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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.
- In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Kamina's father went into the surface and never came back. Kamina wants to go there and find him.... But in the second episode, he finds his old man's skeleton.
- 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 — Animation
- Finding Dory: Subverted. Dory is told by the other blue tangs that her parents went to Quarantine to look for her, and that fish who don't come back from Quarantine have been euthanized. Dory's parents actually made it out of Quarantine and to the ocean.
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 Host: Hyun-seo is swallowed by the creature and suffocates shortly before her father Gang-du can rescue her. Se-joo survives being swallowed, and Gang-du adopts him.
- 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 Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Anakin tries to track down his mother and finds that she's been kidnapped by Tusken Raiders. He gets to her just in time to have her die in his arms, and he doesn't take it well.
- Uncommon Valor: A grieving father and retired army colonel recruits a squad of Vietnam War veterans to go back and rescue American prisoners of war, including his long-missing son. In the end, the squad rescues the POWs—but not his son, who is revealed to have died of an illness some time ago.
- 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.
- Subverted in The Taggerung of the same series. Ruggan Bor thinks Gruven is lying about being The Taggering by virtue of killing the previous one, who hasn't been seen since he ran away. Upon a visit to Redwall Abbey, Deyna the otter confirms Gruvan's story however, Deyna is lying. He is the missing Taggerung. Ruggan, having his confirmation, promptly beheads Gruvan to take the title.
- The first book of the Morpheus Road trilogy ends this way.
- In the book series Pretty Little Liars Alison Dilaurentis was thought to be missing for three years, but it turned out she had been dead and buried under her family's gazebo all along.
- 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.
- For the first arc or so of Kamen Rider Gaim, Kouta and his friends intermittently search for their missing friend Yuya. They eventually find that he's not only dead, but he mutated into the first Monster of the Week and Kouta killed him back in the first episode.
- In Oliver's Travels, the purpose of Oliver's travels is to find his friend who left town in a hurry after getting on the wrong side of a criminal conspiracy. Eventually he comes to the town his friend settled in, and on asking a local where he can find his friend is given directions to the friend's grave.
- Over the first half of Person of Interest's fifth season, Fusco starts tracking several missing persons cases. In the sixth episode, he finds most of them dead, and only narrowly escapes being buried with them.
- 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.
- Quite frequent in Borderlands 2 where if you're tasked with finding someone, chances are they're already dead (often with an ECHO recorder nearby to conveniently explain how they died). The times where they're still alive, you're hired to rectify that problem.
- 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.
- The Witcher 3 offers several "find the missing person" secondary quests. Almost all of the missing persons are already dead, and Geralt usually has to kill whatever was responsible.
- Life is Strange originally follows Max as she's dragged into Chloe's search for the missing Rachel Amber, before escalating into the hunt for a serial sexual assaulter who likes taking pictures of his victims and demoralizing them into suicide. When you find Rachel, in Episode 4, she's long dead.
- Night in the Woods: Mae comes home to find out her friend Casey disappeared without a word awhile back. No one aside from his parents seem too concerned — Mae's other friends theorize he simply skipped town like he always wanted to. But there are multiple hints something may have happened to him, culminating to the climax of the game, when you find out that the cultists kidnapped him and sacrificed him to the Black Goat, figuring he wouldn't be missed. Mae and her friends are all horrified by this, and to make matters worse, because no one will ever believe them about the cult, and all the cultists are dead (or close to it) by the end of the game, meaning there's no proof for their story, they can't tell anyone about what they saw. Casey's parents will never know the truth.
- Star Wars Rebels:
- The episode "Rise Of The Old Masters" has the Ghost crew learn that Jedi Master Luminara Unduli aparantly survived the destruction of the Jedi Order and is currently being held by the Empire. While on a rescue mission the Ghost crew soon learn Luminara was Dead All Along.
- In "Legacy", Ezra learns what happened to his parents, who were taken away by The Empire when he was very young: they were killed in a prison escape.
- 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.