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Destroy the Evidence

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Arnold: But the document! Where's the document?
Scheck: Unfortunately, like your little plan, it's about to go up in smoke.

Bob has come into possession of some evidence relating to a crime. However, instead of turning this evidence over to the proper authorities, he destroys (or withholds/hides) the evidence.

Why? Well, there's a number of reasons. For instance:

  • The evidence could incriminate someone who Bob likes and doesn't want to see punished.
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  • The evidence, if made public, will ruin the life of someone who's otherwise involved in the crime, like a victim or a witness.
  • Bob is being blackmailed by the Big Bad or an associate.
  • Bob himself would be incriminated by the evidence.
  • The evidence contains information which would exonerate another villain who is on trial for another crime.
  • The evidence, if involving a dead person, might cast a bad light on their memory — and Bob was a good friend/relative/lover of the dead person.
  • The evidence is entirely worthless — it's too late to act.
  • Bob wants to punish the bad guy himself.
  • While the evidence could get the bad guy put away or otherwise punished, it would cause scandals and create chaos for a lot of people, some of whom may be entirely innocent.
  • The evidence would reveal an ugly truth about a past event that the public perceives as a good thing, and Bob wants the event to stay a good thing.
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  • The criminal committed the crime for a good reason, and in retrospect, Bob agrees that the act was justified.
  • The crime involved the murder of someone who was a truly terrible person, and Bob doesn't want the evidence revealed since it would result in someone going to prison for something he doesn't think of as a crime.
  • Bob is currently on the run or at least not on good terms with the local authorities, so he can't give the evidence to them without being captured/killed/arrested.
  • Bob is eventually revealed to be the villain.
  • Bob believes that the criminal is genuinely repentant and need not be punished further.

Whatever good intentions Bob may have had, destroying the evidence will probably have bad results — a villain could walk free, for instance, or a good guy might be implicated. May result in a What the Hell, Hero?, given Bob is the hero.

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In others, a Villain with Good Publicity may destroy any evidence that can be used to arrest/implicate them in a crime or a horrific event.

See also Let Off by the Detective, Leave No Witnesses, Eat the Evidence, Fiery Coverup, Killed to Uphold the Masquerade, and Treachery Cover Up.

Warning: This is an Ending Trope, so spoilers may be unmarked.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Tenchi Muyo!, Mihoshi's superior destroys Mihoshi's incredibly detailed report on dealing with Kagato because of the information there, most importantly that not only is the long lost Prince Yosho on Earth, he has a grandson named Tenchi and that a number of other powerful people are on Earth connected in some way to Yosho with a lot of overlap. He lets the royal family of Jurai know, but there's no way he's letting the rest of the universe know the information.
  • Death Note: Early in, Light sets up a system that will ensure the Death Note is destroyed in a fire should anyone try to search his room for it. The system never actually gets used(although the fact that it didn't go off when Light's room was searched proves no one found the notebook); its only purpose is to highlight Light's planning and Crazy-Prepared nature.note 

    Comic Books 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (IDW): In "Convocation of the Creatures", when Lord Goldstone learns that the archivists discovered a document that proves that Equestria's debt to Griffinstone was settled and the latter thus isn't entitled to half of the former's land, he orders his guards to recover and destroy it.
  • Dastardly & Muttley: In Issue 5, General Harrier attempts to burn the files connecting him to the Unstabilium-239. However, he's hampered by the fact that he's been transformed into a cartoon raccoon and thus lacks the thumbs needed to trigger his lighter. This prevents him from destroying anything before the protagonists arrive.
  • Sin City: The Big Fat Kill revolves around the importance of getting rid of the body of "Iron Jack" Rafferty, a "hero cop" that the prostitutes of Old Town kill after he gets violent with one of their number. If it is ever discovered that they killed him, the truce between Old Town and the police will end and a violent war will erupt, so they try to dispose of him and his friends by sinking the body into the local tar pits. The situation is complicated by Mob Boss Wallenquist, who is trying to get possession of Jack's body in order to make sure that the war does erupt since if Old Town is weakened by the police he will be able to move in afterwards and take control of the women therein. Ultimately, most of Jack disappears into the pits, and the rest of him is destroyed when his corpse's head is stuffed with explosives, along with Manute and his men who wanted revenge on Old Town after Ava's death at their hands.
  • Wonder Woman (1942): Psycho blows up the medical ward of the female prison to hide evidence of his second prison escape in issue 14. Especially all evidence that he absconded with his reluctant medium Joan White.
  • Not evidence of a crime, but: in Weird War Tales #100 the Creature Commandos are dispatched to what would later be known as Dinosaur Island to investigate the disappearance of Allied scout planes. You'll never guess what they find there. Lt. Shrieve takes photos as evidence, beaming with excitement at the thought of US military intelligence turning the dinosaurs into "war weapons." Lucky grabs the camera from him and throws it into the sea. Lucky can't talk, but Velcro knows exactly what he's trying to say — they won't let Shrieve make any more monsters for war.

    Fan Works 
  • In Dirty Sympathy Apollo disposes his gun and the bullets from LeTouse's murder into the sewer to hide that Machi killed him because Apollo used the death to frame Daryan.
  • Graduate Meeting Of Mutual Killing: Mishio Matsukaze had managed to write in a notebook everything he had found about the Mastermind behind the game, in case he died. However, what he didn't expect was that the person who killed him would find the notebook by chance AND would be aligned with the Mastermind. The notebook was destroyed due to its incriminating nature towards the Mastermind.
  • In The New Adventures of Invader Zim, when Tenn is forced to evacuate her base on Meekrob, she makes sure to scuttle all her computers before she leaves.
  • Becoming Lífþrasir: When Snotlout catches Cattongue and Astrid together with her hair down, Snotlout accuses her of being a whore and drags her into the middle of the village by her hair to publicly shame her. Because he dragged her by the hair, she was able to explain that her hair came loose when he dragged her with the only remaining evidence being his word. Since it's Snotlout making the claim, naturally not that many people believe him over Astrid.

    Film - Animated 

    Film - Live-Action 
  • In Andhadhun, Simi deletes the kid's cell phone video recording which shows that Akash faked being blind after blinding him for real.
  • Bad Times at the El Royale: As the El Royale burns down at the end, Flynn and Darlene toss the register containing their names and the reel of blackmail film into the flames, eliminating any proof they were ever there as well as a MacGuffin that could only be used for harm.
  • In Crooked House, Sophia burns the manuscript of her grandfather's memoirs; claiming that it contained embarrassing details of his involvement in the armaments trade during World War II, but nothing relevant his murder. A justifiably miffed Charles points out that he now has no way of verifying that.
  • Knives Out: When Marta realises that Blanc is close to uncovering that she returned to the house after leaving it on the night that Harlan died, she starts to using her role as The Watson to deliberately compromise the evidence, such as trampling over her own footprints and using a magnet to wipe the video tape showing her car pulling off the road.
  • In The Man from Colorado, Del finds the white flag the Confederates were waving at the site of the massacre and buries it so no one will know that Owen chose to ignore their surrender.
  • M.F.A.:
    • Noelle burns Skye's suicide note where she claims to be the "Campus Killer" (the confession was false in any case).
    • On a larger scale, we learn the campus administration has buried all rape reports so as not to look bad and keep their "clean" record.
  • The narrator in The Phenix City Story outlines how the mob handles evidence against it. We get to see them put it into practice at various points in the film.
    "The rule of the mob regarding evidence is simple: If it's human, kill it. If it's on paper, burn it up."
  • Planet of the Apes (1968): Dr. Zaius is the only ape aware of the true history of humans and apes, and he will do anything to cover it up out of fear of what would happen if the truth came out. When he sees Taylor writing in the sand in his cage, he checks to make sure nobody else saw and than destroys the writing with his walking stick. Later, he lobotomizes Taylor's surviving crewmate and dynamites a cave containing proof of a pre-ape civilization.
  • Revenge (2017): After pushing Jen off the cliff, Richard returns to his house and burns all of her personal belongings: removing any trace that she was ever there.
  • In The Sniper, Miller rips up the dress he brought home from the home of his first victim and burns it in the furnace in the basement.
  • At the end of The Uncanny, Frank tosses Wilbur's manuscript into the fire, after receiving an unnerving stare from his cat. The manuscript goes up in flames, destroying all evidence of the conspiracy Wilbur had uncovered.

    Literature 
  • In the Whateley Universe, Kodiak destroys tapes of the Don (and probably more of the Alphas) abusing and raping Skybolt and Cavalier, who were Mind Raped into being obedient slaves because he knows that should the tapes get out, sooner or later the entire school would see them — and any chance of Skybolt and Cavalier having a normal life once they get released from the psych ward would be ruined.
  • There's an accidental case in Dead Man's Chest by Kerry Greenwood. At a wake held for a dead woman, Phryne steals a pillowcase dropped by a maid that she finds to be suspicious — it has teeth imprints and a stiff patch, indicating that the old woman was murdered by being smothered with the pillow. At the end of the novel, Phryne's maid Dot washes the pillowcase and returns it, not realising that it was important.
  • In one of the Lord Peter Wimsey stories, he discovers the identity of the murderer, who was a Sympathetic Murderer, and tells his friend, a policeman, a hypothetical story of who he thinks is the murderer and how it happened (he's actually telling him the real story) but since another has confessed and later killed himself, the policeman tells him to let it drop. Wimsey later reflects that he could, if he wanted, prove the case, though he doesn't want to.
  • In Players of Gor, Tarl Cabot learns of a plot by Cos, Tyros, Brundisium and certain factions in Ar to attack Ar. He gets the evidence, then learns that it's actually happening right now. The evidence is now worthless so he burns it. Plus he plans to exact his own revenge.
  • The Horatio Hornblower short story Hornblower and the Widow McCool. The British occupying forces and Irish rebels have recently achieved a fragile peace in Ireland. Hornblower discovers letters to rebels not known to the authorities. If he turns the letters over to the authorities, they'll go after the rebels and cause another outbreak of violence. He decides to throw the letters overboard instead.
  • In the Discworld novel Men at Arms, Captain Carrot destroys the evidence that he's the rightful king of Ankh-Morpork, because he doesn't think it needs a king anymore.
  • Family Skeleton Mysteries: Attempted in the conclusion of the first book, as Sid's killer intends to finish what he started by pulverizing Sid's skeleton and then using an acid bath to eliminate what's left. He's stopped in time.
  • The Tamuli: Late in the series, the heroes realize that the Cynesgans are taking orders from Cyrgai. They also realize the large quantity of smoke coming from the chimneys of the Cynesgan embassy in Matherion is the same color as that produced by burning paper. But by that point there's a telepath among the heroes, so destroying the records doesn't help the Cynesgans.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Veronica Mars, Logan comes into possession of the sex tapes of his girlfriend and his father, and he destroys them so they wouldn't be seen in court and ruin Lilly's memory.
  • In one episode of NCIS, Gibbs switches tissue samples so that it will appear that a body they're trying to identify was that of a dead Marine- the Marine (who is dead) had had a kidney transplant from a friend, who was still alive. Because you can't be a Marine if at some point in your life you donated an organ, the Marine, if this became known, would have to quit- which he really didn't want to do.
    • Another NCIS example. At the end of one episode, Gibbs realizes that a bad guy was killed with the prayer beads of a man the bad guy himself murdered, a marine and the son of a local Imam. Gibbs knows that this means the marine's father killed the bad guy to avenge his son's death, and the Imam should be arrested for murder himself. But when Ziva mentions that the prayer beads belong to the original victim Gibbs denies it, and she lets it pass.
  • In a season of The Dukes of Hazzard, the phrase "The boys got off because there wasn't any evidence" is about guaranteed to occur in at least a third of the episodes. Frequently the lack of evidence is a result of it being sunk in a pond, set on fire, blown up or in some other fashion destroyed. Sometimes the destruction is even intentional.
    • Riffing on the Dukes of Hazzard one, one time they were being chased for having made moonshine but got off because they used it as fuel for the General Lee and had run out of "gas." (Which I guess would be another Eat the Evidence example, for a given definition of "eat.")
  • At the end of at least one episode of Jonathan Creek, (" The Scented Room" is the one I'm thinking of, although it may also have happened in " Devil's Chimney") the title character lets the culprit go, on the grounds that they're not really that bad.
  • Dexter has been known to mess with or destroy evidence to ensure that particularly bad criminals go free... so that he can hunt them down and kill them himself instead of letting them have a government-sponsored vacation at prison.
  • In the season one finale of In Plain Sight, Mary hides cocaine from the police and Marshall Service to protect her little sister. The final shot of the episode is of the back of a line-painting machine on a football field, implying that this is how she got rid of the evidence.
    • Actually she fully believed that the drugs were in those cases. It was her boyfriend (who was a baseball player) that got rid of it that way.
  • CSI: NY: "The Fall." Don Flack's mentor, Moran, finds out that his son was involved in the robbery of a bodega. He subsequently disposes of the incriminating pop can he finds to keep the boy out of jail. This results in Broken Pedestal and Mac and Flack having to arrest him.
  • Dragnet had it once or twice. One episode involved a bookmaker destroying his paper trail, which was written on flash paper, a quick burning type of paper. Friday luckily stopped him before it all went up in flames.
  • All My Children: After getting raped by Michael Cambias, Bianca is severely traumatized and burns all the physical evidence. Unfortunately, when he is later taken to court for it, Bianca's destruction of the evidence only ensures that Michael gets Off on a Technicality long enough for Bianca herself to confront him and shoot him dead in self-defense.
  • In the infamous episode "In The Pale Moonlight" of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Captain Sisko basically confesses to his personal log that he was an accessory to a murderous conspiracy to drag the Romulan Empire into the war against the Dominion that the Federation and Klingon Empire weren't doing too well in. The most self-damning thing to him is that he thinks he can live with it. He then tells the computer to delete the entire log entry.
  • In the Enemy at the Door episode "Judgement of Solomon", two sixteen-year-old boys are caught with a camera in a restricted zone, and developing the film shows that they've been taking photos of German military installations. Not wishing to apply the mandatory death sentence for espionage to a pair of children, Major Richter orders the officer investigating the matter to destroy the prints and negatives and proceed as if the boys had been found trespassing with no evidence of their intentions.
  • One episode of Mission: Impossible had the team trying to rescue the captured leader of a resistance movement against an East Bloc nation, along with a microfilm containing a list of key figures supporting the resistance. The final shot of the episode is Jim Phelps burning the microfilm.
  • The Good Place: Michael says that they need to find evidence to figure out what exactly is wrong with the afterlife. Jason helpfully reminds him that evidence isn't a good thing, it's something you're supposed to destroy before the cops show up.
  • In the Decoy episode "Queen of Diamonds," Casey discovers a negative proving that a suspect for armed robbery was in the right city at the time the robbery took place. But before she can turn it in, the man sets the negative on fire.
  • Agatha Raisin: In "Agatha and the Wizard of Evesham", Agatha has to destroy her smoke damaged clothing so she can claim she was nowhere near Johnny's house when it was torched. She bundles it all into her fireplace and sets fire to it just as DI Wilkes and Bill arrive to question her, leading to awkward questions about what the bad smell is.

    Music 

    Newspaper Comics 
  • There's a The Far Side cartoon with a rat in a prison cell telling his cellmate "I would have gotten away scot free if I'd gotten rid of the evidence... But shoot, I'm a pack rat".

    Theatre 
  • Love's Labour's Lost: The King and three lords in his attendance take an oath not to woo any women for 3 years; then some women show up. The King and two of his lords are caught writing love notes by the fourth who berates them; then the love note that he wrote is brought forth by some rustics, so he tears it up before anyone else can read it. (In a production I was recently involved with he even tried to Eat the Evidence.)

    Video Games 
  • Heavy Rain: Scott Shelby burns the evidence he finds relating to the Origami Killer...because he is the Origami Killer.
  • HITMAN (2016) and HITMAN 2 both have the Professional and Master level difficulties, which include security cameras to catch Agent 47 in the act. The only way to dispose of them is either to find the security room to disable them or to discreetly shoot them.
  • Persona 4: Adachi, who is both the murderer and a detective working on the case, admits to destroying certain bits of evidence.
    • And in the Enhanced Remake the player character can choose not to pursue Adachi, given his Social Link has been maxed out. If the player confronts him after it's too late, he can choose to destroy the remaining evidence and form an alliance with Adachi. Doing so will get you the Accomplice ending, which is right up there with killing Namatame when it comes to Downer Endings.
  • In Final Fantasy X, Tromell destroys the sphere revealing that Seymour killed his father because "The Guado deal with Guado affairs".
  • In Yandere Simulator, the more evidence Yandere-chan destroys, the easier it is for her to get away with murder, up to and including burning a corpse in an incinerator. However, the more that (and more rapidly that) people disappear will cause the police to be suspicious anyway.

    Visual Novels 
  • Done multiple times in the Ace Attorney series, usually by the defendants. Often they're trying to protect someone they care about from incrimination, even at the cost of their own freedom:
    • Late in Case 1-4, Manfred von Karma destroys most of the critical evidence you have but fails to get the bullet from the DL-6 Incident, which leads to his undoing. He even says that his accomplice, Yanni Yogi, should have burned the letter he received.
    • In case 1-5, Lana Skye deliberately distorted evidence relating to the SL-9 incident partially in order to get Joe Darke convicted, but mainly to prevent her sister from being charged with murder. Later, Phoenix doesn't want to present a certain piece of evidence for the same reason - it implicates someone he doesn't want to see get in trouble. He does present it later when it becomes the key piece of evidence to implicate the guilty party, who is the only one who could have known about its significance and removed it.
    • Phoenix Wright himself does this in 3-1 by eating Dahlia's locket.
    • Special mention to Detective Badd in Ace Attorney Investigations who destroyed evidence relating to the Yatagarasu. As head of the investigation he was in a perfect position to make sure no traces were ever found at the crime scene. Why? He was a member of the Yatagarasu.
  • In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, the first culprit ends up with bloody clothes after committing a murder with a knife, and has to dispose of them, so the incinerator seems like the best bet. Unfortunately, the incinerator is locked behind a steel grate. So what does the culprit do? He pitches a glass crystal ball at the button to activate the incinerator, then balls up his shirt and throws it in, too. Unfortunately for him, the burned sleeve of his shirt falls off, leaving behind enough evidence to prove his guilt.

    Web Comics 
  • In Stand Still, Stay Silent, Emil accidentally breaks a wing mirror off the tank right before his uncle and employer comes to give it a look. His reaction is to throw the thing as hard as he can and claim it was already broken. Fortunately, the only witnesses are his new commanding officer who immediately plays along with the story and a colleague who doesn't share a language with anyone else present. Unfortunately, the mirror's landing place starts a chain of events that eventually gives the main cast a stowaway.
  • Freefall:
    • Played for Laughs when Sam asks his ship to delete all mention of him getting his scarf caught in a vacuum toilet from the logs, and the ship agrees... but tells him that removal of a log entry first requires sending those logs to five other captains for review, video file and all.
      Sam: My original mistakes never draw half the attention that my attempts to cover them up do.
    • Much more seriously, the main villain arranges several acts of sabotage by ordering Three Laws-Compliant robots to do them for him and covers his tracks by ordering them to annihilate themselves once the damage is done.
      Sawtooth: We need an Enron Law of Robotics. If you contain evidence of a crime, do not obey orders to shred yourself.

    Web Original 
  • The Ruins of an American Party System:
    • In late 1944/early 1945, as the US government is transitioning from a 12-year Progressive administration to a newly elected Republican one, the State Department puts a lot of effort into incinerating all the files and records of their illegal support for the Soviets and other left-wing militant groups around the world.
    • When the government starts cracking down on Huey Long and other Commonwealth Party hardliners, Gerald L. K. Smith takes pains to eliminate all proof of financial ties between himself and Long's less than legal acts. In the rush to do this, however, he fails to properly dispose of evidence connecting himself to a white supremacist terror group.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • In war or during public turmoil, it is standard procedure for militaries and governments to burn their own sensitive documents just before they can fall into enemy hands. Real Life examples include Iran's US embassy workers shredding intelligence material immediately before they were overrun by the angry mob in 1980, or the Wehrmacht burning orders and records whenever they were forced to retreat in the later stages of WW2.
  • There's one dashcam footage where police arrest a man for possession of drugs. They place the man and the small baggie of drugs near each other on the trunk and, with no one looking, the man reaches over, grabs it with his teeth and swallows it. It takes police a few moments to realize what the guy had done...
  • In some circumstances it is possible to forensically examine burnt paper and read what was written on it. If all you've got is ash, it is presumably still utterly impossible. Similar techniques are being used in ancient archaeology to "read" fire-damaged papyrus scrolls recovered from Pompeii's post-volcanic ruins.
  • As portrayed on Forensic Files, Air Force sergeant Joseph Snodgrass was being interrogated for his wife's death; he managed to sneak in a pair of pinking shears, and before anyone could stop him, he cut up a floppy disk containing incriminating information. After several agencies told the investigators it would take millions of dollars to repair, one man offered what would be a $100 solution: Scotch tape. It worked.


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