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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."

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 quiet, or so stupid, or so insignificant 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 and Beneath Notice. Compare Insists on Being Suspected.

Since this trope is usually related to important twists, all spoilers are unmarked in the examples below. Beware!


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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 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.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Stardust Crusaders: When the gang initially encounters Forever, he's sat in a cage and pretending to be an average orangutan; the only thing out of the ordinary being him knowing how to point to a lock, and then smoking and reading a pornographic magazine. Because of that, nobody ever suspects that he is a Stand User until Forever fully reveals himself to be such.
    • Steel Ball Run: Lucy Steel was able to get away with sabotaging Valentine's plans for so long merely due to nobody suspecting a 14-year-old wife to be the traitor.
    • JoJolion: Toru, an ordinary student, is actually the real mastermind behind an underground smuggling cartel and illegal research operation.
  • In Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation, Orsted has identified and analyzed every one of Hitogami's agents except one, but that one blind spot is enough to foil his plans. The agent turns out to be Gisu, a person with no combat abilities or political sway.
  • 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.
  • The Maze Agency: In "The Mile High Corpse", a mob boss is murdered on a trans-Atlantic flight and Jen and Gabe discover an Orgy of Evidence on the body seeming to indicate all three of the other passengers in first class. Dismissing this as the Red Herring it is, Gabe is able to identify the murderer as someone who is not a passenger at all, but had been in out of the cabin all flight without anyone paying her the least attention: the flight attendant.
  • Squad: Nobody, police included, would suspect four scrawny rich girls for the murders of the boys in the area.
  • Usagi Yojimbo: The Guild of Assassins, a semi-recurring foe of Usagi's, move around almost completely undetected this way, disguising themselves as travelling performers, monks, peasants, beggars, etc. Basically the kind of people the highly stratified society of Japan virtually treat as invisible. Ironically, unlike the clans of Highly-Visible Ninja that also exist in this setting, this makes the Guild far more similar to the real-life Ninja as they once existed.

    Films — Animation 
  • Hoodwinked! has the little bunny Boingo, the actual Goody Bandit. All four of the parties in a simple domestic disturbance turn out to have had separate encounters with Boingo, and he's the only common thread in everyone's testimonies: Red Puckett meets him once while she's riding her bike and then again in the cable car, suggesting that she's being tailed by Boingo (she's the only one who encounters him more than once), 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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: This is 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.
  • The obvious candidate in 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 three-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.
  • 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 of 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.
  • Played with (along 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Murder by Death, 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... But there's one more twist just before the credits roll.
  • In Reservoir Dogs, Mr. Pink considers Mr. Blonde the only person he completely trusts because he's too much of a psychopathic killer to be working with the police.
  • Saw: This is a common pattern in the revelations of Jigsaw killers and copycats, often involving them playing as victims in some way.
    • Saw: Nobody, not even the audience, ever thinks at any point that the "dead" body in the bathroom where Adam and Lawrence are trapped in is just Playing Possum and is, in fact, the mastermind. At best, they'll think that the mastermind is Zep (one of the victims in the main game) before The Reveal at the end, due to him having been provided plenty of "mastermind equipment" like cameras.
    • Saw II: Downplayed with Amanda, one of the supposed victims in the Nerve Gas House. While nobody ever suspects her as being a Jigsaw apprentice, there's a decent amount of Foreshadowing to it over the course of the film before her reveal at the end.
    • Saw IV sets up a twist ending that's very similar to the example from the first film, down to having a fake suspect for the audience to assume as an apprentice. Just like Lawrence and Adam, Eric and Hoffman are trapped in a small room at the Gideon Meatpacking Plant with Art having them on hold while overseeing Rigg's game. Similarly to Adam with Zep, Rigg finds out that Art had an instruction tape with him, and Hoffman unties himself from his chair, matching John getting up in the first film.
    • Saw 3D: Lawrence is an interesting variant. The previous films where he was absent had various small hints to him having become an accomplice behind the scene, but this film has no foreshadowing to it at all before his reveal; the closest thing that gets to a hint is him sarcastically praising Bobby's claims in the Jigsaw Survivor Group meeting.
    • Jigsaw: Logan is another variant. At first, he's seemingly set up to be an innocent who's accussed by Halloran of being the one behind the new Jigsaw killings, what with him trying to eliminate or otherwise block access to potential evidence that could point towards him with help of Eleanor. However, during the climax, Halloran proves himself right when it turns out that Logan was faking at being a victim in the Laser Collars.
    • Spiral (2021): Schenk is never suspected by anyone to be Spiral Killer, even just before revealing himself at the climax. That said, it's easy for the audience to assume this when he's supposedly captured by the killer, because his game is never actually shown, unlike the other victims in the film and many more in the previous ones.
  • 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.
  • A non-murder example applies to the universe of Star Wars, where droids are able to go pretty much anywhere so long as they act like they belong there, since droids are treated as less-than-lower-class by nearly everybody to the point that they don't keep track of them at all. Case in point: C-3PO and R2-D2 are able to walk about the Death Star armed only with faint excuses, despite the fact that one of them is currently wanted for carrying the the schematics to the Death Star itself!
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Happens in a lot of Agatha Christie's novels.
    • It gets to the point that a character who has an absolutely rock-solid alibi is often the one responsible for the case (or one of the cases) in the novel. Novels where this happens include Lord Edgware Dies (the culprit 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 (the culprit was on the roof while the victim was downstairs). In many cases, Christie deliberately doesn't point out that the suspect has an apparently unshakable alibi to avoid evoking the obvious reaction.
    • Christie was also fond of the trick involving a character who we know was there but, by the rules of detective stories, wouldn't normally think of as being a suspect. Examples of this include The Watson in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a policeman in Hercule Poirot's Christmas, and (as a deliberate Shout-Out to Chesterton's Invisible Man) the titular man from "The Man in the Mist". The ultimate example is perhaps Hercule Poirot himself in Curtain.
    • If the detective seems a bit too convinced that the killer must have been of a specific gender, then there's a big chance that it was a deliberate ploy by the killer. Mrs. McGinty's Dead and The Moving Finger both have a male killer planting evidence pointing to a woman, while the female culprits of Murder is Easy and Nemesis commit particularly violent murders that they know will point to a man.
  • Circle verse: 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.
  • 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 and combing their respective communities, 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) recruits 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 their plot until it's too late.
  • 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 Harry Potter and the 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 and that the most important members on his side also knew but pretended not to for strategic reasons.
    • 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, 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.
  • Jaine Austen Mysteries:
    • Invoked by Hank in Death by Pantyhose, who seems like a lovelorn geek afraid of his own shadow.
    • In Pampered to Death, Cathy seems like a complete ditz, going off on wild theories as to who the killer is. Jaine doesn't suspect her until the end of the book.
    • This ends up the case with Daisy Kincaid/Emma Shimmel from Death of a Gigolo.
  • Justified in Das Parfum because Jean Baptiste has no personal smell; thus, 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.
  • Simon Ark: In "The Dying Marabout", the murderer turns to be the marabout's tall, bald servant. As Simon explains during The Summation, the murderer had to have been someone present at the monastery before the invitations were sent out, which was only the marabout and his three servants. The marabout was murdered and of the servants, only one of them was tall enough to have impersonated him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In 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.
  • In 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".
  • 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.
  • In I, Claudius, the title character has made such an art of Obfuscating Stupidity that he's the only one who can slip through the net of Sejanus' Police State to deliver a warning to Emperor Tiberius. Anyone else would have their papers searched and read, but because nobody thinks Claudius is capable of being involved in anything important, he can deliver his pointless little history book (and a hidden letter) to Tiberius without attracting Sejanus' attention.
  • A heroic variant appears in one episode of Lucifer (2016). 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.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Daredevil (2015):
      • 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 (2015): 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, on whom he wanted to get revenge, 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.
  • Played for laughs in an episode of The Other Two, where Brooke repeatedly violates a non-disclosure agreement to her friends, only to subsequently get ratted out, causing her to become increasingly paranoid that her friends are ratting on her. It's obvious to the audience, however, that Brooke is violating the NDAs on the phone while riding in Ubers, whose drivers Brooke eventually, sheepishly remembers "are actual human beings".
  • 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).


    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.
  • An adventure in Star Wars d6 introduces Rivoche Tarkin, niece of the infamous Grand Moff and deep cover agent for the Rebellion that has never been suspected because nobody in their right mind would suspect Tarkin's niece. The only reason she's exposed and needs being extracted is that the Empire has uncovered evidence that points at someone that would attend her engagement party and with the Grand Moff dead his faction's enemies felt safe enought to frame her - and they were very surprised when she opened fire to help her "kidnappers" and revealed her true allegiance.

  • 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, at least until you start pressing them about their involvement.
  • 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 targeted 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 who's capable of very, very mean stuff like trapping Byleth in eternal darkness...
  • In Psychonauts 2, the true mastermind of the plot turns out to be Nick Johnsmith, the mailroom clerk. As it turns out, "Nick" is actually a deposed prince of a third-world country who chose to infiltrate the Psychonauts via posing as as a menial worker that almost everyone liked. Particularly impressive given that he's surrounded by people that can read minds.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Dee Vasquez and Acro in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Justice For All, respectively. 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?!"
    • 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 with abysmal self-esteem, turns out to be the murderer of the third case. The rest of the cast comments on this after Hajime accuses her of it.
      Gundham: 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...
    • In the fourth case of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, the murderer turns out to be Gonta Gokuhara, who's a kind-hearted and caring person, doesn't do well in social terms or technology (or things aside from his talent, which is entomology), and is certainly not cunning enough to come up with a murder plan or cover it up. Adding the fact that he doesn't remember a thing of what happened in the case, he's such an unlikely murderer that Shuichi never even considers him as a culprit, until Kokichi, who manipulated Gonta 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 zig-zagged in an episode of Gravity Falls. Dipper realizes 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!