Seeking the Missing, Finding the Dead
When someone is on the hunt for a missing person, but finds out that the person is no longer alive—either recently deceased or long dead. This usually comes as a surprise, but if someone has been missing for a very long time, there may be doubts whether he is still alive, and finding the corpse merely proves those suspicions.
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Anime & Manga
- Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water: In the beginning of the series, Jean tells Nadia that he wants to build a airplane so he can search for his father, who went missing at sea, years ago. In the 16th episode, he learns his search would've been in vain, when he finds his father's tombstone in the Atlantean graveyard.
- The first issue of Mouse Guard has Saxon, Kenzie and Lieam searching for a missing grain merchant. They find him in the belly of the serpent that Lieam kills.
Films — Live-Action
- Dragonslayer. After Princess Elspeth enters the dragon's cave, Galen follows her in order to rescue her. He finds the dragon's hatchlings feeding on her corpse.
- The Searchers. Ethan Edwards and Martin Pawley ride out to find Martin's two sisters, who were kidnapped by Comanche raiders. They soon find the older sister's body. (The younger sister lives, and the search for her takes the majority of the film.)
- Ugly (2014) is about the search for a kidnapped girl who turns out to be dead by the end.
- In Redwall: Rakkety Tam, Gulo the Savage is seeking revenge on his brother Askor, who stole The Walking Stone and fled. Unbeknownst to him, Askor had a tree fall on him and died of his injuries before Gulo reached Mossflower. Rakkety Tam finally tells Gulo, "Thou art looking for a deadbeast," and claims to have killed Askor.
- The first book of the Morpheus Road trilogy ends this way.
- Blood Over Water features this.
- In an episode of NYPD Blue, the officers are looking for a missing child, and Andy has a bad feeling about it. Sure enough, they find the body in an empty lot not far from his apartment complex. "He died looking at his house!"
- Inverted in an episode of Bones, "The Elephant in the Room." After the gang identifies a corpse as not a newsworthy missing child but actually another, non-newsworthy child, Booth says, "Why do we only care about dead bodies?" and proceeds to find the missing child in about five minutes.
- There have been at least a couple of inversions in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that the detectives have looked for a dead person only to find that she was missing for all those years, staying with or waiting for her kidnapper.
- This is the Downer Ending for a few Without a Trace episodes. Most of the time the team is able to find the missing person but sometimes all they can do is find the body and give the person's next of kin some closure. The show often lampshades the fact that the longer someone is missing, the smaller the chance of finding him/her alive.
- In CSI: New York, Mac's wife's grown-up son (whom she gave up for adoption before meeting Mac) shows up. Mac has to explain that she died in 9/11.
- A slight variation in the eighth season of 24 in which CTU is searching for the president of another country that was kidnapped while the beginning of his execution is being broadcast, but find that the broadcast was a recording and that the president was already dead.
- In the first half of season 2 of The Walking Dead, the group is trying to find Sophia. They stayed at Hershel's farm until they could find that person. But at the mid-season finale, they discover that Hershel kept a barn full of walkers and when they freed the walkers to kill them, they discover that the last walker to leave the barn was Sophia, who was bitten.
- In the first season of Once Upon a Time a woman goes missing and a search eventually turns up a human heart which DNA testing proves to be hers. It's ultimately subverted when, a few episodes later, she turns up very much alive. Someone altered the test results.
- In Psych, "A Very Juliet Episode", Juliet is trying to locate an old boyfriend with which she was supposed to meet but never appeared. Shawn starts investigating and finds out the guy had died a couple years ago in a car accident, but suspects it wasn't actually an accident...It turned out he was still alive, and in a witness protection program, and they just blew his cover.
- In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), Dean finds his brother only to watch Jake murder his brother moments later.
- Many, many side missions in Mass Effect 3 end like this: you find more people dead or dying than ones still able to fight.
- IIRC, Resistance 2 has an example of this, when Shepherd has ben sent to locate a team of scientists and their guard only to find them dead. could be wrong though, it's been a while.
- In Mordecai's backstory in Borderlands, he apparently came to Pandora looking for someone who turned out to be dead and decided to join the other vault hunters in looking for the vault.
- Dragon Age II contains a heartbreaking variation of this. Hawke's mother is taken captive by a serial kidnapper/killer that you'd been chasing. By the time you reach her, she's dead. Well, close enough.
- In City of Heroes, kidnapped/missing people could usually be found alive, but sometimes not:
- One Carnival of Shadows mission has you finding a missing track star as a Carnival strongman; a medical examination reveals he's actually a zombie.
- A mini-story arc that has you on the trail of a man who was kidnapped from prison ends with you discovering that the Malta Group removed his brain to power one of their cyborg Titans, and you have to Mercy Kill him.
- In The Underground Incarnate trial, when you first arrive, Vanessa DeVore is still alive. However, she's discovered by the bad guys in the area, and despite retreating further and further underground, is killed before you can find her.
- In Knights of the Old Republic, after you fully join the Jedi Order on Dantooine, you're sent to investigate nearby ruins, and discover what happened to the last Jedi sent there. You find that Jedi has been killed by ancient droids in the ruins.
- In Knights of the Old Republic II, one of the Jedi Masters you're looking for is killed by Darth Sion before you find her.
- Atelier Totori, Totori was looking for her missing mother, only to find a grave. It turns out that Totori had known her mother was dead, but had forgotten because she couldn't handle the truth before.
- There have been numerous cases of people searching for long-lost relatives, but learn of their whereabouts via an obituary, gravestone, etc.
- Inverted shortly after World War II, when two friends were reunited while each sought the other's gravestone.