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The Perfect Crime

Murder, Robbery, Blackmail, Kidnapping. Some criminals don't leave confusing riddles and clues for detectives to find. Some criminals leave nothing.

This is the perfect crime plot, a Diabolical Mastermind seeks to do the crime and not the time, covering his tracks in the most intricate and thorough of ways. The audience looks on in amazement as the criminal's plan unfolds (or as the police unfold it for them), and right until the last minute, it looks like he will actually get away with it all.

Alternatively, he might be brazen about his crime, but will have found a loophole in the law to get away with it.

Of course, he rarely will, for one reason or another. Maybe he isn't so smart as he thinks he is. Maybe his daughter feels guilty. Maybe he slips up in some small way. But Aesop aside, you almost want to see him get away with it.

May contain unmarked spoilers.

Examples

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     Anime & Manga  
  • The eponymous Monster, Johan Liebert, is pretty good at this. It takes around half of the seventy-four episode series for Tenma to prove that Johan even exists. And even then, the police still don't believe him.
  • Death Note could probably be seen as deconstruction: when it comes to committing crimes without leaving evidence, it doesn't get much better than giving people fatal heart attacks by writing their names in a magical notebook, right? Well, enter "L", the world's greatest detective, who in one bold maneuver narrows the field of search from the entire world to a small part of Japan and comes up with some pretty good insights into the background and character of Kira based on who died when and how.
  • A number of murderers in Detective Conan intentionally arrange to have "Meitantei" Mouri Kogoro witness their crime, so confident are they that they can have the "Great Detective" himself provide them with a foolproof alibi. (And usually they would be right, too, even with Conan on the job, save for some completely coincidental bit of bad luck that provides the crucial evidence necessary to link them to it.)
  • Every episode of Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro is about some killer who pulls off either a ridiculously intricate murder or a ridiculously intricate alibi. Or both, or both at once. Neuro only manages to solve the case because of his "777 Underworld Tools."
  • In-universe example in Bakuman。: The latest of Ashirogi Muto's manga is about kids who pull off perfect crimes, though they're mostly anonymous pranks.
  • This is a big plot point in the third arc of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. Keiichi tries to figure out how to commit one by talking to his mom with whose help he decides that the perfect crime is one that was never committed (or leaves no trace of being committed). He then attempts to do this and murders Satoko's uncle, although the method he actually uses - burying the body in the woods - is pretty shoddy. It winds up working anyway, but only because of Sonozaki intervention that really only winds up screwing him up even worse than he already was.
    • In a broader sense every single arc ends in a perfect crime except the last one. It turns out that military Special Forces, with the full backing of the government, are even better at covering up crimes than Yakuza are. It isn't until Rika remembers the face of her killer in the final arc that the 'chain of mysterious deaths' is finally solved.
  • Happens in pretty much every case of the Ace Attorney Manga. Every single chapter has the prosecution present a case which generally seems absolutely watertight, but Phoenix always manages to turn the case on it's head and reveal that it's really just an example of this trope.
    • One of the main examples of this happens in "Turnabout Gallows". A murder occurs on an estate (where the victim was "struck with lethal force") and everyone but the defendant has an completely, 100% airtight alibi for the moment of the murder that even Phoenix himself can confirm, seeing as how he was there at the time. AKA; There was no one who was away from Phoenix's line of sight during the time of the victim's death apart from the defendant. The real killer actually set up a "timed murder"...and was able to kill the victim without actually having to be anywhere near him at the time, or without having to instate the killing blow. In reality, he set up a a complex murder plot that made it so that, when the main breaker was shut off and the electricity went out, it would kill the victim.

     Comics  
  • One issue of Astro City starred a mostly-retired villain who was seen as Laughably Evil by the hero community. He ends up committing a series of bank robberies and gets away with it, baffling the city's heroes. No one suspected him so he got away with it completely. The only way he gets caught is when he gets frustrated at not having proper credit so he tries to commit the crime a second time and purposefully gets captured so he could explain how he did it in court and rub it in the faces of the heroes and legal system. He also had pre-planned his escape from the courthouse... and possibly the country.
  • In X-Men Noir, Jean Grey kills Anne-Marie Rankin with Wolverine Claws to frame her old pal Captain Logan. She then cuts up all distinguishing facial features and dyes both her and the body's hair, assuming Rankin's identity. The police decide to not investigate the murder when they see an X-Man tattoo on the body, thinking it's not worth taxpayer money to figure out which of "Jean"'s gangland boyfriends got tired of her first. This leaves Jean to wait out the years until "Rankin" turns 21 so she can collect on her trust fund. Oh, and one last thing; Rankin had the unique talent to absorb the personality traits of whomever was around her at the time. Meaning Jean was now impersonating someone with no fixed personality; she's just that good an actress. Robert Halloway figures it for the perfect crime... at least, until he and his brother got involved and screwed it all up for her. One detail of such is that the body has apparently shrunk since it died, exposing the roots of its hair. That, or the cops didn't look closely at the body.
  • In Bookhunter, when agents Bay, Walker, and Finch figure out how "Kettle Stitch" stole a valuable book, Bay states that it would have been the perfect crime... if the M.O. didn't result in a missing library circulation card, which they were able to track down to discover Kettle Stitch's true identity.

     Fan Works  
  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: When considering this trope, Harry considers the standard proverb "there's no such thing as a perfect crime" and comes up with this disturbing thought:
    If you did commit the perfect crime, nobody would ever find out - so how could anyone possibly know that there weren't perfect crimes?
    And as soon as you looked at it that way, you realized that perfect crimes probably got committed all the time, and the coroner marked it down as death by natural causes, or the newspaper reported that the shop had never been very profitable and had finally gone out of business...

     Film  
  • Double Indemnity
  • Strangers on a Train: Two men trade murders, so that the police cannot determine a motive. Recycled so many times that it's a crime trope.
  • Witness for the Prosecution
  • Dial M for Murder and its remake, A Perfect Murder
  • Vertigo: James Stewart's character is fooled into thinking the wife of his friend is possessed by a ghost and driven to suicide, when in fact it is a look-alike (he'd never met her, so he only assumed this was the true identity of the woman), and her 'suicide' was faked by dumping the real wife's already-dead body off the tower of a mission. They nearly get away with it, though he finds the girl again and falls in love with her...only to realize that it is the same woman he knew.
  • In Wild Things, Suzie's Gambit Roulette plan works out flawlessly and she retires to the Carribean with $8.5 million dollars.
  • The Usual Suspects
  • Mr. Brooks: The eponymous character's serial murders are exhaustively careful
  • The Whole Nine Yards: A slight subversion as the murderer makes the police think that he is the dead man.
  • Double Jeopardy: The husband manages to successfully fake his own murder and frame his wife, making it the perfect crime... until she gets out of prison. When she does, sets out to murder her husband, safe in the knowledge that a loophole protects her from prosecution: She was tried and convicted of his murder before he turned up alive with a new identity, and therefore the Bill of Rights prevents her from being tried again. Note that this wouldn't work in real life. She'd just be tried for a second murder.note 
  • The Thomas Crown Affair: An Eccentric Millionaire directs a bank robbery, keeping his identity hidden from the people he hires to carry it out.
  • Inside Man is the story of "The Perfect Bank Robbery." They take hostages, but don't hurt any of them (though they pretend to kill one, purely to scare the police). They continually switch around robbers and planted hostages, keeping everyone confused as to who is who. Instead of stealing money from the bank, they steal a drawer full of ill-gotten (and therefore undocumented) diamonds—so to the police, it looks like nothing was stolen. And they evade capture by hiding among the hostages.
  • Parodied in the Bill Murray movie Quick Change, in which the highly complex robbery the characters plan and execute in the movie really is perfect, and goes off flawlessly. The relatively simple matter of the getaway, on the other hand, becomes a complicated and mishap-strewn nightmare, until the characters are reduced to wandering around the streets of Queens in the middle of the night with millions of dollars taped to their skin under their clothes trying desperately to hail a taxi or catch a bus.
  • Although not the main point of the movie, Match Point features a perfect crime, albeit one achieved only thanks to a lot of luck.
  • Murder by Numbers. Epic failure, no thanks to Cassie.
  • Oceans Eleven (All versions and sequels.)
  • Fracture: Getting away with murder. Almost.
  • Rope, another Alfred Hitchcock film, based on the story of Leopold and Loeb, below.
  • In A Shock To The System, Michael Caine discovers just how easy to get away with murder, and decides to test the limits of his ingenuity and the cops' credulity.
  • The first fantasy in Unfaithfully Yours.
  • Kellys Heroes: The robbery of a bank that's 30 miles behind German lines and loaded with stolen Nazi Gold. If they can get in, loot the gold, and make it to Switzerland before their own side catches up with them, they're home free. Nobody but the Germans knows about the gold, after all...
  • The League of Gentlemen's heist would have gone off flawlessly if a random little boy hadn't been collecting license plate numbers outside the bank. This, coupled with the fact that they rendezvous at Hyde's house afterwards, allows the police to catch them all cash in hand.
  • In The Life Of David Gale, this is played straight. An anti-death penalty activist is found dead, and the eponymous character, a fellow activist, is convicted and executed due to an abundance of evidence, despite claiming his innocence. Doesn't sound like the perfect crime, you say? Well, the actual crime was the "victim" and the "murderer" conspiring to be respectively "murdered" and executed for the murder. Evidence would then be released that the "murder" was really a suicide, which would in turn show that an innocent man was executed and hopefully gain sympathy for their anti-death penalty views.
  • In The Master of Disguise the Big Bad Devlin Bowman claims The Perfect Crime is this: Force-disguise a Master of Disguise as him, then push that Master of Disguise over a cliff, making everyone think he's dead. Or something. It isn't really clear on what this accomplishes.
  • Match Point explores how this trope could, in a sense, work in real life.
  • Rampage the film, how to pull of the ultimate murder spree/robbery in small town hell.
  • The Perfect Crime is a Spanish film about a meticulous mall employee who tries to off his Abhorrent Admirer with the perfect crime. He rents a bunch of crime films as research and is alarmed that one of them is mis-labeled El Crimen Ferpecto, "The Ferpect Crime." This was the original Spanish title of the film.

     Literature  
  • Arthur Upfield and several friends developed a way to completely dispose of a corpse for one of his Bony detective novels. One of the friends went and tried it — and would have gotten away with it had he followed all the steps correctly.
  • In Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the killer uses a very convoluted method and an obvious one for which he has an unbreakable alibi. He intended to be tried for the obvious method and produce his alibi, because the British law prevents you from being tried twice for the same murder. Unfortunately, he blabbed too much and Poirot saw through his ruse...
  • Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None has one of these rare cases in which the criminal actually gets away with his/her crime in the end — he/she executes it so perfectly, in fact, that the policemen themselves can't deduce how anyone could even have got away with murdering 10 people on an island and then apparently committing suicide or vanishing into thin air. Fortunately for readers, the criminal was considerate enough to set a Message in a Bottle afloat detailing his/her perfect crime.
  • Most of Agatha Christie's stories involve an attempt at the perfect murder. However, Curtain, her last story, topped them all, as even Poirot calls the murderer the perfect murderer, as he could never be tried, couldn't even be connected to the crimes, and gets away with over 6 murders. In fact, the only way to stop him was to kill him.
    • Honorable mention to Death on the Nile, where the most likely suspects have medically-watertight alibis, and not faked, but real.
  • In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov thinks that his research into why criminals are caught, and his own ubermensch-iness, will give him the edge to murder and get away with it. He panics and very nearly gets caught during the crime, and gets stuck in playing cat-and-mouse with Inspector Porfiry Petrovich.
  • The Dalziel and Pascoe novel Deadheads has a chilling example of this, where the detectives rule the murder as suicide, with the murderer going on to live his own life, quite peaceably, and even becoming a neighbour of one of the detectives.
  • Sherlock Holmes: Professor Moriarty is especially good at doing this. Made all the more intriguing because it's implied that he and Holmes have history before The Final Problem, and several fans have decided to start looking for the other cases he's been the cause of. And the police wouldn't believe he was a criminal.
    • Holmes himself has described the perfect crime as a "routine" mugging or murder in the streets, with nothing grotesque or outre about it.
  • Ultimately, committing the perfect murder was the real motive of the murderer in the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Whose Body?.
  • Gives Light: Paul Looks Over gets away with murder by exploiting a loophole in the US Constitution. May double as Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • In the Stephen King short story Dolan's Cadillac, a teacher named Robinson wants revenge on a mobster, Dolan, who murdered his wife because she informed on the mobster in court. Basically, Robinson stalks Dolan until he gets a good idea of the mobster's habits and finds out that Dolan regularly drives back and forth between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Robinson joins a road work crew for the summer and busts his ass learning how to work the construction equipment, then sets up a Road Sign Reversal to direct Dolan and his driver onto an unfinished road, where the titular Cadillac falls into a pit, and its occupants Buried Alive by Robinson. Robinson speculates that one day the road will collapse on top of the Cadillac because of the open space inside it and the pressure of heavy vehicles driving over it, but as far as the reader knows, Robinson gets his revenge and gets away scot-free.
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice: A woman and her lover kill her husband and get away with it.

     Live Action TV  
  • This is a staple of Columbo. Episodes start off with the viewer already seeing the murderer commit a perfect crime that usually obscures any evidence or diverts any attention to themselves as a suspect. Or, at least, that's what they think, until a crusty old detective comes knocking at the door with just a few more questions...
  • Appears in the Dalziel and Pascoe episode "Deadheads". The murder is ruled an accident, the murderer goes on to live a calm and peaceable life, with the horrid implication this may not be the first time he's gotten away with this.
  • An episode of Law & Order rips off the concept from Double Jeopardy.
  • Also pops up in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, after the detectives find a twin brother and sister, who turn out to be both biologically male. It seems that there was a problem with "her" circumcision as an infant, so instead of living as a castrated male the parents decided to give him a sex change and female hormone supplements so that "she" could live a normal life as a woman. However, "she" has been having gender confusion and identity issues anyway, and when the detectives tell the "girl" the truth she starts to identify as male, and stops taking estrogen. Then the twins' therapist, who recommended the procedure to the parents, is murdered. There is DNA left at the scene (The perpetrator took the time to spit on the corpse), but the twins have identical DNA, and the "girl" has been off estrogen just long enough for it to get out of "her" system. Any prosecution against one twin would automatically be invalidated by the fact that the other twin could have done it. Truth in Television. Twins are the nightmare of forensics. And the twins in the episode are based on a pair of real-life twins at that (though the real guys didn't kill anybody, of course).
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent had a registered nurse who killed his boss by stirring up a bunch of Paranoia Fuel among the guy's relatives and getting them to do the killing for him. It was the perfect murder because he didn't technically do anything that was against the law. Or so he thought. Turned out, since he was the guy's personal nurse, New York state law required him to make his best effort to save the guy's life. The fact that he knew the guy's life was in danger and didn't do anything about it, and that he walked away while the guy was dying, means that he committed manslaughter.
  • Banacek, starring George Peppard, was about a freelance insurance investigator who specialized in impossible thefts. For example, one episode involved the theft of a 1970's room-sized super computer.
  • Hustle, in a few cases. Mostly, something gets screwed up, though...
  • Exaggerated in The Conditions of Great Detectives when the criminal ends up helping the detective solve it (though he ignored the truth because of his pride).
  • Jonathan Creek revolves around this, with Creek using his stage-magician knowledge to help suss out many a Perfect Crime or Locked Room Mystery.
  • One episode of Psych involved a thief who never left any trace and managed to steal things out of sealed buildings. The "victims" just gave him the stuff so that they could collect insurance.
  • George Marks, a serial killer from Cold Case, perpetrates an example of the second variety. He works filing the case reports, so his knowledge of the murders doesn't give him away, his home is totally clean of all evidence, and he says just enough that the detectives know it was him, but can't prove a thing.
  • Many episodes of Monk have the killer construct a seemingly perfect alibi for themselves, only for Monk to gradually unravel it.
  • Some of the capers in Leverage get close to this. Quoth one detective:
    "Someone tricked you into bringing a briefcase of your own crimes straight to the police? Come on, Mr. Leary, nobody's that smart."
  • The Ariel raid in Firefly would have been this except for Jayne. And the Bellerophon raid would have been as well, except for Durran.
  • In the Moonlighting episode "Perfetc" [sic] Dave and Maddie are hired by a man who committed the perfect crime, and is now dying. He wants them to prove that he did it so he'll be remembered for the accomplishment.
  • The eponymous character from Dexter is quite proficient at this: tranquilizing his victims and binding them in a room completely covered in plastic sheeting. He then kills them with an edged weapon to avoid ballistic evidence, often while wearing a face shield, rubber gloves and apron, and saws them into pieces which he disposes of in biodegradable trash bags and dumps into a strong ocean current. The victims then all appear to be missing persons cases and are rarely ever mentioned again. It helps that he's a blood spatter analyst; it's his job to figure out other people's crimes, and he got training in the matter from his cop foster father.
    • Averted in Season 2, when divers stumble upon one of his dump sites, leading to an investigation that comes uncomfortably close to exposing him and forces him to improve his method.
    • In later seasons Dexter regularly screws up. He only gets away because he is good at covering up his screw ups. If the cops and/or FBI start investigating the disappearances seriously, he would be exposed. A number of people could have exposed him already but they consider the people he killed to be far worse and will not turn him in.
  • Two Twisted episode "Finding Frank" has a security guard's colleague disappear and calls out desperatly over the walkie-talkies. When the guard goes to find him it turns out to be a surprise retirement party but goes terribly wrong when the nervous guard over reacts firing his gun when the lights come on, killing his wife but as the guard is being led away he drops a a bit of paper that his colleague picks up. It's an invitation to the party with the exact time, location, everything showing that the guard knew all along and used the party to kill his wife framing it as accident. It's even better when you know the actor who plays the guard played a set-upon Extreme Doormat in his most famous role.
  • Sherlock, not unexpectedly, attempts a few of these to varying degrees of success. The two best examples (so far) are probably in the episodes Sherlock S 01 E 01 A Study In Pink where a serial killer makes all his murders look like suicides, and Sherlock S 03 E 02 The Sign Of Three where the murderer figures out how to fatally stab someone in a way they wouldn't even notice and won't cause them to bleed out until hours later.

     Music  

     Newspaper Comics  
  • One Dick Tracy Crimestopper panel simply stated "When a crime is not reported, and no arrests are made, a "perfect crime" has been committed."

     Real Life  
  • The perfect crime? We'll never know, will we?
    • There was the Zodiac/Jack The Ripper Murders. No one ever knew who was the killer.
    • Followed by Bike Theft, no one investigates it, ever, almost no one is ever arrested, almost no bikes are ever recovered, and it pays better than drug dealing.
  • The Man Who Never Was : in Real Life it worked so well that they had to throw a minor wrench in it to make a movie.
  • The TV show Masterminds re-enacts real life cases, some of which might be considered the perfect crime. One episode was even titled "The Perfect Score" and had an FBI agent admitting that the crime was perfect. There were only a few clues that went straight to dead ends. The only reason the criminal was caught was that he tried to pull it off again, and the FBI noticed how similar the second (failed) crime was.
  • It was Leopold and Loeb's goal to commit the perfect crime when they murdered fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks. They were bright young things who thought they might be Ubermenschen. They made about a frillion mistakes. Just to demonstrate how far from perfect this attempt was, some of the more notable ones are: Leaving the body right by railroad tracks, where it was quickly discovered. Leaving a pair of eyeglasses belonging to one of them with an unusual hinge mechanism that had been bought by three people in the area. And on questioning claiming that they had been out in their car, even though their chauffeur was repairing the car that night. Being seen together in their rented car at the time and place the kidnapping had occurred. Yeah, Moriarty these guys were not.
  • In an early HBO special, George Carlin joked about what he considered the perfect crime; You pick up one person and use them to beat another person to death. They both die and there's no murder weapon!
  • Two Malaysian men escaped hanging for drug trafficking because they were twin brothers, and the courts couldn't distinguish between the guilty brother and the innocent brother.
    • In the same vein, at least one Cojoined Twin once got away with murder because he couldn't be imprisoned without also imprisoning his innocent brother. When you think about it, cojoined twins may be The Perfect Criminals.
  • Averted in Real Life according to David Simon's book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Rule #10 in Homicide: There is too such a thing as a perfect murder. Always has been, and anyone who tries to prove otherwise merely proves himself naive, romantic, and a fool who is ignorant of the first nine rules.
  • Just look at Wikipedia's list of unsolved deaths, which includes a huge amount of murders where the perpetrator was never found or even identified.
  • There's actually a very popular argument that the perfect crime is one where nobody ever realizes a crime was committed. Take murder for example. If everyone (police, M.E., relatives, everyone) believe the victim died of natural causes, or in a tragic accident, then there is no murder to be investigated. The perfect crime. Thus, by definition we will never know if the perfect crime has been committed because we never know that it occurred in the first place. To put in perspective, there were 126,438 deaths in 2010 in the USA that were the result of accidental injury. If 1% of them were murders that were never recognized, that would be 1264 murders that were never identified as such, or an 8.5% increase in the listed number of murders for that year.

     Theatre 
  • The entire first act of Charles Marowitz's Sherlock's Last Case involves Watson constructing an elaborate and seemingly airtight plot to murder Sherlock Holmes. Of course, it's Holmes, so the second act reveals that the plan didn't work out as well as Watson thought.

     Video Games  
  • The DL-6 incident of the Ace Attorney series. Attempts to solve the case using psychics didn't work because not even the murder victim knew who actually did it.
    • The murder of Drew Misham in the fourth game, despite being delayed, also worked like a charm - Kristoph made sure the victim himself got rid of the murder weapon.
    • Luke Atmey's plan to murder Kane Bullard used the Double Jeopardy law to get him convicted for being Mask*DeMasque, because since the theft and murder occurred at the same time, being declared guilty of one legally makes him innocent of the other.
    • Third case, third game. Kill someone. Plant evidence. Re-enact crime to manipulate witness testimony. Impersonate lawyer, represent accused, do intentionally poor job. The only reasons it fails are because a guilty verdict can in rare instances be overturned, and they decided to impersonate someone with quite a reputation.
    • The second game also. A murder in which only two people are in a locked room that had witnesses standing in front of it. One of those people is murdered and the witnesses break into the room seconds later to find one of the people dead and the other wielding a pistol. the plan only failed because the victim, unbeknownst to the killer, had a gun with him and shot back in self defense. This created the crucial piece of evidence which let Phoenix prove that someone else WAS in the room at the time of the killing.
  • In Heavy Rain, one of the game's hardest trophies to get is called Perfect Crime. Scott Shelby goes loose, whereas Lauren, Hassan, Kramer, Madison, Norman, Ethan, and Shaun all die. (Though the last two are optional)
  • A minor version in Persona 3 where you can intentionally not catch the Junpei peeping at the girls at the hot springs as the female Main Character. The boys will be quite happy to see the girls bathe and not get in trouble for once.

     Western Animation  
  • In one of the shorts that The Simpsons originated from, Bart claims that stealing freshly baked cookies and blaming it on Maggie, who is pre-verbal and can't defend herself, is the perfect crime. After eating an entire sheet of cookies, getting chocolate smeared all over his face, he is caught and his attempt to scapegoat his sister understandably fail. As Bart gets taken away for punishment (stating that there is no such thing as a perfect crime), Maggie steals one cookie - whose theft will be blamed on Bart if it's noticed at all.

     Webcomics  

     Web Original  

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