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Bluffing the Murderer

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Our Hero is certain they know who committed the crime. Unfortunately, there isn't much evidence, so the hero maneuvers the criminal into panicking in a way that's likely to be self-incriminating.

Some variants include:

  1. Police announce they will be making a search of a particular area. The killer feels forced to remove some weak evidence from the place first. The police actually already had that evidence, and now they have the strong evidence that the killer knew about it and tried to conceal it.
  2. Tricking a criminal into revealing the location of a key piece of evidence (such as a body). One unlikely version is that the police forge some evidence to make it seem the victim's been seen around; killer goes to check on the place where the body is hidden; cops follow him there. Allegedly Truth in Television: police used a clever ruse to get the murderer of John and Phoebe Harries to reveal the location of the body.
  3. The most dangerous kind: a character is put into a position where they're dangerous to the murderer's schemes. A common way of doing this is trying to blackmail the murderer. In any case, when the murderer attempts to kill this new obstacle, the police burst out from hiding and the murderer is caught red-handed (though for a new crime).

This trope is particularly common in armchair detective fiction, where the hero often has only determined the culprit through a long chain of interlocking deductions and subtle observations which would never hold up in court.

Compare Engineered Public Confession (which plays off the villain's overconfidence rather than their panic), Perp Sweating, Framing the Guilty Party, and the more general Lying to the Perp. Will occasionally result in I Never Said It Was Poison. Often a supertrope of You Just Told Me.

Note that spoilers will abound in the examples.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The heroes of Bakuman。 write a manga "Detective Trap" around this trope.
  • Case Closed sees plenty use of this trope. A particularly good example is from the first movie, in which Conan tells the suspect that he found the disguise he used while conducting his bombings. (He actually made it himself out of stuff he found in the room.) The bluff succeeds and the suspect says "But I left those in the study." Oops.
  • In Death Note, L tricks Light with one of the aforementioned variants very early on. Light usually reacts coolly as part of his acting skills later on. Of course, this being Death Note, this happens something along the lines of every episode, and is probably one of the most common plans used.
  • During Part 3 of Jojos Bizarre Adventure, Jotaro and co. are trying to suss out an enemy stand user aboard a ship full of seamen and a stowaway. With the captain of the ship within earshot, Jotaro makes up some fact about how cigarette smoke (he had lit one up moments earlier) makes a vein on a stand user's nose bulge out. Everyone in Jotaro's party checks their noses...including the captain (though he reveals that he had no idea who the stand user actually was, and was planning on using the same trick for every individual crew member).
  • One of Kindaichi's favorite tactics is to put the suspect in a position where they'll be killed by their own death trap unless they take action (and thus implicating themselves, since an innocent person wouldn't know about the trap).
  • Parodied in Yuria 100 Shiki. A boy who's recently watched a show called Bolumco discovers a close-up photo of a vagina on his father's hard drive. He has no idea what it's a photo of, so he shows it to his friends, and his female friend (who thinks it looks vaguely familiar, like she's seen it from a different angle) shows it to her foster father. He immediately denies all knowledge of what it is, so the boys bluff him and pretend they've figured out its location and of course, he immediately looks in the direction of the girl's crotch.

    Comic Books 
  • In the graphic novel Camelot 3000, Merlin has been betrayed by one of the reincarnated Round Table knights. King Arthur orders the suspects to hold Excalibur and attest to their innocence, claiming his sword will magically strike down anyone who lies while holding it. The guilty party panics and confesses, after which Arthur admits that Excalibur has no such power.
  • A Marvel issue of Star Trek has Kirk implicated in the murder of a planet's ambassador with whom he inadvertently crossed as a cadet. On the planet's surface, Spock uses deductive reasoning or as Dr. McCoy termed it, "bluffing" to reveal the real murderer.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The hero in the French movie Le Bossu uses this to unmask the murderer.
  • In Crossfire, Montgomery kills Floyd, the only witness to his murder of Samuels. Detective Finlay, who has no hard evidence against Montgomery, devises a ruse. Leroy, another soldier, leads Montgomery to believe that Floyd is actually still alive, then shows Montgomery a paper with the address of the boarding house Floyd is at. Montgomery then shows up at Floyd's room, claiming to have been sent there by Leroy except that Leroy gave him the wrong address. Montgomery's arrival at the right room proves that he was there before and catches him out as the murderer.
  • In Doubt, Sister Aloysius bluffs Father Flynn by claiming that she had spoken to a nun at his previous Parish that had confirmed his pattern of child abuse. But she didn't make that call, and she takes the Priest's resignation as a confession.
  • The climax of the film A Few Good Men has the defense lawyer provoking the base commander into a rage in the hope that he would admit to ordering the beating that killed the Marine. It's the sequence that the very famous line does not come from. The bluff hinged on the base commander lying about the time of a particular flight. The defense attorney brought in two airmen that he implied were going to testify as to the actual time of the flight. Turns out that the airmen had absolutely no recollection of anything.
  • In the Al Pacino/Robin Williams film Insomnia, the police find the murder victim's backpack in the woods, and Pacino orders them to replace it and then put out a reward for any information about it, so that the murderer will return to collect it before anyone else finds it. It worked, but he still got away at the time.
    • This comes from the Norwegian original, the same results.
  • In Klute, Donald Sutherland has figured out who the killer is, but has no evidence. So he makes up a story, telling the bad guy that he's about to acquire an incriminating address book, in order to smoke the bad guy out.
  • Performed in Murder Mystery, where all of the remaining suspects are brought into the room for a summation of evidence. It fails. First, they learn one of their assumptions was wrong, then the accused killer admits they're the lost heir, but coolly denies the murder, and the Interpol detective rightly points out that there's no solid evidence.
  • Nighthawks. New York cop DaSilva sees a man whom he thinks is the international terrorist Wulgar, but he's been altered by plastic surgery. So he stares at Wulgar until the terrorist notices him, then shouts out "Wulfgar!" as if he's just recognised him. Wulgar's instinctive response is to draw his gun and start shooting.
  • A Shot in the Dark. Clouseau has no idea who the killer is, so gathers all the suspects for a Summation Gathering and arranges for his partner to turn out the lights, hoping the guilty party will panic and flee. Clouseau drags things out for so long the murderer confesses as does everyone else and the meeting instead dissolves into an enraged argument between all the suspects, with Clouseau staring helplessly into the camera before the lights go out.
  • In Star Trek VI, when the murderers of the Klingon Chancellor are themselves found dead on the Enterprise, Kirk and Spock have someone broadcast an order over the ship's P.A. system for a court reporter to report to sickbay to take statements from the two men. Naturally assuming that the men actually survived their assassination and are about to spill the proverbial beans, the assassin, Lieutenant Valeris, Spock's protégée, heads straight to sickbay to finish the job...and finds Kirk, Spock, and McCoy lying in wait instead.
  • In Knives Out, Benoit Blanc announces that Harlan Thrombey's autopsy showed no morphine, clearing Marta of responsibility and allowing her to take full possession of the estate and all its holdings. Marta then claims that Fran has recovered from her own case of morphine poisoning. This prompts the would-be murderer to unleash their frustration at their plan's total failure while also gloating that they can get away with everything since their attempted murders failed—and then Marta pukes all over the perpetrator's face, revealing that she was lying about Fran's condition.

  • Supposedly John Napier used this as a tactic to figure out which of his servants had been stealing from him. He covered a rooster in soot and put it into a darkened room, commanding everybody in town to enter the room and touch it, and declaring that the one whose touch caused the rooster to crow is the criminal. One by one, the townspeople enter the room and then leave. The rooster never made a sound. Napier then pointed out that one man had clean hands, showing that he never actually touched the rooster for fear of causing it to crow— proving his guilt.
    • QI discussed the subject in series C:
      Stephen Fry: I'm going to raise the tone, now. Why did the inventor of the decimal point encourage his servants to stroke his cock?
  • There are lots of old variations on this, such as a judge who hands out "magic sticks" to everyone in the village and tells them that the thief's stick will grow an inch in the night. The thief is the one who returns his stick with the end sawn off.
  • A common joke/urban legend in police circles is about an inverted version of this. It goes as follows: A lawyer has a client on trial for murder. It seems like the jury will convict the man despite the body of his victim still being missing. So the lawyer decides to bluff the jury by announcing that the supposed victim would walk into the room, and then used the fact that they all looked at the door to argue that they didn't fully believe that a murder had taken place. The jury then convicts the defendant of the murder. When the lawyer protests, the foreman explains their reasoning:
    Jury Foreman: Yes, we all looked, but your client didn't.


By Author:

  • Played for Laughs in a very short story by Achille Campanile: a detective facing a line of suspects says in a deliberately casual way "Say, mister murderer...", then arrests the person who answered "Yes?"
  • Agatha Christie does this in several works:
    • In The Murder at the Vicarage, Miss Marple suggests a trap to make the killer believe someone overheard a telephone conversation.
    • Conway Jefferson in The Body in the Library and Madame Renaud in The Murder on the Links make it known that they are changing their wills the following day, to induce the killer to attempt an assassination during the night, when the police will be waiting for them.
    • Characters in The Moving Finger and A Murder Is Announced pretend that they saw the murder committed and know the identity of the murderer. In each case, once again, this induces the murderer to attempt another murder, and be caught.
    • Cards on the Table has Hercule Poirot hire an actor to play the part of a window cleaner who claims to have witnessed the murder through the window. He didn't really, of course, but Poirot reconstructed how it occurred from his imagination.
    • In Death on the Nile, Poirot causes one of the killers to break down and confess by springing the truth on them.
    • In The ABC Murders, the killer confesses after Poirot mentions he left a fingerprint on his scapegoat's typewriter. Discussing the case later with Hastings, Poirot admits that there was no fingerprint: "I put that in to please you, mon ami."
    • In Towards Zero, Amateur Sleuth Angus MacWhirter claimed to have seen the killer swim across the creek and climb a rope into the victim's room at the time of the murder. He actually saw no such thing, but he stumbled across the murderer's jacket, found the wet rope in the house attic, connected the dots, and provided his (unproven) deduction as eyewitness account, forcing the killer to confess.
  • A number of cases in Isaac Asimov's works:
    • Not a murderer, per se, but short story "Galley Slave", Dr. Calvin bluffs a strongly anti-robot professor, who had ordered a type-editing robot to make horrendous errors. She badgers and rattles the professor, damaging their defense, but at the climax, the robot stands up and the professor screams "Damn you, you were instructed to keep your mouth shut about" Dr. Calvin points out, later, that the professor had only to keep quiet since the robot was about to defend the professor, in accordance with the First Law.
    • This is how Elijah Baley solves the case of roboticide in, The Robots of Dawn, getting Amadiro to blurt out that he had had contact with the robot. He does the same in a more cruel way in The Naked Sun.
    • In A Whiff Of Death, the detective, during the discussion, pretends he is trying to open a particular valve. The murderer lunges to stop him, revealing that he knows it was set as a trap to murder yet another person.
  • In one of Jill Paton Walsh's detective novels, the police inspector states that they almost never get enough evidence to perfectly unambiguously convince the jury and win a trial; instead, they get enough evidence to convince the murderer that they could, at which point they confess.

By Title:

  • In the Brother Cadfael novel A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters, Cadfael makes use of the superstition that a murdered body will bleed more if the murderer touches it by getting the daughter of the murdered man to ask the suspect to place a crucifix over his heart. The man panics and confesses, but it turns out that he only stuck an arrow through the murdered man when he was already dead, and didn't murder him.
  • Porfiry of Crime and Punishment tries this many times on Raskolnikov. One particular instance involves Porfiry directly asking Raskolnikov about a detail at the crime scene when Raskalnikov is talking about his presence at the scene before the murder.
  • Discworld:
    • In Feet of Clay, Vimes confronts Dragon King of Arms and hints that he's being surrounded by holy-water-infused candles, in a way that should only makes sense to Dragon if he was behind the plot to kill Vetinari with arsenic-infused candles.
    • In Men at Arms, Carrot spreads a rumour that they have Edward D'eath in custody so that the villain goes to the place where they found Edward's corpse.
    • In Night Watch, Vimes uses the ginger beer tricknote  on two of the Cable Street Particulars in order to get the third to talk. It turns out to have been an elaborate bluff involving the popping noise made by a finger in the cheek, someone hissing through their teeth, and Fred Colon's "tendency" to give bloodcurdling screams at random intervals...
  • This is a common tactic of Encyclopedia Brown.
  • Error of Judgement: After Dr. Stiehl's testimony about his removal of healthy organs, Dr. Prince tries to argue that it isn't conclusive proof, before they threaten to call another doctor from the hospital who resigned in protest over the lenient treatment he got. Defeated, Prince backs down, only for it to be revealed that they hadn't been able to find the contact information for that doctor, and aren't even sure if he's still alive.
  • Ellis Peters' Felse novels:
    • In Fallen Into the Pit, Dominic, having figured out who the murderer is, but without any proof, tries to provoke the murderer into doing something incriminating by telling him he's found something that might be evidence.
    • Dominic does it again, with suitable variations, in Death and The Joyful Woman.
  • Han Solo at Star's End has Han using this tactic. While ferrying a group of people to find the top-secret prison called Star's End, Han discovers the leader of the mission dead and the data pad containing the prison's secret location destroyed. After he locks up the others while he tries to sort things out he discovers that the dead leader had scratched the location into the table he was found dead on. Han then tells everyone to calculate a hyperspace jump to the correct star system but he deliberately gives everyone the wrong planet. He then outs the killer as the one who corrected his calculations by using the right planet.
  • In Arrow's Fall, the third of Mercedes Lackey's original Heralds of Valdemar trilogy, Herald Talia and Herald-Princess Elspeth catch a traitorous nobleman this way.
    • Note that a telepathic probe of Talia would have ordinarily been enough to at least detain someone for questioning under the Truth Spell (the only thing that anyone lied about during the staged confrontation was Talia's relative health), but seizing a high ranking and almost completely trusted royal advisor without solid evidence is a delicate matter.
  • I've Got You Under My Skin: Rob Powell agrees to host a true crime centered around the murder of his wife Betsy and gathering all the notable suspects under his roof. On the night before filming is set end, Rob Powell publicly announces that he now knows who killed Betsy and intends to make this information public tomorrow. It's not clear if he really does think he knows the killer's identity, but either way he's clearly trying to make them panic. It prompts Rob's housekeeper Jane to try and kill Muriel, revealing herself as Betsy's killer. Rob appears genuinely shocked, as he had always thought it was his stepdaughter or one of her friends.
  • Jules Verne's Keraban the Inflexible has the same trick as Napier uses (explained above in the Folklore session), except with a goat instead of a rooster.
  • In King City, Sgt. Wade confronts his suspects in the murder of a pregnant housekeeper, and evokes a lot of incriminating accusations and comments by holding up a night gown he found in her storage locker and falsely claims that hes done lab tests and like Monica Lewinsky she saved it to preserve semen samples of her lover. No tests had actually been done and that was just guesswork. Interestingly, this is probably true but Wade has simply been unable to conduct tests due to not having access to the crime lab (as the result of sabotage from the vindictive police chief).
  • In the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Strong Poison, Lord Peter eventually gets the murderer to confess in part by pretending to feed him arsenic-laced food; the murderer had committed the crime by becoming immune to arsenic and sharing a poisoned meal with the victim.
  • In Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold, Miles bluffs Haroche into trying to swap out an incriminating air filter.
  • Nero Wolfe does this more often than he doesn't.
  • Nick Velvet: Nick does this in "The Theft of Santa's Beard", when he points at the murderer as he is leaving the police station and yells "He's the killer and I can prove it!" The killer panics and tries to flee, and is immediately grabbed by the cops. Nick doesn't actually have any hard evidence, but knows that the police will probably find it if they search the killer's office.
  • In The Overstory, the police already know that Douglas had committed a serious crime, but they exaggerate their knowledge of the identities of his accomplices in order to get him to name them. He sees right through it when he notices that among the pictures of his real friends and crimes he committed are people he doesn't know and crimes he had nothing to do with.
  • Perry Mason. He always does this, and he always does it in the courtroom, when the murderer is on the witness stand. (Which may be why that variation is known here as The Perry Mason Method). 32 movies (at least!), 245 television episodes, 11 years of radio shows, and 80 novels and short stories worth of Bluffing The Murderer.
    • Which gets confusing when said murderer is a fan of Mason and it still works. You'd think that, when he got called to the stand, he'd just confess and save everyone some time.
    • This was spoofed in Playboy with their cartoon series "Little Annie Fanny". Annie is accused of something and has to find a lawyer. As soon as she hires Mason someone jumps up screaming "I did it! I killed him!", leading Annie to say "I didn't even kill anyone."
  • In Ragtime In Simla, Detective Sandilands brings in someone from the villain's past, whom they believed to be dead, to burst into a seance dressed as an accusing ghost.
  • The Sherlock Holmes stories have a number of examples.
    • Sherlock pulls one of these in The Valley of Fear. Deducing that some vital evidence has been dumped in the moat, he announces that it must be drained then catches the murderer (actually the victim, who overpowered and switched identities with his would-be assassin) when they come to move the goods. Pure bluff, in that it was impossible to actually drain the moat.
    • He pulls a type 3 on Colonel Moran in "The Adventure of the Empty House". He knows Moran was Moriarty's Dragon, and he also knows that Moran was responsible for a high-profile murder case. He's in danger as long as Moran is free, so he uses a wax replica of his head to trick Moran into shooting him. The police (who were alerted by Holmes) burst into the titular house where the Colonel was hiding and arrest him after he reveals himself.
  • The Silence of the Lambs: Hannibal Lecter bluffs himself into this position by attacking Will Graham in a very self-incriminating way little did Lecter know Graham had no real evidence on him, and knew he was the Chesapeake Ripper only because his own Lecter-level intuitive imagination led him to the conclusion.
  • Samuel Cogley of Star Trek Expanded Universe The Case of the Colonist's Corpse solved the murder with this method. The victim was the head of a Federation colony who was well known for preferring to write his reports in long-hand and then dictate or scan them into a computer instead of using the computer first. The Klingon accused of his murder seemed to have a perfect motive when they found a report accusing the Klingons of spying and of surreptitiously replacing their colonists to look better then they were. Cogley used the scanned report to bluff the murderer into thinking the victim's widow was the main suspect and dropped some very heavy hints about where the handwritten first draft was that had been scanned in the first place. He then arranged it so that the killer was caught on video breaking into the victim's house, finding the report and then destroying it with a hand phaser. The killer was then transported into the courtroom with a full squad holding phasers on him, the video of him destroying the evidence, and Cogley holding the original report which he then read aloud the real motive for the crime.
  • T*A*C*K: An occasional solution to the group's cases. Most notably used when Abby tricks one of her classmates into revealing that they wrote the poison pen letters to their teacher.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • Although not quite a murderer, the telepath gets the location of a Damsel in Distress from someone by making it float to the top of his mind: "It is vitally important that you don't think about anything else [...] or where [The victim] is now".
    • Happens again later when the heroes are busting one of their own out of prison. They bluff their way in to talk to the guards and casually talk about cells and security codes. They then knock the guards out while their resident telepath plugs in the code to open the cell, saying "He thought of the number as soon as you mentioned it".
  • In one episode of Bones, they suspect that a guy helped his friend with the murder and also tried to kill his friend, who was currently in a coma, but don't have enough proof. Instead, Bones bluffs that his friend ratted out on him and when he demands for her to say something his friend would say, she calmly tells him that his friend made a comment that he had difficulty putting on the sleeve on the corpse, proven by the corpse's broken arm. At that point, the guy promptly told her everything in order to get back at his friend.
  • Breaking Bad: Jesse, Hank, and Gomez set up this gambit in "To'hajiilee" in order to incriminate Walter, tricking Walt into thinking Jesse discovered his hidden money barrels in the desert so that Walt will rush to stop him from burning them. As Walt franticly pleads with Jesse over the phone not to burn the money, he brings up his involvement to several serious crimes (blowing up Gus, intentionally poisoning Brock, killing Emilio and Crazy-8, running over those two drug dealers), and ends up leading the three of them to the location of the drug money, giving Hank and Gomez all the evidence they need to arrest Walt and put him away. Unfortunately, the Aryans Walt had tried to call off came to his "rescue" anyway...
  • Not surprisingly, done several times in Castle. Some notable instances:
    • Beckett/Castle and Esposito/Ryan are investigating different murders, which they determine are related in a Strangers on a Train scenario. While interrogating the suspects separately, Beckett/Castle rush into Esposito/Ryan's interrogation room to announce that their suspect confessed first, prompting the second suspect to immediately confess everything and blame the first guy (who hadn't confessed to anything).
    • Castle gets his own in a Moment of Awesome: a stuck-up rich kid has killed his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend, framed his friends for the murder, and is convinced that Beckett has no proof (he's almost correct it's slim). Castle launches into an extended, sinister-sounding "he had it coming" routine on behalf of the killer, who responds with "Exactly."
    • In another case, the victim's husband mistakenly thought the victim, a model, was cheating on him with a photographer, when actually the photographer was trying to extort sex from her and she was trying to record and expose him. Beckett plays the recording of the proposition and the part right after that where the husband confronted her, then pauses the file, hoping he'll confess rather than hear himself murdering his wife. With some prompting from Castle, it all comes pouring out. We then learn Beckett didn't actually have a recording of the murder: the battery died on the victim's smartphone beforehand.
  • In Chernobyl, Director Shcherbina asks plant manages Bryukhanov and Fomin "why did I see graphite on the roof?" even though he didn't actually see it for himself, Legasov did. Rather than answer, however, Bryukhanov immediately passes the buck to Fomin, who says unconvincingly that it's burnt concrete. This convinces Shcherbina that the two of them are lying to cover their asses and that the accident is much less minor than they've claimed.
  • The Closer had a variation on this. They left two criminals handcuffed in a police car outside their house while the team searched it. By listening in on their conversation, the team not only got the confession they were looking for, they also found all sorts of incriminating evidence.
    • In another episode, they tell the victim's family (which they already know includes the killer) that they have a witness who saw the gun they believe to be the murder weapon being thrown from a car somewhere along the freeway, but that he wasn't sure exactly where since he wasn't local. They also tell them that they'll have patrol officers find the gun, but that it will take about two weeks since it's a pretty long stretch of road to search. In reality, they've already found the murder weapon, and thus just have to stake out the place along the freeway where it was found and wait for the killer to show up and try to remove it before the police can find it.
    • In yet another episode, a dead body is found in a cooler that's been sealed with duct tape. By the end of the episode, they have four suspects but no way to prove who is the actual killer. To find out, they get four coolers, put a GPS tracker and a camera inside each of them and seal them up with duct tape, making sure that they look exactly like the one the body was found in. Then they mail one to each of the suspects. The idea is that the three suspects who are innocent will have no idea why someone has sent them a strange box, and will open it to find out what's inside. The fourth suspect, who is guilty, will think that he already knows what's inside and will try to get rid of it without opening it. It works.
  • Done unintentionally in Cold Case. The team has a witness to a crime scene where his mother was killed. They call in a woman whom the witness recognized. As soon as they mention there's a witness saying she helped with the murder, she quickly denies it, claiming it was impossible for anyone to see that night.
  • This is basically Columbo's modus operandi. More than half the episodes have him pulling this one, a few times even involving tricking the murderer into trying to kill him.
  • Employed numerous times in CSI. In one example, the investigators determine that the victim's company-issued travel bag is missing and was probably taken by the murderer, but are unable to obtain a search warrant... so they obtain an identical bag from the company, hide a tape recorder in it, and bring it into their suspect's interview. The suspect immediately gives himself away by protesting that they must have searched his car without a warrant.
  • In The Defenders (2010), while pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit against a construction company, Nick gets a developer to fess up to bribing city safety inspectors by painting a group of audience members (actually stage magicians they consulted for Pete's Case of the Week) as members of the inspection department.
  • Several episodes of Diagnosis: Murder have Mark Sloan expose the killer in this fashion. To cite a few examples:
    • A bombmaker is tricked into thinking that her own car is rigged with a bomb, causing her to panic and talk Mark through the procedure for disarming the device.
    • When a stage magician drowns while performing a Houdini-style escapology routine, Mark announces his plan to re-create the trick, with the exact same props and a female suspect standing in for the victim. It appears he's decided she's the killer and wants to give her A Taste of Their Own Medicine by putting her into the same situation as the victim... but the real killer is in love with the woman, and exposes himself when he panics and tries to halt the trick early.
    • The victim is killed because the killer tampers with his medication, and the killer learns that Mark is looking for a discarded pill at the scene of the crime as evidence. She's caught red-handed at the crime scene, trying to find and dispose of the pill.
  • In Full House, Jesse's cousin from Greece came to visit. He was a model citizen in front of Jesse, but he was a deviant, from trying to seduce Jesse's girlfriend, to rigging a charity drive that would actually fund his trip to Disney Land, among other things. Becky, Jesse's girlfriend, ends up trying this to get Jesse to believe his cousin is a dirtbag. It fails, but it's the thought that counts.
  • In one episode of Gunsmoke, a woman is raped, beaten, and left for dead. She tells Matt enough information to track down the suspects but not enough for a positive identification. Matt finds and arrests the three men suspected of the crime and brings them back to Dodge City making a notable stop at Boot Hill. Matt then describes in detail how he will show the men to the victim and the man she identifies will be buried here in shame along with the rest of the worst dregs of the West. One of the men panics and goes for his gun but Matt easily wounds him. Matt then reveals that the victim died of her injuries before he even left town and that the rapist (now murderer) has just outed himself.
  • Bud does The Perry Mason Method in an episode of JAG by infuriating the suspect in the murder of a bumbling sailor by putting on a full-on act of Obfuscating Stupidity in the courtroom.
  • The "White Bird" episode of Knight Rider has the hero confront the villain with vague threats. If the villain would just sit tight, keep his cool and not panic, he would have gotten away; however, he panics and phones his henchman, setting his own downfall into motion.
    • Probably more episodes of Knight Rider than just this have employed the trope.
  • The Law According to Lidia Pot: In 1x1 Lidia tells a man whom she suspects actually murdered Adele that fingerprints which will show who her murderer was will be lifted from the crime scene, and then lays a trap for him when he arrives to remove them, proving that he's guilty.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent does this a lot. One good example was the Season 2 finale, where Goren manages to pin a murder meant to discredit him on Nicole Wallace through a complicated routine involving anthrax samples and her supposed immunity.
    • Another variant came when they realized that their initial suspect was being framed by her husband. Since both were lawyers, they couldn't inform the ADA without both the wife and the culprit finding out. This results in the detectives lying to the wife, the real suspect, and the Assistant District Attorney Carver in order to obtain a confession. They've done that last bit twice, and on at least one occasion he wasn't too happy about it, as indicated by his "oh. I see" and calm Glasses Pull.
      • In fact, the first time Carver said that if Detective Goren did it to him again, he would have Goren's badge. The second time, he said, "I will get back to you, detective." Eames assured Goren, "He'll get over it."
    • In yet another Criminal Intent episode, a hitman/family man who kept the bodies in a giant freezer in the garage (under the ice cream!) was undone after Goren convinced the medical examiner to report that one of the people who was murdered had lost a cap from his tooth. The hitman tore his garage apart all night trying to find it, and in the morning, when the cops came around, he blurted out how he hadn't made a mistake, there was no cap, and they arrested him.
    • Deconstructed in the season 5 finale of Criminal Intent. A couple is murdered, and one of the cops on the case tells the couple's troubled son that the mother lived long enough to name him as the perpetrator, after which the son breaks down and confesses. Logan is suspicious, however, and eventually uncovers the truth: the son was high on the night in question and can't remember what he did, so when he was told that his mother implicated him, he believed that if she said that, he must have done it, not realizing that she never said anything and it was all a ploy. Logan then finds evidence that proves the son's innocence.
    • The original Law & Order pulled a similar gambit on a woman they suspected of hiring a hitman to kill her husband. They discovered a crucial piece of evidence (a jailhouse informant) after they had rested their case. In the US criminal justice system the prosecution is not allowed to introduce new evidence on rebuttal unless it undermines something in the defense, and the defendant cannot be forced to testify. So they made up a cock-and-bull story, claiming that the wife killed the hitman out of revenge (which they knew to be false) and which the defendant could have only refuted by testifying. The attorney puts his client on the stand to defend against the false charge, giving McCoy the opening to introduce his informant to prove the real one.
    • On an early episode of Law & Order, ADA Ben Stone gets a man to confess to his crimes by telling his Russian-born lawyer his client would have him immunity in New York County. He repeats that several times because he knows the man does not understand that "New York County" is just the island of Manhattan. After he confesses he is arrested by the Brooklyn (Kings County) ADA.
    • In another episode, a man is convicted by the DA's office of murder, only for the detectives to uncover proof that he didn't do it. Everyone immediately suspects that the man's wife is the one who framed him, and set up a trap. They make up different evidence that proves the defendant's innocence, and say that as long as the murder weapon remains unfound, the charges will be dropped. The very next day, the defendant's wife "miraculously" finds the weapon and tries to turn it in to the DA in order to "prove her husband's innocence". The DA then explain that only the killer would know how to find the weapon, and the defendant quickly realizes that it was she who set him up.
  • In M*A*S*H, Hawkeye unveils a thief by tricking him with this sort of ploy. He tells a group of people that the last object stolen had been treated with a substance that would turn the thief's fingers blue. When one of the people tried to hide his hands, Hawkeye knew he was the thief. But they let him get away with it since he was a poor Korean kid who said they "were all so rich".
  • The Mentalist features this a few times, sometimes rather cruelly, such as pretending to dozens of people that they have been infected with a deadly biological weapon (which killed the victim of the episode) and that the laboratory will be bombed by the air force to prevent it spreading. The killer was known to have recently taken the drug which would protect them from infection and is the only one who tries to escape.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Tainted Fruit", Detective Barnaby realizes that the killer has just planted the murder weapon in a Fall Guy's bag, so he tells them that he had searched the bag just before and found nothing incriminating. When he opens the bag and pulls out the weapon, the killer confesses. Afterwards, it's revealed that he lied about having already checked the bag.
  • Mission: Impossible: The IMF use this technique frequently, particularly in Syndicate-related episodes of the later seasons. Sometimes the target is led to believe there is incriminating evidence, such as a recording or film, which he obtains (aided by the team of course) and, upon realizing that it's patently inaccurate, actually incriminates himself by pointing out the inaccuracies that only the perpetrator would know about.
  • Spoofed in a sketch of That Mitchell and Webb Look, which begins with the detective finishing up what's implied to be a string of deductions incriminating one woman ("... and the two shades of lipstick were identical!"). Once the accused breaks out in "the Evil Voice", he admits that he hoped she do "the Evil Voice" as he didn't actually have any evidence, whereupon she promptly tries to take it back. The situation ultimately culminates in the murderer ending up shooting herself, whereupon the detective remarks, "It is better this way. Some courts, they do not accept the Evil Voice as evidence."
  • Monk has done this in several episodes:
    • "Mr. Monk and the Panic Room" and "Mr. Monk Goes Back to School" use variant 1.
    • Also inverted in the episode Mr. Monk Meets the Godfather, where Monk actually did think the FBI Van parked nearby recorded the killer's confession, but it turns out they hadn't because Monk inadvertently wrecked the bug (he had the tie washed in a washing machine due to a stain earlier in the episode), although the killer did end up begging to be arrested anyways, namely because he didn't want the mafia to commit revenge against him.
    • "Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine" has Monk bluffing Lester Highsmith, who is about to shoot an armored guard, into letting his guard down through use of a Walter P38-water pistol.
  • If a given Murder, She Wrote episode doesn't end with this, it'll end with Engineered Public Confession. Most often, it's both: Jessica tricks the murderer into returning to the scene, confronts him/her alone, and then the police turn out to be hiding in the wardrobe after s/he confesses.
    • Jessica's most favored method was showing a piece of paper she said contained the evidence to prove the killer's guilt. This was openly lampshaded when, after the killer confessed, the chief of police checked the paper out and just chuckled.
      Chief: You get more mileage out of a blank piece of paper than anyone I know.
  • Nash Bridges has done this a few times, usually pretending that a now deceased suspect is still alive.
    Accomplice: Does he have a lawyer?
    Joe: He hasn't asked for one.
  • NCIS uses this quite frequently. Team Gibbs probably bluffs more suspects than they legitimately manage to nail. They usually lie about forensics that aren't in yet or aren't conclusive.
  • Probe:
    • "Black Cats Don't Walk Under Ladders (Do They?)": During The Summation, Austin uses the killer's own knowledge against them, causing them to believe that they've been affected by the same poisoned tea that was used to kill Marty Corrigan. He has to do it because until the killer confessed, he wasn't sure which of the suspects had done it.
    • "Now You See It....": At the climax of the episode, Austin James has recreated the murder method that was used to kill the previous two businessmen. He confronts his prime suspect with the situation (which includes an empty elevator shaft covered by a Hologram) and tricks him into confessing. The murderer does, but then tosses Austin down the empty shaft. Serendip's CEO and several police come out from around corners to arrest him. (Austin is fine, having anticipated this, lying safely on a crash cushion.)
    • "Plan 10 from Outer Space": Because he didn't have any evidence to determine if Trish or Helga committed the murder, Austin has to trick the murderer into confessing, by using the victim's sunglasses, which he says created a photonegative when the victim was electrified. When the murderer sees herself on the wall, she immediately starts trying to defend herself.
  • In an episode of The Rifleman, a photographer is on trial for murdering a man. The photographer has good reason to want the man dead (he was a prisoner of war and the dead man was the cruel camp commandant), but swears he is innocent and only fired in self-defense. Lucas comes back into court with a photo plate, saying he developed the picture the photographer took just before the shooting and it shows the real murderer. Before he can say anything else, the dead man's business partner jumps up and blasts the plate out of Lucas's hand. After he confesses, Lucas admits he didn't have the proof because he doesn't know a thing about developing pictures.
  • The "place all the suspects together near the murderer's hidden time bomb, forcing the murderer (as the only one who knows about the bomb) to reveal himself in order to save his own life" variant was used twice on the 1954 Sherlock Holmes TV series — once with actual explosives and once with arsenic candles.
  • Dutch tries this all the time on The Shield, with varying degrees of success. Claudette is also pretty good at it, but her moment also comes back to bite her in the ass. She gets a confession out of a serial killer by fooling him into thinking that his sister is dead, and that they will convict him for that crime. He returns the next season, representing himself, and manages to raise enough doubt about Claudette's credibility to get the DA to drop the death penalty. (He was going to spin the Bluff as a hallucination caused by her Lupus medication).
  • Silent Witness. While investigating a murder in Zambia, Nikki Alexander convinces a group of villagers that she is using witchcraft to "speak to the bones" of a murdered woman. First she describes the victim (information obtained from the post-mortem) then she gets the villagers to lay their machetes in front of them. When flies are attracted to the invisible blood droplets on the machete used by the killer, she picks it up and declares that the spirits have told her the owner is the killer. He promptly flees in panic and is grabbed by the police.
  • The Wire played this straight many, many times, as the cops will use every possible means of tricking, lying to, or fooling suspects into talking.
    • Bunk and McNulty try to break D'Angelo Barksdale (who recently became a father) by pretending that a picture of Bunk's kids is a picture of the children of a witness recently killed on the order of D'Angelo's uncle, the drug kingpin Avon Barksdale. (The witness didn't actually have any family.) After they go on talking about the kids now being orphans, and link it around to children getting killed as result of the drug trade, D'Angelo is visibly fighting back tears. While he won't talk directly, the detectives try to make him write a letter giving his condolences to the children, hoping that somewhere in the letter D'Angelo will inadvertently wind up Saying Too Much. Unfortunately for the cops, it's right then that D'Angelo's lawyer arrives and instantly sees through the ploy.
    • In "More With Less", two bluffs are used on a perp named DeShawn. First, Bunk makes claims that they took DeShawn's accomplice to McDonald's as a reward for cooperating (when he in fact refused to talk), and then has Detective Crutchfield escort said accomplice past the interrogation room with a bag of McDonald's food in hand, which scares DeShawn accordingly. Then Bunk and Jay Landsman trick him into thinking a photocopier is a lie detector. In reality the copier has several pages preloaded, some of which say true, and one that says false. The cops ask harmless questions until they run out of "trues", then ask about the crime, and when the kid tries to lie about it, "false" comes out.
    • Subverted in one case, where Bodie had to dispose of a whole group of guns from a shootout because a stray bullet killed a young boy nearby. Unfortunately when he tries to throw them off a bridge into the water below, the bag instead lands on a passing barge. When the cops bring him in, Cole and Norris show him the bag, lay out all the guns, and try to bluff that they found his fingerprints on one of the guns. Bodie cleaned all of the guns very meticulously, and thus knows there weren't any fingerprints left on them, so he challenges Cole to point to which one of the guns supposedly had his prints on it. When Cole picks the wrong one, Bodie just smiles, no doubt enjoying the irony since Cole had earlier accused Bodie of being too stupid to even realize that he was stupid.

  • Two different instances in Agatha Christie plays.
    • Subverted in The Mousetrap. All the witnesses/suspects are asked to to re-enact the murder, but to do so playing the part of one of the other witnesses. It seems an exceedingly clever ploy (or a bold bluff) to effectively catch the murderer. And that is all we're saying about it.
    • In Black Coffee, Hercule Poirot gets Raynor to confess by pretending to drink the drugged drink that Raynor gave him. What Raynor doesn't know is that Captain Hastings switched out the glasses when Poirot temporarily got Raynor out of the room.
  • In Arsenic and Old Lace, the hero Mortimer tries to bluff his Ax-Crazy brother Jonathan into leaving by threatening to introduce the cops to his latest murder victim. Subverted when Jonathan then threatens to tell the cops about the murders his kindly old aunts have committed, and then doubly subverted when Mortimer arranges to have his aunts committed to a mental institution and Jonathan gets arrested anyway.
  • In Hamlet, this is the entire point of The Murder of Gonzago (the play within the play). Hamlet has a suspect (Claudio) and a method of murder (pouring poison in the victim's ear), but he isn't sure if the apparition of his father is the real deal. So he contracts a troupe of actors to replay the murder scene, reasoning that if Claudio was innocent, he'd just see it as a mildly unrealistic plot point, whereas if Claudio was guilty, he'd recognize the similarities and react either out of guilt or the implication that someone else knows how the old king died.
  • The Mrs. Hawking play series: At the conclusion of the third installment Base Instruments, they catch the murderer Yulia Sherba by tricking her into think Justin Hawking wants to leave the country with her, thus luring her to meet them with the immigration papers that prove she killed Raisa Sergeyeva in hand.
  • The entire plot of Rehearsal for Murder is one of these... sort of. The twist is that the "cop" in the supposed Engineered Public Confession is the real killer whose knowledge of the contents of desk drawers after a staged killing prove that he was at the crime scene. It turns out to also be an actual Engineered Public Confession of a REAL cop hidden elsewhere in the theater. All the supposed suspects were in on it (the bluff I mean).

    Video Games 
  • The Elder Scrolls games have an in-game short story, ''A Game at Dinner'', which uses a variant of this: Helseth implies to his assembled dinner guests that he put poison on the cutlery of someone spying against him, then invites any spies present to take a dose of the antidote, kept in a tureen at the centre of the table. One of the spies loses his nerve and drinks, only for Helseth to reveal that no-one's cutlery was poisoned. The poison was, in fact, the 'antidote' the spy was just bluffed into drinking.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Ace Attorney:
    • In case 3-1 of Trials and Tribulations, Mia Fey (the attorney the player controls in that case) proposes the theory that the real killer put poison into Phoenix's cold medicine in order to kill him. Said "real killer" dismisses these claims. Mia then dares her to take some of the cold medicine, stating that she should have nothing to worry about if the theory is not true. The killer then breaks down and refuses, therefore proving Mia's theory.
    • In case 3-3 of Trials and Tribulations, Furio Tigre is about to walk off the witness stand when Phoenix pulls this on them. Phoenix presents a completely useless green plastic bottle (containing the victim's ear medication) with Tigre's fingerprints on it, claiming it contains the poison used to kill the victim. Tigre calls him an idiot, saying he should already know that the poison was in the brown glass bottle, not that one. Phoenix did indeed know that... but someone like Tigre, who hadn't been watching the court proceedings, shouldn't.
    • Something like this happens in the first case of Apollo Justice, where the final piece of evidence proving Kristoph Gavin's guilt turns out to be a forgery Phoenix had made, since Kristoph had already disposed of the real one. This left Kristoph at quite the Morton's Fork: either let himself get convicted by the forged evidence, or say that it's forged and be forced to explain how he would know that, which would mean confessing his guilt and getting convicted anyway.
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc has this trope appear frequently during trial scenes. Since all of the characters are there, getting the murderer to admit evidence is often necessary to solve the cases.
    • Ishimaru managed to do this on complete accident during the second trial, by theorizing that the victim and the killer wore matching tracksuits. And while this was a genuine moment of Insane Troll Logic on his part and not a bluff, the killer is ultimately caught because he defended himself by saying that his tracksuit was black while the victim's was blue... when the only people who could have known that were Celeste (caught a glimpse of the suit in the victim's bag earlier that night), Makoto (the only person Celeste told this to), and the murderer (the only person who would have seen the victim wearing the tracksuit).
    • One moment in the final trial establishes that the person who earlier attacked Makoto at night was not Mukuro because she lacked a distinctive tattoo Mukuro had on her hand. Kyoko keeps quiet about the point that maybe they couldn't see the tattoo because it was covered with makeup until a later point in the trial when they determine that Mukuro had been posing as Junko and used foundation to cover the tattoo, at which point she thanks the others for not noticing and allowing her to bluff the mastermind by omission.
  • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony: This is a game mechanic, in the form of 'lie bullets'. They function just like normal 'truth bullets' (pieces of evidence), except they mean the opposite of whatever the original truth bullet did and can be used to bait the killer into making a mistake or undermine their current argument. For example, in the third trial, the argument is brought up that Tenko committed suicide. To disprove it, you have to lie and say that the reason she was quiet during the seance when she was stabbed (which was really because she was told that making noise would interrupt the seance, and Tenko was determined to make it work) was because she died instantly, when Maki's examination proved she hadn't. The confirmation that Tenko was in fact murdered prompts the killer to try to divert everyone's attention to solving Angie's earlier murder (since the rules of the game state that only the first victim counts for class trials), and confessing to Tenko's murder to throw people off that trail- which is what ultimately gets them, because while there wasn't enough evidence to be sure of who murdered Angie alone, there was evidence that Tenko's murderer had also killed Angie, leading to the killer being nailed.
  • Zero Escape:
    • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Junpei learns that Guy X's killer has prosopagnosia, and needs to prove that Ace has prosopagnosia. So, he calls them all up to the hospital area where he claims to be Santa dressed in Junpei's clothing. Ace ends up confused, and falls for it. Furthermore, Junpei correctly deduces that Ace stole the Ninth Man's bracelet and used it to kill Guy X, so he tricks Ace into believing he has the bracelet, causing Ace to slip up once more.
    • In Virtue's Last Reward, Sigma uses this technique against Dio, by pretending to be someone sent by "Brother", the leader of Free the Soul, a religious cult associated with the Myrmidons, the terrorist group Dio is the leader of. While trying to deny it, Dio says that he doesn't know some "old fuck" called Brother. Sigma then points out that he never mentioned Brother's age. Dio also slipped up by instantly denying that he knows who the Myrmidons are, even though Sigma hadn't mentioned that the name refers to a group of people.
      • Tenmyouji also bluffs Dio, claiming the bomb detonator he's holding is a fake, causing just enough hesitation for Tenmyouji to get close and knock the detonator away. This is basically the same trick that Junpei pulled on Ace in the first game (making for some nice foreshadowing for the later reveal that Tenmyouji is Junpei). However, this turns out to be a bad idea because the detonator is set to automatically activate if it gets more than a meter away from Dio.

    Western Animation 
  • Duckman does this to humorous effect in thwarting one of King Chicken's plots. After Cornfed gets him exonerated of all the charges, Duckman then calls King Chicken to the stand and proceeds to "interrogate" him by rambling senselessly until a fed-up King Chicken finally confesses just to shut him up.
  • Done accidentally in The Simpsons episode "They Saved Lisa's Brain", when the local Mensa group goes to complain to Mayor Quimby about a gazebo they'd reserved being used by someone else. However, they phrase their complaints in very vague, accusing ways, insisting that the document they're carrying (gazebo reservation bylaws) will "blow things wide open". Quimby, thinking they're referring to one of his countless other, more serious crimes, freaks out and immediately flees the city.