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Beneath Suspicion

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"Brick, down in the gutter, had dropped below even that horizon. No wonder Chrysoprase's shakedown hadn't corralled him. Brick was something you stepped over."

When a character turns out to be the one who committed a crime, but was not even regarded as a suspect by the detectives until halfway through the final act. The reasons why this character is never considered vary, but boil down to the trope name itself: they're beneath suspicion. The idea that someone so kind, or so quiet, or so stupid could possibly be the culprit seems so asinine that no one considers it, much less find it worth pursuing, until every other option has been exhausted or one last piece of evidence comes to light.


Often seen in conjunction with Never One Murder. More often than not ruined in live action by a familiar face.

Pretty much endemic in murder mysteries, especially British ones like Taggart, Midsomer Murders, et al. Done properly, the writer will be able to fool even the audience, who regard everybody with suspicion — even the detectives.

Source of The Butler Did It. See also The Dog Was the Mastermind, Beneath Notice.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Arachnid: Alice was determined to protect her poor friend Kuramoto from being enslaved by Sara the Army Ant, not realizing that Kuramoto herself was the Army Ant Queen and Sara was just her lackey. Ironically, it is from being so concerned about Kuramoto that she plants strings on her neck and ends up overhearing her talking about her true nature to Sara, which allows Alice to fool and kill her later.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Despite Selim Bradley's ties to the military/government (his father is the President Evil), it comes as a shock when he's revealed to be Pride, one of the Homunculi because he appears to be an adorable child.
  • Himenospia: The protagonist can brainwash women into being her servants, and yet is made an Unwitting Pawn of by two of them.
    • Niho Kurono is the only one who ever asked to get converted and becomes Himeno's closest confidant due to this, but she's actually the middle-aged policeman Jiro Kuroda after a brain transplant into a schoolgirl's corpse. Those circunstances make Niho resistant to the brainwashing, though she is affected enough to be unable to directly kill Himeno.
    • Nagisa Hattori, Himeno's first soldier, likewise is assumed to be mentally unable to ever do any harm to her Queen, and yet she is involved in the scheme against the American Queen Serena that both brought Niho in and got Himeno tortured and several of their comrades killed. Himeno is shocked to realize that, from the beginning, there was such malicious intent in Nagisa suggesting her to create an utopic nation.
  • One Piece: In the Wano Country arc, it is revealed Kanjuro is the spy who's been leaking the Akazaya Nine's plans to Orochi. A broken man who can only live by acting other lives, he brags to their faces that only one of their own could've leaked the location of Zou and yet they never suspected a thing because of how they've been together, even through mortal danger, for such a long time.

    Comic Books 
  • Basically, the entire premise of Batman Eternal: Batman is put through a hellish experience involving just about every one of his regular villains, trying to figure who's behind this, convinced it has to be the Joker, Ra's al Ghul, Penguin or someone else. The culprit: Cluemaster. He, Lock-Up, Signalman, Ratcatcher, and Prankster came up with this entire scheme, convinced they were so under Batman's radar that he would never suspect any of these C-listers of possibly being able to pull this off. And he was right.
  • This is how Daredevil gets away with his secret identity as Matt Murdock for so long. Who would ever consider that a blind lawyer is a crime-fighter?
  • Superman: An 80's issue played with this in the Post-Crisis introduction of the Toyman. Superman is brought in by Scotland Yard who is investigating the murders of various board members of a toy company who fired Winslow Schott and were subsequently killed by various toy-themed weapons. When Superman asks why Scotland Yard didn't figure it was Schott from the start, the inspector admits with embarrassment that he and his detectives were so used to cases where the most likely suspect never was the killer that it took a while to realize that, for once, it really was the obvious choice.
  • The Shadow:
    • The true identity of the Light from that arc of the Dynamite run? A hospital nurse, who Margo has a close encounter with.
    • The killer in Dynamite #21 is an elderly washerwoman who no one would look at twice.
  • Wonder Woman: The true identity of bold sadistic villain The Mask stays hidden for so long due to the timid battered meek nature she presents in her secret identity, as well as a few Red Herrings pointing at the bold seemingly criminal woman pilot her husband has a thing with.

    Film — Animation 
  • Hoodwinked! has Boingo. All four of the parties in a simple domestic disturbance turn out to have separate encounters with him: Red Puckett meets him while she's riding her bike (then again in the cable car), the Wolf asks him for a shortcut to Granny's house, he is the first person to show up after Kirk's truck is raided, and he asks Granny for her autograph before the ski race.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Played with in the first Scary Movie, as the killer is "posing" as mentally handicapped. His Obfuscating Disability is portrayed so over-the-top that it defies description, but since this is a parody movie, it also works on the audience.
  • The obvious candidate in the 2007 horror Drive-Thru is the owner of the drive-thru chain and the father of the kid who died in an accident when he was 18. The police only suspect him 3 quarters into the movie, but this is subverted as they are wrong: they're not in a normal murder mystery, the killer is the ghost of the dead kid.
  • Played with (with everything else) in Hot Fuzz; whenever Nicholas voices his suspicions of Simon Skinner, people respond that he runs the local supermarket, as though that puts him beyond all possibility of wrongdoing.
  • Saw I: Nobody, not even the audience, thinks that the "dead" body in the room where the protagonists are trapped in is just Faking the Dead and is, in fact, the mastermind.
  • Similarly in Murder by Death (1976), several candidates are nominated for the murderer, and the big reveal at the end? There was no murder at all (except maybe of a weekend) because the corpse gets up and thanks everybody for making a fool of themselves; he only invited the world's best detectives in order to extort money from them...note 
  • The titular character in Fresh pulls off a Batman Gambit on the two local drug gangs, using them to get rid of his enemies and ensure a living for himself and his sister outside of the crime-riddled ghetto they are currently living in. His plan is to get caught by one gang while running drugs for the other and making both believe someone is trying to steal their business. It works, because no one suspects that the 12-year-old Fresh could possibly be enough of a Manipulative Bastard, or have enough resources, to have planned everything by himself.
  • All the working class characters in Gosford Park are considered this by the detective since the murder victim was upper-class and the detective is only interested in anyone who had "a real connection" with the victim. Had he bothered to question any of the servants, he might have learned that the victim had slept with some of them.
  • The Limehouse Golem: * Kildair spends the film investigating the only four men who visited the library containing the Limehouse Golem's hidden journal in the right timeframe to record its last entry. None of them are guilty. While only those four men visited the library that day, the librarian never thinks to mention Lizzie and several other women who visited the library.
  • The major plot twist of The Usual Suspects is all about this trope. The Customs agent is so focused on proving Dean Keaton is behind everything, he never once suspects that he might be getting lied to by Verbal Kint, the crippled con man, who's not actually crippled and is possibly Keyser Soze, the most ruthless crime boss in world history. None of the other criminals in the story suspect Kint of not being genuine, either, at least if that part of the story he told the Customs agent is to be believed.
  • American Animals: Warren insists that the members of The Caper disguise themselves as old men because old people are easily ignored. However, they actually stick out among the college students of the university library. During their second attempt, they simply dress in suits.
  • Deadly Advice: The reason Jack the Ripper gives as to why he was never caught. An unassuming hairdresser, he once even cut Inspector Aberline's hair; showing how close to an investigation he could come without being suspected.
  • In Reservoir Dogs Mr. Pink considers Mr. Blonde the only person he completely trusts because he's too much of psychopathic killer to be working with the police.
  • Zig Zag (2002): When Mr. Walters' safe is robbed, both he and Detective Hawke almost immediately dismiss the teenage autistic dishwasher as a suspect, even though he's the one who really committed the theft.

  • In A Brother's Price, the princesses never suspected the Porters because they lost some of their mothers, their Eldest, and their brother in the same blast that killed the elder princesses and were their sisters-in-law.
  • John Dickson Carr:
    • The killer in the Dr. Gideon Fell novel Below Suspicion was in a prison cell when the murder was committed.
    • Remarked on in an essay on the Fair-Play Whodunnit: "never remind the reader that a suspect has an airtight alibi, or he'll immediately be suspected. Treat it as such a given that it never occurs to the detective (or the writer!) to suspect Joe because Joe is so obviously innocent."
  • Lots and lots of Agatha Christie novels.
    • It gets to the point that the character(s) that have absolutely rock-solid alibis are often the ones responsible. Examples include Lord Edgware Dies (she was at a party with friends), Death on the Nile (one had been shot in the leg, the other with a nurse looking over her) and Murder in Mesopotamia (he was on the roof while the victim was downstairs). In many cases, Christie deliberately does not point out that the suspect has an apparently unshakable alibi to avoid evoking the obvious reaction.
    • Christie was also fond of the trick of the character who we know was there but, by the rules of detective stories, wouldn't normally think of as being a suspect - The Watson in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; a policeman in Hercule Poirots Christmas and (as a deliberate Shout-Out to Chesterton's Invisible Man) "The Man in the Mist"; and perhaps the ultimate example, Hercule Poirot himself in Curtain.
  • Circleverse: The murderer in Shatterglass ends up being a prathmun, a member of Tharios' Untouchable caste, considered so low and degraded that to even acknowledge his presence requires being ritually purified afterward.
  • Cormoran Strike Novels: In The Cuckoo's Calling, the murderer turns out to be the brother of the first victim, who was the one who initially hired the detective after the police ruled the death a suicide, and is for most of the book the only one convinced her death was murder.
  • Discworld: The page quote comes from Thud!, in which a prominent dwarf religious leader is murdered in a dwarf mine, with a troll's club beside him. Despite both dwarves and trolls searching for the murderer, no one ever looks at the troll junkie Brick. Subverted, however, because Brick isn't the murderer. He's a witness, albeit an unreliable one, because he was there totally by accident and still on a drug high.
    • In Guards! Guards!, the Supreme Grand Master of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night (aka Lupine Wonse, Vetinari's secretary) recruited the Brethren from the very bottom of Ankh-Morpork's food chain, precisely because they're all so low on the food chain that Vetinari, who has spies everywhere, and is aware of every plot against him, wouldn't take notice of them.
  • The Dresden Files: When it becomes clear that there's a traitor to the White Council, everyone's prime suspects include people like The Captain of the Wardens, members of the Senior Council, or Dresden himself. Until Turn Coat, nobody suspects that the traitor is the Senior Council's secretary, who, while not an officially high position, does have access to all the information the ranking officers do.
  • In Dune, Dr. Wellington Yueh is the obvious suspect to be the traitor who will betray the Atreides to their Harkonnen rivals. However, he has supposedly been the recipient of Sukh mental conditioning, guaranteeing that he can never voluntarily take a human life. Therefore he is able to fool even a Living Lie Detector who is specifically alert for signs of potential treachery. In other words, he is set up as a Red Herring Mole to conceal the fact that he is actually The Mole.
  • In G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories, the detective-priest observes that nobody ever notices people who are meant to be there...
    • In 'The Invisible Man', a man who lives alone is killed, while the police are blocking off every possible entrance to his house. Father Brown figures out that the killer walked straight through a police blockade because he was a 'mentally invisible man'.
      'You are not mad,' said Brown, 'only a little unobservant. You have not noticed such a man as this, for example.'
      He took three quick strides forward, and put his hand on the shoulder of an ordinary passing postman who had bustled by them unnoticed under the shade of the trees.
      'Nobody ever notices postmen somehow,' he said thoughtfully; 'yet they have passions like other men, and even carry large bags where a small corpse can be stowed quite easily.'
    • In 'The Queer Feet', Flambeau steals expensive silverware, from right under the rich diners' noses, because he's dressed as one of the hotel/restaurant's waiters. And he inverts the trope as well: the wait staff never figure out that a new guy showed up out of nowhere, because he changes his gait and posture so the waiters think he's a rich diner.
  • In a Five Find-Outers book, the Find-Outers dismiss one of the suspects because he was on stage in front of a hundred people when the robbery was committed. He turns out to be the culprit.
  • Harry Potter
    • Professor Quirrell in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
    • Ginny Weasley in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
    • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a Sneakoscope, which supposedly detects betrayal, starts acting up as soon as Harry meets up with Hermione, Ron and his family. Who is it reacting to? Ron's pet rat, Scabbers, who is actually a transformed villain.
    • Inverted in Half-Blood Prince, when Harry's spying on Draco Malfoy has him convinced that Malfoy is a Death Eater and responsible for lots of the life-threatening mischief at Hogwarts that year. Everyone he talks to finds this very far-fetched, because Malfoy's just a teenage student and not even a particularly competent one. Of course, he turns out to be right.
    • It's also played straight in the same book. Harry never once suspects the correct person of being the Half-Blood Prince and has to be told who it is. This is despite his habit of suspecting Snape of anything, and also the (once common) tradition in British schools of school teachers keeping their favourite textbook in the book cupboard and it only ending up in the hands of pupils if they're desperate (precisely because of how moth-eaten and scrawled over these books often were). As a result, the one time Snape should have legitimately been one of Harry's first suspects was the one time he inexplicably wasn't suspected at all. On the other hand, Slughorn had taken over for Snape as potions master that year, so they only had Slughorn to relate it to.
    • Animagi seem to like using this reasoning, especially unregistered ones. In Philosopher's Stone, Professor McGonagall spends all day spying on the Dursleys in the form of a cat. Later on, various other animagi try using the same reasoning with varying degrees of success, such as Sirius trying to get away with using his dog-form and Rita Skeeter obtaining her stories by turning into a bug.
  • Jack Ryan: Deliberately invoked by John Kelly in Without Remorse when he goes on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge while disguised as a bum. Had he not accidentally walked onto the scene of a totally unrelated mugging and left behind a wine bottle with no fingerprints on it, the police might not have realized how he was operating.
  • Justified in Parfum (the book, not made clear in the film) because Gaston has no personal smell he almost cannot be remembered and slides under everybody's radar.
  • Star Wars Legends: In the Revenge of the Sith novelization, Mace Windu states that the only reason Palpatine (the guilty party) is above suspicion of being the Big Bad infiltrating the Senate is that he already rules the galaxy.
  • Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls: Mrs. Smith cites this as the reason why the Center employs children as spies.
    Mrs. Smith: No one ever suspects a child. Children can go practically anywhere without arousing suspicion. This is the cornerstone of our operation.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy gets a job at a local burger joint with a high turnover rate. She finds a human finger in the meat grinder and believes that they're killing the employees for food. Instead, it turns out that they're being eaten by a demonic customer who looks like a harmless old lady.
  • On Deception (2018), the FBI agents are hunting Sasha, a Russian mobster so secretive that few even know what he looks like. They raid a local bar filled with various mob guys but can't find Sasha. After magician aide Cameron helps them bust an underling, the guy reveals who Sasha is: The club's bartender who the team had passed during the raid. While arresting him, agent Kay gives the guy credit, lampshading that no one would give the bartender a second look, let alone think he's the boss.
  • In Elementary, a COO of a major firm is found dead, Sherlock discovers a rash of similar murders in the company spanning several years, and the only executive who can be clearly linked to all the murders alibis out. Sherlock doesn't think until much later to check out that executive's secretary, about which he points out when he does think of it, "no one ever remembers the secretary, do they?"
  • Ellery Queen: The killer in "The Adventure of the Pharaoh's Curse". This was one of the only episodes where the killer was not one of the suspects named in the opening monologue.
  • Game of Thrones: Tywin must consider Arya this to keep her around during top-secret war councils even after penetrating her Sweet Polly Oliver disguise and her lies about being a lowborn southerner.
  • In Good Girls, struggling moms Annie, Beth and Ruby rob a grocery store only to realize too late that it's a front for a local gang. The gang leader, Rico, is tempted to kill them but is struck when Beth tells him that killing three normal, law-abiding suburban moms will bring in a huge investigation. Rico realizes that because the trio is so normal and have no criminal records, they're the perfect agents to use for everything from running counterfeit cash to various other scams to work off their "debt".
  • On The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, in the episode Campus Terror, Joe Hardy's old flame Wendy calls the brothers in to help solve a series of kidnappings and disappearances taking place in an East Coast women's college, as she's the next targeted victim. She barely escapes an attack as the Hardys rush in moments after the attacker has fled & both the Hardys & the police treat her as just another victim. While suspicion falls on various men around campus (a young man who's stalking one of the female students, a professor with a history of evil experiments, the school's male self-defense teacher), it turns out that Wendy herself is the kidnapper, suffering from delusional split-personality episodes, and her "other personality" faked the attack to throw the police off.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Daredevil.
      • Exploited by Madame Gao. Her "Steel Serpent" heroin is packaged and delivered by blind Chinese people.
      • Matt himself is beneath suspicion for being the Man in the Mask/Daredevil because he's just a blind man.
    • Jessica Jones: Jessica realizes that her new neighbor, the drug-addicted Malcolm, is being used by Kilgrave as a spy. When she discusses this with Trish, they realize it's a perfect cover, as "everyone dismisses the junkie".
  • Patrick Jane, The Mentalist, has caught several killers who escaped others' suspicion by pretending to be disabled, mentally handicapped, and such.
  • In Los Misterios de Laura, a guy is poisoned and wakes up amnesiac after an emergency operation at the hospital. Immediately afterwards, a mysterious woman he doesn't know claims to be his wife and insists he signs some documents, as her husband, so they can access a locked security vault at a bank. The woman the guy claims was his real wife claims she's married to someone else and then is suspiciously killed after she attempts to call the police, leaving incriminating evidence pointing at the "other" wife. Then she tries to get him incapacitated so she can finally take over all his accounts without needing him around anymore. In the end, the criminal was the amnesiac guy, who was truly married to that woman and was only feigning amnesia and pinning a whole lot of heavily suspicious actions on his wife so the detective would fall for it and arrest her, forcing her brother, who he wanted to get revenge on, to come out of hiding to give decisive evidence on his sister's favour.
  • The Night Of: It's heavily implied that the murderer is the victim's financial manager, who was first interviewed by the protagonist while investigating the victim's stepfather.
  • Supernatural: In "Something Wicked", the Monster of the Week in a small town is none other than the doctor who is treating the patients (children who have had the energy sucked out of them by said monster).
  • A heroic variant appears in one episode of Lucifer. After Chloe nearly dies and Lucifer temporarily returns to Hell to try to save her, he disappears for several weeks only to show up newly married to Candi, a Brainless Beauty exotic dancer. At the end of the episode it's revealed that "Candi" is in fact highly intelligent and was putting on a show of being The Ditz as a favor to Lucifer in order to find out if his mother had any hidden agendas.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Muppets Most Wanted: The Muppets are stopped trying to leave Paris because the police suspect that they're involved with an art theft in a museum that bordered their venue and happened the night of their performance. After questioning several of the Muppets, though, they conclude that they're far too stupid to pull off a crime of this kind. They forgot to question their new agent, who had been working with an Identical Stranger of Kermit to pull off a string of heists.


    Tabletop Games 
  • In one Paranoia adventure, when a robot claims to have video footage exonerating the PCs, the gamemaster is advised to maintain this trope: "Don't go 'heeeeeeey, there's a data port right over there, wanna try it?'. Wait for the PCs to ask if there's a data port nearby, then casually say 'oh yeah, there's one over in the corner'." When the robot is hooked up, it restores the previously-crashed Computer.
    • And more generally, due to this trope, Infrared-level citizens as a whole are subject to less scrutiny and surveillance than those who are officially more "trusted". Most of them really are too stupid and drugged to do anything really bad, but occasionally Internal Security will hide an agent that way.

  • Arsenic and Old Lace: Who would ever suspect two nice old ladies?
  • Inverted in Les Misérables: even though Monsieur le Mayor matches Jean Valjean's description, including the near-superhuman strength, Javert concludes that they cannot be the same person because there is no way that an escaped convict could ever become the mayor of a town (and because they caught the "real" Valjean soon after Javert first suggested that le Mayor was Valjean). They are the same, and Valjean goes to defend the accused by revealing himself shortly thereafter. Justified in the film, as Valjean was bald with a long beard in prison, and le Mayor had a full head of hair and was clean shaven; in most stage adaptations, however, the difference between the two is merely a change of clothes.

    Video Games 
  • Persona 4:
    • Few could have seen Adachi as the murderer. But you, the player character, are also called under suspicion with your snooping around, but the main detective can't believe that the guy who's helping him raise his daughter would do such a thing.
    • Throughout the game, several people are abducted and thrown into the TV world - often in broad daylight, or with plenty of people around. Not even the victims themselves remember seeing anyone suspicious after they're rescued. The kidnapper drives a delivery truck. Which also means that your cousin Nanako, who was left home alone, doesn't consider him to be a 'stranger' when he knocks at the door...It also helps that the aforementioned murderer is giving him directions and, at one point, draws the party away from his target.
    • As it turns out, the true mastermind behind the whole mess is a random gas station attendant you met at the beginning of the game. They are so far beneath suspicion, they don't even get their own Character Portrait!
  • Baten Kaitos:
    • Kalas in the first game is this trope both on a meta-level and in-universe. Few players would expect to be betrayed by the main character; none of the other characters ever suspected he could be the spy (likely to avoid tipping off the player) even though he never gives any particularly strong reasons as to why he's helping with the quest in the first place.
    • In an even more meta example, the sequel has the player themselves (unknowingly) lying to Sagi and co.
  • In Mass Effect 2, a plague is released in a section of Omega space station that kills everything except humans and vorcha. Naturally, the aliens are suspicious of the humans in the area, believing (correctly) that such a targetted plague could only be an intentionally-designed bioweapon. Nobody, meanwhile, suspects the vorcha of a thing. Partly because vorcha are immune to everything anyway, but mostly because vorcha are considered little more than intelligent vermin: sapient, but very stupid. It turns out that while the vorcha didn't create the plague, they are the ones who are distributing it, know perfectly well what they're doing, and the humans aboard the station are innocent (at least of this particular crime).
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Likely your first major sidequest in Windhelm will be "Blood on the Ice," which requires you to identify and capture a serial killer. The killer helps you identify a piece of evidence, and you probably won't even suspect them until you catch them in the act. You might even have the wrong person imprisoned.
  • Unavowed: Nobody on the Unavowed Guild suspected The Instigator's true form was the orignal human host, who was secretly a classic demon-summoning cult leader who disgusted the actual demon (the player character) into re-writing their memories just so they could forget they were living in the brain of a fucked-up homicidal sociopath.
  • Discussed in Knights of the Old Republic. One of your potential party members is HK-47, an assassin robot. You can have a conversation with him where he explains one of his favored assassination methods is to pretend to be a normal protocol droid (a servant/assistant robot) to get close to his target because people tend to view protocol droids as nothing more than furniture and goes on to mock how shocked his targets are when the "furniture" pulls a gun on them.
  • This trope is exploited in Kingdom Hearts III with Vexen and Demyx. One member of Xehanort's new Organization (not mentioned by name) is actively working against Xehanort's intentions; for that purpose, he turns to Vexen, who specifically rejoined them for the purpose of continuing work on the Replica Program. Since Vexen is not one of the 'chosen' who is serving as the thirteen seekers of darkness, he can perform certain actions in the stead of the betrayer, who is one of the chosen. However, since Vexen's Replica Program is a key element in letting the thirteen exist at the same time, he turns to Demyx. As Demyx himself points out, he and Vexen weren't friends in the Organization and didn't know each other before the Organization, so no one would suspect them of collaborating; further, Demyx both has a reputation of not caring and is not one of the chosen, so he has still more freedom than Vexen does.
    Demyx: Oh, I get it! It's because I got benched!
    Vexen: I got "benched", too!
  • In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Tomas, the old, friendly and slightly awkward librarian is just another NPC wandering around the Garreg Mach Academy, aided by a cane and requiring plenty of help, but soon enough it turns out he's Solon, a member of Those Who Slither In The Dark and who's capable of very, very mean stuff like trapping Byleth in eternal darkness...

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Dee Vasquez and Acro in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Justice For All. Justified by the fact that the investigators didn't even know Vasquez was near the murder scene until the very end of the first trial day, and Acro is in a wheelchair. Acro basically even says, "I'm in a wheelchair, you jerk, how could you accuse me?!"
    • Also the true head of the smuggling ring in Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth and culprit of both I1-5 murders is the sweet, self-effacing Manipulative Bastard Quercus Alba. Despite being the ambassador from KG-8 to the present, nobody thinks to investigate the guy who can barely walk even with a cane. At least, until Shi-Long Lang spots the thread during your investigation, and starts his own gambit that leads to Edgeworth accusing the correct suspect.
    • In Ace Attorney Investigations 2, it takes until the very end of the fifth case for Edgeworth to realize that maybe the best friend of the second case's victim might be somehow connected to events. Pretty justifiable, as in this case 'events' meant multiple kidnappings, manipulating two high-level law enforcement officers into committing murder, and hiring an assassin to kill a president. Said best friend was a clown.
    • Then, in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, the mastermind behind nearly all the events of the game, as well as eight years of corruption in the courts, was Detective Bobby Fulbright, or rather his killer posing as him, who is only added to the list of profiles because, well, he's the detective!
  • Danganronpa:
    • In Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Mikan Tsumiki, a girl who has abysmal self-esteem, turns out to be the murderer for the third case. The rest of the cast comments on this after Hinata accuses them of it.
    Tanaka: Hmmm... to think there are people killed by a woman as thickheaded as she... it's beyond difficult to believe.
    Sonia: We could do without the "thickheaded" part...
    • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony: In the fourth case, the murderer turns out to be Gonta Gokuhara, who is an extremely kind-hearted and caring person, who additionally is rather dumb, certainly not cunning enough to come up with a murder plan or cover it up. This person is such an unlikely murderer that the protagonist never even considers them as a culprit, until the person who manipulated the culprit into the murder outright reveals who it is.

    Western Animation 
  • Scooby-Doo plays this trope straight constantly during its early incarnations, although like many of the franchise's mainstay tropes, they begin playing with it to some regularity by the late 1990s/early 2000s. In the original series, it's the one character the gang briefly meets early, only to disappear and never be seen again... until the monster is captured. He usually tries to make himself extremely helpful during the brief time he's seen, which is another hint.
    • Subverted in one episode where the gang meets a rather creepy-looking farmer who tells them about a ghost haunting a nearby abandoned airfield. They investigate and find out that the phony ghost is not the farmer, but the farmer's next-door neighbor (who we haven't even seen until now) who was trying to scare the farmer off his land. And the police who show up at the end? The creepy farmer called them himself when he got worried about the Scooby gang's own safety!
    • Double subverted in one episode, where the kids meet a creepy old man who tells them a creepy story of a haunted house, then disappears. They spend most of the episode trying to catch a headless ghost in said haunted house, only to find out it's the inheritor of the house (a person they've never seen before), trying to keep treasure hunters away until he can recover his grandfather's fortune. The next moment, a masked burglar wearing a bedsheet on his head breaks into the house. They catch him and guess what? He's the guy they met in the beginning.
    • In another episode, they are alone for the first half without meeting anyone. This one has no disguised villains, just a malfunctioning robot and an inventor trying to repair it, and his wife, who doesn't like robots, and only appears at the very end.
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Beware the Gray Ghost", the Hidden Villain Mad Bomber is the young toy collector that bought Simon Trent Gray Ghost memorabilia earlier in the episode. When Simon Trent had his "Eureka!" Moment, he cannot believe it:
    Simon Trent: But I'm not the Mad Bomber, Batman. I'm not. I sold my Gray Ghost cars months ago to pay for my... No, it can't be him.
  • In the Kim Possible "A Sitch In Time" three-episode arc, three of Kim's major villains (Dr. Drakken, Duff Killigan, and Monkey Fist) team up to grab a time-traveling monkey idol which is the key to a future world takeover by the "Supreme One". Team Possible captures the three villains, and Kim thinks the problem is solved... which it isn't because the Supreme One is actually Shego, who escaped while Kim's attention was focused on the others.
  • Played straight and also zig-zagged in an episode of Gravity Falls. One episode has Dipper realize that local Mad Scientist and Cloudcuckoolander Old Man McGucket, who he's ignored for the most part over the show's past season, might be the Author of the Journals. The quest to recover his lost memories leads to the straight example: the reason why few townsfolk seem to remember the local oddities is because of a cultist group called The Society of the Blind Eye, dedicated to erasing resident's memories of such activity in the town, comprised of Bud Gleeful, father of the previous season's Big Bad Gideon, lame reporter Toby Determined, Tats, the bouncer of the local lumberjack bar, Sprott, the former owner of Mabel's pig Waddles, and a man married to a woodpecker who had appeared as a Running Gag several times before. They all used the Society to make themselves and others forget their failures and oddities. The zig-zag part comes in McGucket's identity: no, he wasn't the Author of the Journals. But he did work with him on the portal project, and would go on to found the Society in order to prevent himself from going mad after seeing the Nightmare Dimension during said project. However, he went too far, erased too much, and became a hermit hillbilly and local crackpot.
  • In The Simpsons, this is how Homer ultimately gets away with being the masked vigilante Pie Man. The mystique and legend of Pie Man gets built up so much that the people of Springfield would never in a million years suspect Homer of being the man, and even when Homer outright unmasks himself in front of a crowd and confesses everyone calls him a liar.
    Apu: Homer Simpson is the Pie Man? Impossible! He's never thrown a pastry away in his life!
    Sideshow Mel: His brain isn't large enough to juggle two contrasting personae!
    Moe: Yeah! And Homer's a dumbass! No offense, Homer... you dumbass.
    Homer: I'm telling you, I'm the Pie Man!
    Carl: No you're not! The Pie Man can fly!
    Lenny: And spit acid!
    Carl: Yeah and animals did his bidding!


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