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Crime Reconstruction

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"Sometimes, I want to go to a crime reenactment and steal something; I'd make it an 'enactment'."
Demetri Martin

On many a True Crime show (e.g. The First 48) and "help us solve crime X" programs (e.g. America's Most Wanted, Crimewatch UK) or even on the National or Local News real crimes are acted out on screen for the viewer. Either by actors or by the actual victims with the perpetrators played by actors.

This is to help the viewer visualize the situation which might be otherwise tricky if there are a lot of details to take in in a relatively short amount of time. It can also just be used as filler in some shows. Sometimes these aren't the most tasteful things in the world in the cases of unsolved crimes. They retell the story melodramatically but in a way that prompts the viewer to enjoy the thrill of the gruesome crime and the knowledge that the culprit is still free.

While crimes are by far the most common thing to be given this treatment they aren't the only thing. Accidents may be dramatized this way, especially on "heroes of the emergency services" shows like the now defunct UK show 999. Historical events like battles often get this treatment in documentaries too.

See also Dramatization.

Straight Examples

  • America's Most Wanted
  • Americas Dumbest Criminals makes use of goofy ones, usually exaggerating how dumb the criminal was in the process.
  • Crimewatch UK
  • 999 which recreates accidents instead. Ditto Rescue 911.
  • Australia had a show like AMW & Crimewatch called Crimestoppers. The UK had one called that too but it used CCTV footage and was generally for lesser crimes like shoplifting.
  • The Thin Blue Line was one of the first true crime documentaries to make use of this trope, relying extensively on recreations of the murder being investigated as a form of visual aid, as the rest of the film consists of interviews with the people involved with the case.
  • The Game Show Murder, where they recreate an actual murder scene, complete with blood-spatter and what-have-you, and then two bunches of CSI-wannabes have to try and work out who did it. And then they're told how the murder actually took place. With fictional crime scenes, this would be a great idea for a show. With real ones, it's kind of gross.

Fictional Examples

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    Comic books 
  • In the first arc of Fables, Bigby has Flycatcher recreate the result of the crime scene to test his theory that there's more blood in the room than in the body of one person.
  • The Sin City story Family Values has the main characters reconstructing a murder scene, gradually putting the pieces together over the course of the story.

    Film - Live Action 

  • In Wilkie Collins' book The Moonstone and the TV adaptation a doctor sets up a reconstruction of a diamond theft in which the thief unknowingly stole the stone while semi-conscious having had his drink spiked with laudanum and being already worried that the diamond wasn't safe. The circumstances are recreated by him taking laudanum again and giving up smoking which had already done on the first occasion. The reconstruction is successful and he steals the stone again (this time a dummy) while sleepwalking and talking to himself feverishly about the diamond needing to be be secure. At the time of the original theft, he puts the stone in his bedside cabinet whereupon it is stolen by the real thief who has witnessed him take it.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes story The Problem of Thor Bridge, Holmes reconstructs the death of the victim in order to show how she committed suicide and arranged for the gun to fall away from her and into the water to make it look like murder. She had already planted an identical gun in the belongings of the person she wanted to implicate.
  • In the Inspector French book "Sir John Magill's Last Journey" by Freeman Wills Crofts, French reconstructs the journey in question, demonstrating how and when the victim was murdered.
  • At the end of the Lord Peter Wimsey book "Five Red Herrings", Lord Peter re-enacts the events of the murder and the following day, proving his case as he goes. Possibly a Shout-Out to "Sir John Magill's Last Journey", which gets namechecked early on.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed has an interesting subversion - the good guys Mole convinces the bad guys that their dragon can be rescued while he reconstructs a crime "on location". This is in fact a part of a desperate plan on his part.
  • In Jonathan Creek, Carla's news show does this and like pretty much every endeavor she is involved in, Jonathan (and presumably the writers as well) consider it in extremely poor taste. At one point they also end up participating in an in-person one, in which a female police officer dressees similarly to the victim of the week and retraces her last known movements hoping passers-by will have their memories jogged... Which ends up having almost exactly the opposite effect when she gets shot at. Or so it seems.
  • Drake & Josh has an episode where the movie theatre Josh works at is hired as a setting for one of these, Josh gets hired to play the role of the criminal "the theater thug". He spends the rest of the episode being constantly arrested because the people who watched the show keep identifying him as the real theater thug.
  • Used in an episode of Monk, where they did a report on Monk's 100th case and reenacted the murders.
  • Parodied in That Mitchell and Webb Look, where Stone Age people are trying to reconstruct a murder in which someone was hit with a rock. The reconstruction involves hitting one of the "police" with a rock. This kills them, prompting one of the others to say "good reconstruction".
  • Gus Hedges takes over the directing of one of these in Drop the Dead Donkey for a new true crime slot in direct competition with Crimewatch - with predictable, over-the-top sensationalist results. However the crime is solved before the segment can be aired and the actual segment airs footage of George busting up a petrol station supermarket after his colleagues split him up from Anna.
  • Played for laughs (Just like everything else) in an episode of Police Squad!. The gun they're using to reenact the killing is loaded, so the forensics team takes a lot of casualties as they try to reproduce the conditions in which the murder took place.
  • CSI gets into this, often with the team themselves doing it. Warrick was uneasy about it after Grissom used a fungus to make Greg's feet itch. Things like dummies and ballistics gel figured in a lot as well. And then sometimes they just do it digitally.
  • CSI: NY is the same way. Mac's been known to demonstrate on Danny, and once he let Danny demonstrate on him by setting him on fire.
  • Parodied in a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch, where a policeman who attempts to reconstruct a domestic murder gets murdered himself. The same happens with the next policeman who tries the same thing, and the next one after that, and so on.
  • Human Giant has a re-enactment of a workplace shooting rampage that goes wrong when one of the extras goes on a real shooting spree. Since the camera man dropped the camera while running away, the show makes a re-enactment of the re-enactment. The show ends with the host being shot by the camera man and a preview of next week's re-enactment of the host getting shot.
    Wade: When I heard that more people had died in the re-enactment of my killing spree than my actual killing spree, I was kinda mad... at first, then I thought it was pretty awesome.
  • Likewise on Full Frontal. The host of an Australian crimewatch program recreates a crime, then gets beaten up by vigilantes who've supposedly seen her on the program committing the crime. So she has a recreation of the recreation of her being beaten up.
  • The Criminal Minds episode LDSK features the team recreating one of the shooting events. Their goal is to determine which, if any, of the victims got a look at the shooter. They sometimes do this less formally, simply walking through the crime scenes and trying to see what the unsub saw. That way, they can determine whether certain things were done by design versus done because they were convenient in the moment.
  • Bones loves to do this, with Zack or the week’s intern getting roped into playing the victim. It’s sometimes Played for Laughs.
  • The Boys (2019). At the start of Season 2, Billy Butcher is wanted for the murder of Madelyn Stillwell (actually killed by Homelander) and The Boys are shown watching a hilariously hammy recreation of the crime, hosted by Chris Hansen.
  • Strike: How Robin learns some details about the Margot Bamborough cold case—like how a witness saw two people in raincoats struggling on the sidewalk—by watching a true crime documentary on YouTube of the Bamborough disappearance, with scenes labeled "Reconstruction".

  • In Margin for Error, Moe has Dr. Jennings, Denny, Max, Sophie and Horst go back to the positions they were in at the time of the Consul's death and a few minutes before, to test out different theories of how the Consul was killed. Moe himself stands in for the Consul.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted in episodes of Doug, where the reenacting is polemic and quite different from the incident it supposedly represents.


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