"You see that? That's a Bentley Mark XII. They gave one to me, one to Steven Spielberg, then they shot the guy who made it!"So you've created your ultimate weapon of terror/fortress of doom/super-secret thing. One problem: somebody had to build/design this thing. What happens if s/he talks or grows a conscience? Simple solution: have them all killed! Your secrets will be safe and s/he can't build another one for any rivals, and if done to a particularly naive engineer, you just acquired their services for free! Of course, you have to hope there are No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup to ruin your scheme. Or the fact that an engineer/architect even a little bit savvy probably sees this trope coming and, by dint of the engineering skill the Big Bad recruited them for in the first place, will often have a nasty Faustian Rebellion prepped for a boss seeking to betray their builders. Subtrope of You Have Outlived Your Usefulness. Similar to Mook Depletion for the aforementioned 'no backup' problem.
— Successmanship 101 Teacher, The Simpsons
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Anime And Manga
- Part of Franky's backstory in One Piece. His mentor Tom built the ship used by the Pirate King, and was killed in part due to guilt by association, and in part due to hoping that talent wouldn't be used by pirates again. Franky survived the same fate, and eventually became a pirate.
- In Shaman King, a daimyo ordered the samurai Amidamaru to kill his best friend Mosuke, so that he would never forge a blade greater than the one he presented to the daimyo. The two of them decided to rebel against the Daimyo, and Mosuke set about on creating the greatest sword of his life, but he was unable to get the blade to Amidamaru in time and he was overwhelmed by the sheer number of the daimyo's men and killed, with Mosuke being executed shortly after.
- The comic version of Watchmen has the experts who made the fake alien killed via a bomb on their boat. And then, the Evil Plan involved a deadly pyramid of killers that will kill the previous killers so no one could connect the deaths.
- Green Arrow's Stalker with a Crush Cupid murdered her hairdresser after she got a really good haircut so that no one else could have hair that good.
- The Punisher
- In The Punisher: The End, the executives who caused World War III had the engineer who built their survival bunker falsely incarcerated instead of just killing him. Evidently, they never expected him to tell his cellmate, and never anticipated that his cellmate would be The Punisher.
- A Punisher series annual story involves Frank barging into a mob meeting where a weapons engineer presents a mobster with "The Preacher" — a prototype super-pistol that has the capacity to fire any available pistol cartridge on the market (it's implied that he was strong-armed into building the gun, as well). The mobster is impressed with the engineer's work and casually kills him before telling his mooks that once he mass-produces the Preacher, he will have total control of the weapons black market.
- The Joker had an entire roomful of deadly toys built for Batman in the story "The Joker's Rumpus Room." Once they were finished the first thing he did was kill elderly toymaker Pepetto for knowing too much.
- Recurring Iron Man villain Killer Shrike attempts to do this to gadgeteer genius and villain arms maker The Tinkerer after he upgrades Shrike's suit. Tinkerer, being used to dealing with the worst scum Marvel has to offer, is too savvy to fall for it, and has built-in failsafes that let him disable any weapon he has made, in case anyone would be stupid enough to try this trope on him.
- Downplayed cruelly in Nikolai Dante. The Tsar has a massive monument of his own visage built in New Moscow, which was paid for by a raise in the tribute from all of the other dynasties. He has the architects who designed it blinded so that they may never top this achievement.
- James Bond:
- In the film of Watchmen, all the scientists involved in the reactor/energy weapon are killed and then vaporized.
- In Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Agent Sands kills a cook who made a dish Sands likes particularly well. As Sands sees it, he has restored balance, and can look back with enjoyment on that meal as a one time moment of perfection. Sands is crazy.
- In xXx, the Big Bad kills all the scientists with his bioweapon, after they finished building his submarine. While it serves as a pretty good Kick the Dog moment, it also raises Fridge Logic questions since he's planning to bomb every major city but they've only built one for him.
- Underworld: Evolution states this is the real reason Selene's family was slaughtered. Viktor had hired Selene's father to build a tomb to hold William Corvinus, the first Werewolf. Slightly different in that this only happened after Lucian escapes and starts the Lycan uprising. Fearing that Lucian will find William's location and free him, Viktor murders Selene's family and makes it look like a Lycan attack.
- In the original script (and deleted scenes) of The Unknown, Alonzo murders the doctor who amputated his arms so he could never reveal Alonzo's secret.
- The Big Bad of Live Free or Die Hard kills the hackers who help him build the tools he needs to create a national emergency.
- In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane kidnaps Dr. Leonid Pavel and forces him to modify the fusion reactor which he built for Wayne Enterprises into a bomb. Bane presents his plan to the people of Gotham in the city stadium and breaks the Doctor's neck after he confirms that he's the only one with the knowledge to defuse it.
- After Galen's engineers complete the construction of the Death Star in Rogue One, Krennic has them all killed, both to keep them silent and to spite Galen for leaking information to the Rebel Alliance.
- Played with in Avengers: Infinity War. Thanos forces King Eitri and his dwarves to make the Infinity Gauntlet for him, then kills them all leaving Eitri the Sole Survivor. But first he makes Eitri put his hands in molten metal so he can't forge weapons against him. "Your life is yours," he said. "But your hands... Your hands are mine alone." Thor points out that it's his knowledge that's important, and so helps him forge another weapon to take down Thanos.
- The nuclear engineer in The Sum of All Fears was killed by the terrorists as soon as they believed the bomb was finished. They probably should have let him triple check everything first.
- Goldeneyes Silverhand Dactylos from The Colour of Magic, who was lavishly rewarded and then maimed by various employers to stop him creating anything more beautiful. He earned his name by crafting replacement eyes and a silver prosthetic hand, until his last employer simply had him shot (by that time his only wish is to forgo payment and be allowed to leave without the loss of any more body parts).
- Dactylos is a parody of several real world myths: 1. the unnamed architect who created the Moscow Kremlin who was ordered to be blinded by tsar Ivan The Terrible; 2. Ruze who created the Astrological Clock of Prague, who was also blinded so that he could never build a clock that would rival it; 3. Greek inventor Daedalus, kept imprisoned by his patron the king of Crete, so that nobody else could benefit from his genius (Daedalus escaped by building himself a set of wings and flying away).
- Invoked by one of Sybil Ramkin's ancestors to Bergholt Stuttley Johnson, although in this case it was a preventive measure. Johnson already had a reputation as "Bloody Stupid" Johnson for years by that time.
- In Small Gods, the narration states that the labyrinth creators were most likely murdered. This is described as "a traditional method of patent protection".
- In the original The Phantom of the Opera book, the Shah in Shah (King of Kings of Persia), who hired Erik (the titular phantom) to be his architect for a palace at Mazenderan where you could not utter a word but it was overheard or repeated by an echo tries to do this. Doesn't work.
- The brilliant cathedral architect Macallan, who designed the Water Pit in Riptide, did his best to avert this trope in-universe. Being forced to work on the perfect hiding place for stashing an immense pirate hoard, he knew his end would come upon the pit's completion. He delayed construction of the deathtrap-laden treasure pit as much as he possibly could, and gets his posthumous revenge by rigging the final treasure room to be completely unsalvageable, dumping the treasure into the caverns below the pit once the room has been breached.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, King Maegor the Cruel, who organized the completion of the royal palace and King's Landing, had the architects, masons, etc. murdered so that he would be the only one who knew the location of all of the secret passages. Despite this, Varys the Spider has access to most of the passageways.
- Cryptonomicon: The final step in the WW-II Japanese plan to build a super-secret underground vault for their plundered wealth was to flood it with water, with all of their slave labor sealed up inside along with all the gold. Fortunately for some of the workers, one of their leaders knew what was coming, and designed in a back-door escape route.
- In one of the Prelude to Dune prequels, the Baron Harkonnen and some flunkies go to his secret resort, decorated with display cases containing the decaying corpses of the architects, who died with resigned looks on their faces.
- Rabban also kills the Richese scientist who invents the no-field and builds the Baron's no-chamber and a small no-ship. The Baron later berates Rabban for his rash actions when the no-ship ends up being destroyed (in fairness to Rabban, he was under the impression that the Harkonnen had enough information to copy the inventor's works. Unfortunately for the Harkonnen and the inventor, the inventor had taken counter-measures to keep the Harkonnen from replicating his work without his further aid, but did not get the opportunity to explain this to anyone before being killed). It's not until millennia later that the technology is rediscovered.
- The second entry in the Alex Rider series, Point Blanc, had this as part of the backstory for the titular location. But it wasn't to keep secrets, nor to ensure that the building would remain unique: the architect did such a poor job that his contracter had him shot.
- According to Hiren in the Star Trek: Vulcan's Soul novels, those who designed and built the Council Chamber in which the Romulan Senate now meet were executed immediately afterward, to ensure the building would be one of a kind.
- In Septimus Heap, builders avoid working for alchemists for this reason.
- The Master Sniper by Stephen Hunter. A German engineer during World War 2 designs the primitive solar-powered infra-red sight on a modified StG44 rifle intended for an assassination mission. The SS then kill him and the other weapon designers, unfortunately just before he was going to reveal a crucial flaw with the weapon that he had discovered.
- A variation appears in Arthur C. Clarke's The Fountains of Paradise: The architect of the Fountains of Kalidasa commits suicide because someone had warned him that he would be blinded when his work was done. Kalidasa is quite outraged at being accused of such a thing:
He never discovered the source of the rumor, and quite a few men died slowly before they proved their innocence. It saddened him that the Persian had believed such a lie; surely he should have known that a fellow artist would never have robbed him of the gift of sight....
He would never have needed to use his hands again, and after a while, he would not have missed them.
- Invoked and averted in the Dresden Files novel Small Favor. Gard, a decidedly non-human "security contractor", complains that after building a supernatural panic room, her employer refused her suggestion to simply execute all the workers who'd been part of the job in order to keep it secret.
- Averted in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: due to its highly advanced nature, every piece of the Nautilus was built separately in shipyards around the world, and then assembled by him and his crew (like him, they'd survived a British crushing a revolt, so they never wanted to leave or reveal its secrets) on their Island Base.
- The protagonist in The Iron Shroud finds a final message written by the engineer of the Death Trap he's imprisoned him, written on the walls which are closing in around him.
- Parker: In The Man With the Getaway Face, a criminal on the run returns to the underworld plastic surgeon who changed his face and murders him, as the surgeon was the only one to know what his new face looks like. This causes problems for Parker, who is another client of the surgeon, as the surgeon's staff start hunting down past clients for revenge.
Live Action TV
- Mission: Impossible: In "The Legacy", when the IMF discover the underground chamber containing Hitler's gold, they also find the bodies of the workmen who dug the chamber; killed so they could not tell anyone its location.
- Father Brown: "The Alchemist's Secret" opens with the alchemist murdering the architect and leaving his body sealed in the secret room in the university (along with the box containing the eponymous secret), after having been assured that the builder have been 'dealt with'.
- In Dick Tracy, George Ozone tattooed a treasure map on the insoles of the feet of his sons. He then murdered the tattoo artists (although one survived) so they could not reveal the secret.
- Modesty Blaise: In "Black Queen's Pawn", Ranavalona has the slaves who built her treasure chamber put to death, and then the officers who commanded the slaves murdered, so that only she knows its location.
Religion and Mythology
- Subverted by King Minos and Daedalus from Classical Mythology. Minos only locked the famous architect away, because he still wanted to use his talent. Even when Daedalus advised Ariadne the best way to help Theseus, Minos didn't kill him, but imprisoned in the labyrinth. Some versions of this myth suggest that Minos spared Daedalus' life, not only because of his talent, but also the friendship they shared.
- Almost inverted, when Daedalus escaped and hid in another kingdom, where Minos eventually tracked him down. However, before the King could capture the architect, Daedalus boiled Minos alive.
- Occurs in some variations of stories from Hindu Mythology with either Viswakarman, the divine Architect Of The Devas, or more commonly Mayanote , the Architect of the Asuras.
- In Legend of the Five Rings, the Scorpion clan cooperated with an engineering genius from the Crab clan to bury a powerful necromancer, securing his body with deadly traps to defend it against possible resurrection attempts. When the work was done, the Scorpions informed the Crab leader that the builder sacrificed his life to set the traps from the inside, making sure no outside access to their mechanisms was left. The Crab leader knew the Scorpions well but pretended to buy it.
- It's been mentioned in Shadowrun supplements that the best way to keep a new computer system secret is to kill the designer after he's finished creating it.
- In the Warhammer Tomb King army book, it's mentioned that it was expected of Necrotects to be buried with their pharaoh in the grandiose pyramid they designed. Refusing was not exactly illegal, but accident-prone. Ramhotep the Visionary made a career out of disguising himself as lesser builders and then swapping out when the time came for the builder to go into the pyramid. He only followed tradition when he was close to dying, and was none too happy upon waking up in undeath to find none of his other projects survived.
- In Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, Roberto Bianchi's chapter ends this way.
- Averted in the first God of War: The architect of Pandora's Temple, Pathos Verdes III, commits suicide by despair after building the temple (which cost him both his sons and later his wife). Played straight in the third game, where Zeus chained Daedalus away when he completes the Labyrinth. In Greek Mythology, Daedalus and his son were sealed inside the Labyrinth by Minos for the reasons mentioned in the description, but they got away with that.
- Mass Effect 2: In Lair of the Shadow Broker, the following conversation takes place (while musing on the Shadow Broker's base):
Shepard: I wonder what happened to the contractors?Liara: I think I can guess.
- In Resident Evil, this was the fate of George Trevor, who designed the mansion (he escaped, only to find that they were just messing with him anyway ,and gave up and starved to death after learning of his family's fate). However, compared to his wife and daughter, he got off lightly; unbeknown to him, they were used as test subjects while he was working on the mansion. The latter became a Tragic Monster, while the former fought off her infection, only to be killed by Umbrella when she failed as a test subject.
- Knights of the Old Republic: The description for Calo Nord's battle armour says that he killed the craftsman who made it for him in order to appease his ego, ensuring the armour would always be unique.
- Planescape: Torment: The Practical Incarnation commissioned the construction of an elaborate crypt. Then he of course murdered the architect and builder to hide its secret. It's not a tomb, it's a trap.
- The Paranoid Incarnation tried to safeguard his diary by writing it in an ancient language no one but him knew. He accomplished this by finding a linguist who was the only one alive who knew the language, convinced him to teach it, then killed the man.
- This is the fate of The Architect of the Ancient Pyramid level in Wax Works, who you find early on lying across a desk with his throat slit. However, he lived long enough to write down a few important clues, leading to the High Priest's downfall.
- Path of Exile: Implied by the Lord's Labyrinth, a Death Course that had originally been created by the late Emperor Izaro to test would-be successors. One type of enemy you can run across there are "Undead Engineers", suggesting that a good number of the people involved in building the labyrinth ultimately met this fate once their work was finished.
- In Girl Genius, Castle Heterodyne calls this "an accepted method of dealing with contractors".
- Averted by Martellus, who decided to build his secret lair entirely by himself. When Agatha asks why he didn't resort to this trope, Martellus points out that in their world, death keeps very few secrets.
- Oglaf: Played for laughs in "The Virgin Cobbler", where a client decides to make sure that a cobbler who claims her legendary skill at boot-making is linked to her virginity will never create a finer pair of boots than the ones she made for her by seducing the cobbler. Said cobbler is later seen laughing about the client's gullibility as she purchases a "potion of virginity restoration" she and the potion-maker both know full well is sugar water.
- Villain Source (formerly Villain Supply) advises this in the header for Lairs and Bases.
- The Evil Overlord List Cellblock B mentions this in item #212. Presumably, there is another entry elsewhere on avoiding the problems of No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup that would eventually come up. At least one version says that instead of this trope, make sure they are well paid and live on site until your plans are finished. You need someone to repair and maintain the place, and you will waste valuable time training the new guys.
- This Cracked article theorises that Batman would have had to kill the workers who helped to build the Batcave.
- G.I. Joe: Renegades has a non-fatal variant: The primary researcher for a Holographic Disguise has his mind wiped and researched destroyed because Cobra Commander wanted to have the only one. It was also designed to only be usable by the first person to put it on. Unfortunately for him, Zartan puts it on first, so the Commander has to settle for a (coerced) shapeshifting minion instead of having the power himself.
Real Life and Legend
- Postnik Yakovlev was one of the architects and builders of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow◊. According to legend, Ivan the Terrible, at the time Tsar of Russia, had Yakovlev blinded so that he could never build anything so beautiful again. Didn't stop him from building the Cathedral of Kazan, though.
- Legend: Jan Růže, legendary constructor of a Prague Astronomical Clock, was not killed, but blinded to stop him from building an even more beautiful clock for another city. In return he sabotaged his own work and died when the mechanical heart of the clock stopped.
- According to legend, the workers who built the labyrinths into the pyramids in Egypt were killed when they were finished with the construction.
- According to some legends, Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor who had the Taj Mahal built, executed all the builders so they couldn't build anything to rival its beauty. Recorded fact proves that he did no such thing, he hired a team of architects that included several skilled labourers invited from Turkey, and Shah Jahan had no intention of upsetting relationships with the Ottoman Empire.
- Perillos of Athens proposed to the infamously tyrannical Phalaris the torture/execution device known as the Brazen Bull. Supposedly, Phalaris used Perillos as the first test subject.
- The First Emperor of China reportedly had the man who built his tomb killed so that he could not reveal its secrets.
- Not as literal as these other examples but right at the end of World War II, the Japanese destroyed everything they could about their Yamato-class "super" battleships, apparently so they couldn't be copied (not that anyone wanted to). Most of the information about them comes from a report a visiting German officer compiled. This gets particularly funny in context: there was not a single technology or design Imperial Japan had by that time in the war that was better than what the United States already had in the field. The Yamato, and her sister ship Musashi, were less effective in any role than the contemporary US battleships of Iowa class entering service about the same time, let alone the monster Montana class that were projected but never built; in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, old World War I era US battleships at the Pearl Harbor and a series a torpedo boats completely decimated the Japanese Southern Force.) Even as a battleship, the Yamato class wasn't very awesome (aside from being the biggest battleship ever), because the only real advantage it had over the Iowa-class was its huge 18.1-inch guns (giving it a marginally greater range than other battleships—but their penetrative power comparison to the modernized US 16-inch guns of Iowa and Montana classes was not greater.), but Imperial Japan's fire control systems weren't advanced/accurate enough to make that extra range worth anything. The Musashi was wrecked unceremoniously by a series of carrier strikes, and the Yamato was rendered irrelevant shortly after, when Japan had no carrier forces whatsoever or enough of a surface fleet to be a threat, and the Yamato was obliterated with minimal casualties by a single carrier strike later in the war. In other words, Imperial Japan tried to invoke this trope for its Yamato-class battleships that were not as good as the average American battleship (not to mention carriers...), performed extremely poorly during the entire war, and the Japanese Empire knew this full well, but did it anyway. Sanity has its advantages, apparently.
- Chapo Guzmán's drug trafficking tunnels that go under the US border are allegedly built by slaves who are then killed for the sake of secrecy.
- According to legend, Genghis Khan wished to be buried in an unmarked grave, following his tribe's tradition. So, the funeral escort killed any one or anything that crossed their path while taking him to his final destination. After his tomb was completed, the slaves who built it were killed, and the soldiers who killed them were killed. Legends disagree as to how secret they made Genghis Khan's final resting place; some say they diverted a river, buried him in the riverbank, and let the river flow again; others say they trampled the grave site down riding horses over it, then planted trees and such to further hide it.
- A more modern example: after the Gaza War of 2014, it was revealed that Hamas had killed many of the people it had conscripted to build its tunnel network in order to prevent any leaks that might reach Israeli intelligence.
- Downplayed by, of all people, H. H. Holmes, one of America's earliest and most infamous serial killers. During construction of his personally designed Hell Hotel (filled with hidden passageways, death traps, makeshift gas chambers and places to dispose bodies), he would fire workers after two weeks at maximum citing shoddy workmanship, so he would be the only person who knew exactly what it was that was being built.