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Unintentionally Notorious Crime
Crime doesn't (always) pay; you never know who your victim might be. Just because your victim didn't turn out to be a superhero, alien assassin, or a fellow crook doesn't mean you've gotten away with it. You might find that things went a little bit too well and you've committed a crime that'll get you far more attention that you want; an Unintentionally Notorious Crime. You might discover that the random woman you've just robbed is The Cape's wife, and now his Hero Secret Service is on your tail, or that bag you're running away with might carry the MacGuffin, or perhaps you tried to steal a car and ended up "kidnapping" the kid in the back seat. Either way, you're in over your head.

The crime might escalate either because of the victim (either because they're rich, important, or famous, getting a lot of unwanted attention, or the media just happens to pick up on it) or because of the payoff (usually by stealing something more valuable than expected, either because everybody wants it or it's worth more than it appears). Note that the intended crime itself doesn't have to be minor; a Serial Killer drawing unwanted attention by picking a victim who happens to be important also fits, for example.

If it focuses on the criminals, then it'll either focus on how in over their head they are (as they flee from the law and possibly other criminals) or be played as a case of Can't Get Away with Nuthin' (especially if it's the "important victim" variant).

When the story focuses on detectives (or other law enforcement) investigating this trope, it's often either revealed as a humorous twist (the "master criminal" turns out to be some lowlife in the wrong place at the wrong time) or a red herring (if a crime appears to be this trope, it'll usually be subverted). When the trope is in effect from the start and played straight to the end, it's usually so that there's a reason the detectives will be under pressure to solve the case.

Sister trope to Accidental Murder (which may or may not be the result of a more minor crime). Stupid Crooks are especially prone to this trope. For other cases of things going so well they go badly, see Gone Horribly Right. Compare Robbing The Mob Bank, Mugging the Monster, and Bullying a Dragon, where the crime is foiled because the crooks are in over their head, and Colliding Criminal Conspiracies when it's foiled because they're caught up in another crime. This trope can lead to Crime After Crime.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Multiple 
  • Just about anyone who threatens Lois Lane in any incarnation of Superman (except for continuities where it would be a case of Mugging the Monster).

    Anime and Manga 
  • In the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex episode "Embraced by a Disguised Net CAPTIVATED", a member of an Organ Legging gang accidentally kidnaps the daughter of a politician who was denying their existence. The team are able to take advantage of this trope by having the politician denounce the gang to make the kidnapper panic (they know she's a professional who won't kill the girl). It turns out that a rival had given her a list which included the politician's daughter so she'd be branded a traitor.

    Comics 
  • This trope is part of the origin story of Green Lantern Simon Baz: being forced to resort to grand theft auto after being fired, he once stole the wrong car and mid police chase, he found a bomb inside. Faced with no other options, he drove the car into his now abandoned former workplace and ran. The explosion was seen as an act of terrorism and Baz was captured and under interrogation when the ring came to him...
  • The plot of the Sereinty: Better Days miniseries involves the crew raiding a buried money cache that turns out to be several thousand times more valuable than they thought.
  • Batman: Depending on the Writer, what was either a desperate mugging or a hit on a potential mob witness turns into something much bigger.

    Film 
  • In Murder in the First, the main character stole money from the till of a shop out of desperation. Because the shop in question had a post office, he was charged with a federal crime and ended up being punished as if he were a bank robber.
  • In The Bank Job, the criminals rob a bank which, while fairly high profile, should not have gotten them into the trouble it did. Turns out the bank was used by various shady characters to store their valuables and incriminating documents. The bank robbers quickly become the target of corrupt cops, drug dealers, and a murderous porn baron. However, the trope is actually subverted since there was nothing 'accidental' about the mess. It is a gambit by MI-5 to retrieve politically embarrassing photographs.
  • In Office Space, the characters create a software program which will take the rounded-off fractions of pennies from financial transactions from their employer and deposit it in a bank account they created — an idea they stole from Superman III. They figure that the money would never be missed by Initech, the company they work for, because the theft would be so gradual. But when they check the account the following day, it has already deposited over $300,000, apparently because they Misplaced a Decimal Point.
  • In Stealing Rembrandt, some lowlife thugs plan to steal a painting by a relatively unknown artist for some easy cash, only to mistakenly grab the only Rembrandt in their country by accident. This touches off a nation-wide police search, deals with foreign mobsters, and overall chaos for the petty thugs as they try to act like the professional thieves the press describes them to be.
  • In Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, the protagonists steal bags of what they think is cash from a bank owned by a corporation that is trying to acquire and then demolish a bar owned by their friend and build a skyscraper office building on the land. When they open the bags, they find nothing but a highly addictive and lethal new drug. The bank and the drug empire they're in business with want it back and send their best assassins after the heroes.
  • The Chase: Kidnapping a girl and taking her car would just be another notch on the getaway list of Jack Hammond... had the girl not been the daughter of the wealthiest man in California. Thus The Chase ensues.
  • Toy Story. Woody is jealous of the attention Andy pays to Buzz Lightyear. He schemes to knock Buzz down behind a desk, which would inconvenience him but not hurt him. Instead, because of a series of accidents, Buzz is knocked out the room's window, and the other toys want to lynch Woody because they think he intended to knock Buzz out the window.
  • Absolute Power: Luther Withney, a burglar, breaks into a house to steal jewels, but witnesses a murder (by the President, no less) for which he is suspected.
  • Tsotsi: The title character steals a woman's car, only to realize that there's a baby in the backseat.

    Literature 
  • In one of Labyrinths of Echo' sequels; a forest witch who was feeling lonely enchanted and effectively kidnapped some likable strangers... who happened to be the King Incognito with his entourage. After the problem was resolved, she said something to the effect of "Why Didnt You Just Say So — I'm crazy, not stupid".
  • In Retribution Falls, Darian Frey raids the Ace Of Skulls, believing it to be a freighter transporting gemstones, but when it explodes after taking one shot and bodies fall out, it becomes clear that it was a liner. Darian Frey later learns that one the passengers was the son of a duke.
  • In the book Holes, Zero steals a pair of shoes. Little did he know that they were owned by a famous baseball player and were being sold for charity — after he took them, he heard lots of people exclaiming, "The shoes are gone!" and shortly afterward, he heard police sirens and threw them away off a highway overpass, (accidentally framing the protagonist in the process).
  • In True Talents, Trash wants to buy some art supplies, but is strapped for cash. While at the bank, he gives in to temptation and uses his telekinesis to steal a wad of bills from a trolley. After leaving, he looks through them and realizes that they're all hundred dollar bills — meaning he just walked off with thousands of dollars. This gets him noticed by the wrong people.
  • In Judge Dee, an influential criminal tries to kill the judge by trapping him and his deputies under a huge bell, nearly suffocating them. When they manage to prove he was the culprit, he admits to it but tries to pass it off as a prank gone wrong, finally settling on the charge of assault, hoping his connections will let him go free... only for Dee to remind everyone that as a judge in office, he represents the state and the will of the Emperor — and as such, assaulting him constitutes high treason, punishable by Cruel and Unusual Death (getting pulled apart by four buffalos).
    • Which, if you're curious, was actually used as a method of execution in Real Life (except that it involved horses instead).
  • In the 87th Precinct novel Lady, Lady, I Did It, a shooter opens fire in a store and guns down four people. One of them happens to be Detective Bert Kling's fiancee, thereby guaranteeing that the crime has the attention of every cop in the city.

    Live Action TV 
  • In the pilot of Vegas (2012), a woman is murdered and her body dumped in the desert. The local sheriff is corrupt and the murder might be linked to the mob. Given this, the case would have probably been left unsolved, except the woman was the governor's niece. The governor threatens to send in the National Guard if Las Vegas cannot get a grip on its rising crime. This gives the mayor the political clout to appoint Ralph Lamb as the new sheriff.
  • In Copper, a thief breaks into a house and discovers the body of a dead child inside. He is Genre Savvy enough to know that this makes the crime high profile enough that the corrupt police will not be able to ignore it, but not high profile enough for the police to bother with a proper investigation. Rather than becoming a Fall Guy and hanging for a murder he did not commit, he signs up on the next ship to leave port and does not come back to New York City for more than a year.
  • The Killer of the Week in one episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was a meth-head who killed an off-duty cop because he thought the cop was sleeping with his girlfriend. Cop killers get an all-out manhunt in any jurisdiction.
    • In one of the season finales of CSI: NY, the team are drinking in a bar when the place is shot up in a drive by. The first episode of the next series reveals that the attackers were just planning an elaborate extortion plot and didn't know there were police in the bar.
  • Parodied in an episode of The Practice, a client in one case is a small-time thief who accidentally killed a man by hitting over the head too hard while trying to mug him. The victim happened to be a rabbi. The client was petrified with fear that he'd be charged with a hate crime and didn't seem to be able to understand that the homicide charge was much more serious.
  • On Sons of Anarchy, this is a recurring problem for the eponymous biker gang. Their various illegal operations are highly profitable but require them to keep a low profile and avoid undue attention from law enforcement. This can be easier said than done for a bunch of violent bikers with anger issues.
    • When they decide to sell some illegal guns to an old army buddy of Piney's, it turns out that his group of 'gun enthusiasts' are actually Right Wing Militia Fanatics and the weapons are used to kill two sheriff's deputies during a prison break.
    • When the Sons go to confront some neo-Nazis, they end up storming into a fundraising dinner for a right wing political party. They are recorded threatening dozens of women and children while holding highly illegal weapons. They were actually set up by the leader of the neo-Nazis, who likes to provoke his enemies into doing stupid crimes and then having them arrested for it.
    • When Tig is led to believe that a rival gang leader tried to kill Clay, he embraces Revenge Before Reason and opens fire on the gang leader in a public place in front of dozens of witnesses. He misses, but he accidentally kills the daughter of the most powerful and ruthless drug dealer in Los Angeles.
  • There is an episode of C Hi PS where someone steals a car that had the owner's baby still in the car, escalating their crime from joyriding to kidnapping.
  • A frequent event on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. The victim will turn out to be a judge or a cop (or the relative of a judge or a cop), the victim or suspect will have mafia ties, or the case will draw a lot of media attention. This is necessary to keep the crime in the Major Case squad, instead of being reassigned to another division.
  • In season four of The Wire, a state's witness from a key case is murdered in an alley, right as long shot mayoral candidate Carcetti is making a big deal about the monumental crime levels of the city in general and the lack of protection for anyone who actually dares to testify against the drug gangs in particular. The resulting scandal is so damaging to the current mayor, and the timing is so perfect (coming just before the election) that it actually helps Carcetti win the mayoral election. After the election, the case is still unsolved and Detective Greggs continues to investigate - and discovers that the death wasn't a murder meant to silence the witness, but a stray round from two drunken idiots shooting at bottles two blocks away.
    Detective Norris: So our guy's dead because a bullet misses a bleach bottle and this fuck Carcetti gets to be the mayor behind the stupidity. I fucking love this town.

    Print Media 
  • Games Magazine once ran a crime story where a cashier had only intended to steal seven bucks for a dinner date — only to find that she'd stolen several grand by accident. Making a desperate getaway, she breaks into a funeral procession — that turns out to be for a cop killed in the line of duty. Busted!
    Cop: You know, Pat [Kelly, whose funeral it was] would have gotten a kick out of this collar.

    Video Games 
  • In Saints Row: The Third, the main cast robs a bank that they don't know is owned by The Syndicate. The Syndicate becomes the game's main antagonist.
  • Michael and Franklin in Grand Theft Auto V end up escalating their criminal activities when Michael destroys the house where the tennis coach his wife is cheating with is hiding. The house belongs to a notorious drug baron, who demands that they work to pay off the reconstruction costs.
    • Later, Trevor arranges for the trio to steal an unspecified piece of experimental military technology. After the heist succeeds, they're told the device is really some kind of nuke and if they don't put it back fast, they and everyone they ever knew will be on the government's kill list. They do put it back, without a hitch, so the only purpose of that was to ensure that Failure Is the Only Option.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Man Who Killed Batman", a petty criminal trying to score big, Sid the Squid, participates in a small-time drug run but (apparently) accidentally kills the Caped Crusader himself.
  • In one episode of The Batman, a watchmaker steals a rare watch from his shop, setting off the alarm. In the confusion, he causes a major traffic accident. He's sentenced to 20 years and plans revenge after discovering he has the ability to rewind time for a few seconds. At the end, he realizes his plan killed his son, and this somehow supercharges his power, returning him to just before he took the watch. He leaves it there this time.

    Real Life 
  • There have been many incidents where somebody steals a car without realizing there is a child in the back seat and thus accidentally becomes a kidnapper.
  • In Spain, the penalty for pickpocketing is a small fine as long as the suspect only tried stealing a certain amount (or nothing, if they didn't actually manage to get anything). As a result, a particularly "successful" theft can easily be what gets a serial pickpocket sent to jail.


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