me she's dead.
In the story Sliced Bread 2, Dennis' response to Greyghost describing that his archnemesis was finally dead:
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm has Joker being taken away by The Phantasm, presumably to be killed. Guess who showed up later in the series, unharmed? Go on, guess!
An episode of the animated series called "Mad Love" (which was based off an earlier DCAU comic story) had Joker plummeting into a smoke stack. Later on, Harley Quinn is in her cell at Arkham, and she sees a rose from Joker next to her bed.
In Batman Beyond (which is part of the above mentioned DCAU): After Blight is trapped in a sinking/exploding submarine, Going Critical, Batman drops by Paxton Powers' office. The Coincidental Broadcast mentions that Blight's remains have yet to be found. Paxton smirks and says "So, he melted with the sub." Batman responds "Sure he did," and walks off. Possibly a subversion, since Blight never showed up again.
He did return in the comic books based on the series, but was frozen at the end of the issue.
The situation is repeated in "Inqueling" after Inque's daughter Deanna doublecrosses her mother. In an echo of the previous scene with Paxton Powers, Batman turns up to warn Deanna not to get too comfortable: "She's been dead before." Sure enough, Inque reappears in "The Call, Part 1," proving Terry right. (Deanna's fate is never mentioned. She's last seen reacting fearfully to every shadow, as her shapeshifting mother could be literally anywhere.)
The storyline with Deanna is actually resolved in the comics, where an origin of Inque is also revealed. In the comic story, Deanna is in the hospital, with the same disease her mother had that forced her to adopt her powers, and Inque seems willing to forgive, pausing to feed a small droplet of her own substance into Deanna's IV cord before vanishing.
In a Flashback scene in The Movie, Harley Quinn seemingly falls to her death after her fight with Batgirl. Gordon does point out that a body was never recovered, but doubts Harley would be starting trouble again after decades. She is alive, and is not amused with the criminal activity of her granddaughters.
A crime in the Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers episode "To The Rescue" has all the earmarks of a crime committed by Aldrin Klordane, who is supposed to have drowned over a year ago. However... he still manages to be the mastermind behind a new crime, in addition to very much alive. Detective Drake points out the possibility of his survival using the title of this trope.
The finale of Kung Fu Panda is surprisingly silent on this subject. While the Wuxi Finger Hold is never expressly claimed to be fatal, the reactions of Po and Tai Lung (and Shifu's expression when he threatens to use it) all suggest it is at least likely to batter someone to a pulp, if not unsurvivable—and the suspiciously-shaped cloud after Po uses it would suggest there isn't anything left. Whether to avoid the typical Disney Villain Death, as a Sequel Hook, or because the snow leopard is just too Badass to kill off, however, his death—if such it was—happens off-screen... so it all becomes moot, due to this trope. And since Po's excited words to Shifu are "I defeated Tai Lung!" not "I killed him," then...
For the record, Tai Lung does not appear in the sequel, nor is there any evidence of him still being alive. However, Word of God has cheekily refused to confirm it either way.
In the original Star Wars: Clone Wars animation, Asajj Ventress is thrown off a temple on Yavin 4 and is presumably killed. She actually survives in the Expanded Universe. And survives more "death scenes", including one where they did "find the body", because she knows a technique that can fool even a Jedi into thinking she's dead.
In the Season 2 finale of Teen TitansSlade is thrown into a pit of lava. Later, in the third season, Robin comments that "he was never captured, never found" to justify his Slade paranoia. Cyborg immediately points out the absurdity of it all, "The dude fell in a pit of lava, who lives through something like that?" He died, but it didn't stop him from showing up in Season 4.
In one episode of Justice League, some of Superman's enemies teamed up and attacked him with a gun that makes everything disappear. There was no sign of Superman's body or anything that might have been his body but Batman was the only one who saw it as a reason to doubt Superman actually dying. Vandal Savage also figured out Superman was alive (he was sent to the future) but it's not clear if he already suspected it from the beginning.
1973/74 Super Friends episode "Dr. Pelagian's War". Professor Ansel Hillbrand was a brilliant marine biologist and engineer. Aquaman suspects that he's actually the Big Bad Dr. Pelagian, but an investigation discovers that Dr. Hillbrand died five years earlier in a deep sea diving accident. Oddly enough, his body was never discovered. Guess who Dr, Pelagian turns out to be?
This wound up being very useful in the 90's X-Men cartoon. Initially, they intended to kill of Morph for real, but, after he "died" off screen, they just happened to never show his body or say what happened to it (probably for censorship reasons). As a result, when the character became unexpectedly popular, season 2 was able to easily able to retcon Morph as having been rescued by Mister Sinister.
The X-Men Adventures comic, a spin-off of the show, winds up partially Averting this Trope. In it, Morph is given an on screen death, with Beast at his side, and Gyrich even mentions having possession of his corpse. This is completely ignored come season 2 of the comic.
In Sym-Bionic Titan, Young Lance notes at his Father's funeral that "He's not even in there" (the coffin). At first, Lance believed he might still be alive. Also, Scary Mary's body was never found the night of the Deadly Prankbecause she didn't really die.
Wreck-Gar of Transformers Animated is seemingly killed when microbots react negatively with his backpack and he falls into a river. Ratchet is unable to recover his remains and only manages fish out trash. The episode ends with him at the bottom of the river trapped with no way of escape...until the next season where he simply frees himself when he hears of a new opportunity to be a hero.
No one knows what happened to Geoffrey Chaucer, who vanished Jimmy Hoffa-style. Evidence points to his being killed.
Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt went swimming and never came back.
To say nothing of Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart, Richey James Edwards, the crew of the Mary Celeste, and all the other examples.
Also John Darwin, whose empty canoe was found in the sea after he disappeared on a canoeing trip. Five years later, he appeared at a police station claiming to have lost his memory- and eventually convicted, along with his wife, of defrauding his insurance company.
There's also musician Gerry Rafferty, who hadn't been seen since August 2008 when he left all of his belongings behind at a London hospital and eventually died in early 2011 of complications probably related to his history of alcoholism.
Similarly to Amelia Earhart, they never found out what happened to Antoine Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, who vanished in his plane. They did find his plane after 60 years.
Natalee Holloway. According to one of Joran's confessions, she apparently had a seizure and passed out or died in his arms, then they dumped the body in the ocean. The chance of finding her now is pretty much nil. Hence, no closure.
Spartacus. It's generally accepted by historians that he died in the final battle, but his body was never found.
Spartacus War of the Damned manages to hold true to this, he is mortally wounded in front of Crassus, but is then carried away by his allies, and ultimately dies with them far from Romans.
Roald Amundsen, and the other passengers of the disappeared plane he was on.
And many other planes that disappeared without trace, often over the ocean, for example Charles Kingsford Smith and Tommy Pethybridge disappeared somewhere between India and Singapore, or Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli somewhere over (in) the North Atlantic, or John Moncrieff and George Hood over (or in) the Tasman Sea.
Azaria Chamberlain, in Australia.
Henry Hudson was cast adrift by his mutinous crew, never to be seen again.
Keith Anderson, father of Jake Anderson from Deadliest Catch. His truck was found locked with the keys in the ignition and blood on the steering wheel, and that's about it.
This almost happened with Harold Godwinson after the Battle of Hastings. According to one version William actually requisitioned Harold's mistress to identify his body. According to one alternate version of that one she never found it and chose a random corpse to conceal that she thought Harold to still be alive.
Ambrose Bierce, American author and journalist, went off to Mexico in 1913 to observe the revolution and disappeared without a trace.
David Kenyon Webster, an American journalist, writer and WWII veteran (a fictional version of the character appears in Band of Brothers.
New York State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater vanished after having dinner with friends on August 6, 1930.
In 1944, swing musician Glenn Miller was on a flight to France to entertain the US troops when his plane disappeared over the English Channel.
A BBC documentary unearthed compelling evidence that his aircraft had the misfortune to stray off-course into a designated ordnance jettison zone over the Channel, just as a Lancaster bomber that had been forced to break off from a raid with mechanical problems was ditching a particularly large "blockbuster"; one of its crew testified to seeing an aircraft of the type Miller was aboard in the area shortly before the bomb-load was ditched. Nevertheless, a search of the seabed in the area failed to turn up an identifiable wreck of the same plane.
The Russian Civil War hero Chapaev officially perished in 1919 while trying to swim across the Ural River under enemy fire. His body was never found (although some claim he was actually buried on a spot which is underwater now). Several works of fiction (published both during the Soviet times and after the collapse of the Soviet Union) have played with the idea that he had survived and had further adventures.
Pretty much the basis for anyone who thinks Osama bin Laden was not killed by a team of Americans as Obama announced he was. Although it has been officially confirmed, some still have doubt due to the fact that Obama never released any pictures of Osama's body before it was given a burial at sea.
Actor Pierre Kirby, who played in a few martial arts movies made most of his money through... delivering yachts in South East Asia. He didn't come back after one of those. Someone presumably saw him some time later in a hotel in Hong Kong. After calling out his name he turned around and walked away, never to be seen again.
This is the reason people generally aren't declared dead until a body is recovered. There is "Missing, Presumed Dead" for those No One Could Survive That situations, but you never can tell...
Many 9/11 victims. Some may have been vaporized in the fires and explosions.
This caused concern when it was realized the debris that had to be cleared might include (unrecognizable) human remains.
During World War One Major Whittlesey and his Battalion had been cut off from all Allied Support and was stuck behind the enemy line of the Germans. Despite having hundreds of his men killed and wounded, and having very little ammo and food to survive with he decided to hold the line so that the Germans would not be able to advance forward and compromise the positions of the nearby American command who they had lost contact with. It even got to the point that the Germans demanded that the Major and his Battalion surrender, which he treated with contempt and threw the white flag they offered as a sign that he agreed with the surrender back at them. American reinforcements eventually came and the Major was promoted to Lt. Colonel and given a Medal of Honor. After the war he went home to America and was viewed as a war hero who was requested upon to attend numerous social gatherings and the stress of the war and all the societal demands being made on him began to bother him. One day in 1921 he was on a boat to New York and by morning he was gone and never seen again; it is thought to have been suicide as he had many letters in his room relating to what would happen to his property after his death.
Adolf Hitler's body was believed to not have been found. In fact, the Russians did find it and didn't tell anyone.
That's been called into question; recent forensic testing on the remains show that the skull the Russians claimed was Hitler's is most likely a woman's skull. The tests themselves are suspect, however, as the Russians cut the time the team was promised to examine the remains from three days to three hours.
A number of other prominent Nazis also vanished during or after the war and were presumed dead, only to turn up later, either alive or having died abroad. The most infamous example being Josef Mengele. He vanished, with many assuming he died during the war. When "Wolfgang Gerhard" died in 1979 of drowning in Paraguay, it took several more years to confirm that Wolfgang was Mengele.
The US Military uses the "foot on the body" standard for counting sniper kills for this reason: an enemy killed by sniper fire isn't counted as dead unless a US or allied soldier is able to put his foot on the body, or a similar level of certainty is obtained through other methods.
This is why U.S Snipers always have "confirmed" listed before their kill counts. For example Carlos Hathcock had 93 confirmed kills, while it is possible that a talented sniper like Carlos Hathcock got many more kills than his official count without confirmation it is just speculation. The policy they have in effect is to have another officer or soldier accompany the sniper and take note of the kill, that way they have an eye-witness that can confirm the Sniper's story.
Cases of a man dissappearing, missing for over a year and getting declared legally dead, his wife remarrying and his belongings inherited by his legal inheritors, only for him to turn up alive three years later are very common case studies in law school. "Based on a real case" disclaimers optional, but are usually there.
Invoked with Genghis Khan. He wanted to be buried in an unmarked grave in accordance with his tribe's traditions, and so after burial, all the attendants in the funeral escort were killed, and then the soldiers who killed the attendants were killed themselves and anyone who witnessed or crossed paths with the funeral procession were cut down. Modern-day archaeologists believe he is buried near his birthplace in Mongolia, but his tomb has still not yet been found.
On a less dramatic scale, mosquitoes. Many people will swing their open hand or a towel at the offending bug; said bug will seem to have evaporated without leaving a trace. Some will then assume the problem has been dealt with, only to be awoken hours later by a buzzing noise in their ears. Never assume you hit a mosquito unless you have a body to show for it: it will be back.
The Charley Project, which profiles missing persons, has continued to list many people despite the fact that someone has indeed been charged, tried, and convicted of their murder, or confessed to their murder. For example, nearly a dozen presumed victims of Ted Bundy are still listed on the site, despite Bundy having admitted to killing them shortly before his execution for another of his gruesome crimes. Or Irene Silverman, despite Sante and Kenneth Kimes having been convicted of her murder due to overwhelming evidence.