And where you walkin'
Or you and your homies might be lined in chalk!
Ah, the chalk (or more rarely, tape) outline to indicate where the murder victim once was.
The real life history of the practice is not as clear cut as most would think. The practice was originally never part of actual police procedure; after all, the standard explanation of needing to know where the body was after it is removed is laughable when taking photographs of crime scenes is standard practice. It seems to have come to be as a way of allowing the media in the inter-war years to film/photograph crime scenes without having to show the actual bodies. This practice died out as forensic evidence became more important and the media became less concerned about showing bodies.
This is not to say that the police never draw around a body in Real Life. In reality, police procedure almost never requires a chalk outline — chalk is impractical, prone to weather-related erosion, and contaminates the crime scene with a foreign substance, which seriously hampers an investigations or criminal proceedings at a later date. Not to mention that an outline wouldn't show anything useful about the body that a cursory visual examination wouldn't reveal. Therefore it is usually reserved for victims who are not dead and require immediate medical attention in places where contamination is less of a concern, most often road traffic incidents. Even if contamination is a concern, the police might note the location of the head with a cross or dot of chalk if they have to move the victims immediately.
Instead of chalk, police now indicate the locations of items of interest using removable flags that don't contaminate the crime scene. These are typically free-standing and marked with numbers so that investigators can keep track of where everything was located and what they refer to.
Subversions and parodies are now the mainstay of this trope with all manner of strange visual gags involving confusingly shaped outlines, outlines in strange or impossible places or, quite popular, a corpse that has been shattered or dismembered having every part outlined individually. Nevertheless it does still turn up played straight whenever there is a desire not to show bodies, either for plot reasons or because of the intended air time of the program.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
- Played with in Yotsuba&!: when Yotsuba is playing with chalk, she decides to do a life-sized drawing of her dad's friend, the six foot ten Jumbo. The result is a gigantic chalk outline that gives her friends pause on seeing it.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion:
- Played For Laughs (sort of) where this method is used on Humongous Mecha. Or to be more exact, the skeletal remains of failed Eva prototypes are arranged into their original form and outlined in chalk, even though many are deformed and/or missing several limbs. And it only appears in the original version of episode 23; all other versions have a skeleton pit.
- NOT played for laughs in the same series with Naoko Akagi's death. We don't see how she died or who (if anyone) murdered her- just her outline and the splatter of her brains on the MAGI computer. It's implied that she jumped off herself after killing Rei-I, though.
- Played for laughs again in the first Rebuild movie with a giant white outline on a hill clearly where some humongous humanoid landed with enough force to either flatten or move all the buildings out of the way.
- Tape outline used on Detective Conan a few times such as the episode titled Which One's Reasoning Show.
- Played with in Hidamari Sketch. Miyako drew a chalk outline of Hiro at where she passed out, despite Sae's objection over taste. Sae ended up envying Miyako though, as Miyako drew the outline in the style of Amedeo Modigliani.
- Spotted in the anime version of Phantom of Inferno.
- The anime of Psychic Detective Yakumo plays it straight.
- Seigi no Mikata plays this for laughs when a co-worker asks Makiko to reserve a spot for the office-outing's flower viewing in the park. She keeps a spot free by drawing a chalk outline beneath a tree and most people run away screaming from the location.
- Also played straight in Black Lagoon.
- At one point in ×××HOLiC Yuuko has drooped from the heat, and her two assistants Maru and Moro have drawn an outline around her.
- In the Black Rose Arc of Revolutionary Girl Utena, the dueling arena is covered with desks and scattered red outlines of bodies. The losers of these duels fall onto these outlines and pose to fit them. This is probably related to the origin of the Black Rose Seals: a hundred students burned to death in a building.
- The pilot of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex used a masking-tape outline instead.
- Jeff Foxworthy:
- The comedian had a bit in his act where he described a wild party where a drunk trying to act like he's not drunk antagonizes Officer Mitchell by saying "If I lay down, will you draw my picture with that chalk you carry?"
- In another, he suggests that a good way to keep solicitors away from your door is to draw a chalk outline on your driveway, and scatter religious pamphlets about it.
- Jerry Seinfeld talks about chalk outlines in a routine: "I think the lowest position in the police force you can get is chalk outline guy. The guy who wanted to be a sketch artist but couldn't draw too well."
- Eddie Izzard has a joke about Captain Transvestite, an ineffective superhero. He spends so long putting make-up on as part of his outfit change that the person he's supposed to rescue is dead by the time he gets there, but at least he can use his lipstick to draw a line around the body.
- The cover photo for George Carlin's "On The Road" record shows Carlin drawing a smile on the head of a chalk outline.
- John Mulaney contemplates how crime-solving was done in the days before DNA analysis. One of the lines from the theoretical investigation officer is: "Mmm, look for clues! I'll tell ya what we'll do, We'll draw chalk around where the body is, so that way we'll know where it was."
- Played straight in Astro City after the Mock Turtle is killed, one issue after being introduced.
- Bobby Gnucci in "Welcome Back, Frank" leaves an amorphous splat shaped outline on 5th and 33rd after The Punisher uses the Empire State Building to make high-altitude street pizza.
- In one Agent 212 comic, the titular cop is asked to draw one. Unfortunately the sight is too much for his stomach, and the "outline" he leaves is a hastily-scribbled mess drawn before he hurries to the bathroom.
- In Captain America: Winter Soldier, a chalk outline by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents marks the spot where the Red Skull, of all people, was assassinated.
- Ultimate Spider-Man: The police made an outline of Uncle Ben at the Parker's house.
- The Far Side.
- Spoofed where a huge crew in New York is painting a line around King Kong.
- There's another one like this, showing the outline of Kong, with a bunch of smaller outlines of people inside it.
- Played in Garfield when Jon draws the chalk line around sleeping Garfield to make it look like Garfield's dead.
- The tape variant is used in Turnabout Storm to mark the place where the pegasus Ace Swift's body is found, and it's the first thing noticed by Phoenix Wright and Twilight Sparkle in the crime scene. There's a small catch in that Twilight has no idea what the meaning of the tape is. She doesn't like the explanation.
- In Robots a lamp dies outside Aunt Fanny's house and the next morning there is a chalk outline of the lamp's body. The main characters walk by as if nothing had happened.
- Tangled: In a blink-and-you-miss-it gag, there is a chalk outline on the floor of the Snuggly Duckling (the Bad-Guy Bar) with an axe still imbedded in the planks at the location of the head.
- Ralph Breaks the Internet: Players who are caught by Shank and her crew while trying to jack Shank's car, will get blasted by Pyro with flamethrowers, reducing their avatars to tape outlines and a Game Over screen.
- Back to the Future Part II plays it straight. Authors said that the chalk outline without the bodies will be more impressive without being thrilling.
- Coming to America parodies this when Prince Akeem tries to find an apartment in a rough neighborhood and finds a chalk line for a human and then a dog next to it.
Slumlord: Damn shame what they did to that dog...
- The Naked Gun films love to do strange things like this.
- In the first film, there's an outline in the water where a man drowned. Made even funnier when you realize that the tape outline is for a character who isn't actually dead, and who doesn't die at any point.
- In the sequel, after a bombing, there's a whole mess of outlines, ranging from bits and pieces of someone splattered onto walls, as well as an Egyptian figure.
- When a bit character in Spy Hard gets shot, he falls down onto a pre-drawn outline, but has to readjust himself to fit properly.
- Loaded Weapon 1 features a chalk outline for a death which hasn't even occurred yet. Moreover, it's a Railing Kill and the shot villain misses the outline. And then scoots over onto it before dying.
- In the first Scary Movie, the Too Dumb to Live first victim trips into one of those and holds the pose for a few seconds before running away.
- Parodied in Mr. Mom, where Jack Butler has a dream where he gets shot, then falls onto a chalk outline on the floor of his house. He opens his eyes again for a moment to notice that he's a little off-center from the chalk outline, scoots himself over, then passes out.
- From Beyond. Wonderfully parodied after a scientist meddling in things he shouldn't accidentally summons a creature that bites off his head. Later, some characters return to the murder scene, where police have drawn a chalk outline with only a little nub (suggesting a bit of spine sticking out) where the neck and head should be.
- Played straight, save for the dirty great big safe on top of the head of the outline, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
- Played for laughs in The Pink Panther (2006). "Isn't it strange that the dead man landed exactly in this chalk outline?"
- Used for grim humor in the 1991 film Frankie And Johnnie, where a group of teenagers are using a chalk outline on the sidewalk for a game of coin-toss.
- Legal Eagles: In this movie, Daryl Hannah plays a rather strange performance artist who, we're led to believe, was mentally unbalanced by witnessing her father die in a fire when she was a child. At one point we see her lying in a chalk outline in the same position as her father at his death... and that's not part of a performance. It's just something she does.
- Played Straight in While the City Sleeps for the second murder victim.
- Cool World: After Holli disposes of Nails, Frank examines the crime scene which has a chalk outline of Nail's body. Of course, as Nails was a spider, the outline has eight limbs. (The bizarre doodle logic of Cool World may also be at play here, as Nails was sucked into a fountain pen and didn't leave behind a body).
- In Silent Fall, the police draw outlines of the Wardens' murdered bodies on their bedroom floor.
- Justified in The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, a Magitek novel set on a parallel Earth, because the chalk is a mystical substance that's intended to preserve the integrity of psychic evidence. Likewise, crime-scene tape is enchanted to ward off tamperers or the curious from the site of an investigation.
- Discworld has fun with this.
- First, they can and do draw outlines on the river Ankh; second, never let Nobby be the one to draw the outline as tobacco pipes, flowers and backgrounds detract from the gravity of the crime scene.
- Going Postal: there is a mail-sorting machine made by Bloody Stupid Johnson that contains a wheel with a circumference exactly three times the diameter. There are chalk outlines of the pieces of someone who walked too close to it. Some of the outlines are very small indeed.
- Parodied in Making Money by Vimes speculating that Lipwig will be "found lyin' in chalk", as if the chalk outline appears around murder victims on its own.
- In an eerie variant, the crime scene in Thud! was marked with glow-in-the-dark chalk made from ground-up luminous wurms.
- Erle Stanley Gardner uses this trope in the first Perry Mason novel, The Case of the Velvet Claws. When Perry returns to George Bender's bedroom to recreate Bender's murder, he notes that the chalk outline of Bender's body is still on the floor.
- You Only Live Twice. James Bond is somewhat shocked over an incident where Japanese police insisted in drawing outlines around the victims of a road accident, and complaining when the victims moved.
- Parodied in Incompetence, where the Roman police insist on putting an outline around every body and body part in a multi-death elevator accident. When protagonist Harry Salt arrives on the scene, one of the CSI's is putting an outline around a stray eyeball, and Harry wonders what possible use that could bring to the investigation.
- He Lover of Death: Maybe they did this for real in 1900 Moscow?
"On the ground by the door there was a rough outline of a human figure, not a very good likeness, and beside it there was a dark patch. Blood, Senka guessed, and shuddered."
- 1000 Ways to Die has chalk outlines in the opening sequence.
- My Wife and Kids . In the "moving on out" sitcom, Junior has his own flat in a run-down town . A Chalkout Outline is visible on the pavement and Kadie (too little to understand) want to have someone draw her outline with chalk too.
- Jess draws one up with matching police tape in front of Taylor's market as a prank on Gilmore Girls. It puts the whole town (mostly Taylor) in a tizzy. Lorelai later comments that the town is so dull, they have a phony murder instead of a real one.
- The X-Files. Played for dark laughs when a victim has their head shoved into liquid nitrogen and is then thrown to the ground. The chalk outline of the body is perfectly normal until it gets to the head... which is a bunch of little X-marks.
- It was used in teeny-bopper Nickelodeon series iCarly, where a tape outline is seen on the floor of a rundown motel implied to be in a very Bad Neighborhood.
- In an episode of Full House, Danny and Joey are arrested and thrown in a jail cell. The other perps in the cell intimidate the two by forcing Joey to lie on the floor as they draw an outline around him.
- In the "Cola Myths" segment of MythBusters, this is referenced when they're testing cola's ability to clean up blood (OK, but not that spectacular), including mention that chalk outlines are not used in the real world as they are in fiction.
- Parodied by Channel 5 (in the UK) sponsorship adverts for the Kia Sportage which are shown during crime dramas. In them generic Police Procedural scenes are played out. This includes one where a car stops next to an outline and two people get out to look at it... which then gets up and steals the car.
- The Colbert Report has a chalk outline on the floor of the studio where Stephen Colbert fell and broke his wrist.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer once inadvertently sat down in a victim outline (taped to the seat of a railway coach where a vampire massacre had happened). Averted after fellow vampire slayer Kendra is killed. Buffy makes a point of walking around her outline out of respect. Principal Snyder thoughtlessly walks across it when Evil Gloating a short time later.
- Spoofed in the miniseries The 10th Kingdom: after Sally Peep is murdered, the location of her body is outlined in chalk, including her shepherd's crook. The Novelization lampshades this by having Tony reflect in his thoughts: "They were nothing if not thorough."
- Family Matters - Carl "Cheapskate" Winslow didn't want to shell out $3000 for new living room furniture, so he bought a bunch of stuff from the police impound for about $300. Not only did it included a carpet with a tape outline of a body, it also included a lamp with bullet holes in the lampshade. Everything was uniformly garish - think "pimp" crossed with a velvet Elvis.
- In an episode of Friends as Chandler is preparing to move in with Monica, she shows with a square outline on the floor to mark where she intends to put his special chair.
Chandler: Oh my God, someone's killed Squareman.
- Police Squad! played it straight, then spoofed it by drawing an Egyptian-style outline.
- Kamen Rider Double: Ryu is seen looking over a crime seen filled with these in the opening sequence — though, they seem to be using lengths of rope instead of chalk.
- On The Mary Tyler Moore Show, egotistical newscaster Ted Baxter couldn't decide on a new promotional photo, so he asked Murray, the acerbic newswriter:
Ted: What kind of picture would you like to see of me?
Murray: How about a chalk outline on the floor?
- Doctor Who used this for some very dark humour in "The Deadly Assassin", where a Time Lord corpse is marked out with an outline that is basically useless, because his Gallifreyan robes and collar completely obscured whatever position he'd been in.
- In Not the Nine O'Clock News, one sketch shows a detective arriving on a crime scene exclaiming something like 'Bloody Hell!'. A uniformed officer informs him 'we think the motive was jealousy, sir...' Cue a shot of a chalk outline of a man with a huge penis.
- The Avengers (1960s) parodies this by having a man get shot and then fall precisely into a pre-drawn chalk outline.
- Played straight on Heroes when Claire's roommate apparently commits suicide by jumping out of her window. Claire suspects a murder and tests it by jumping out the window herself. When she lands on the chalk outline, she concludes that she was wrong.
- Referenced in Red Dwarf: Lister says he used to be fat as a kid, but started losing weight after his similarly fat grandmother was killed by a truck, "...and the chalk outline guy had to go back to the car for a second piece of chalk. I thought, 'I don't want to end up like that — a double-chalker!'"
- Averted in Hannibal: when Abigail Hobbes finds the bloodstain marking the spot where her mother died, she says she was expecting a chalk outline. Will bluntly explains that they only do that if the victim is still alive.
- Played straight in the Fringe episode "Of Human Action." A policeman falls to his death from the top of a multi-storey car park, and next time you see the ground, there is a chalk outline on it.
- It was used in the usually pretty squeaky-clean teen series Saved by the Bell: The College Years, where newly-engaged Canon Couple Zack and Kelly look at on-campus housing for married students. The apartment is filth and severely run-down, the manager is a stoner, and a rug covers a chalk outline on the floor.
- Parodied as part of a sketch on Paul Merton: The Series, in which a man struck by a falling object draws his own chalk outline around himself as he collapses.
- Played for laughs a couple of times in Sleuth 101 when host Cal Wilson shows the celebrity guest detective around the crime scene. "This is Bill's favourite chair. This is his favourite lamp. This is his favourite chalk outline."
- Frasier: Mentioned but not seen, when Martin Crane recounts he and his wife Hester met over a chalk outline (he was a cop, she was working as a forensic psychologist). Apparently they'd commemorate this every year with ginger-bread men... made in the shape of the outline.
Martin: Didn't you ever wonder why the legs were funny and the head was kinda crooked?
Niles: (horrified) We thought they were dancing!
- Dave Carrol's first viral "United Breaks Guitars" video has a chalk outline of his broken guitar while crime scene investigators carry it away.
- A lyric from Coolio's seminal Gangsta Rap song "Gangsta's Paradise" goes "You betta watch how ya talking/ And where ya walking/ Or you and your homies might be lined in chalk."
- The Mars Volta song "Televators" has a lyric "Mark these words/ One day this chalk outline will circle this city."
- In Billy Talent's "Tears Into Wine": "You never gave yourself a chance to shine/ Your destination's a chalk outline/ And when you get to the gates you'll be denied".
- Used by Three Days Grace in a song of the same name as a simile to an ended relationship: "You left me here like a chalk outline on the sidewalk, waiting for the rain to wash away."
- The final scene of Ronnie Milsap's music video for "Stranger in My House" features a chalk outline of a guitar as part of an active crime scene investigation.
- An old Dragon article about realistic falling damage referenced the outlines of wizard and familiar, chalked on the cobblestones by the Greyhawk police, to illustrate how smaller creatures will strike the ground with less force (same speed,note less kinetic energy).
- Escape Tales: Low Memory has a first chapter ending showing a chalk outline of Elizabeth being killed by a burglar. A second chapter ending also has a chalk outline surrounding the second body, the same person in the first chapter but this time a suicide.
- One can be found in the original Deus Ex on the New York level, although it serves no storyline purpose, but merely a way to highlight how bad the world of 2052 really is.
- Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City have dead people fade into this so the game does not have to have mountains of dead bodies on screen. This was dropped in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
- The first part of the TV World in Persona 4 is littered with these outlines.
- In City of Heroes, although it's never actually shown, one NPC in Pocket D does remark, "Oh, the chalk lines? Yeah, Back Alley Brawler had a few too many one night."
- It should also be noted that Back Alley Brawler is a hero and that the entire zone is supposed to be a non-combat area, even watched over by an, in universe, virtual god of the realm. Take that for what you will.
- There are some chalk outlines at the bottom of the ski slope, although they're all in rather odd positions, so these probably represent certain supers who came in a little too fast.
- Gangsters: Whenever you kill somebody, their bodies become chalk outline.
- You are expected to do this in Police Quest. Or at least part IV.
- Though narration from the floppy disk version states that this is not actually done in real life (it still lets you do it). Only a certain piece of evidence found near a body is supposed to be marked (to draw attention to it so that it will be collected by the other investigators). The CD version doesn't include this bit and awards points for outlining the body without comment.
- Guitar Hero II has one painted on the stage in the Harmonix Arena directly below your character - fittingly, you can only see it when you fail the current song.
- Batman: Arkham City has a pair - Hugo Strange draws them in Crime Alley to mark the place where Bruce Wayne's parents fell on the night they were murdered. He also leaves flowers and a mocking tape recording for Bruce to find, since he knows that he's Batman. Classy.
- In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, a bandit steals your coins in the prologue, and you can track him to his house to take them back. In the English version the bandit's house is full of random garbage, bugs, and squalor. In the Japanese version, there's a an outline of a Toad on the floor surrounded by dried blood. Did I mention this was a Mario game?
- A news broadcast in Saints Row 2 shows some cops making these after a casino heist, then taking pictures with the bodies.
- In Blood II: The Chosen, the first level of the third chapter has one corner taped off and an outline of the upper half of a body, and one of its severed head. The cops responsible didn't even care to clean up the bloodstain that "connects" both outlines.
- Kelly's stage in Bust a Groove 2 is a crime scene in the middle of a dark city, complete with a chalk outline of a body. What's notable about this is that, if you line up all the bars in the Groove Meter, the chalk outline comes to life and starts dancing.
- BioShock 2 has a variant in that the outline is outside the body: when the player takes control of a Little Sister, it is shown that in their eyes, corpses filled with ADAM have wings around their shoulders (the girls do refer to those as "angels").
- The Order of the Stick uses the "every body part given its own outline" version, in this comic.
- In Living with Hipstergirl and Gamergirl, when Arthur moved in with Erica and Sophie, they mentioned that they had a previous male flatmate before him, who thought that just living with two gorgeous women gave him "benefits". We're not told exactly what they did to this guy for trying to take liberties with them, but this trope ensures Arthur gets the message not to try anything loud and clear.◊
- Flander's Company: In episode 11 of season 4, a TV report about an alleged mob shoot-out shows the outlines on the floor, including one for a severed arm.
- The satsumon from Goodbye Strangers and the Fearful Frontier is a literal chalk outline. It is also implied to be one of the first casualties of a cataclysmic red flood described in Walltown that affected even the titular strangers.
- SCP-2174 is a phenomenon that causes stereotypical, mind-altering crime scenes to form. Each scene contains a chalk outline even though the Foundation itself notes that "such practice contaminates the scene and is only done by inexperienced officers ignorant of proper procedure". There's also some implication that the Cerne Abbas Giant was created in this way.
- The Simpsons:
- Monty Burns' chalk outline plays an integral part in solving the mystery of Who Shot Mr. Burns. More justified than most examples in that he didn't actually die, they presumably drew it after he was taken away by medics, and he was actually shot in a different location, meaning they'd be less worried about evidence contamination.
- Also, Homer walks into one of these on the screen in an homage to Alfred Hitchcock at the beginning of a Halloween Episode.
- Beavis And Butthead: One episode revolved around the title duo walking into a recently vacated crime scene that had one of these. Butthead had been pressing Beavis's Berserk Button during the whole episode and after a fight, ends up lying exactly inside the outline as Beavis stands over him with the murder weapon.
- In the Halloween episode of King of the Hill, Hank is setting up his horror house with Dale playing the body — complete with his trademark cigarette. After he gets up, Bill remarks that it looked like he died with his tongue sticking out.
- Repomies' office in Pasila has one of them, but nobody points it out or questions it in any way.
- Legion Of Superheroes has this in the Second Season where Timber Wolf is going through a Clear My Name scenario (accompanied by Chameleon Boy and Phantom Girl), when they arrive at the crime scene on Heisenberg-7, a chalk outline of his father's body is seen on the stage.
- In the Shadow Raiders episode "J'accuse" a chalk outline is shown at a murder scene, causing Prince Pyrus to comment that he thought they only did that in holo-films.
- Done in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Accidents Will Happen" to show where Squidward allegedly fell while fetching Krabby Patty buns in the storeroom. He wasn't killed— in fact, the evidence shows he wasn't even hurt, just faking.
- In Gravity Falls, the chalk outlines of Ma and Pa Duskerton are still present in the convenience store where they died. They died in May of 1995. It is now midsummer 2012. The longevity of the chalk is possibly explained by the fact that their ghosts still haunt the store, and in fact are awakened when Dipper accepts a dare to lie down in one of the outlines.
- Codename: Kids Next Door: In a parody of film noir, OPERATION: PINK-EYE has a chalk outline of Numbuh 86 under her on the position of her after she was shot by an unknown assailant.
- The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office Gift Shop (now closed) used one of these as a logo on some items. One of their early big sellers was a black beach towel with a near-life-sized white outline.
- Occasionally, when a baseball outfielder crashes spectacularly into a wall (but isnt seriously hurt), his teammates will mark the spot with a chalk or tape outline as a prank.
- When responding to road accidents, insurance investigators may mark the position of the vehicles and people involved with spray paint.