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Detective Patsy

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"[distracted by Natalie drinking a bottle of mouthwash] Will you please? And that’s why they chose me. Adrian Monk, the perfect patsy! They knew about my problems. They knew I’d never take a good look at the guy. So, there never really was a leper except for the guy you were making out with all night."
Adrian Monk, Monk, "Mr. Monk and the Leper"

The perp hires a detective to solve the crime, in order to throw suspicion off himself. The perp may have a plan to make the detective a Fall Guy for the crime. Or it may be done merely to strengthen their claim that they're innocent and ignorant of the crime (the same logic that sometimes leads criminals to report their own crimes to the police). Typically, the detective in question is a Defective Detective, to minimize the odds of him actually working it out.

Invariably, the detective turns out to be not quite so defective as the perp thought, and figures it all out.

This often leads to monologuing (both from the Detective and the Perp) and the inevitable "The only thing I couldn't figure out was..." statement during the Final Confrontation.

This is an archetypal trope in detective fiction, as even Sherlock Holmes was abused like this.

This trope is often used as a reveal or twist, expect spoilers below.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Audio Play 
  • In The Firesign Theatre's "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger", Nancy claims to need Nick's help, but really, she just wants a patsy to frame for the murder of Rocky Roccoco, who is blackmailing her.
  • Sherlock Holmes (BBC Radio)
    • In "The Case of the Determined Client," the client tampers with a crime scene to make it look as though her father had been murdered outright, rather than starting the fight with the man who killed him. When the police don't even notice her hints, she calls in Sherlock Holmes, who naturally sees not only the evidence she'd left but that she was the one who left it. She ruefully admits that she should have known better.
    • Holmes accuses his client of this in "The Madness of Colonel Warburton", having concluded it's the only logical explanation. However, something the man lets slip in his outraged denial helps him realise there is another solution that he previously dismissed.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Black and White: In "Fortunes", a private detective is hired to find a missing woman and finds her... dead. His client is the murderer, who hired him apparently on the basis that having an independent third party discover the body would make it less likely for suspicion to fall on her than if she'd "discovered" the murder herself; unfortunately for her, it doesn't take him long to see through the false clues planted at the crime scene and identify the real culprit.
  • Randall Banticoff does this to Luke Cage in Luke Cage Noir, hiring Cage to investigate his wife's murder while arranging for him to take the rap for the crime - and die before a trial could potentially expose it as a frame job.
  • Taken to the extreme in Sin City where Ava Lord hires private eye Dwight McCarthy to get evidence on her supposedly abusive husband who may be plotting to kill her. It ends up being a setup; she manipulates Dwight into killing her husband himself.
  • Parodied in the Sam Spayed: Babes and Bullets section of Garfield: His 9 Lives, in which Spayed immediately assumes his client killed her husband and is planning to double-cross him, he's just not sure why and how. (She didn't.)

  • Happens to Jake Gittes at the start of Chinatown. He's hired by Evelyn Mulwray to investigate her husband Hollis, who she suspects of having an affair. Jake photographs Hollis with a young woman, and the photos are published in the paper the next day. It's not until the real Evelyn confronts him that Jake realizes the one he met was an actress, part of a ploy to ruin Hollis's career.
  • In the movie Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Ace is hired by an Englishman trying to harvest bat guano for fertilizer, who has to start a genocidal war between local African tribes to get it. Ace was hired as a means of establishing for the public that he had done everything he could to prevent the war. When Ace unexpectedly figures out who is behind the scheme to wipe out the innocent tribe, the Englishman decides to change his plans and set Ace up as a patsy for the whole thing.
    • Lois Einhorn did much the same thing in the original Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, trying to frame Ace for her own murder of Roger Podacter and kidnapping of Snowflake and Dan Marino.
  • Jagged Edge. In this case we see things from the point-of-view of the killer's lawyer and her private investigator, which he'd have to hire anyway as he was being prosecuted for murder.
  • The thriller No Way Out (1987) subverts this: Commander Tom Farrell, the man that Defense Secretary David Brice and his aide Scott Pritchard hire to investigate a murder that they are attempting to blame on a Soviet mole is the person they are trying to frame and knows that Brice is the one actually guilty of the murder.
  • Played With in Knives Out, where private detective Benoit Blanc is anonymously hired to investigate the seeming clear-cut suicide of Harlan Thrombey, so it is not clear who requested his aid, and to what end. As it turns out, Blanc was indeed hired by Harlan's murderer, Ransom, who tried to disinherit Marta, the nurse, by mislabeling the medication she was giving Harlan. But when Harlan kills himself to protect Marta's alibi, Ransom hires Benoit in the hopes he will incriminate Marta.
  • Klute: One of the two people who hired John Klute (who has never investigated a missing person case before) is the actual killer and seems unsettled by how successful Klute's investigation is.
  • In Black Dynamite, CIA agent O'Leary reinstates Black Dynamite's license to kill so he can hunt down the mafiosi responsible for killing his brother. However, the mafia did so on O'Leary's orders, which leads to Black Dynamite uncovering The Conspiracy O'Leary was part of.

  • The Caves of Steel. Elijah Baley discovers that Commissioner Enderby, who assigned him the case, is the murderer. However during The Summation he points out that Enderby had good reasons for doing so; he's promised Elijah a promotion that he's desperate for, the two of them are old friends from way back, and if that doesn't work then he has blackmail material because Elijah's wife is secretly a member of a radical anti-robot organisation.
  • Nero Wolfe once required a client to sign a statement promising to pay in full, even if he turned out to be the guilty one. It turned out to be a good precaution.
  • Writer Ross Macdonald's characters, particularly Lew Archer, were picked so often for plots like this, it's hardly any wonder that they always demanded payment in advance.
  • Sherlock Holmes:
    • The Ur-Example is probably the story The Adventure of the Retired Colourman. A quote from the end of the story:
      "You certainly seem to have met every difficulty," said the inspector. "Of course, he was bound to call us in, but why he should have gone to you I can't understand."
      "Pure swank!" Holmes answered. "He felt so clever and so sure of himself that he imagined no one could touch him. He could say to any suspicious neighbour, 'Look at the steps I have taken. I have consulted not only the police but even Sherlock Holmes.'"
    • Alluded to in another story where Holmes reminds Watson of the time a Villain with Good Publicity wanted them to clear his name, referring to him as "a terrible murderer" who looked like "a Sunday school-attending young man".
    • In the novella The Scroll of the Dead by David Stuart Davies, an eminent Egyptologist is secretly working with two murderous aristocratic occultists who believe that the eponymous scroll will give them immortality ... if they can find it. After failing to decipher the scroll that reveals its location, they arrange a Faked Kidnapping, and send the Egyptologist's daughter to seek Holmes's help in "finding" her father, leading him to find a copy of the location scroll in their abandoned hideout, as they believe — correctly — that his skill in codebreaking will succeed where knowledge of Ancient Egypt has failed.
    • The novel Master of Lies by Philip Purser-Hallard features a variation of this, when the forgers Holmes is investigating attempt to plant fake evidence that Mycroft Holmes is behind the forgery ring and Holmes killed Watson to protect his brother's reputation. While studying the fake manuscript written by the forgers with their police contact Stanley Hopkins, all three note that the scenes featuring Hopkins are basically accurate to what he remembers (allowing for minor discrepancies like Watson obviously not being able to exactly quote what everyone said), where other parts of the manuscript have either been subtly altered or are complete fiction. This leads Holmes to observe that the forgers' intention was for Hopkins to find the manuscript after Watson's death and treat it as genuine evidence of a crime.
    • In the novel Breath of God by Guy Adams Holmes is not so much hired as warned by the Occult Detective John Silence that the supernatural force that has already killed two men has named him as a future victim. It eventually transpires that Silence is himself part of the conspiracy that killed these people, with the goal of forcing everyone to believe in magic again even if it kills them, and that Holmes was dragged into the situation partly because they thought he'd involve himself in an "impossible" crime anyway and they'd rather he did so under supervision, and partly so they could say "Look, even the arch-rationalist is taking this seriously". However, they underestimated just how much of a rationalist Holmes was; in The Summation, he says that, unable to come up with a mundane explanation for Silence's story, he had always approached the case with his default assumption being that it was simply a lie.
  • It has happened to Hercule Poirot, in Peril at End House, Lord Edgeware Dies, and the short story "The Veiled Lady" — with honorable mention to Murder On The Links, where this was attempted but the person doing the hiring was murdered before Poirot had even arrived. At least all of these are duly explained, unlike "The Hunter's Lodge Mystery" story where the decision to call in Poirot doesn't seem to follow any logic.
  • Who Censored Roger Rabbit?: Roger hired Eddie Valiant to investigate his boss - so that Roger would have someone to frame when he killed his boss. In the final chapter Eddie admits that the plan would have worked were it not for two complications that Roger had no way of seeing coming.
  • Happens to young and unexperienced Bert Kling in 87th Precinct novel The Muggler.
  • The Cuckoo's Calling: John Bristow hired Cormoran Strike to investigate his stepsister's death, in the hopes of deflecting suspicion from himself.
  • In the first Sister Fidelma story, "The High King's Sword", the abbot is encouraged to request Fidelma by the criminals, who realise that unless a clever and scrupulous dalaigh is involved, one of them will be condemned as the most likely suspect without anyone really investigating enough to find their carefully planted frame-up.
  • In Anthony Berkeley's The Piccadilly Murder, Mr Chitterwick, the detective, is the key witness in the prosecution of a man for murder. The accused man's friends and wife urge Mr Chitterwick to investigate more thoroughly, saying they're sure there's been a miscarriage of justice. The friends are genuine; the wife is the real killer. She only meant to reinforce Mr Chitterwick's determination to do his public duty and convict her husband. But she overdoes her pleading, he agrees to investigate, and the whole truth comes out.
  • Seven Stars: In the chapter "The Dog Story", private detective Jerome Rhodes is hired to track down a woman named Mimsy Mountmain, whom his client says is the meatspace identity of a notorious cybercriminal. As a precaution, he also starts investigating his client in case she has an ulterior motive. He eventually figures out that his client is Mimsy Mountmain, and that his precautionary investigation has revealed to her the location of the woman in whose name she hired him — her one remaining serious rival.
  • In the Carl Hiaasen novel Double Whammy, R.J. Decker, a former newspaper photographer turned Private Detective, is hired by Dennis Gault to prove Dickie Lockhart, a top tournament fisherman, has been winning all of those tournaments because he cheats. Except Gault has Lockhart murdered and frames R.J. for his murder.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Rockford Files seemed to do this a lot, but all shows about private detectives will do one eventually.
  • Columbo
    • In "A Friend in Deed" the Villain of the Week is the Deputy Police Commissioner. He specifically requested Columbo for the case, having somehow failed to notice that the "bumbling" detective had a nearly spotless track record, having only failed to close one case in the entire series (also be fair, Columbo claims that he only solves about half of his cases and may be speaking truthfully. We just so happen to see his triumphs).
    • In "Columbo Cries Wolf", Columbo is fooled into investigating a celebrity disappearance and suspected murder that turns out to be a publicity stunt. One of the two conspirators then murders the other and hides the body, assuming that Columbo won't risk making a fool of himself again. Columbo is not so easily deterred.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Invoked after Pimento was fired from the NYPD. Holt suggests he could become a private investigator.
    Pimento: Private Eye huh? "I'm afraid I've got some bad news, your wife is cheating on you. You killed your wife? And you're framing me?!?! I left my prints all over that crime scene! You're an evil geniu..." Yeah, I like this. This could work.
  • Another police example is the CSI fourth season episode Suckers where a casino owner attempts to fake a huge robbery for the insurance money.
  • In an episode of Poirot, a shifty old lady tried to abuse Capt. Hastings in this way; she had the sense not to go to Poirot directly. In the books, however, Poirot frequently finds himself working for clients with something to hide — though not necessarily murder.
  • Monk: In "Mr. Monk and the Leper," Monk is hired by the presumed-dead Derek Bronson - who has been voluntarily missing on account of his severe, horrifically disfiguring leprosy for seven years - to break into his old house and steal some letters that would show he had been cheating on his wife (saying they would “destroy her” if she ever found them). It turns out to be a hoax, the real Derek is dead (likely murdered by his wife) but he left his fortune to his sister and nephews, so to keep him from being declared legally dead said wife orchestrated the whole thing so that Monk (by this point in the series a celebrity who’s probably the most respected man in California) would later testify that he’d seen Derek alive. To this end she hires (and later kills) an imposter to impersonate her husband, with the leprosy angle exploiting Monk’s intense germophobia to keep him from getting a good look at the man or becoming too invested in the case.
  • Happens so frequently in Jonathan Creek that merely soliciting his services should be ample proof of guilt. The episode "Daemon's Roost" is a big one, because he didn't figure it out; there's a Flash Back to the Striped Unicorn case, in which a man carefully stages his wife's murder so that it initially appears as if only he could have done it, but there's a brilliant explanation otherwise for Jonathan to find. Jonathan only realises the truth after the man's second wife calls him in on another case, six years later.
  • Lampshaded in Dark Justice: a not-so-bright gigolo and his girlfriend hire a female detective to solve the murder of the rich woman he was living off. The detective easily proves it was these two who did the deed, and asks why she was hired. The gigolo says he thought no-one would suspect him if he did.
    Detective: It was done in Jagged Edge!
    Girlfriend (to gigolo boyfriend): I wanted to see that movie, but you said no!
  • A weird one in Murder, She Wrote: The murderer is a DA, who killed one of the defendants in a major fraud case. Earlier, he tried to phone her and accidentally called Jessica's number. To cover this up, the DA subpeonas Jessica and refuses to believe she has no idea what it's about. So Jessica has to solve the murder to avoid being found in contempt of court.
  • In Sledge Hammer!: the episode "Play It Again, Sledge" has a women hire Sledge as private investigator, to make him an eyewitness of her "self-defence" murder.
  • Cold Case had an interesting variation: A professor was accused, but never proven guilty, of the murder of one of his female students. Because of this he was discredited and fired by the university. He went to the team to have them reopen the case, only for them to figure out it was him all along, and this time they gathered enough evidence to arrest and convict him. Oops.
  • An episode of Simon & Simon deals with the detectives being hired by a magician into a case, and they discover that the ex wife of the magician did it. Later, they discover it was all the magician ruse. Then he explains:
    So it was just like a standard Stage Magician trick: You guys are the public, you must be smart enough to figure out the distraction, but not smart enough to discover the real trick.
  • Murdoch Mysteries
    • A convoluted one in the episode "Murdoch Appreciation Society". The killer wants to frame the professor who expelled him from medical school for the murder of a man who's donated his brain to science. But he knows that if the death doesn't look suspicious, the corpse will go straight to the professor and there won't be a proper post mortem. On the other hand, if it does look like an obvious murder, Murdoch will realise the professor is being framed. So he joins the eponymous Appreciation Society and convinces them to stage a fake murder so they can watch Murdoch work, using a body he can steal from the medical school. So not only does Murdoch get involved but there's an extra layer of false explanation (the fake murder) for him to disprove, and it looks like the professor would have committed a perfect crime except for the Society's interference.
    • Invoked Trope in "A Study in Pink": When evidence is mounting that Murdoch's childhood friend, the private detective Freddie Pink might be a murderer, she protests that she's the one who called the police. He suggests she might be attempting this, and she says she'd surely know his methods well enough to anticipate him seeing through it, unless he thinks she was anticipating him concluding that she wouldn't do it because he'd see through it... It turns out there was no murder, although Freddie was protecting a client who had killed her husband in self-defence, and had been framed by his family so she'd be forced to explain things in court.
  • In the Elementary episode "The Visions of Norman P. Horowitz", Sherlock is contacted by Horowitz's brother, not to investigate his death by accidental overdose, but because before he died he predicted a series of deaths that is coming true, and Sherlock is on the list. Sherlock naturally feels he has to prove Horowitz could not predict the future, and someone killed these people to make it look as if he could. It was the brother, and the whole point of the exercise was to draw the attention of former Holmes client (and vague associate of Horowitz) Henry Baskerville, so he'd pay silly money for the rest of Horowitz's "predictions".
  • The Professionals
    • In "Not A Very Civil Civil Servant", CI5 is given a watching brief on a corruption trial over the objections of its boss George Cowley. The corrupt bureaucrat who arranged this tries to end the brief after the accused are acquitted—but that's only because a witness 'committed suicide' and Cowley is no longer in a mood to drop the matter. Turns out giving such a task to a Badass Bureaucrat with a virtually unlimited brief of his own is a bad idea.
    • In "Everest Was Also Conquered", a Whitehall mandarin who was a mentor of Cowley asks CI5 to look into a Deathbed Confession to murder. Turns out he was part of the conspiracy and wanted to find out how secure he was.
    • In "When the Heat Cools Off", Doyle is approached by the daughter of a man convicted of killing Doyle's police partner, claiming that he was framed. Doyle convinces Cowley to let them investigate, but it turns out the new evidence has been fabricated and he really was guilty.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Parodied in one of the "Tracer Bullet" strips of Calvin and Hobbes. In Calvin's fantasies, he's being used as the fall-guy for a room being ransacked; in real life, Calvin was at least partially responsible (and may have been entirely responsible depending on whether you think Hobbes is alive).

  • Parodied in the Noir Episode of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, in which Finnemore is hired by a Femme Fatale in what turns out to be just one step of an overly-complicated and self-contradictory cover-up by a Sidney Greenstreet type who, it eventually transpires, has neglected to actually commit a crime first.

    Video Games 
  • Amateur Adventure Game example: the AGS adventure game Murder in a Wheel features a freelance detective who has to solve the murder of a pet hamster only to find himself in this situation.
  • Ace Attorney had a lawyer patsy: in case 2 of Apollo Justice, the title character is hired by the guilty party to help the innocent defendant, because the flyers for Apollo's practice made him seem likely to be incompetent.
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc features this as its fifth chapter. The mastermind plants the corpse of “Junko Enoshima”, the only person killed for a rule violation, disguised in a disguise previously used to almost murder the protagonist Makoto (and knock him out from behind prior, but he only saw the disguise when the mastermind tried to murder him before being stopped). The body is rigged to blow up when someone attempts to remove the mask, preventing identification of the body. As all are present and accounted for and the mastermind’s robot mascot Monokuma is offline for a time, it’s assumed the body is of the mastermind themself but when Monokuma comes back online the only possibility is the hidden 16th student Mukuro Ikusaba that the Ultimate Detective Kyoko Kirigiri had discovered evidence of. However, almost all evidence (planted by the mastermind) implicates either Kyoko or Makoto in her murder as those two were really the only people actually solving prior murders, making them the biggest threat. The mastermind’s plan backfires however as Makoto covers up the key evidence that the mastermind had established to implicate only Kyoko, allowing himself to be convicted. He’s sent to be executed, but rescued by the believed-destroyed AI Alter Ego and dumped in the trash, which Kyoko rescues him from. The corpse is actually the 16th student, but she was disguised as Junko at the time, as Junko is the real mastermind.
  • Non-detective variation: In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Olga is first seen in the Plant Chapter contacting Solidus by radio, alerting him to the presence of "a ninja." Much later, it is revealed that she's the ninja.
  • In the third chapter of Limbo of the Lost, after being wrongfully accused of stealing souls, Briggs is accounted for by collector O'Negus, freed, and appointed detective by the mayor to determine who is actually stealing the souls. It turns out that the soul taker is posing as the mayor, and O'Negus is one of his accomplices.
  • In Jack Orlando, it looks like Orlando is lucky to be allowed to try to prove his own innocence, but since the Inspector is actually in on the crime, Orlando isn't meant to get anywhere. Part way through the game, Orlando gets in trouble again and is told to wait for the Inspector - but if he does, the Inspector decides that he's making too much progress and locks him up, resulting in a Nonstandard Game Over.
  • Occurs in Nancy Drew: The Deadly Device; believing Nancy Drew to be less-than-competent, the murderer hires her to investigate the death of a scientist. He finds out that it’s a bad idea to try to make Nancy Drew a patsy — the hard way.
  • Scott Shelby in Heavy Rain who is the Origami killer.

    Web Original 
  • Black Jack Justice:
    • "Justice For Some" has Jack and Trixie hired by a man as incognito security at a showing of his family's heirloom jewelry. In the course of the episode no less than three notorious thieves show up at the event and, when the jewels go missing, they're immediately suspected. The only problem is that one had gone straight, another was scoping out the artwork in another room, and Jack managed to nab the third when the lights went out, ensuring he couldn't have done anything. The whole thing turns out to have been a plot by their client to steal the gems himself for the money, while one of the real thieves was set up for the crime.
    • "The Reunion" features a woman, Edie, hiring the detectives to help facilitate a reunion with her estranged twin sister, Jane. The patsy comes in when it's revealed that Edie is Jane. Jane murdered Edie in the heat of the moment and tried to pretend to make up, with Jack and Trixie as witnesses, so that she wouldn't be suspected when Evie was missed. Small inconsistencies in the situation trigger Jack's radar, making him suspicious throughout until he's able to confirm the truth while confronting Jane.
    • "The Do-Nothing Detectives" features a man named Raymond Davis giving Jack and Trixie $1,000 to cease working for their client Angela Barnes... who neither of them had ever actually met. The odd behavior is explained by the idea that Jack and Trixie would be witnesses when Angela Barnes turned up dead by suicide after apparently murdering their client. The man who hired them killed by Angela Barnes and the real Raymond Davis, making sure to mess up the man's face so he couldn't be readily identified as not the man Jack and Trixie met. The whole thing falls apart because the whole situation is so suspicious Jack just has to investigate it despite their job literally being to do no such thing.

    Western Animation