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Calling Card

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Lance: Hey Captain, what's that?
Willard: Death cards.
Lance: What?
Willard: Death cards. Lets Charlie know who did this.

A Calling Card is a piece of evidence or item deliberately left at the scene of a crime to serve as perpetrator's "signature". Sometimes it's a literal playing card or gamepiece left near the scene of the crime, or perhaps the victims are arranged in strange poses.

The term comes from a largely Forgotten Trope from a time before the invention and proliferation of the home telephone. Back then, if you wanted to talk to your friends in real-time, you had to actually talk to them face-to-face. Women had a system where they would stop at each other's homes unannounced, to meet with (usually, though not always) the lady of the house just to chat. Needless to say, there was no guarantee of actually getting to do so at that moment, because she might not have been home. If Alice wanted to visit with ("call on") Betty, but Betty wasn't home, then Alice would leave a "calling card" with her name on it. (Kind of like a modern-day business card, except for personal use.) Like the trope, it was unique to her, and she may have left several of them throughout the neighborhood or town, depending on just how many of her friends she unsuccessfully attempted to call on. She would either leave it in a dish left for this purpose, or if Betty was wealthy enough to have one, leave it with the maid or the butler, and it was expected that Betty would "call on" Alice when she got the chance. When the telephone was invented and came to more and more homes, it simply wasn't necessary to go running around to others' homes just to chat, and thus both "calling" and literal "calling cards" died out.


Actual calling cards are rare in Real Life, because it would make it very easy for the cops to track you down; but in fiction, it seems like every villain has to have one for stamping their achievements with.

Phantom thieves and particularly cocky crooks may even send their calling card before committing the crime, warning their target about what's going to happen. This may be for practical reasons, such as turning the increased security against the target or distracting them by focusing the police's attention elsewhere, or simply as a Badass Boast: if the criminal can pull off their crime even when the target is on highest alert, surely they must be incredibly skilled.

Occasionally, a smart character may even use another villain's calling card to frame them. If the villain is well known, and their calling card shows up before they're introduced in the current continuity, (or if said Villain has been missing or dead for some time), then it's a nice Sequel Hook, or simply a hint of what's to come.


Sometimes, the calling card may be a result of the villain's M.O. (not necessarily a Card-Carrying Villain) or distinctive Weapon of Choice. One obvious example: vampires always leave their characteristic two-holed neck bite. For people who literally use this trope as a weapon, see Death Dealer.

See also Criminal Mind Games, Idiosyncrazy, Poetic Serial Killer. See Hacked by a Pirate for the computer hacking version.

This has become a Dead Horse Trope in Comic Books, where it was once a staple. A hero may also have a calling card, especially one who typically disappears after stopping the criminals rather than hanging around to discuss things with the police.

For actual calling cards (which a criminal may also leave, although it's a bit obvious), see My Card.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • One Piece: After the Bellamy Pirates rob the Saruyama Alliance, they paint their Jolly Roger on a nearby tree. This proves to be an incredible bad decision; Luffy would quickly track down Bellamy and hammer his head into the street for attacking his friends.
  • Spoofed when Kinnikuman goes Charlie Brown from Outta Town to disrupt the World Superman Council; part of his disguise is a pair of sunglasses, which he drops after roughing up each of the WSC's district champions. This wasn't drama, however- Kin was just clumsy fleeing the scene. Eventually, he runs out of normal shades and is reduced to using novelty glasses.
  • In Dragon Ball, when Tambourine is sent by his father Demon King Piccolo to murder martial artists to prevent them from sealing him away, at the site of each murder he would leave a piece of paper with the Japanese symbol for demon near the body.
  • Phantom Thief X from Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro, who leaves a "red box" at the crime scenes (actually a clear glass box filled with the liquefied remains of his victims).
  • The titular character from Mouse leaves his card, before the theft like several other Phantom Thieves.
  • The Death Note allows its user to not only kill remotely but also control victims' behavior shortly before they die. Light Yagami uses this ability to send a taunting message to L.
    • He also uses the "default method" of killing with a spontaneous heart attack as a sort of calling card. So that people would know someone was responsible for all the dead criminals. (At one point his game plan was to phase this out, noting that after using this trope to gain the public's attention, he's best served by changing their perception to attribute every death to His divine will, but either he or the narration gets distracted and loses track.)
  • Speaking of Holden Caulfield, in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, The Laughing Man had a smiley-face surrounded with a quote from Catcher in the Rye. As it turns out, all the crimes that were marked just by the smiley-face were performed by copycats, but following the J.D. Salinger quote eventually led Section 9 to the real Laughing Man.
  • In one early episode of Sonic X, Rouge the Bat steals a very large diamond... and replaces it with a card with a stylized picture of her on it, along with the words "thank you".
  • The titular thief of Lupin III often sends calling cards before he pulls off his heists. It seems rather foolish, but often his targets' attempts to increase or alter their security end up playing right into one of his Batman Gambits and allow him to accomplish the theft. Also a reference to Arsène Lupin, his grandfather.
  • This is done by Kaitou KID in Magic Kaito and Case Closed to announce where, when and what he is going to steal, sometimes in riddle form. That also allows him to know when someone is trying to frame or impersonate him and take steps to stop them.
  • Cat's Eye has two different calling cards. The titular girls leave a business card with a stylized cat and the words "Cat's Eye" on it, while the thief Masato Kamiya (nicknamed "The Rat" by the police) leaves a coin mounted on a pendant. Like many Gentleman Thief characters, the girls sometimes send calling cards before the heists: the police squad assigned to capture them has two members with the bad habit of confiding to them their strategies to capture Cat's Eye (and, in one memorable occasion, discussed the strategy in their coffee house), and live near their police station enough to use binoculars and lip-read the rare plans the officers won't discuss with the girls.
    • While Kamiya does it for fun, the girls have a good reason for it: their assumed name as Cat's Eye and them stealing only Michael Heintz's paintings are part of a complicated and desperate attempt to contact their father, Heintz himself, or at least find out if he's still alive, without tipping off the men who tried to kill him and stole his paintings in the first place.
  • Eroica in From Eroica with Love leaves a card with the series title on it.
  • Kaitou Saint Tail examples:

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • From The Golden Age of Comic Books through The Bronze Age of Comic Books, most of Batman's Rogues Gallery left calling cards, either explicitly (The Joker's playing cards and the Riddler's conundrums), or in the form of Signature Crimes: Two-Face's crime sprees always revolved around the number two, for instance. This was often Lampshaded; even in The Golden Age of Comic Books, the Riddler's compulsion was flat-out stated to be his downfall. Several stories have shown that the Riddler is psychologically incapable of committing a crime without the riddles, no matter how hard he tries. In the current comics, however, it's a Dead Horse Trope.
    • The serial killer from The Long Halloween would kill on a holiday and leave behind some knickknack related to the date—the press dubs them The Holiday Killer. And in the sequel Dark Victory, the next serial killer leaves behind incomplete Hangman games.
    • The Joker is also famous for leaving victims with a hideous grin on their faces due to Joker Venom (or in one case, carved Glasgow smiles).
    • Hero example: Batman himself sometimes leaves a card with a bat-symbol next to unconscious thugs.
    • In the famous "Joker's Millions" story (Which was adapted into an episode of the animated series), Joker, after finding out that most of his "inheritance" is fraudulent, needs to drum up some cash NOW. Of course, he's supposed to have gone straight at this point, so he's forced to perform a mundane burglary, without one of his trademarks. Coincidentally, there's a theater across the street that was playing Pagliacci (Y'know, the one about the sad clown?), and a sharp wind blows a poster onto the site of Joker's crime!
  • In Watchmen, Rorschach's calling card is a piece of paper with a mirrored lowercase letter R written on it.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Early in Carnage's killing sprees he would write "Carnage Rules!" in his victim's blood near the body.
    • Spider-Man himself would occasionally leave a note to the police tacked onto a felon he had left webbed and hanging from a streetlamp, signed, "Courtesy of your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man".
  • Hellboy: Lobster Johnson would burn his symbol, a stylised lobster claw, into his victims' foreheads using the palm of his hand. He also had actual calling cards that he would leave for the police.
  • Captain America: The Red Skull used to have two calling cards: his Dust of Death, a poison that made the victim's face turn red and skull-like, and a leitmotif of Chopin's "Death March" which he would arrange to have played when he struck, sometimes in very clever ways. He hasn't used either of these in years, having gone to more subtle evil schemes.
  • The Supergirl-Batgirl Plot: When Robin and the Batplane disappear, Batman finds a Bat-compact lying on the ground. He quickly deduces it was intentionally left by Batgirl -in reality, Batmite impersonating Barbara- to taunt him.
  • Some of the many serial killers in Judge Dredd leave tokens.
    • One was nicknamed Lefty due to his habit of always leaving his victims' left hands near the scene of the crime. Turns out there was a grisly justification for this: he was attempting to set a record for the number of people killed in a single night, and leaving behind the left hands ensured that all the kills would be credited to him.
    • Oola Blint took to leaving a black rose with each of her victims after a rash of copycat killings. This detail is never made public, which means the Judges are able to determine which murders were actually done by the Angel of Mercy.
  • The Clock, from Centaur Publications and later Quality, leaves as his calling card an image of a clock-face over a domino mask along with a message.
  • Mister Midnite, from Silver Streak Comics, leaves a watch dial with the hands set at midnight as his calling card.
  • Black Diamond, from Black Diamond Western, has a playing card with the suit of diamond as his calling card.
  • Disney Mouse and Duck Comics:
    • The Phantom Blot's calling card is an ink blot. He'll usually leave a message with it, but sometimes not — one time Mickey finds himself framed by the Blot, and then notices there is an actual ink blot on his jacket.
    • Fantomius, being a Gentleman Thief, leaves a literal calling card on the site of his heists. He had been planning to leave them since before he became a thief, as when he crossed the line and committed his first heist on the same day he already had a calling card ready.
  • The Golden Age Sandman and Vigilante, both from DC Comics, left poems.
    • Sandman:
      There is no land beyond the law
      Where tyrants rule with unshakable power!
      'Tis but a dream from which the evil wake
      To face their fate, their terrifying hour!"
    • Vigilante:
      Some play games for sky-high stakes,
      And some play penny-ante.
      But those that gamble with the law,
      Must pay the Vigilante!
  • In Tomahawk, Lord Shilling's trademark (and hence his code name) was leaving a single shilling with a hole in the middle after a successful mission.
  • The MAX version of the Foolkiller elaborately stages the bodies of those he kills and leaves a "Fool" tarot card at the scene, often with a message.
  • In Marvel Comics, Leslie Anne Shappe became a serial killer with the code name "Infinity", and would carve the infinity symbol on her victims. However, an ignorant cop mistook it for "some kind of crazy eight". From then on, she became known to the press as "Crazy Eight".
  • The Penny Murderer, the main villain of Brody's Ghost, leaves, of course, a penny on his victims' foreheads. Brody questions why a murderer would leave such a silly calling card, although it's later revealed to have symbolic importance.
  • Gentleman Thief 'The Rogue' in The Maze Agency. His Calling Card is a note informing his victims that their stolen paintings have been selected for his 'Rogue's Gallery' and 'signed' with a cartoon figure (a'la The Saint's haloed stick figure).
  • Baker Street: In "Honour Among Punks", the killer targeting members of the Gothics gang always cuts off a chunk of their hair as an insult.
  • X (Dark Horse Comics) would send his targets a photo of themselves with a single diagonal red slash across their face as a warning to mend their ways. If they ignored the warning, they received a second diagonal slash, meaning death.
  • Despite going to some effort to make his murders look like accidents, the killer in Judge Colt #4 also leaves an American Civil War medal pinned to the chest of each of his victims.

    Comic Strips 
  • Mandrake the Magician: The Clay Camel would always leave a small clay camel figurine at the scene of a crime, and whenever he escaped capture. His daughter, The Brass Monkey, did a similar thing.
  • Modesty Blaise: In "The Grim Joker", the murderous trio leave the words "Ho Ho Ho" on all of their victims.
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, when Susie gets smacked in the head with a snowball, she immediately goes to Calvin. She deduces that it was his snowball given the bits of bark, mud, gravel and ice in his mittens.
    Calvin: The curse of a signature style.
  • The Phantom: The main character has two calling cards, both in the form of rings. He wears a ring with a skull emblem on his right hand, which leaves a permanent skull-imprint on the faces of his enemies when he punches them hard enough, forever branding them as the Phantom's enemies. On his left hand, he wears a ring with a symbol of four 'P's in a circle. By pressing the dye-emitting ring into the hand of an ally, he leaves the four-P emblem as a permanent mark on their skin, a sign to the world that they are protected by the Phantom.

    Fan Works 
  • Pinhead's mark in The Dark Angel: an intricate diamond design that he burns onto sinners to mark them for later, and which goes through and burns onto structures as well.
  • Phantom Thief Fox in the A New World, A New Way series (specifically A New World, A New Stage), leaves a calling card with one side depicting a black Zoroark head symbol, while the other side is blank and used to write her notices.
  • In the Rango fanfic Old West, there exists a desert iguana thief named Reth, who's called "the Carpenter". He's known for his habit of leaving a little wooden figure for every thing he steals. Rattlesnake Jake regards him stupid for that.
    • A bobcat outlaw named Delilah Rangler, more commonly known as "the Scarlet Kiss", leaves a bright red lipstick-kiss on the cheeks of her every murder victim.
  • Subverted in Viridian: The Green Guide; whilst Amplifier initially believes the marbles left behind by Viridian to be one, Aizawa points out that Viridian picked them as ammunition for his slingshot.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Ace Ventura: Pet Detective leaves one at the beginning of the film when he rescues a dog from a dognapper.
  • The eponymous Black Butterfly, a Robin Hood-esque master thief, who steals from wealthy, corrupt officials, will leave behind hairpins shaped like black butterflies at the site of each theft. Hence how she gets her nickname.
  • The Jigsaw Killer from Saw cut Jigsaw pieces out of his victims' flesh.
  • In The Pink Panther (1963), "The Phantom" would leave behind a monogrammed glove at every robbery.
  • Golden Swallow: The expert swordsman and killing machine, Silver Roc, will leave behind swallow-shaped golden darts on the corpses of bandits he killed.
  • In Home Alone, the "Wet Bandits" (well, actually just Marv) would leave the water running (after clogging the sink) in the homes they robbed. Harry thinks it's stupid and berates him for it. The trope is deconstructed near the end of the movie when they both get caught. The arresting officer mentions that they know which houses were the ones they robbed due to the running sinks.
    Harry: You left the water on again? That's sick.
    Marv: All the great ones leave their mark. We're the "Wet Bandits." *awkward pause*
  • In Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, the Irish killer has his little charm bracelet from which he leaves little trinkets at the scene of each crime. Cue joke: Scotland Yard is "always tryin' to get me Lucky Charms!"
  • The vigilante protagonists of The Boondock Saints left pennies on the eyes of their victims, as well as executing their chosen targets, the ones they save for last, with simultaneous gunshots to the back of the head while reciting the family prayer.
  • Vengeful Beauty: The titular Beauty, an assassin, is called the "Bloody Hibiscus" because of the numerous white, blood-stained hibiscuses she leaves on the corpses of her victims.
  • In Ocean's Twelve, Vincent Cassel's Gentleman Thief character, Francois Toulour, leaves a small onyx statue representing a fox as his calling card to let his "victims" know they were robbed by the "Night Fox".
  • In Nate and Hayes the film's villain has framed the latter half of the duo for years by leaving Hayes' sign on the scenes of his crimes.
  • Fantômas sometimes left behind his cards (at least in the French movie adaptations).
  • The titular character in The Crow leaves a crow symbol by the bodies of his victims, usually in blood, but on one occasion in fire.
  • James Bond:
    • In The Man with the Golden Gun, Professional Killer Francisco Scaramanga sends Bond a golden bullet with "007" marked on it, signifying him he's his next target.
    • In For Your Eyes Only, Italian agent Luigi Ferrara is murdered by the men of the Big Bad, Ari Kristatos, though Bond doesn't know it yet, and they leave a dove-shaped brooch pin on his body to frame smuggler Milos Columbo ("Columbo" sounds like the Spanish and Italian for "dove"), who then kidnaps Bond and explains him everything. Later, Bond drops the brooch in Locque's car in memory of Ferrara before making the car tumble down a cliff, killing Locque.
    • In No Time to Die, Madeleine Swann brings Bond to Matera specifically because Vesper Lynd is buried there, so he can forgive her and turn the page on her death once and for all. That's the moment Spectre chooses to ambush him, by first setting up a bomb in Vesper's grave, which explodes when Bond finds a Spectre calling card among the grave's flowers.
  • The killer in The Prowler leaves roses behind on his victims.
  • Mr. Brooks leaves a thumbprint from each of his victims, marked with their own blood, on an object near their body after murdering them. He's come to be known as the "Thumbprint Killer".
  • Less of a 'I was here' card and more of a 'I'm about to be here' sign, the ninjas in Ninja Assassin leave an envelope filled with black sand for their victims to find, right before they, literally, come from the shadows and kill them.
  • Title villain of The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle carves the letter "M" on his victims' foreheads.
  • In The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Joker would sometimes leave playing cards (Jokers). In Batman Begins, this was used as a Sequel Hooknote  In The Dark Knight, he also made a habit of marking his victims with a Glasgow Smile. Charming fellow.
  • In Apocalypse Now, Colonel Kilgore throws "Death cards" with the emblem of his Air Cavalry Regiment around corpses to let the Vietcong know who killed them. As he complains to his XO, none of the kills are even notable enough to earn a jack.
  • Frank Castle in The Punisher (1989) kills some criminals with knives with skulls on them to let others know that he's responsible.
  • In Beverly Hills Cop II, the so-called Alphabet Bandit leaves behind cryptic clues that leave the cops scrambling to decode them. In fact, the code was there to confuse the cops while the culprits were busy doing something else.
  • In Colombiana, Catalya leaves a Catalya flower on her victims. Her uncle thought it was stupid and berated her for it.
  • Uncle Eddie of the eponymous murders in Anamorph leaves the word "DEAD" on each of his victims. The fact that this doesn't appear in the later murders suggests that it's a copycat killer at work.
  • In R.O.T.O.R., the Killer Robot's Asshole Victim somehow manages to grab its nametag off the robot after being shot in the head, making the investigators' job much easier.
  • Discussed in the hacker movie Who Am I (2014):
    Ben: Most of the hackers just crack the threshold, look around the system and don't change a thing. Others leave a note. And many, take a souvenir.
  • 100 Tears: The Teardrop Killer gets his nickname because he paints teardrops in blood on the walls of every crime scene.
  • In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman has a habit of leaving a batarang at places he's been, such as the hideout of a human trafficker.
  • In The Snowman (2017), the killer leaves behind a snowman at the scenes of his crimes.
  • In The Rawhide Terror, the killer leaves behind a strip of rawhide on his victims. On it is written "Remember ten years ago", followed by a countdown of how many he has left to kill.
  • In Silent Night (2012), the killer Santa leaves a red and white gift box containing a piece of coal with his victims.
  • In Night School (1981), the killer always leaves the severed head of their victim submerged in water.
  • In Julia X, The Brand Killer brands a letter on to each of his victims.
  • In Cherry Falls, the killer carves the word "virgin" into the victims.
  • In Cure, each victim is has a huge "X" carved into them, slicing them open from throat to chest and cutting their carotid arteries.
  • In Some Guy Who Kills People, the killer leaves cryptic clues on the bodies of the victims, and initially the sheriff cannot work out what they mean. However, once he discovers the connections between the victims, he realizes the clues relate to their numbers on the high school basketball team (an ace and king playing cards for no. 21, a V carved into his chest for no. 5, etc.).
  • In The Loved Ones, Lola marks all her 'dates' by carving a love heart into their bare chests, using the tines of a fork. It enables Brent to realize that his car crash was caused by one of Lola's previous victims.
  • In Rimfire, the killer leaves a playing card on the body of each of the bodies: starting with the deuce of spades and working upwards through the suit.
  • In Sherlock: Case of Evil, Professor Moriarty likes to sign his crime with an 'M' concealed during the commission or at the scene, but so subtle that only a genius like Sherlock Holmes will spot it.
  • A doll is left next to each murder victim in The Psychopath, which bears their likeness.

  • "Kissin" Kate Barlow from Holes was famous for giving her victims The Kiss of Death, leaving a lipstick mark.
  • Angels & Demons: Invoked by The Hassassin who engages in theme killing. He also brands each of his victims with the name of the element he killed them with. He does the killings this way frame an Ancient Conspiracy, that is already extinct.
  • In The Stainless Steel Rat series, there's The Bishop, who leaves behind drawings of the chess piece in question. The titular character robs a bank, and leaves The Bishop's Calling Card in order to meet him.
  • In the Hercule Poirot novel The ABC Murders, the killer always leaves an "ABC Alphabetical Railway Guide" near the victim, as he's framing some other guy as a serial killer.
  • The Executioner. Elite sniper turned Vigilante Man Mack Bolan leaves a miltary marksman's medal at the scene of his killings. Sometimes he has one delivered to a future target as psychological warfare. His enemies have been known to leave such medals at murder scenes, either to frame Bolan or cover up for their own internal disputes (one Mafia capo who cut the throat of a rival might have gotten away with it, if Bolan hadn't chosen that moment to attack in a completely different area). The latter tactic was used so often that one underling reporting a Bolan hit got beaten up "for pulling that stunt", until Bolan (who'd let him live so he could follow the man to his superiors) walked through the door and started shooting.
  • Nancy Drew: The pirates in story would pierce the right earlobes of all the men on any ship they stole.
  • Zorro and his carved 'Z'.
  • The Spider marks his victims with a spider brand on the forehead; not all of them are dead first.
  • Leslie Charteris's The Saint stories. Simon Templar used a hand-drawn picture of a stick-figure with a halo as his signature/Calling Card.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters would leave a Dark Mark whenever someone had been killed.
    • Notorious wizard-Hitler Gellert Grindelwald repurposed the Deathly Hallows symbol as his own personal insignia, much like how the Nazis repurposed the swastika as their own. It's mentioned that after he was expelled from Durmstrang, Grindelwald permanently marked the sign on the school's wall to show that he studied there. To people who lost family members to him, like Viktor Krum, it's a major Berserk Button.
  • Discworld
    • Weirdly used in Thud!, in which the Summoning Dark is its own calling card: wherever the Dark-inhabited Vimes goes, objects tend to fall in such a way as to form the eye-with-a-tail symbol.
    • Technically, the fact Thieves and Assassins always leave a receipt could be considered a calling card. This is how you know you were visited by a licenced professional, and not a common criminal.
  • The suspense novel The Caper of the Golden Bulls is about a retired thief coerced into a new caper; he laments that he can't get the aid of another master thief known as the "Ace of Diamonds." The Ace had a bizarrely elaborate signature: the ace of diamonds playing card, with a gryphon's head drawn on it, and then a stiletto driven through the card. It's eventually revealed that the gryphon's head referred to the thief being a lovely young woman named Grace — "gr" from "gryphon" plus "ace" — so she was telling the authorities her name every time she pulled a theft. And she turned out to be the hero's girlfriend, so the Ace of Diamonds was available to help.
  • In Paul Doherty's novel The Mysterium, the Mysterium is an assassin in 14th century England whose victims are found with an M on their forehead, standing for "Mysterium Rei"; "the mystery of the thing".
  • The Serial Killer Karkas, in Galaxy of Fear, cut a "K" into the forehead of anyone he murdered.
  • CHERUB Series agent Bruce Norris once joked that he wanted to make business cards to leave in the mouths of the people he knocked out.
  • James Bond
    • In Never Send Flowers, a rare hybrid rose is delivered to the funerals of the high-profile assassinations, accompanied with the written message "This is the way it must end. Goodbye."
    • The Number Killer in The Facts of Death always leaves numbers (which are counting to ten) and a statue of a Greek god to the scenes of the crime.
    • The Union from Raymond Benson's Bond novels has its killers leave their victims with deeply cut throats as their signature, even when they killed them through other means.
  • The Domino Lady leaves behind a literal one: a black card with white writing reading "Compliments of the Domino Lady".
  • In Another Note, Beyond Birthday leaves behind a number of wara ningyo dolls nailed into the wall. They function as a countdown of how many victims are left.
  • Joe Pickett: In Blood Trail, the killer leaves a red poker chip on the body of each of their victims.
  • The second Alex Rider novel opens with someone being killed by "The Gentleman," who lives up to his moniker by anonymously sending a dozen black roses to the houses of the families of his victims after he's completed a job.
  • In S. A. Steeman's L'assassin habite au 21, Serial Killer Mister Smith slips a card into the bodies of his victims. This was especially justified - Mister Smith is actually a criminal identity shared between three different people, and the card lets them suggest the idea that Mister Smith is a single killer, allowing any of them to swoop in and provide alibis should any of the others be compromised in police custody.
  • Deconstructed in From The Deep Of The Dark. Although the Middlesteel press assume she's playing this trope purely for theatrics, the spies who hire the Sable Caracal to steal a royal artifact confront her with the real reason she leaves a calling card behind at the scene of each art theft: it's a clue to potential black-market art buyers, hinting which crime lord they should contact to purchase what was stolen.
  • The Sherlock Holmes Stories of Edward D. Hoch: In "The Manor House Case", the killer plants a playing card on his victims in a case of Serial Killings, Specific Target designed to cover up a Dying Clue left by their first victim.
  • For the serial killer in Ripper (2014), it's all about wolves. The widow of one of the victims receives a copy of Hermann Hesse's novel Steppenwolf. Another victim, who collected glass figurines, receives one after her death that is at first mistaken for a dog but it's really a wolf.
  • The last part of Gods and Warriors reveals that something called "the shadow thief" harasses the Crows by slashing their waterskins and spoiling their meat and leaves behind a little clay frog as a sign. It's actually Hylas' lost little sister Issi doing her undercover warfare against the Crows. Hearing about the shadow thief's clay frogs, Issi's favorite animal, clues Hylas in to her true identity.
  • The Worst Witch: In A Bad Spell for the Worst Witch, Ethel is enraged by Mildred "terrorising her little sister" by telling her a story about being turned into a frog by a teacher, and "insulting her family" by calling her a weed. As revenge, Ethel turns Mildred into a frog while she sleeps, and deposits a clump of weeds on Mildred's pillow.
  • In Moonlight Becomes You Maggie realizes that bells have been left on the graves of several women who died at Latham Manor and on Nuala's grave (even though she was murdered at home). It's revealed the killer left the bells there as a private twisted 'joke'.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Mentalist has the serial killer "Red John", who always leaves a smiley face drawn in the victim's own blood.
    • In a later episode, a child was abducted (a child belonging to a woman that Patrick Jane previously scammed as a fake psychic), with a balloon animal left behind, which was the mark of a serial child abductor/killer known as the "balloon killer" who had previously abducted and killed two boys, and within eight hours murdered them. However, upon raiding the balloon killer's house and shooting him in a fierce firefight, the balloon killer implies that he was not responsible for the boy's disappearance this time around, which was shortly thereafter confirmed by Patrick Jane via both a phone call and a note in one of his partner's pocket that he somehow planted in there.
  • One of the early killers Dexter goes after makes the victime's bodies themselves his signature—a frozen, chopped-up, bloodless body. The killer also left increasingly personalized clues for Dexter himself.
    • Season 3's B-plot serial killer had a rather disturbing calling card: partially skinning his victims; one victim died from the skinning.
  • The Mighty Boosh does it with Old Gregg - a sea monster who kidnaps Howard and leaves a card saying "I'm Old Gregg"
  • Parodied in That Mitchell and Webb Look with the "Identity Killer", whose calling card is that he leaves documents pertaining to his identity — such as an actual calling card, his driver's license, his passport and, on one occasion, himself — at the scene of the crime. The police still are baffled as to who he could be.
    Sgt: He's always one step ahead of us!
  • The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed: the Black Cat gang (specialty: burglary with a side dish of murder) leave a cat drawing or an actual cat at the scene of the crime.
  • Subverted in the Turkish crime-drama Yılan Hikayesi. Investigating an elusive crime boss called "The King", the protagonists occasionally find a single rose flower was left in the places that the King was believed to have been. The subversion comes from the fact that they were not meant for the cops. They were meant as a message for his ex-wife whom he could not meet face-to-face for fear of retaliation by his enemies but still loved dearly. The locations where the roses were found were the places his ex-wife had gone as part of her own investigation on her husband's disappearance.
  • In Queen of Swords, the Queen sometimes leaves behind a Queen of Swords tarot card to taunt the authorities.
  • Episode 2.01 of White Collar featured a bank robber who left actual calling cards at his crime scenes.
  • Inverted in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk's 100th Case." The serial killer has photographs of various models that he takes, and then adds lipstick to each of those killed, but he keeps them at the studio as a checklist, not leaving them at the crime scene.
  • In the short-lived NBC series, Sword Of Justice, protagonist Jack Cole would use playing cards, the three of clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades as his calling cards. The three of clubs was left with the target of each episode, as a warning that he was going down. The three of diamonds would be used to pass information to the police. The three of hearts would be used to pass information to the person (usually female) that he was helping, and the three of spades for the final "I got you" message to the target.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit loves this trope.
    • One episode featured the Victim of the Week being tied up in a particular way, and there was also the Blonde, Brunette, Redhead pattern.
    • Another featured a serial killer who considered his killings True Art, "critiquing" the work of a copycat, who turned out to be his Psycho Ex-Girlfriend.
    • Another episode featured literal cards—prayer cards, to be specific, left with dead prostitutes.
  • In "Child Predator" of Elementary, the Balloon Man would leave behind balloons saying things such as "thank you" and "congratulations" after abducting a child.
  • The X-Files:
    • When a still-burning Morley cigarette is left on the ground or in an office ashtray, that's a sign that the Cigarette-Smoking Man has been there recently. Since he's The Chessmaster who's anything but careless, it's very likely these are left deliberately.
    • In the episode "The End", a guard in the prison where the Conspiracy's failed hired assassin is held (pending questioning) hands the prisoner a threatening note ("You're a dead man") written on the cut-out side of a Morley cigarette carton—indicating that it was a message from the Cigarette-Smoking Man. A second time, the prisoner receives another cut-out carton side, which has nothing written on it, right before the guard shoots him.
  • Babylon 5:
    • The assassin hired to kill G'Kar in the episode "Parliament of Dreams" leaves on G'Kar's pillow a black flower, known as a "death blossom", which is the elite Thenta Makur assasins' guild's calling card which they leave as a warning before they strike.
      • The "death blossom" is less a calling card and more a warning to get one's affairs in order. Which is, as far as hired killers go, remarkably considerate.
    • In "Passing Through Gethsemane", it is revealed that a monk in Brother Theo's order, Brother Edward, was once a serial killer before being sentenced to mindwipe. He was known as "the Black Rose Killer" because he left a black rose at the scenes of his murders.
  • The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town leaves a calling card featuring a raspberry. There is no name, because "modesty forbids", and no address, because he is "never at home".
  • An episode of The Sentinel has Jim tangle with a Russian sniper named Yuri who always leaves behind some Russian coins as his calling card. Yuri uses technology to achieve the same levels of awareness as Jim's natural hypersenses, and the climax involves a cat-and-mouse game between the two.
  • CSI loves this.
    • Paul Millander left his victims in bathtubs in staged suicides.
    • The Miniature Killer left detailed miniature replicas of the scene at each scene.
    • Another killer left his victims frozen in various poses, even standing up.
  • CSI: NY:
    • The Compass Killer who left compasses at his scenes.
    • Shane Casey uses t-shirts and staged scenes for secret messages.
    • In "Crushed," a burglar left small, typed notes at his scenes. It came back to bite him when someone was killed at a house he'd robbed and he became a murder suspect.
  • In Supernatural demons will often leave behind sulfur and angels will burn out the eyes of their victims.
  • In the BBC tv-movie "Arrivaderci Millwall", a gang of English soccer hooligans leave behind calling cards on the bodies of their victims saying, "Greetings! You have just met Millwall!"
  • On Imposters, Ezra is rocked to find his accounts have been emptied out and his credit cards are no good. Coming home, he finds a video from his love Ava, who reveals she's actually Maddie, a con artist who just took him for everything. She's a bit apologetic for it but also issues a warning: If Ezra goes to the cops or tries to find her, she will reveal a dark secret he has that will not only ruin him but his entire family.
    • Ezra soon meets Richard and Jules (a woman) who also married Maddie and found the exact same video waiting for them with the indication they're only three of many Maddie has done this to.
  • In the Midnight Caller episode "Protection", a hitman leaves little stick figures, apparently made out of white wire, at every crime scene.
  • Funky Squad: In "Diamonds are a Cat's Best Friend", Gentleman Thief the Cat leaves a literal paw print calling card at the scenes of his crimes.
  • The Chestnut Man: The killer leaves little chestnut figurines in the scenes of their crimes.
  • Paladin's calling card has a title drop for the show he's on: Have Gun – Will Travel.

    Professional Wrestling 

  • The Lone Ranger had his silver bullets. He would often leave one with those his rescued as a reminder.


    Tabletop Games 
  • GURPS calls this disadvantage "Trademark,". The more they increase the character's risk of getting caught (by narrowing the list of suspects or requiring the character to spend extra time at the crime scene), the more points they're worth.
    • Examples of the most elaborate Trademarks include dousing captured thugs in a certain colonge, painting an entire crime scene pink, and writing a long poem to the police.
    • Fourth Edition Dark Champions had this as a disadvantage as well. It's not specifically noted in 5th edition, but several NPCs have one anyway.
  • Hunter: The Vigil allows the characters to modify their Karma Meters to allow different breaking points in pursuit of the Vigil; to make up for it, though, they need to take certain "Triggers" that risk being activated in times of stress. One of them is "Calling Card"; you have to leave a sign at the scene of a kill. Needless to say, this Trigger carries over well if the hunter becomes a Slasher.
  • Infernal Exalted don't have to leave these at the scene of whatever horrible mess they just made, exactly, but if they do, it lets them reduce the Yozis' disapproval of them because that's just kind of how Szoreny rolls.

    Video Games 
  • Sly Cooper always leaves a raccoon-head-shaped card in place of the valuables he steals.
  • Condemned: Criminal Origins more or less makes a game out of this. As the protagonist is an FBI investigator looking for serial killers, these come up quite often - a prominent one from the tutorial is the "Match Maker", who kills women and then sets their corpses up in scenes with male department-store mannequins who have been given a unique marking on their cheek. Once the protagonist starts finding victims who don't match their respective killer's usual targets (to go from the above example, a male victim with a scar like the above marking matched with a female mannequin), it becomes apparent that the Big Bad who framed him at the start of the game is a Serial-Killer Killer who employs his victims' own methods against them. Other such victims of his include "The Torturer", who drives his victims to off themselves, and an unseen "Bone Cutter", who would dissect his victims, remove their internal organs and individually label them for the police investigating the murder.
  • Heavy Rain: The Origami Killer, so called because s/he leaves an origami figure next to their victims.
  • In Mass Effect 2, the Classy Cat-Burglar, Kasumi Goto, will tell Shepard that she left a rose in place of what she stole earlier in her career. She later says that her partner made her realize that continuing to do so wasn't a very smart thing to do.
  • Mr. Valentine in Guilty Party always leaves rhyming Valentine's cards for his victims.
  • From Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Fatman's calling card is placing cologne on his C4 explosives, which his mentor/rival Peter Stillman is able to take advantage of to create a sensor that can detect the bombs. He soon catches on to this and tricks Stillman with bombs that don't have that trace of cologne on them.
  • Team Fortress 2 has several item sets, such as the Tank Buster and Gas Jockey's Gear, which leave a gravestone on the site where the victim was killed.
  • One of the many categories of collectibles in Far Cry 4 are the "Masks of Yalung", demonic masks left by a Serial Killer calling himself "The Goat" at the scenes of their grisly murders, which the player is tasked to destroy or otherwise remove. Radio DJ Rabi-Ray-Rana wonders on-air what his Calling Card would be if he were a serial killer: Playing cards are too overdone, masks are taken... so maybe he would just take a shit on his victims.
  • According to the artbook of LISA, Geese Thompson, one of the recruitable characters, was a serial killer who left rhymes about his identity near his crime scenes. However, due to the fact that he's really bad at writing, none of the rhymes made any sense, meaning that they absolutely failed as clues.
  • In Persona 5, the Phantom Thieves of Hearts send a calling card to their target prior to the grand heist (as a nod to Lupin III). The specific purpose of the calling card is to render their target psychologically vulnerable for a brief period of time, allowing the Phantom Thieves to steal the Treasure, a manifestation of the target's twisted desire and ego, from the target's Palace. In gameplay, sending a calling card triggers a Point of No Return that initiates a boss fight on the following day; clearing this boss fight progresses the story once the in-game deadline is reached.
  • The Thief of Many Faces, the antagonist of the Hildibrand sidequests in Final Fantasy XIV, sends the titular inspector a red and black playing card with the details of his next heist every chapter. The card's usually tossed into someone's head for good measure (and slapstick).
  • In Fallout 4's "The Silver Shroud" questline, you get to dress up like the titular vigilante hero from pre-War radio dramas and gun down some of the worst lowlifes in post-apocalyptic Boston, then leave patented Silver Shroud calling cards on their corpses.
  • Love Nikki - Dress Up Queen has Sapphires the Phantom Thief from the Pigeon Kingdom, whose outfit can be purchased with Association Coins. He is described as an "elegant and handsome" Sharp-Dressed Man who "is in fact, a thief!" The outfit comes complete with his Warning Letter.
  • In Cultist Simulator, Rose, one of your Edge-aspect followers (read: assassins), always sends her future victims a yellow rose as a gift before she murders them.
  • The serial killer in L.A. Noire usually strips his victim, stamps on her chest, writes a message in lipstick, and forcibly removes her ring.
  • In Batman: Arkham Knight, Professor Pyg suspends the corpses of his victims from chains, then leaves behind a loudspeaker blaring opera music. He also paints a word dismissing them as flawed (such as "FAILURE" or "DEFORMITY") on the spot.

    Visual Novels 
  • Professional Killer Shelly de Killer in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All leaves a card with a seashell symbol on it near the bodies of his victims so his clients know for sure that De Killer successfully carried out his task.
    • He actually states that he leaves the card to save the police the trouble of investigating, and to deflect suspicion from the one who hired him. Naturally it backfires.
    • Mask☆DeMasque from Trials And Tribulations; he plants the card long before robbing the place.
    • The Yatagarasu from Ace Attorney Investigations doesn't leave a card at the scene, but rather gives it to the media along with the item stolen, with the intent of exposing corrupt dealings.
    • In the second case of Dual Destinies, Phineas Filch's grandfather left statues of himself in the place of the things he stole.
  • Genocider Syo/Genocide Jack of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc has two: writing "BLOODSTAIN FEVER" on the wall in the victim's blood (written as "BLOODLUST" in the NISA translation), and leaving them crucified. A detail about the second— that said crucifixion is carried out with specially-made ornamental scissors— is kept secret from the press, which proves instrumental in determining if a certain murder was Syo's work or that of a copycat. Throughout the entire story, Syo/Jack kills a grand total of zero people — as a hedonistic serial killer, leaving her calling card is the main enjoyment she gets out of killing, but doing so after being outed in a Closed Circle situation would be signing her own death warrant. So she doesn't.
  • The Gilded Poppy in Queen of Thieves use the poppy as their signature. In the prologue, Jett leaves behind the burning outline of a stylized poppy which he had traced out in lines of gunpowder and had the heroine ignite for him.
  • Serial-Killer Killer Pi from WILL: A Wonderful World leaves a smiley face on all of his victims. It's how he got his nickname, since the smile and the eyes were close enough to be mistaken for the Pi symbol (π) when viewed upside-down.

  • In Blood And Smoke, the serial killer called The Heart Ripper rips out hearts.
  • In The Last Days of FOXHOUND, Fatman runs off immediately after getting rescued from an enemy base.
    Fatman: Just wanted to leave my calling card.
    Raven: What's that?
    Fatman: A pile of smoking rubble.
    Enemy Base: KABLOOEY

    Web Original 
  • In "Ayla and the Grinch" of the Whateley Universe, a serial killer is loose in Los Angeles, leaving the heads of the victims behind as an identifier. Heads that are apparently burned off the still-living bodies.
  • Being a group of sociopathic "Anartists",note  Are We Cool Yet? of The SCP Foundation's Groups of Interest probably meant to use their group name as both this and a signiature for their deadly "pieces". It doesn't just limit itself to the phrase; if you see or hear "Cool" in any way, shape, or form on a work or even see the acronym AWCY, you're about to be part of a new exhibit.
  • RWBY: In Volumes 2 & 3, computers hacked by Cinder have a black queen chess piece logo displayed when under her control. In Volume 7, when Ironwood talks about how helpless he felt when the hack turned his robots against him, he flashes back to seeing that sigil. As part of a Paranoia Gambit, Cinder sneaks into Ironwood's office and leaves a black queen made from the black glass she used to fight Ruby in "Dance Dance Infiltration". Seeing it sends Ironwood off the deep end, and he begins Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.

    Western Animation 
  • The Joker's Calling Card was parodied on Ed, Edd n Eddy, with "The Prankmaster", whose calling card was a Joker with the word "PRANK-MASTER" written over it.
  • Killer Bean Forever: After Killer Bean's first gunfight, the police investigate the crime scene and find his bullet casings are all enshrined with the words "This bullet casing is the property of Killer Bean". Turn over, the casings read, "This Bullet Is Meant For Someone Else".
  • The Simpsons
    • Parodied in "The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase", during the Chief Wiggum sketch. After Ralph is kidnapped they find a skull lying on his bed:
    Skinner: Big Daddy's calling card... it's right behind that skull.
    • In "Homer the Vigilante" the mystery thief leaves a card behind at each crime scene: "You have just been robbed by the Springfield Cat Burglar."
  • In South Park one episode dealt with a serial killer named Michael Deats who would remove the left hand of his victim after he killed them and he would also visit the sites in a blood soaked raincoat. With nothing but a yellow bikini underneath! At a certain point, the police almost arrest him, but realize that, since the hands have been flipped over, they're all right hands, so he's not the killer.
  • Pinky and the Brain: Brain tries to Take Over the World by becoming a superhero, modeling himself after Batman parody The Caped Opossum, and calling himself the Cranial Crusader. When Brain leaves his calling card at the scene of the crime, an explosion causes ink to hit the card, making police think Caped Opossum did it.
  • The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh had the Pack Rats, who steal things and leave behind walnuts in their place.
  • Lotus Blossom in the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles always leaves a lotus flower whatever crime she strikes.
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, the mysterious Hooded Chicken is said to leave a feather on its victims door before it strikes.
  • The Looney Tunes Show: When Lola starts acting like a jewel thief in "The Black Widow", she leaves a calling card with a black widow on it (borrowed from her favourite movie).
  • King Leonardo and His Short Subjects: The Hunter. "Have Nose, Will Hunt."

    Real Life 
  • The Washington DC Beltway Snipers left Tarot Cards with messages on them for cops to find.
  • The Zodiac Killer wrote cryptograms for police, signing them with a sun cross.
  • The ace of spades was left on dead Vietnamese soldiers by American troops in the Vietnam War, under the belief that the Vietnamese held the symbol to mean death and ill-fortune. This was inaccurate, but the gesture helped American morale.
    • The US Playing Card Company went so far as to manufacture all-ace-of-spades card decks for the troops. See here.
    • Before that, there was the First Special Service Force of World War II, who would leave cards printed with the unit insignia and "Das dicke Ende kommt noch" ("The worst is yet to come") on the bodies of German soldiers they killed.
    • If anything, they should have left fours, though that particular superstition isn't as strong in Vietnam as it is in China and Japan.
  • In one murder case the perpetrator did actually leave his calling card at the scene of the crime, by dropping a case of them not far away. Unsurprisingly, he was the primary suspect from the beginning to the end of the case, and the prosecutor had an I Always Wanted to Say That moment when he came to trial.
  • Spain has Alfredo Galán, nicknamed by the media "The Playing Card/Deck of Cards Killer", as he left a playing card in the crime scene.
  • A serial killer named Beer Man left beer cans beside their victim's bodies.


Video Example(s):


The Shadow's Calling Card

The Shadow would shape the wrappers from complementary hotel chocolates into penises for the police to find. Since the Shadow was actually Bitsy, the wrappers were a passive-aggressive note for her father because he wished that Bitsy was a boy named Mark instead.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

Main / CallingCard

Media sources: