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Accident, Not Murder

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A body is found that shows all the hallmarks of having been murdered. The detectives investigate and find the usual array of suspects. However, as the investigation goes, the case makes less and less sense. All of the suspects have alibis; evidence that first pointed one direction actually points somewhere else on closer examination; some evidence makes no sense at all; etc. Eventually the truth is revealed: the victim was not murdered at all, but died in a freak accident (sometimes of their own making) that caused their death to look like a homicide.

Can be a Karmic Death.

Sister Trope to Suicide, Not Murder. An inversion of Make It Look Like an Accident. Compare Accidental Murder, where it was an accident, but it was still a person who did it. Also compare Accidental Suicide, in which a character unintentionally kills themself. Contrast also "Strangers on a Train"-Plot Murder, which is a premeditated murder that deliberately looks like accidental manslaughter. Related to Necro Non Sequitur.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Case Closed: Yusaku Kudo's Cold Case is ultimately revealed to be this, at least in the flashback portion. The victim tripped while carrying a goldfish bowl and was fatally punctured by the glass shards, and the "Serial Killer Calling Card" left at the scene - the kanji for "death" - was accidentally created by his blood flowing around some hard candies and a flower left behind by a small child.
  • Most of the deaths throughout Shi ni Aruki are an example of this, being freak accidents like an industrial AC falling on someone, tripping down a flight of stairs and getting stabbed through the throat by a pencil, or a truck crushing their skull.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dick Tracy: After Stooge Viller kidnapped his daughter Binnie, he was tussling with Dick Tracy. When he tried to kick the dropped gun his daughter Binnie had picked up and pointed at him out of her hands, it went off.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Accident, the Brain is an "accident choreographer" who specializes in killing people by arranging freak "accidents". During one of his assignments, something goes wrong and an actual freak accident results in one of his men being run over by a bus. The circumstances of this accident are so similar to the ones he arranges that the Brain becomes convinced that this was a deliberate attack aimed at him. His obsession drives him into paranoia, but as the viewer learns there never was a conspiracy, this really was just a freak accident.
  • Bodies, Bodies, Bodies: David's death, which overlaps with Accidental Suicide. Sophie also claims that Emma's death was an accident, but we don't see the details to know whether she's telling the truth.
  • In Detour, bookie Charles Haskell Jr. gives the tired and disheveled Al a ride in his convertible and tells him that he is in luck; he is driving to Los Angeles to place a bet on a horse. During the drive, he has Al pass him pills on several occasions, which he swallows as he drives. That night, Al drives while Haskell sleeps. When a rainstorm forces Al to pull over to put up the convertible's top, he is unable to rouse Haskell. Al opens the passenger-side door and Haskell tumbles out, falling to the ground and striking his head on a rock. Al then realizes the bookie is dead. It is likely that Haskell died earlier from a heart attack, but Al is certain that if he calls the police, they will arrest him for killing Haskell.
  • Final Destination has protagonist Alex Browning suspected of having (somehow) killed a couple of the people who were hunted down by Death. With Ms Lewton, Alex grabs the knife that plunges into her chest and the feds think he killed her.
  • In Safer at Home, Evan and Jen get into a fight with Harper trying to get them to reconcile (the rest are logged off or on mute). While she is not paying attention, Jen trips and falls. There is a lot of blood coming from the back of her head and Evan announces she is not breathing. Everybody is concerned that the authorities might think Evan murdered her.

  • In one of the later Biggles short stories, the veteran pilot, now a policeman, is asked for his opinion on the death of a girl who had previously had an argument with her pilot boyfriend. She was hit on the head with a blunt instrument and died instantly. The boyfriend is being sought. Biggles reviews the case. The girl was found dead in her garden with no signs of intrusion or struggle. No weapon has been recovered. However, in the photographs is an unopened box of chocolates. Biggles asks about this. It has been disregarded by the police as of no significance, incidental. He asks if this was kept, and discovers one corner of the box is badly crushed out of shape. Then it becomes clear. The pilot boyfriend sought to make up the row with a romantic gesture, dropping a box of chocolates to her in her garden from several hundred feet up. He just aimed too well. Biggles notes it would be like hitting her with a brick, and points to people being killed in the wars by shrapnel, parts of damaged aircraft, or even spent bullet cases dropping from the air. The case now becomes not murder, but death by misadventure.
  • The Divide (2005):
    • Abbie's death isn't murder or suicide. Her horse slipped on some ice and threw her into the river while she was trying to escape from Rolf.
    • Rolf is Impaled with Extreme Prejudice on a broken fencepost while fighting Josh and Ty when they knock him back in self-defense after he pulls a gun. They weren't trying to kill him, and unsuccessfully try to stop him from bleeding to death.
  • In the Dr. Thorndyke story "The Blue Sequin", a woman is found dead in a railway compartment after being stabbed in the head, and the police arrest a man who had been traveling on the same train. Thorndyke's investigation reveals that the woman had stuck her head out of the carriage window to watch a fire the train was passing, and while she was watching that a cattle car loaded with longhorn cattle went past on the other line; due to her distraction and a large fashionable hat blocking part of her field of vision, she didn't notice the cattle car's approach, and her head got in the way of a steer's horn protruding from the cattle car.
  • House Rules has this happen to Jess Ogilvy. When she is first found, the injuries she's sustained suggest murder. Most of the book involves Jacob being tried for Jess' murder under the impression that he most definitely killed her and his only change of not getting sentenced is to plead insanity due to being autistic. In reality, Jacob's brother Theo broke in and found Jess showering. He ran and she came out too fast, and fell, causing a fatal head injury. Jacob found her later on and covered up everything linked to Theo's involvement.
  • Magpie Murders: Mary fell down the stairs accidentally. The one after that, though, was a murder caused by that accident.
  • Sherlock Holmes:
    • The death of Captain Morstan, Mary Morstan's father in The Sign of the Four. During a quarrel about the division of the treasure, he suffered a heart attack, fell backward and hit his head on the corner of the treasure-chest and died. Major John Sholto never reported the death, since he was afraid he was going to be accused of murder (even his loyal servant thought he had murdered Captain Morstan).
    • In "The Adventure of the Crooked Man", James Barclay and his wife, Nancy, are found in a locked room, her unconscious and him dead with a hit to his head after people heard them fighting. Turns out they were fighting about James having betrayed a friend of his, Henry Wood due to him being a love rival before they married, and once he saw Henry alive but disfigured from the torture the man suffered thanks to him, the husband died of a stroke on the spot. The injury was from hitting a fireplace fender as the corpse fell.
    • In "The Adventure of Silver Blaze", Holmes and Watson travel to Dartmoor to investigate a crime of disappearance of the great race horse Silver Blaze and the murder of the horse's trainer, John Straker. Straker has been killed by a blow to the skull, assumed to have been administered by prime suspect Fitzroy Simpson with his "Penang lawyer", a clublike walking stick. However, Holmes is able to demonstrate that Straker had been attempting to lame Silver Blaze in order to fix a horse race when the horse kicked him in the head.
    • In "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane", Fitzroy died with his back covered with dark red lines as though he had been terribly flogged. Sherlock Holmes found out that the victim was attacked not by a human but by a lion's mane jellyfish.
  • Solar Pons: In "The Adventure of the Three Red Dwarfs", the Body of the Week accidentally stabbed himself while attacking his literary partner. His partner, however, confused the issue by attempting to cover things up.
  • In The Vor Game, Miles discovers the corpse of a cadet in an outflow pipe. It looks suspicious, til Miles checks the parcel he's clutching: a box of cookies. Turns out it was Yet Another Stupid Death.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Cold Case: "The Boy in the Box". While Arnold wasn't well treated by the experimental electroconvulsive therapy and irradiated food, nobody had any intention of killing him.
  • CSI:
    • In "Chaos Theory", the crew investigate a missing coed who eventually turns up dead. Although they uncover several other crimes along the way, the girl's death is actually an accident caused by a confluence of unlikely events. To make this even more dramatic, the coed's parents refuse to believe that her death was caused by coincidences even with all of the evidence that says so and storm out of Grissom's office swearing they will keep seeking the answers by themselves while Gil is distraught.
    • One episode involves the investigation of a woman found dead in a boat. It later comes out that she died by accident. But when they go to tell her husband this, they find that he's already murdered her lover, believing him responsible for her death.
    • "A La Cart" opens with a decapitated head bouncing down a country road before finally coming to rest in the hands of a crew picking up trash on the side of the road. The CSIs soon discover the headless body dumped on the side of the road. However, what appears to have been a brutal murder turns out to have been a bizarre accident involving a go-kart and blown truck tire.
  • CSI: Miami: "Crowned" has the mother of a child beauty pageant contestant found dead, impaled by a crown. The mom tripped and fell onto the crown while trying to apply bronzer to her daughter. While the CSIs investigate this death, they discover another contestant had been abducted by the pageant director's husband.
  • CSI: NY:
    • In "Tri-Borough," one of the three cases is of a construction worker who dies from a blow to the head. He had been targeted by his co-workers for getting someone else's job; they had even locked him in a porta-potty and rolled it, getting him covered in waste, so there are plenty of suspects. Turns out, the construction site is close to an airport and a block of blue ice fell from a plane coming in for a landing and hit him on the head just as he happened to remove his hard hat.
    • In "The Fall", after spending the whole episode researching the dozens of people who would have wanted to kill a truly big asshole of a studio executive, the investigators figure out that his death (fall off his balcony) was not a murder, but an accident that happened when he was eating from a stash of chocolates that was hidden there (his wife had forced him on a diet) and lost his footing.
  • The F.B.I.: In "The Insolents", a man is shot dead in his locked cabin, with only one obvious suspect. However, it is eventually revealed that the victim was planning murder but changed his mind and threw his gun away. The gun hit the wall and discharged; shooting him in the heart.
  • In Forever (2014) episode "Look Before You Leap" medical examiner Dr. Henry Morgan is presented with a man with an axe embedded in his skull, who'd been heard fighting with a neighbor minutes before his death. He proceeds to explain point by point how the man's death was accidental, after he'd climbed up on his roof to try to chop a branch away from his satellite dish (tar stains from the roof on his knees, traces of wood from the axe handle in his teeth where he held it when he needed both hands free). He slipped and fell off the roof (with appropriate injuries) and then the axe slid down after him, "and gravity took over."
  • Gilligan's Island: In "Not Guilty", the authorities and the castaways assume at first that one of them murdered Randolph Blake, given that he was speared with a fishing gun right before the Minnow left. However, it turns out the fishing gun went off by accident when the door slammed.
  • The Good Wife: "Doubt". A college girl is on trial for murdering her best friend after they had a threesome. Will, Alicia, and Cary run through numerous possibilities: she was trying to steal from the girl, the boyfriend killed her, someone else killed her...only for Kurt to figure out that, actually, she simply happened to pick up the gun and as it was an old, faulty model, she accidentally fired it and died. But they decide that they actually can't use that defence because the jury won't be convinced by it, and she takes a plea to do a long prison sentence. But the jury would have found her innocent anyway.
    Alicia: It's the truth.
    Will: But it doesn't sound true.
  • Jonathan Creek:
    • In "The Reconstituted Corpse", a new wardrobe is delivered to Maddy's flat. After seeing that it is empty she gets it up to her flat only to find the dead body of a murder suspect inside it. This turns out to a case of Time-Delayed Death, as the victim had suffered a blow to the head earlier. She had hidden in the wardrobe while it was being carried up the stairs, but expired from a slow bleed on the brain from the earlier blow.
    • In "The Letters of Septimus Noone", an accidental blow reopens a wound from an attempted murder the Victim of the Week was deliberately concealing, causing a Time-Delayed Death that turns what would have been a mundane (if tragic) death into a Locked Room Mystery.
  • Killing Eve: Kenny's fate (apparently, according to Konstantin.) He fell off the roof while freaking out that Konstantin was probably his father, worked for the Twelve, and was offering him a job.
  • In an episode of Life, a man is found with a bullet hole through the back of his head, but no bullet. Turns out it was a bizarre accident involving an icicle in a vegetable freezer.
  • In Life on Mars (2006), a mill worker is found dead with a horrible slash across his chest after working late one night. The investigation points to a foreman with a grudge — the victim was threatening to become a whistleblower about the poor working conditions and state of the machinery, and if such things became public knowledge, it could cause the mill to shut down, with the loss of hundreds of jobs. The foreman confesses, but something doesn't add up. A close inspection of the machine next to where the victim was found reveals that it has a brand new drive belt - the other machines on the floor do not. It turns out that the belt broke, the loose end slashing the worker open. The foreman got in early the next day and covered it up by fitting a new belt and reporting the accidental death as a murder in an attempt to prevent the mill from closing.
  • In the Psych episode "Any Given Friday Night", the Victim of the Week is a football player who was apparently killed by Russian gangsters to whom he owed money, based on the fact that he received a threatening text on the day he died. Except that when Shawn and Gus investigate, they realize that the football player was already dead when the text was sent. Closer investigation reveals that he'd died in an ATV accident. Three of his teammates had been there, and they staged the supposed murder to cover up the fact that their off-roading jaunt was in violation of the morality clause in their contracts.
  • Quantum Leap: In "A Leap for Lisa", Riker's wife wasn't raped, nor murdered. What was going on between her and Chip on the beach was completely consensual, and she had died because, as she was getting up, she slipped and fell, smashing her head on a rock.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot: Clumsy Congenial kills the bunnies adjacent to the target, which according to the card happens because "while opening a package of Melba Toast, [the bunny] flings two sharp pieces in opposite directions".

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney: It's not as common as the actual murders, but there's the occasional case where the death was genuinely an accident assumed to be a murder.
    • Case 3 of the first game is a borderline case, as the victim had attacked the killer, who pushed him away, which caused the victim to fall onto a sharp fence.
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies' DLC case, the death was a complete accident. Marlon Rimes was trying to kill Orla the orca by draining her tank, when Jack Shipley intervened and accidentally slipped and fell into the drained tank, and Rimes tried to save him. Rimes then framed Orla for the death to get her put down.
    • In the second case of The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, Kazuma wasn't murdered; he just got into an argument with someone else, was shoved, and hit his head wrong on a bedpost. And he wasn't even dead, just unconscious and amnesiac.
  • In Paper Mario 64, upon arriving in Shiver City, Mario discovers Mayor Penguin, dead in his back room, and clutching a piece of paper reading "Herringway". While the room isn't technically locked, the mayor's wife was standing by the only door the entire time the mayor was in the room. Mario is initially charged with the crime, but is given the opportunity to clear his name. Not only was the mayor not murdered, but he isn't even dead. He tried to retrieve a gift for his friend Herringway from a high shelf, but fell and knocked himself out.
  • Scarlet Hollow: Due to the fact that Duke was killed when his own gun went off in his face by accident, after a Ditchling charged him and made him drop it, the police who arrive after Stella calls them suspect the player of murdering him, in spite of Stella claiming it wasn't you and showing them video evidence.

    Western Animation 
  • King of the Hill: The ultimate answer to the murder of Debbie Grund, Buck Strickland's former mistress in "High Anxiety". Debbie wanted to kill Buck for going back to his wife Miz Liz, so she hid in a dumpster with a shotgun and waited for him to pass by. After a while, she got hungry and went to go get some food. She returned to the dumpster but found it too difficult to climb inside while carrying both the shotgun and her food, so she put the shotgun in first. When she climbed in herself, her foot accidentally tripped the hammer and caused the shotgun to fire, killing her.
  • The Simpsons: Not a murder, but in "The Boy Who Knew Too Much", one of Mayor Quimby's nephews stands accused of beating up a waiter. Bart, who witnessed the event, reveals that the waiter actually had a series of clumsy accidents. The waiter denies it ever happened, only to suffer a series of similar accidents right there in court.
  • Superman Theatrical Cartoons: In "The Mummy Strikes", when an archeologist is found dead from poison, it is believed he was killed by his assistant, even though she was the one who found him dead. Turns out that he had died due to triggering a poison needle booby trap inside a sarcophagus.