A crime has been committed, usually a murder. In the subsequent investigation, Bob
seems to be going out of his way to make
himself a suspect. He may confess right at the start, or just draw attention to himself by refusing to co-operate with the investigators, even when it would appear to be in his interests to do so. Or he may not make himself known immediately, but will suddenly show up at the cop shop two-thirds of the way through, ready to confess, even though he's never been a suspect. Why? Because he's Taking The Heat for Alice.
In a classical whodunnit, it will usually turn out that Alice is innocent after all, and Bob was acting on a misapprehension. (Whether Alice is more flattered by Bob's care or offended that he was able to think she'd done it will vary from case to case.) Some authors have gone for the double-whammy, where Bob tries to take the heat for Alice while Alice tries to take the heat for Bob, and in fact neither did it
. Another variation is for the actual perpetrator to offer a deliberately implausible confession
so that everybody thinks
that he's taking the heat for somebody else.
In more "cynical
" series, it may instead turn out that Alice did indeed do it, but Bob has some reason for feeling she should be spared punishment: Alice can't handle prison, Alice has less than a year to live, the victim raped Alice and only Bob knows, Alice has a degenerative brain disorder and doesn't know
she did it... And sometimes Bob may actually think he's protecting an innocent Alice - all while she's pulling his strings to get him to take the heat for her.
In classic whodunnits, the usual way to expose Bob's lie is by lying right back at him
; in the same way as the murderer always gives away that he knows too much about the crime
, Bob can be tricked into revealing he doesn't know enough
. Saying "So it was you who shot him?" when the victim was clubbed over the head usually does the trick.
Compare to Silent Scapegoat
and The Scapegoat
. Contrast I Won't Say I'm Guilty
Anime and Manga
- Detective Conan featured a rather a rather sad case that was a two-part episode. The president of a small-time entertainment company was having some problems with a TV station's manager; he had been extorting him, and then wound up dead as the result of poison. The company president was discovered to have hidden some evidence, then tried to take the rap for the crime until Conan-via-Kogoro revealed the true culprit... It was his office assistant. The two loved each other, though neither had confessed their feelings to the other yet; the assistant murdered the TV manager because she knew he was causing problems for the company president. She then called the president, told him what she did, and committed suicide. The president hid her body in the trunk of his car, hid the evidence that she had committed the crime, and got ready to take the blame in order to preserve her good name. However, Conan had deduced this much as well, revealed the whole deal, and the man ended up going free.
- Another example from the Night Baron Virus case: Ran thought that the karate champion she fangirled upon was the murderer, but he was planting evidence against himself to divert attention from the true killer, his Broken Bird girlfriend, who killed the victim in revenge for having driven her beloved brother to kill himself. He was arrested too, but because he took the heat.
- The Lieze sisters of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's attempt to do this for their master, but as their master said, their captor already knew everything so it was useless to lie.
- This happens in Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai!, when Kyosuke takes the heat for Kirino's H-games when their dad found out. This is particularly hilarious as this means Kyousuke admits he is (1) using Kirino's computer (2) in Kirino's room (3) to play H-games (4) of a siscon nature.
- He does it again to help patch Kirino and her friend, Ayase's, friendship after the latter found out about her hobby. Really, this seems to be his plan A.
- In Tantei Opera Milky Holmes, Cordelia lets herself go to jail for stealing bread rather than let Fish Paste, the girls' new pet cat, be thrown out, since she believes the cat is the only thing holding her and her loved ones together. She is freed, but prison warps with her mind a bit.
- Attempted by Aya Misaki in Oniisama e.... Manipulated by two elder Sorority girls, Aya's Girl Posse Megumi and Miyuki steal and almost burn the signature books requesting for the dissolution of the Sorority. Aya then takes the blame for her friends when they're confronted, saying that she ordered for the books to be destroyed; but after she leaves the school, the girls reveal what truly happened to Kaoru, Junko, Nanako and Tomoko.
- In the backstory for Pokémon Special's RS arc, Norman pins the blame of accidentally freeing the legendary Rayquaza on himself, when it was actually indirectly caused by his son Ruby.
- In Slam Dunk, Fallen Hero Mitsui goes to the basketball gym with a gangster group from outside Shohoku to wreck it, but has a Heel-Face Turn instead and decides to return to the team. Since his intentions are sincere, Sakuragi's gang and some of Mitsui's gangster friends tell the teachers that Mitsui had always wanted to return to the team so they beat him and the team members up to discourage him.
- Ohta does this for Cobalt in Sailor Nothing. After all, while they have proof that Ohta did the act, they have no proof that he was doing it under someone else's orders.
- Played for comic effect at the climax of the 1996 movie Mrs. Winterbourne: the two main characters, both innocent of the murder that's been committed but thinking each other guilty, try to take the heat for each other. And then the two main supporting characters, despite having little or no idea what's going on, try just as insistently to take the heat themselves. It turns out the police already have the (completely unrepentant) real murderer in custody, — a bit character just barely glimpsed earlier in the movie — and weren't looking for suspects at all.
- In The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade demands that one of Mr. Gutman's minions takes the heat for the three murders. Spade is innocent of the murders, but the cops would blame him for them anyway. Therefore, part of the price he demands for the falcon is a 'fall guy' to take the heat.
- In I Love You To Death (loosely based on a real attempted murder) Rosalie Boca makes several attempts to murder her husband Joey for cheating on her with other women, and is helped by her mother Nadja and her friend Devo, who's in love with her. When the cops finally do find out, the three try to cover for each other by saying the other two had nothing to do with it. Nadja claims her daughter begged her not to kill Joey, but she went on anyway, explaining, "I'm her mother, I do what I want."
- In The Last Remake Of Beau Geste Digby Geste (Marty Feldman) pleads guilty to the theft of the priceless "Blue Water" sapphire in order to protect his brother Beau, who has absconded to Morocco with the jewel in order to prevent their stepmother Flavia from glomming onto it.
- Happens thrice in The Dark Knight. First, Subverted by the gangster who changes his testimony on the stand to take the fall for Maroni's crimes. Shortly afterwards, he reveals his true purpose: To assassinate Harvey in open court. Second, Harvey Dent falsely confesses to being Batman, so the real Batman can still catch the Joker. At the end of the film, Batman convinces Gordon to blame him for the murders committed by Dent (now Two-Face), in order to preserve Dent's reputation and thus the people of Gotham's faith in their Knight in Shining Armor, which works until the next movie, when Bane exposes the cover-up.
- In the The King and the Clown the king's jealous consort frames Gong-gil, the king's new favourite, for defamation. Because Jaeng-sang's writing is identical to Gong-gil's (having learned by imitation) he is able to step in and takes the fall for it. Not that this is any better a solution to Gong-gil.
- Drives the plot of Things Change: the main character Jerry is a simple cobbler who is hired to take the heat for a mob murder in exchange for a payday when he gets out of prison. In the end Jerry has made a new friend in the mob who has someone take the heat for Jerry.
- A favorite of many mystery-novel giants.
- The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, the very first English detective novel, used this trope. The two main suspects (both female) turn out to have been independently covering for the same man, whom they both love, after seeing what each believes to be proof that he stole the eponymous gemstone.
- Agatha Christie loved this trick, and even worked in the occasional subversion — like revealing that Alice and Bob were in it together the whole time, and each blamed themselves alone in order to throw Poirot (or whoever was the detective that time around) off the scent.
- Sherlock Holmes: a character caught red-handed with a gold circlet refuses to talk, because the real culprit is his stepsister, whom he's in love with her. Holmes interprets his stubborn silence as a sign of innocence - otherwise he would have made up an alibi.
- Nero Wolfe, a major part of the plot of The Second Confession. The first confession, signed by a patsy, is phony. Wolfe makes him tear it up, and elicits a second confession from the real murderer.
- In Dogsbody, the Dog Star Sirius furiously denies having killed the victim and thrown the dangerous Zoi at the witness. But he won't provide an alternate story because doing so would implicate his Companion.
- Used in the Discworld novel Feet of Clay, much to Sergeant Colon's confusion: "You got a confession and there it ended. You didn't go around disbelieving people. You disbelieved people when they said they were innocent. Only guilty people were trustworthy."
- Used in Margery Allingham's Albert Campion novel Death of a Ghost with the twist that the person making the false confession IS the actual murder, he just describes the murder in such a way as to throw suspicion off himself and make it look like he's covering up for someone else.
- Figuring out why this is happening makes up most of the plot of Iorich. Aliera was arrested on a very stupid, transparent charge and she refuses to talk to a lawyer or put up a decent defense. Vlad decides that even if she is a jerkass, he'd still prefer she didn't get executed, and he finds the idea of her owing him her life hilarious.
- In Dorothy L. Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey novel Nine Tailors, two brothers both try to cover for each other. The police throw them into the same room and eavesdrop. When they both realize that the other didn't do it, they both cooperate.
- In O. Henry's Friends in San Rosario a banker tells the story of a time when the contents of his vault disappeared, and his best friend confessed to losing it all in a poker game. He later discovered that his friend had seen him stealing it, not realizing that he was sleepwalking at the time.
- In Jim Butcher's Turn Coat, Morgan takes the rap for Luccio for the murder of a senior member of the wizards' White Council, since he's in love with her and she was mind-controlled into performing the murder.
- In The Westing Game, Turtle takes the heat for the bombs her sister Angela set, going so far as to set a bomb of her own.
- Occasionally seen on Law & Order.
- Sometimes in modified form, where people confess on the stand to create reasonable doubt for the current defendant but have no intention of ever actually being prosecuted themselves.
- Subverted in one episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent: a woman confesses to killing her husband, but gets the details wrong. The detectives figure she's taking the heat for her lover. However, it turns out that she did kill her husband, and deliberately made a mistake in her confession to make it look like she was covering for someone in order to create reasonable doubt.
- Rumpole of the Bailey: "Rumpole and the Sporting Life", where the defendant was found standing over the victim's body and immediately said "I did it."
- Foyle's War has done several variations.
- The miniseries Blackpool did a beautifully-executed subversion: After one of the detectives makes it clear that he has it in for the main suspect, the suspect's son confesses to the murder. Everyone immediately realises that he's Taking The Heat for his father, and he's let off with a warning about wasting police time. And then it eventually turns out that he did do it, albeit in self-defence.
- A union leader in Life On Mars tried to cover up a fatal industrial accident at his mill to keep it from being shut down (and his members losing their jobs) by confessing to having murdered the accident victim.
- In the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode "The Unusual Suspect", the accused's 12-year-old sister takes the heat mid-trial. She later points out that, as a juvenile, she'll only be in prison until she's 21, and since Nevada has no Son of Sam Law, the book rights to her story will be worth millions.
- In a CSI: New York episode, a guy walks into a police station holding a gun claiming to have shot a doctor. He turns out to have been taking the heat for his wife: the guy had a terminal illness and the doctor had conned the couple out of their savings with a quack treatment involving leeches leading the wife to shoot her. He wanted to be sent to jail in her place seeing as he didn't have long to live.
- An episode of Columbo ended with a friend of the murderer confessing to the crime; because of a brain tumor (that was going to cause her death in an estimated six months) the murderer didn't remember that she committed the crime. As he's being taken away, Columbo, who knows the truth, gently points out that the evidence will eventually show he didn't do it. The confessor agrees, but figures it would probably take about six months or so for that to happen.
- In the Keen Eddie episode "Black Like Me", the character Georgie turns himself in and confesses to a jewel heist. Eddie refuses to believe that Georgie is a criminal and figures out that the girl Georgie loves asked him to take the fall, so she and her real boyfriend, a murderous crook, can get away with it.
- Bones: Temperance Brennan gets the defense to portray her as someone with the motive and opportunity to kill the victim (albeit justifiably) to provide reasonable doubt for a jury during her father's trial.
- One episode of Due South had a couple trying to take the heat for each other in a murder case. Neither was guilty, but because both had a reason to want the victim dead and weren't looking in the right direction at the moment the murder occurred, they each believed the other was responsible until Fraser learned about and captured the actual killer.
- On an episode of The Glades, a potential suspect, who otherwise denies the crime and has the potential for a good alibi, immediately confesses to the murder when he finds out they have DNA of the killer and all they have to do is test him to have conclusive evidence. Jim immediately believes the confession is false and done to prevent any DNA comparison, because enough people have seen forensics on TV to know that DNA can show people are related, in this case showing that the man didn't commit the crime but a close blood relative (his son) did.
- On Castle, when the mother of a 2-kid family was being taken in for questioning about the dissappearance and possible murder of the other 3, they find the dad and bring him in, he calls out that he killed the son to take the heat off the daughter, and the mom hears and shoots him. The daughter got off rather light.
- In another episode, a person of interest confesses to the murder, but is tripped up when Beckett asks him about some details of the case that he gets completely wrong. He was doing it to protect his girlfriend who was being framed.
- On My Name Is Earl, Joy is on her third strike after stealing a truck (that happened to have someone in back). She almost goes to prison, but Earl sees that Darnell and the kids are already starting to suffer without her. So even though he didn't do it (although he did help Joy try and cover it up), and even though he knows he'll lose his newly-acquired job, apartment, and girlfriend, Earl says that he did it and that his fingerprints are all over the truck (which they are). He goes to prison for most of Season 3.
- In 30 Rock, Tracy Jordan makes his first "serious" movie Hard To Watch, which ends with his character volunteering to confess to a crime his brother committed.
- Happens several times on The Wire, as members of a drug organization take the heat so that their higher ups will remain free and able to run their criminal organizations. For example, at the end of the first season D'Angelo is on the verge of making a deal with the police until at the last moment his mother convinces him to take some of the heat the police are trying to pin on his uncle, whose criminal activities provide for his entire family. Later, after D'angelo dies in prison, Detective McNulty calls the mother out on this in one of the most devastating ways possible.
- Arguably the most notable case though, is another one from the first season. Wee Bey Bryce, The Brute for the lethal Barksdale Organization, is caught and offered a deal: he won't be put on death row if he confesses to all the murders he did on behalf of the Barksdales. Wee Bey immediately starts confessing to every single murder ever done by the entire Barksdale organization, (even ones that both the audience and the police in story know he didn't do) so that as much of the Barksdale group as possible will remain free and able to carry on with business.
- In the Back Story of Downton Abbey, Mr. Bates took the heat for his wife Vera's theft. She's an utterly ungrateful bitch who then sets out to ruin him when he won't take her back as his wife.
- Multiple subversion of some sort in the Murdoch Mysteries episode "Belly Speaker". Slightly unbalanced ventriloquist Harcourt, who does most of his talking through his dummy, Mycroft, confesses to the murder of his father, but Murdoch finds inconsistant evidence, helped by Mycroft's stream-of-conciousness babble. He eventually realises the murderer was the real Mycroft, Harcourt's long lost twin brother, and Harcourt is taking the heat. But shortly after releasing "Harcourt" he realises that this was Mycroft, who killed Harcourt and took his place at the age of ten, and who confessed to throw suspicion off himself. Got all that?
- On One Life to Live, a man tries to take the attempted murder rap for his girlfriend. Aside from getting crucial details of the crime wrong, rather than being grateful, his girlfriend is actually quite ticked off that he even thought she was guilty.
- Murder, She Wrote: A woman tries to take the murder rap for her son, but gets details of the crime wrong.
- In Chicago, Amos Hart signs a confession to the murder actually committed by his wife Roxie. In the musical version, he retracts his confession the moment he finds out why she did it; in the original play, what undermines his confession is the ignorant denial of the same known fact.
- Ace Attorney:
- In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, in the final case of the third game, Maya Fey tries to take the heat for Godot having murdered Maya's mother Misty, who was channeling the spirit of Dahlia Hawthorne at the time, who thought she was being channeled by Pearl Fey, who was really... It's kind of confusing.
- More straightforwardly, case 5 of the first game has the client trying to take the heat for her former boss, Damon Gant, as he's blackmailing her with (faked) evidence that her sister committed manslaughter. Although having been an accessory to the murder, she's not entirely innocent herself.
- In Case 3 of Ace Attorney Investigations, Colin Devorae takes the heat for the Amano Group's dealings with the smuggling ring.
- In Dual Destinies, Simon Blackquill took the heat for a pre-teen Athena Cykes and framed himself for her mother's murder. Athena truly was innocent, though the circumstances of the murder were such that she would have been convicted of it. He got himself convicted and spent seven years in prison for her - and by the time Athena finally clears his name, he is a day away from execution.
- Played silly in Ghost Trick, where both Missile and Sissel treat Missile's taking the blame for breaking Lynne's headphones (to protect Kamila) as the noble act of a warrior. One might consider it foreshadowing for the way Jowd confesses to his wife's murder to protect Kamila, who accidentally killed her with a birthday contraption.
- Edna And Harvey: Edna's berserk button was pushed WAY too many times, so she killed her "perfectly conditioned" (read: obnoxious and haughty, possibly insane) boyfriend. Her father pinned himself as the murderer and was executed.
- Seen in an episode of Fillmore!, when a suspect took the heat in exchange for the real culprit's help getting his sister into school politics.
- A two-part episode of King of the Hill uses the double-whammy version.
- During his academy days Optimus of Transformers Animated reluctantly followed two of his fellow cadets on an unsanctioned excursion for easy energon on an organic planet. While there, one cadet was lost and presumed dead. Optimus took full responsibility for the incident and was expelled from academy and ultimately wound up becoming a lowly space bridge repairman.