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Time-Delayed Death
This happens in crime dramas a lot. Basically it involves a death exhibiting a standard pattern:

  1. Someone is injured.
  2. Unbeknown to the victim, some vital organ or other's been damaged and he's slowly dying of internal bleeding (alternatively, a careless surgeon may have left something in them after operating on them).
  3. The victim dies in an unrelated situation and Hilarity Ensues for the investigators.
  4. Double points if the place of death by coincidence happens to be the home of a sympathetic character with "prior convictions" or an enemy in high places, the victim gets into an argument before dying, or someone steals from him when he collapses.

When done properly, this can be a reasonable solution to a Locked Room Mystery. If it makes someone innocent look guilty, it can lead to Clear My Name for a protagonist, or even a Vigilante Execution for a passerby or Redshirt. The latter is more common if the series focuses on the investigators. Note that being fatally wounded and not dying immediately isn't this trope. Parts 2 and 3 as mentioned above are necessary to count as this trope.

In Real Life, acute stress reaction shock is often responsible for this; a person may not realize that he has a serious wound until it is too late.

Not to be confused with Whodunnit to Me, in which the victim knows they're dying and tries to find the murderer before they go.

See also You Are Already Dead, for a form of killing technique in martial arts and other stories that works like this; and Secretly Dying for when someone is intentionally hiding that they're doomed. The Last Dance is a somewhat related trope.

Examples:

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     Anime and Manga  

  • Variation: In Hajime No Ippo, the original Randy Boy fought against Ichiro Miyata's father and broke his jaw, ending Miyata Sr's boxing career. However, Randy Sr. sustained serious brain damage from that fight, and it killed him some time later. His son Randy Jr. also becomes a boxer and, despite not hating the Miyatas for the fatal incident, is determined to fight Miyata Jr. so they can settle the score.
  • Another variation occurs in Umineko no Naku Koro ni during the fourth arc, in which Jessica phones Battler, claiming that she's already dead/dying by half her head being smashed, letting Battler know that George died as well, and telling him to accept that the murderers are using magic. She's later found locked in her room next to the phone with half her head smashed. The anti-mystery explanation is that she died when she was teleported into a Mutual Kill scenario with George, was teleported back to her room, where Ronove revived her for three minutes, during which she made the call.

     Film  

  • In The Cheap Detective, one of the villains has been bleeding to death for 40 years.
  • The American When Jack (George Clooney) does not realize he was wounded in the abdomen by the sniper he had just killed until he has already driven quite a ways away. He manages to keep driving to the spot where his girlfriend is waiting for him before he collapses over the steering wheel, presumably dead.

     Literature  

  • S.S. Van Dine's novel The Kennel Murder Case is a Locked Room Mystery in which the solution is that the victim had been stabbed elsewhere but hadn't noticed, and went to his room to go to sleep and locked himself in before dying there.
  • This is what happens to the murdered man in Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers
    • Subverted in Have His Carcase. The death merely looked like it had been delayed in that case, but it was still enough to get the police looking for an alibi for the completely wrong time.
  • Done as well in Randall Garrett's Too Many Magicians. Gets the argument bonus points, too.
  • Used (in combination with a few other things that complicate it) in the classic Locked Room Mystery The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr.
    • John Dickson Carr used this in a number of ways in other stories, since he wrote dozens of locked room mysteries. By the way, this novel is more commonly found as The Three Coffins.
  • Used in one of the earliest examples of the Locked Room Mystery, Gaston Leroux's The Mystery of the Yellow Room.
  • Shogo Kawada in Battle Royale took a fatal shot from another student late in the story. He would survive long enough to help the protagonists escape off the island in a boat.
  • In a story by John T Sladek, parodying the locked room genre, a writer describes (among others) a murder mystery plot in which the victim is surreptitiously stabbed with a long, very thin, needle. The victim suffers only minor discomfort until he dies of internal bleeding in his locked room some hours later.
  • Halo. Ghosts Of Onyx. Dante. "Sir... I think I got nicked..."

     Live Action TV  

  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its spinoffs love this trope:
    • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation; A man who was punched in the back of the head in a bar fight, who later died of a brain hemorrhage in the bath.
    • CSI: New York; A woman who was in a car accident and died (from bleeding out due to lacerations on her spleen) in an apartment while feeding a friend's fish (coincidentally before a fire broke out).
    • CSI: Miami; A woman who appeared to have died in a car accident actually died of toxic shock (from a sponge which was left in her after surgery) while driving.
    • Another CSI: Crime Scene Investigation example: A boy who was stabbed trying to prevent his little brother from murdering their mother's boyfriend tries to walk home, but collapses and dies... right under the tires of a cab. The cabbie then gets beaten to death by a mob who thinks he ran the boy over.
    • Variation on CSI: New York: A man who had a pair of forceps left in him after surgery to change his appearance after working as a con man went insane from the toxic shock, but this didn't kill him directly. Instead he was shot by his partner in crime after he accidentally paid her share of their loot with counterfeit money.
    • A weird one: A gambler slowly dying of lead poisoning from the chocolate he consumed every night at the table was accelerated to right now by a stinger of eye drops left in his drink. (Quip to Black: "Literally, death by chocolate.")
    • There was an episode where a bull rider cracked a vertebrae after getting kicked in the head, only to die after Getting decked in the face by someone, breaking his neck fully.
    • Another episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation had an episode based on the case of Peter Porco mentioned in the Real Life section. The victim was a sports coach who was struck over the head with one of his own trophies by a member of his team he was keeping on the bench for having been involved in an accidental shooting.
    • It happens to Pau Gasol's character in the CSI: Miami episode where he guest-stars. He is involved in a car collision where a woman in other car dies, and while in custody he collapses and dies from an unknown brain hemorrhage sustained in the crash.
    • Serial Killer "Dr. Jekyll" on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" had this as a modus operandi, by giving his victims operations without them knowing that subjected their bodies to various conditions (such implanting a septic organ in a man, tying the entrails of another into a bow-tie knot, implanting a radioactive isotope in another man's brain, etc) that would eventually kill them.
  • There is a particularly harsh example in the German Crime Series Polizeiruf 110, where a bomb explosion in a crowded Munich pedestrian underpass throws a brick against the back of the head of a young woman. In the minutes following the detonation, she stumbles around among the dead and dying, nonchalantly looking for her purse. She is seen much later, lying on the floor next to her purse, getting zipped up in a bodybag. One can only assume she succumbed to her head trauma while paramedics were busy aiding much more obviously injured people.
  • Law & Order: A homeless man was hit and run by a high-end automobile, only to have it turn out he was already dying from a head wound earlier that night.
  • In an episode of Jonathan Creek, this trope was responsible for a dead woman ending up in a wardrobe: A pipe from some construction work fell on her head.
  • Seen in an episode of The Professionals where Doyle is accused of killing a suspect in custody. The fatal blow was actually delivered some hours earlier by the victim's brother.
  • One episode of Psych had a fashion mogul poisoned by her husband, but her death was delayed for some time due to her bulimia. She finally succumbs to the poison at his funeral... after she killed him.
  • In the pilot episode of Deadwood, a man is shot in the head with a small caliber gun and surprises everybody when he wakes up and continues talking and walking for 21 minutes before finally dying. In the real life event that inspired this scene, the victim actually lived for 67 days after being shot.
  • Though it doesn't actually get so far as the final word of this trope (both victims were saved), one episode of Sherlock features this — victims stabbed with a fine blade (fine enough that they do not notice it), and kept from bleeding out by their tight belts. Once the belts were loosened, the victims would begin to bleed out — several hours after the actual stabbing occurred.

     Tabletop Games  

     Video Games  

  • Final Fantasy has Countdown or Condemned or Doom or Slow-Death. Basically it consists of a countdown over a character's head; in real-time games, this is usually done by time, though in turn-based games, it's always done by turn. There's also sometimes a "turn to stone" variant.
  • Pokémon has Perish Song, which works like this.
  • In World of Warcraft, fire mages have the Cauterize talent, which heals a mage by burning a fatal wound. The downside is that the burning itself will kill the mage if they don't get proper healing within the next 6 seconds.
    • Warlocks also have Dark Bargain, which gives them six seconds of complete immunity before they take 50% of all they suffered when it expires, depending on the severity of the absorbed damage, they may die from it without healing.
  • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney features a killer who sent a poisoned stamp to their intended victim so that they would die when they licked it. Said poison however is slow-acting, so after sealing his fate with the lick he went on to have an interview with a journalist. During this interview he took a swig of the coffee his daughter made for him, only to drop down dead from the earlier poisoning straight after (as well as getting the poison that was already on his tongue onto the rim of the cup) making it seem like he died from a poisoned mug of coffee.

     Real Life  

  • Harry Houdini died of a ruptured appendix shortly after one of his shows. Before that show, a man came backstage and tried to test Houdini's "abs of steel" by punching him in the abdomen several times. This led to the well-known (but false) Urban Legend that the man's punches caused Houdini's burst appendix.
  • In an especially creepy Real Life example, murder victim Peter Porco, after taking several blows from an axe to his head, woke up, went about his daily routine of making coffee and fetching the morning paper, then finally collapsed back into unconsciousness and died, apparently unaware the entire time that he was bleeding to death, or even injured, due to brain damage. The entire scenario, as well as the subsequent murder trial, made 48 Hours Mystery and Forensic Files.
  • Natasha Richardson was lucid after a seemingly minor head injury, but developed a headache hours later.[1]
  • In 1963 boxer Davey Moore was punched in the face during a fight. Falling, he struck the base of his neck on a ringside rope and lost by a knockout, but shortly recovered and was well enough to give a ringside interview to the press. He subsequently passed out in his dressing room and died some hours later.
  • Stiv Bators, of the punk band 'The Dead Boys' was struck by a taxi as a pedestrian. He was taken to the hospital but after waiting for several hours without a doctor seeing him, he assumed that he was uninjured and went home. He died in his sleep from complications from a concussion overnight.
  • Victims of paracetamol overdose can appear perfectly healthy for several hours despite suffering irreversible liver damage.
    • Acute liver failure in general can be a bit like this. It's almost always caused by viral infection or poisoning (usually overdoses of acetaminophen or magic mushrooms, especially if combined with alcohol). The early symptoms are seemingly benign: nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pains, loss of appetite, and fatigue, which even taken together can be easily mistaken for food poisoning or a stomach virus. It's only after it progresses that the more obvious symptoms appear: jaundice, agony, abdominal swelling, and coma. It can be treated, but it generally requires a liver transplant, and someone who isn't pay attention may not get to the hospital in time.
  • Fatal injury to the spleen tends to play out this way, as it's a highly-vascular, notoriously-delicate organ which can slowly bleed out into a person's abdominal cavity over several hours.
  • Radiation poisoning. A high (but not too high☠ ) radiation dose can kill the cells of the bone marrow and gut while leaving the rest of the body relatively intact. After a brief (1-2 days) period of illness, the victim will seem to recover in what's called the "walking ghost phase". However, soon afterwards they're hit with a double whammy as their intestinal lining sloughs off (which keeps them from absorbing nutrients from food, causes fluid loss, and opens pathways to infection) and their white blood cells (average lifespan: 5 days) die off and aren't replaced. The result: a weeks-long, drawn-out death.
  • Ingestion of ethylene glycol (antifreeze) initially produces symptoms very much like plain old alcohol intoxication. But the body then proceeds to break ethylene glycol down into toxic chemicals, and death ensues probably within 12 to 36 hours after consumption.
  • Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary was stabbed through the heart with a sharpened nail file in 1898 while walking down a pier to board a ship—but the nail file was very thin and made a very narrow wound, and no one saw any external bleeding because of the tight corset the Empress was wearing. She actually got up after her assailant ran away, continued walking down the pier, and boarded the ship. After boarding the ship she whispered "What has happened to me?" and collapsed into unconsciousness, dying of internal bleeding shortly thereafter.
  • Depressed skull fractures. They can often cause a hemorrhage into the brain, causing this trope.
  • Events like this happened so often in England when dueling was still legal that there's still a law on the books: it's not murder if your victim took more than a year to die.
  • Grigori Rasputin, kind of goes with the territory of being the trope namer for Rasputinian Death.
  • Trotsky as well. Guy took an ice pick to the head turned around and bit his assassin until he could be detained, before falling unconscious and dying 24 hours later.
  • Depending on your views, people rendered into a vegetative state are arguably this.
  • David Lunt, the man that inspired the Deadwood example, was accidentally shot in the forehead during a bar brawl between two other men. He remained lucid, perfectly capable and suffered no pain for more than two months, until he suddenly felt a bad headache and died. The coroner determined that Lunt's choroid plexus had been pierced by the bullet and caused his death by slowly filling his brain with excessive cerebroespinal fluid, but could not determine why Lunt had not died of other causes before there was enough fluid to kill him.


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