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Dying Clue

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In whodunnits, victims constantly seem to be identifying their murderers with their dying breaths. Fictional murder victims are very considerate in that way.

The murder victim makes a final effort to identify their killer. To use this convincingly, the author must give a good reason why the victim left a cryptic message instead of writing the killer's name. The writer is rarely asked to justify whether the Almost Dead Guy would have the energy or foresight to leave a message at all; this is also called the "dying message". Compare Apocalyptic Log.

If what they used to write was their own blood, see also Couldn't Find a Pen. See also His Name Is....



The message was incomplete

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    Anime and Manga 
  • A Case Closed mystery had the dying message "△╳◯" on the back of an envelope; further forensic evidence revealed a fourth symbol, "☐", but it also turns out that the victim had tried to write a name and the top half of the name had been ripped from his hands by the murderer.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Batman Adventures #6, the dying man whispers "Rose..." What he wanted to say, but didn't have the energy, was "The rosewood grandfather clock conceals a secret passage, and that's how the killer got in and out." It would have been much less cryptic if he'd skipped the adjectives and just said "clock".
  • One comic saw small-time villain The Ventriloquist, or Arnold Wesker, shot in the head in a theater; the killer also took the time to stomp on Wesker's dummy Scarface. Wesker uses his last moments to arrange Scarface's fingers into a street name that proves helpful to the investigation.

    Films— Live Action 
  • Parodied in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with the Last Words of Joseph Of Arimathea: "Seek Ye The Grail In The Castle AAAAAAaaaaaaargh." As it happens, the message is complete - the Grail is literally in the Castle Aaaaaaaaargh, a.k.a. the French castle from the start of the film.
    "Maybe he died while writing it."
    "If he was dying, he wouldn't bother to carve 'aaaargh', he'd just say it!"
    "Perhaps he was dictating."
  • In Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, Blackburn uses his dying strength to scratch the letters 'M O R' into a table with his wedding ring. The full word he was going for was 'MORIARTY'.

  • Ellery Queen's "GI Story": A man is murdered by one of his three stepsons (Wash Smith, Linc Smith, Wilson Smith, named after the Presidents), leaves the message "GI". But all three were former soldiers. He was trying to write "GEORGE" for George Washington Smith. But he died after completing the downstroke on the E.
  • Ellery Queen's The Scarlet Letters: Adulterer is shot by a jealous husband, writes the message "XY" before dying. He and the husband were in a conspiracy to blackmail the wife. He was trying to write "XX" to signify a double-cross.
  • Edward D. Hoch's This Prize is Dangerous (rewritten into Leopold Lends a Hand): There are three deaths related to the theft of some icons. The third victim dies in his apartment / office, making no effort to call police or an ambulance, instead writing out "Icon". He'd committed the first two murders, and had been shot during the second. He tried to patch himself together, but when he realized it was hopeless, tried to write out "I confess to the murders of (victims)", but died after writing four letters.
  • In Larry Niven's The Patchwork Girl, the victim leaves "NAKF" written in his own blood on the rocks of the lunar surface. He was trying to write "NAKED" indicating that his killer was naked: i.e. not wearing a space suit, which is quite a trick out on the surface of the moon.
  • Parodied in The Big Over Easy, the first of the Nursery Crime series, where the obnoxious ace detective mentions a case in which the victim pointed at an object which was an anagram of the first half of the killer's surname, and the detective regards this as an entirely reasonable combination of "the victim pointed at an object that related to the killer's name" and "the victim tried to say the killer's name but died halfway through".
  • The Seventh Sinner by Elizabeth Peters: the dying man scrawled "VII". Now which of the group of seven tourists should be considered the seventh? He was actually starting to write "Virginia," the name of one of them whom most of the group knew only by her nickname.
  • In Dick Francis's novel Flying Finish, a soon to be murdered character, lacking anything to write with, frantically uses a sharp point of a nail to spell out a vital clue on a piece of scrap paper by punching out holes to make the letters and hides it before he's taken away to be killed. The protagonist later discovers it and is able to deduce the identity of the bad guys from the short message.
  • Subverted in one murder mystery short story as we witness the soon to be murdered protagonist (a judge) due to his height attempting to cleverly write some initials of his killer in the dust on his door frame only to find out that he's got who's getting ready to kill him completely wrong and his message will now mislead any investigation and frantically but too late tries to erase the message.
  • Retired Witches Mysteries: In book 3, Makaleigh Verza whispers three words to Molly as she's dying, but Molly just thinks they're gibberish at first. It's not until a discovery spell identifies them — "Aba. Mho. Ord." — and Olivia recognizes them as runes some time later that their true meaning is found. "Aba" means "atone", "Mho" means "change", and "Ord" means "beginning". It's eventually subverted when they turn out to be the words necessary to bind the witchfinder within his prison in the castle, and were meant to be used to summon him to solve Makaleigh's murder.

    Live Action TV 
  • In The Mentalist a man who knows Red John's identity is killed by him and manages to scrawl "He is Mar" on the wall in his own blood before dying. While Red John's real identity was eventually revealed it's still not clear what exactly he was trying to say.note 
  • Frasier: In the first season, Martin is haunted by the one case he couldn't solve—a prostitute's murder. He's perplexed by the fact that she'd written "HELP" in the dirt while dying, which seems like a pointless thing to do. As it turns out, she was trying to write "SHELBY", the name of her killer. She died while writing the "B" and the "S" was obscured before anyone saw it.

Dying people lack clear elocution

    Anime and Manga 
  • Case Closed:
    • A victim who was burned alive couldn't even speak clearly, so he settled for grabbing an umbrella as the dying message. The umbrella was an oblique reference to Oda Nobunaga, whose role the murderer played while on a tour group.
    • In the Non-Serial Movie "Captured In Her Eyes", a police officer who was murdered appeared to point to his notepad in an effort to leave a Dying Clue, since he didn't have enough strength left to talk. However, the officer was actually pointing to his heart. In Japanese, the Kanji character for "heart" also appears in the word for "psychiatry." He was attempting to identify his shooter as the psychiatrist who'd been called in to treat Rachel's amnesia. Said psychiatrist had formerly been a surgeon until a doctor he worked with "accidentally" slashed his hand, keeping him from ever performing surgery. He later learned that the doctor had done it deliberately, so he murdered him. Several years later, the cop mentioned earlier began looking into that murder and he was beginning to catch on that the not-so-good doctor was the killer, so he had to die.
  • In Naruto Jiraya's throat has been crushed and he is unable to say who "Pain" is. With his dying breath, he burns a clue onto an old toad's back that looks like a series of numbers at first glance. Naruto, however, notices that the first "9" is actually a "Ta" kana that Jiraiya miswrote, and with the help of Shikamaru and Shiho, finds clues in the first words of specific pages of his "Make-Out Tactics" book. The message, once decoded, reveals the existence of a seventh "Pain" who controls the other six.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Tintin story The Secret of the Unicorn, a man who has been shot is too weak to speak - but he points to a couple of sparrows as he passes out. He was shot by his employers, the Bird brothers, because he wanted to quit their employ.
    • Changed in the movie to him leaving bloodstained fingerprints on the letters in a newspaper to spell a ship's name.

    Films— Live Action 
  • In Charade, one murder victim writes the name of his murderer on the carpet, as shown in the page pic.
  • On Marathon Man: "Doc" Levy arrives, mortally wounded courtesy of Nazi Grandpa Dr. Szell, to the apartment of his brother "Babe" and dies in his brother's arms gurgling all the while. He is completely unable to provide any information (and it's possible he wasn't going to even try), but unfortunately for Levy both Szell and his minions are completely unable to believe that Doc didn't do that and drag Babe into the whole international intrigue... in a literally tortuous fashion.
  • In Knives Out, Fran tells Marta "You did this!" before passing out, much to Marta's confusion. She was actually saying "Hugh did this!"
  • In Dick Tracy's Dilemma, the watchman killed at the fur warehouse manages to scrawl and conceal a note stating that three perpetrators performed the hit against the warehouse. It also mentions that they used a truck with the name "Daisy" on it and part of a license plate. The note has the legitimately awful handwriting of dying man, and Tracy and Patton have to subject the note to forensic analysis to decipher the scrawl.

  • Ellery Queen's "Diamonds in Paradise": Victim steals diamonds at the Paradise Gardens Casino, but falls from a fire escape fleeing police. When asked where he hid the diamonds, he replies "Diamonds in paradise". He was trying to say "Diamonds in pair of dice". He had a specially hollowed out pair in his pocket.
  • Ellery Queen's The Last Woman in His Life: The victim announces he will be changing his will to disinherit his three ex-wives (Alice Tierney, Audrey Weston, and Marcia Kemp) as he will be marrying his true love Laura. He is murdered that night, and dies saying "home". The killer was his lawyer Al Marsh (nee C. Aubrey Marsh), who had an unrequited attraction for the victim. The victim had had a stutter even before he was stabbed and couldn't risk saying "Al" (Alice), "Marsh" (Marcia), "Aubrey" (Audrey), "Lawyer" (Laura), "Attorney" (Tierney), or "Man" (Laura Mannzoni). He was trying to say "homosexual".
  • A Seven Minute Mysteries had an incomprehensible dying message typed out on a keyboard that made sense once the detective realized that the victim had swapped all instances of the letter "c" with "v" and vice versa.
    • An Encyclopedia Brown story did the same thing, but with the variation that the victim survived but had amnesia.
  • In Isaac Asimov's juvenile mystery story "Try Sarah Tops," a jewel thief who'd been mortally wounded by his double-crossing accomplices flees into a museum, then gasps out a cryptic phrase before dying. It sounds like he's suggesting the cops ask someone named "Sarah Tops" where he's hidden the loot, but in fact he'd tossed it into the nearest exhibit, a Triceratops skeleton.
  • In a novel by John Dickson Carr, the victim says before dying to the person trying to assist him "It was your gloves". It had previously been established that the victim only spoke French and that a Translation Convention was being used. In French, "your gloves" is "vos gants", which sounds similar to the murderer's name "Vaughan".
  • Played with in Kim Newman's Anno Dracula, where a victim, in her dying spasm, grabs the trouser leg of the attending doctor. The protagonists jokingly suggest that she was trying to tell them the killer's name was "Sydney Trouser", or that she was aiming for "Mr Boot" and missed. It takes them much longer to discover what the audience by this point already knows: that it was the doctor who did it.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Boscombe Valley Murder", the victim and his son are alone in the woods at the time of his death and the son hears the victim say something about "a rat" before dying. What he was trying to say was "Black Jack of Ballarat", but the son only heard the last part. The murderer was John Turner, a man who lived with the victim. Turner had spent his younger days in a gang called the "Ballarat Gang" and he had first met the victim when the victim was driving a stagecoach that the gang intended to rob. Turner had the opportunity to kill the victim then, but didn't. Years later, Turner encountered the victim again and the victim, without a penny to his name, threatened to tell the police what he knew about Turner if Turner didn't support him and his family. This was all well and good until the victim wanted to marry his son to Turner's daughter. Turner wasn't having it, so he killed him. Turner's name in the gang had been "Black Jack of Ballarat."
  • In one short story, a detective looks into the murder of a rock singer. The singer grabbed his guitar as his final act and broke two strings. Questioning the singer's girlfriend, manager, and two of his band members turns up nothing. The detective's partner offers to play a song on the broken guitar, except the E and D strings are broken. One of the band members is named Ed.
  • The third Diamond Brothers novel is called South By Southeast, based on the victim's dying exclamation of "Suff... Beee... Suff Eees". The titular brothers decode it as the title and spend the majority of the novel trying to figure out what it means. The victim was trying to say "Sotheby's. Tsar's Feast." which is the location of a prestigous auction house and the title of a well-publicised masterpiece that was due to go under the hammer. The murderer had stolen the original, replaced it with a forgery and attacked the one individual who had figured out what they were up to, and consequently could have stopped them.
  • In the Nero Wolfe short story "Before I Die," Archie Goodwin is on hand to hear the last words of the victim of a drive-by shooting: "Shame. Goddamn shame." What she was actually saying was not "shame" but "Shane", the name of her then-unknown accomplice, who had come up with his own idea to get money.
  • There's a Miss Marple short story where the Asshole Victim's last words are related as being something like "a heap of fish", so people assume he was delusional and ignore it. Pilocarpine can be used to treat atropine poisoning. Atropine is an ingredient in the murderer's eyedrops, and the victim was a doctor who recognized his symptoms and was trying to call for the antidote. Unfortunately, he was surrounded by a housewife, a cook, and a deaf doctor, and he was slurring his words badly as an effect of the poison, so they all heard it as a "pile of carp".
  • 87th Precinct: In Lady, Lady I Did It, one of the victims of a mass shooting manages to gasp the word "carpenter" before dying. Investigation by the 87th Precinct fails to turn up a suspect who is named Carpenter or who works with wood. It turns out the victim was actually saying "car painter" (i.e. the man who had recently painted his car) but his thick accent turned it into "carpenter".
  • The Sherlock Holmes Stories of Edward D. Hoch: In "A Scandal in Montreal", the murder victim—a German student attending McGill University to improve his English—gasps the name "Norton" to the constable who reaches him just before he dies. This makes a strong circumstantial case that his killer is Ralph Norton: a fellow student with whom he had a very public quarrel a few days earlier. Once in possession of all the facts, Holes deduces that his his killer is actually his estranged lover Miss Monica Starr, whose nickname is 'North' (as in 'North Star'). While dying, he reverted to his German and was actually saying 'norden'; the German word for 'north'.

    Live Action TV 
  • Blake's 7: Victim writes 54134 on a touchpad. He was trying to write SARA, but dying people also lack good handwriting.
  • A CSI episode features a seeming nonsense string of numbers left on a phone; the investigators soon realize that the victim was trying to write down her murderer's license plate number and began trying different combinations of numbers and corresponding letters on the number pad.
  • Game of Thrones: Jon Arryn's dying words that "The seed is strong," turn out to mean Baratheon black hair is dominant over Lannister blond.
  • Monk:
    • In "Mr. Monk Goes to the Ballgame," the nonsense phrase that billionaire Lawrence Hammond said to a passing truck driver while dying after being shot in the chest, run over with a car, and crawling a great distance, "Girls Can't Eat 15 Pizzas," turns out to be a mnemonic device to a license plate on the killer's car.
    • In "Mr. Monk Goes to the Dentist," Lt. Disher is half-conscious with laughing gas while in a dentist's chair and witnesses a murder; the victim keeps shouting "Barry Bonds, Barry Bonds!" When Disher awakes, there's no body in the room and the dentist denies it, so everyone thinks that the cop was hallucinating. It isn't until later in the episode that Disher and Monk discover that the dentist and victim had worked together to steal a huge amount of bearer bonds from a bank; the man was killed when he came in demanding his share of the loot, but to Disher's fogged mind, it sounded like the name of the baseball player.
    • Another episode had a variation where the victim didn't know he was about to die (in fact, the attack kills him instantly), but his last words do lend a clue to why he was killed. He's a Latvian ambassador who steps into an elevator, says what sounds like "She's gone meatless now.", and gets shot to death along with his bodyguards. Monk looks into his main political rival who has an alibi, but can't make sense of the message either. However, his companion says he was likely speaking a Latvian dialect and actually said what translates to "This is not my coat." The ambassador accidentally swapped his coat with his soon-to-be-killer, who then killed him to retrieve his stolen jewelry.
  • Nikki from Lost staggers out of the jungle, mutters something that sounds like "Paulo lies", and then collapses. She's actually not dead, and she said "Paralyzed"; Nikki was bitten by a spider whose venom causes paralysis. The other survivors don't know this, though, so they bury her alive.
  • An episode of Criminal Minds had a detective, who had just made a major break in a case, carve "Jones" into a wall before dying from injuries sustained from Hurricane Katrina. It turns out Jones was the name of the bar where the killer was gangraped, the act which drove her to kill.
  • In an episode of Foyle's War, the Asshole Victim has been killed at the time and place he'd arranged to fight the man who was having an affair with his wife, and his dying words were heard as her name, "Elsie." In the end it turns out he was killed for unrelated reasons by a character named Leonard Cartwright, and is supposed to have been saying the initials of his murderer rather than the name of a woman who would almost certainly have been on his mind under the circumstances. To be fair to the show, it doesn't push this idea very hard.
  • In Get Smart, the Dead Spy Scrawls are a specific shorthand designed to be left by dying spies.
  • In an episode of Castle, the Victim of the Week writes "LIE" in her blood on the ground before dying. Turns out they were looking at it upside-down. She actually wrote the number "317", the number of a storage unit.
  • Murder, She Wrote: In "The Monte Carlo Murders", a dying victim seemingly tell Jessica (in French) that "the recording is in the fish". However, he was actually trying to tell her that "the recording was in the poison" (i.e. hidden in a can of rat poison): the French words for poison (poison) and fish (poisson) being very similar.
  • In Forbrydelsen, Sarah Lund and Meyer manage to corner the murderer in an abandoned warehouse. The duo, however, decides to split up, which allows the murderer to get the drop on Meyer as he is alone and fatally wound him. He later dies from his wounds in the hospital, his last words being a repeated "Sarah". This causes Internal Affairs to cast their suspicion on Lund, but she points out that she and Meyer were firmly on a Last-Name Basis, so if he was going to accuse her, he never would have done so by calling her "Sarah". Indeed, it turns out that Meyer was actually trying to say "Sarajevo", as it was a prominent part of what was written on his assailant's shirt.

    Video Games 
  • In Discworld Noir, a victim who was hung upside-down, blinded, and left to bleed to death scrawls a note in blood on the wall. The message is a code-number for the hiding place of a mysterious relic, but it appears to be a name because it's written upside-down.
  • Parodied in Tales of Monkey Island, when Morgan LeFlay's rather lengthy dying speech (unheard by the player) is completely misunderstood by Guybrush, leading him to think that the Marquis De Singe killed her instead of LeChuck.
  • This shows up repeatedly throughout Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time. A key item in the game is a hastily-drawn sketch that Toadbert, an amnesiac Toad who was traveling with Princess Peach, made during Princess Shroob's attack on her; it depicts Peach wielding the powerful Cobalt Star as a weapon against the evil alien. Similarly, Toadiko, another of the Princess's companions, is strapped to a tree that sucks out Toads' "vim," or life energy, to power Shroob operations. As Toadiko is drained of the last of her vim, she murmurs "Gather...shards...", prompting the Mario Bros. and their baby counterparts to seek out the shattered Cobalt Star and restore it. But they have it all wrong. The sketch, which needs to be cleaned off later in the game, doesn't show Princess Peach using the Cobalt Star as a weapon—it shows her using the Star to seal Elder Princess Shroob inside of it. Similarly, Toadiko was apparently trying to warn the Bros. not to gather the shards, as reassembling it was the key to setting the giant alien free again.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc:
    • In the first case, victim leaves the numbers "11037" on a wall. She actually wrote the killer's name, Leon, upside-down and backwards; the diagonal stroke in the N was mistaken for a smudge. Further complicated by the fact that the investigators are Japanese high school students who aren't as familiar with English, though apparently Japanese players caught on quickly. Furthermore, since the cast is on a Last-Name Basis, they aren't as familiar with each other's first names as students in English-speaking countries would be.
    • The second victim in the third case says the name of his killer, but cannot talk clearly as he had been bludgeoned to death. His last words are "...a...k... Yasuhiro". The culprit, Celestia Ludenberg (real name Taeko Yasuhiro), uses this to frame Yasuhiro Hagakure, whom she had intended to take the fall for the murders, but it's pointed out that the victim had a idiosyncratic habit of referring to people by their full names (original) or their last names (localization).

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted in The Simpsons' "Who shot Mr. Burns":
    Lisa: And with your last ounce of strength you pointed to "w" and "s", or, from your point of view, "M" and "S" for Maggie Simpson.
    Burns: What? No. With my last ounce of strength I sucked out my gold fillings.
    • Played straight in the deleted ending: Burns did purposefully land on the letters "w" and "s"... for Waylon Smithers.

Victim didn't know the killer's name

  • Ellery Queen's "E=Murder"
  • In the Dr. Sam Hawthorne story, "The Problem of the Locked Caboose," the victim leaves the word "Elf" written in blood. Turns out that he was writing the German word for eleven. The only thing that he knew about his killer was that they were in berth 11.
  • The Dragon in the Sea by Frank Herbert. The crew of an atomic submarine find the dead body of a Security agent in the reactor room where he was locked in by a saboteur. He kills himself to prevent a lingering death from radiation, leaving a detailed statement of what happened, but unfortunately he never saw who it was who locked the hatch.

    Live Action TV 
  • In one episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, ADA Sonya Paxton is murdered by the suspect the team is pursuing. Not knowing his name, and only able to speak a few syllables as her trachea was severed in the attack, she manages to gasp out only "I got him" before succumbing. For her part, Olivia figures it out pretty quickly; she understands immediately that Sonya meant she did something to the killer, and when Warner tells her Sonya wouldn't have been able to fight back with enough strength to do him any real damage, Olivia realizes the only other interpretation that makes sense is that Sonya was trying to tell her that she had gotten the killer's DNA in the struggle.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, the victim, a bomb case specialist, is killed by a bomb squad member. Since this was the first case they had worked together, she was unfamiliar with his name, so instead wrote down his ID number, "L1001 5R". Unfortunately, a bombing that occurred not long after tore the ground up, getting rid of the "R". Then to make matters worse, her killer hid the message, then when he later knocked someone else unconscious, and altered it so that the L & 1 looked like a W, and the 1 became a D, turning it into "WOODS", to make it seem like the assault victim was accusing Juniper Woods of their attack.

Other messages

    Anime and Manga 
  • Case Closed:
    • In one story, an unintentional dying clue is left on the little toe of a famous artist by another artist: she paints her signature on him as a prank before he kills her in a rage over her art.
    • A subversion of this trope occurs in one storyline in which the killer mistook a note written by his victim for one of these. It turned out to be a normal message about the guy's dry cleaning, "Bring my tux," but it was written in English which the killer couldn't read. He stole the note and was proven guilty when it was found on him because he hadn't dared throw it out for fear it would be found and incriminate him.
    • Detective Sato's father died in pursuit of a suspect, with his last words being mistaken for a dying clue by witnesses; as an adult, Sato realizes what her father was instead yelling "Turn yourself in!" over and over again, as the suspect was an old friend.
  • Coded dying clues pop up quite a bit in The Kindaichi Case Files
    • One involved a Japanese keyboard (which became a letter-shifting code in English)
    • One involved Morse code (using different forms of Kanji to represent dots and dashes)
  • In the Stardust Crusaders arc of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Kakyoin is killed by Dio, who uses his Stand's ability to stop time to expedite the killing. In his last moments, though, Kakyoin uses the information on Dio's movements that Hierophant Green received to deduce how The World operates, and blasts a clock tower. This "stops time" for the tower, giving Joseph the information he and the others need to have even a remote chance against Dio.
    • in Diamond is Unbreakable, Shigechi discovers Kira's latest 'girlfriend'. Wounded and about to be vaporized, he uses one last Harvest to bring one of Kira's buttons to Josuke and Okuyasu, giving them the first clue to the identity of a serial killer who has been killing undetected in Morioh for the past fifteen years.
    • In Golden Wind, after being mortally wounded by Diavolo, Abbacchio uses his crumbling stand to create a "death mask" imprinted with Diavolo's face to help his friends identify him.
  • A case from Detective School Q, early on in the anime. The victim is found dead in front of a computer, with a seemingly significant set of letters typed in. The resident Insufferable Genius tries every possible code to crack it, but fails until he takes the advice of The Ace Hero, Kyu. there was no code to the message, the victim literally wrote the killer's name onto the keyboard in kanji with their finger.

    Comic Books 
  • In one MAD "A Mad Look At" involving criminal investigations, the murder victim manages to not only write his killer's name, but also said killer's motivations for the crime in his own blood.
  • A variation occurs in the 1986 solve-it-yourself comic Whodunnit. A murdered chemist had arranged bottles of chemicals in a row on his desk before he died, and the cops couldn't figure out what they would be used for. The hero realizes that the chemical symbols on the bottles spelled out the killer's name. Justified in that this was actually a PRE-dying clue: the scientist knew he was in danger from the guy, and stalled him long enough to casually arrange the bottles.

  • In Despair's Last Resort, one of the two victims of Chapter 3 wrote the victim's talent in French. Most of the students didn't know French, but one did, and was able to tell the culprit's identity by reading the message.

    Films— Animated 
  • In The Incredibles, doomed missing superhero Gazerbeam has the foresight to scrawl Syndrome's secret password "Kronos" in the cave where he was dying, so if any other superhero found his body, they'd be able to access Syndrome's computer and learn his Evil Plan.

    Films— Live Action 
  • The man on the second floor of the Voltaire club in Mystery Date (1991) manages to leave clues about who killed him, and where to find the MacGuffin on the wall in his own blood before dying. Unfortunately, he misspells the killer's name, he writes the clue as an allusion to a Chinese legend, and the killer's younger brother erases the message and steals the other piece of evidence.

  • Ellery Queen's "The Glass Domed Clock": The victim knocks over a glass domed clock and grabs an amethyst. One of the suspects was a stockbroker (the clock resembled a stock ticker), who was born on February 29 (birthstone is an amethyst). However, other evidence indicates that the victim thought the suspect was born on March 1. Other evidence reveals that only one suspect knew the real birthdate and could have left that message.
  • And yet another Ellery Queen example, the short story "A Lump of Sugar". Ellery and Inspector Queen spend the whole story discussing the possible meaning of the dying clue — a lump of sugar in the victim's hand — with respect to each of the suspects, until they realize the killer was simply the one mostly likely to have a sugar cube in his hand: the mounted police officer.
  • In Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, toons create word balloons when they speak (unless they consciously choose not to). A word balloon containing Roger's final words is found at the scene of the crime, but it's ambiguous without knowing the way the words were said.
  • Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge features possibly the most epic case of "murder victim writes cryptic final message" in the entire history of detective fiction. The murderer uses a uniquely science-fictional murder weapon that results in a four-decades long, lingering death of old age for the victim, so she has time to write a final message over two million words long — but the important bit is still so cryptic only one man could see it — and it's not her lover. This is because the murderer is watching her the entire time, and would have destroyed anything that looked like a clue to his-or-her identity.
  • Agatha Christie's A Murder Is Announced has one that doesn't quite count as a clue, as it's actually the reason she was killed, but similarly to the Roger Rabbit case above. Was it "She wasn't there"? or was it "She wasn't there"? or maybe "She wasn't there"? "She wasn't there".
    • Another famous Christie example appears in Murder on the Orient Express. When examining the Asshole Victim's room for clues, Poirot comes across a charred piece of paper that reads "—member little Daisy Armstrong." It turns out to be a vital piece of information: the victim, who was traveling under an assumed name, was responsible for the kidnap and murder of a child heiress named Daisy Armstrong, whose death prompted a massive string of tragedies for the Armstrong household. The note helps Poirot realize that he is not investigating a mere murder, but a deeply-rooted revenge plot. It ultimately turns out to be a subversion, though, as the person who burned the note wasn't the victim, but one of the people behind the murder—he and everyone else involved deliberately taunted the criminal by sending the note, then tried to destroy it to remove all evidence of the Armstrong case and make the crime unsolvable. The charred piece was never supposed to be found in the first place.
  • In a short story of The Saint the Victim writes "COP", with people suspecting that the murderer was a policeman until Simon Templar realized the victim's nationality— in the Cyrillic Alphabet "COP" = "sor". The killer's name was Soren.
    • Similarly, in one of Isaac Asimov's Black Widowers stories the guest relates the tale of a Russian spy (that is, a Russian national working for the West) who left a dying message that nobody had been able to interpret: the letters E P O C K from a Scrabble set. The word 'epock' was meaningless and no anagram could be found either, so the spy's intention had been a mystery for more than twenty years. As always, Henry the waiter solves it, pointing out that the letters could be rearranged - to form 'CKOPE', which in the Cyrillic alphabet spells the word 'score'. This, along with a newspaper opened at the sports page (the scores, gettit?) implied that the agent was trying to communicate the number twenty. The Widowers' guest is thunderstruck at this - in the code they used at the time, '20' meant "Government in firm control" and if they had known this, the Bay of Pigs invasion could have been called off.
  • In The Swan Princess, King William says "It's not what it seems, Derek. It's not what it seems!" in reference to the Great Animal that has attacked him. Derek has to figure out what he means by himself, eventually finding a book that describes shapeshifting in the library.
  • Taken to rather ridiculous extremes in The Da Vinci Code dragging himself round an art gallery scrawling hidden messages on various paintings before arranging his dying body in a meaningful pose, since revealing the identity of the killer is not so important to the dying man as giving clues to the Ancient Conspiracy that he was killed to cover up.
  • In the Dirk Pitt Adventures novel "Iceberg", Dr. Hunnewell's last words to Dirk Pitt are "God save thee!" Pitt later discovers that Hunnewell wasn't just identifying Oskar Rondheim as his killer, but also admitting to being in league with him. The dying message was an excerpt from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", Rondheim's favorite story.
  • In the Zachary Nixon Johnson book The Doomsday Brunette, the murder victim Foraa Thompson scrawled a series of seemingly random symbols just before dying. Multiple characters lampshade the general contrivance and implausibility of the trope.
    Zach: Foraa's dying clue. She drew these symbols in the wine puddle just before she died. Maybe as some sort of veiled reference to her killer's identity.
    Electra: Why didn't she just write down the killer's name?
    Zach: Because that would have been too easy.
    Electra: So she spent her last nanos of life devising some arcane symbolic code?
    Zach: Well, apparently, lots of murder victims do it.
  • The Thinking Machine: "His Perfect Alibi" features a rare variant in the which the victim manages to actually write down the name of his killer before expiring. However (as might be guessed from the title), the killer has a seemingly perfect alibi that makes it physically impossible for him to have committed the murder.
  • The Sherlock Holmes Stories of Edward D. Hoch: In "The Manor House Case", a dying murder victim drags himself across the room to pull the ten of spades from a deck of playing cards as a clue to his killer's identity. The suit was irrelevant. The dying man grabbed first ten he found in the deck in attempt to indicate the killer's surname was 'Zehn': German for 'ten'.
  • Simon Ark: In "The Witch of Park Avenue", a man who is dying trapped inside a revolving door knows he only has seconds to live and writes the name "MARIE" on the glass with a felt tip pen. Although this seems to implicate a woman named Marie who is involved in the case Simon determines that the victim and Marie had never met, so he could not have known her name, nor would she have reason to kill him. The actual killer was Dr. Langstrom, who had just married the eponymous witch. Langstrom's name was too long for him to write in the time he had left, so he tried to leave a short word that would nonetheless implicate Langstrom. However, while dying, he instinctively reverted to his native language, French, and wrote "marie", the French for "bridegroom".

    Live Action TV 
  • Mentioned by name in the two hour pilot to the 1975 Ellery Queen series. Inspector Queen catches up Ellery as his son arrives at a murder scene where a victim pulled a plug out of the wall, stopping both her clock and TV.
    Inspector Queen: "Almost as far fetched as one of your books...a dying clue which makes absolutely no sense...which means of course it's right up your alley."
  • The Avengers (1960s): Victim writes "COP", so everybody suspects Coppice is the murderer. Mrs Peel proves that the victim was Russian. In the Cyrillic Alphabet "COP" = "sor". Sorrel is the murderer.
  • The dying Inspector-General in Dong Yi shows Dong Yi a set of cryptic hand signals before he died. The signals actually point out the identity of the killer, although it would take Dong Yi many years before she deciphered the meaning behind them.
  • In the Sherlock episode "A Study In Pink", the victim writes out the password for her online phone-tracker, so that the police could track her phone and find the killer. (She didn't manage to get down the last letter, but Sherlock deduces it pretty easily — the harder part is figuring out what they're meant to do with it.)
  • Murder, She Wrote: In "The Great Twain Robbery", after being shot the Victim of the Week crawls across the floor to pull a copy of The Scarlet Letter off the bottom shelf of his bookcase.
  • In the Columbo episode "Try and Catch Me", a mystery writer murders her nephew by locking him in her airtight, walk-in safe. With the victim taking hours to suffocate, he has plenty of time to set up an elaborate dying clue, altering a page of the author's manuscript so it reads "I was murdered by Abigail Mitchell" and concealing it inside a light fitting, then leaving a disguised arrow pointing to it. The victim was smart enough to know that if Abigail was the first to open the safe after his death, she would have seen any obvious dying clues and removed them, so concealing them in a way that only sustained investigation would reveal makes this example one of the better-justified uses of the trope.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Heaven Sent", the Doctor finds a skull and the word 'BIRD' scrawled in the sand. It turns out to be the last message from the previous iteration of the Doctor, prompting him to remember the story about the bird and the mountain of diamond.
  • Whodunnit? (UK): In "Evidence of Death", the Victim of the Week, is poisoned with a nerve agent. With his voice paralysed and 20 seconds to live, he removes his signet ring and stuffs it into a matchbox as a cryptic clue to his killer's identity.

    Video Games 
  • In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Soap is barely able to choke out "Makarov knows Yuri" before dying. Price confronts Yuri shortly thereafter and we see Yuri's backstory.
  • Romein LeTouse leaves a couple of dying clues in case 4-3 of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. One is "the witness is siren", which is known at the beginning of the case. The other is a message in blood (initially smeared out by the murderer, but later made clear via forensic science). While previous versions of this were Red Herrings pointing to a false perp, this one is a real message, but not the one you'd expect: it's his own Interpol ID number. He was an Interpol agent working a smuggling case, and died as a result.
  • In BioShock, when you come face to face with Julie Langford, antagonist Andrew Ryan releases a gas into her office which kills her. However, the gas also fogs up the windows and before dying, she uses that to write the combination on her safe for you, leading to information you need for the next phase of the game.
  • In Project Firestart, one of the first things Jon sees on the Prometheus is a dead crew member lying next to the word "DANGER" written on the wall in blood.
  • In the fifth case of Layton Brothers: Mystery Room, the culprit tried making his female victim's death look like a suicide by using a perfume bottle to hold the poison. The bewildered, dying victim wanted to leave some mark to show she was murdered, so with her last strength she took the perfume bottle and hurled it at a nearby wall. Her actions weren't in vain, as the culprit, who didn't know she had done this, ends up calling calling the container a perfume bottle, before even the police have worked out what the shattered remains originally were. Just the final in the coffin that Alfendi and Lucy needed to arrest him.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the Ace Attorney manga, a double subversion happens in Turnabout Gallows. Robin Wolfe, trapped inside the Den of Spiders, draws a spider on the armrest of the chair he was trapped in, which the police initially believe to be a clue since he had yelled to his family that a "spider man" had kidnapped him. In reality, Robin draws whatever is in front of him as a way to calm himself and come up with ideas whenever he's having trouble, and the drawing is dismissed as meaningless after it does not connect to any of the other evidence. Toward the end of the case, Phoenix notices that the spider is drawn upside-down; Robin was trapped on the ceiling and tricked into thinking he was still on the floor by having everything else he could see turned upside down, but the spider was still hanging as normal, and thus appeared the way it did, making the "clue" far more significant to the case than anyone, the victim included, thought at first.
  • Played with in one of Virtue's Last Reward's bad endings. A dying woman writes 'dio' in blood on her leg. This is a perfectly good dying message and would easily have revealed the killer, Dio...except for the fact, after her death, a reversal of that message was imprinted on her other leg, and that message just so happened to be the one everyone else saw and assumed to be what she wrote. So it instead looks like '016', and the cast- having recently discovered a room full of Ridiculously Human Robots- start searching for a robot with that serial number. Hilarity does not ensue, especially because there actually is a robot with that serial number Hiding in Plain Sight amongst the cast, but she's completely innocent of any crime..

    Western Animation 
  • Scooby-Doo episode "The Diabolical Disc Demon": The kidnapping victim leaves behind a short bit of sheet music. Near the end of the episode, the heroes realize that the notes spell out "ACE DECADE", the kidnapper's (and the Villain of the Week's) name.
  • OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes: Parodied at the end of "K.O.'s Video Channel", when the characters make a movie. Enid is murdered, and writes the killer's name "in her own ketchup!" The joke is that Movie!Rad, looking at it upside-down, misreads the killer's name as "O.K."

Since the author is dying, a frequent subversion is that the killer is actually able to use a dying message to their advantage — either modifying it to lead to another party, or acting on the message themselves.

    Anime and Manga 
  • A bloody "S" is found on the wall of a stall where the murdered girl is found in Case Closed; this turns out to have been planted by the murderer in question, but the victim left a much more definitive dying message on her cell phone. (And there was also more substantial proof of guilt.)
    • In another mystery, Conan realizes that the scuff marks on a cabinet in the crime scene contained a dying clue that the killer had rearranged once he saw it.
    • Similarly, a symbolic dying clue centered around shogi pieces was rearranged by the murderer, but unfortunately for her the blood had dried enough to leave marks on the table where the clue had been left.
    • In an early mystery, a despondent man committing suicide tried to plant evidence that he'd been murdered by his ex-girlfriend. The girlfriend's manager tried to cover up said evidence, but Conan notices him doing it.
    • In yet another case, the dying message is messed with twice: once by the killer to frame someone else, and once by the person being framed to avoid suspicion, resulting in Framing the Guilty Party.
    • The victim is in a museum that gives out custom pens to their employees, and the victim is an employee of the museum. It is shown on a security cam of the victim grabbing a exhibit card from a table and his pen, and scribbling something into the paper before throwing the pen away. He was trying to scribble out the name of the other employee that the killer was trying to frame, but the killer purposely left a pen that had no ink on the table and then switched it out with a functioning pen later.
    • In one case, the fact that the dying message was *not* altered is a crucial clue to the innocence of two of the three suspects. The message was left in Braille on a Go board, complete with situations impossible in normal play. One of the suspects could read Braille, and the other was a Go expert; both would have recognized that something was amiss. Consequently, the one suspect who could do neither is the culprit.

    Comic Books 
  • The mystery comic series The Maze Agency had an example of this version using one of Jack the Ripper's famed messages.
  • A Superman comic book, "The Unauthorized Biography of Lex Luthor", starts with Clark Kent being framed for murdering a hack writer who was working on a Lex Luthor bio, when the victim supposedly wrote Kent's name with his blood on the floor. A lawyer working for LexCorp got Clark cleared by proving that the angle in which the letters were written didn't match the location of the victim's arm. Luthor had the biographer killed, and framed Kent for the murder in order for his lawyer to clear him, thinking that Kent would owe Luthor a favor.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In Where Talent Goes to Die, the first culprit tries to frame the protagonist for the victim's murder by writing her name in the victim's blood, knowing that the victim had a grudge against her. Unfortunately, even apart from the fact that the protagonist was trying to reconcile with the victim, there are a few problems- the culprit used the victim's right hand to draw the message when said victim was left-handed, and since the victim died instantly of blunt force trauma, he couldn't have written the message.

    Films— Live Action 
  • Serenity: Mr. U either didn't think that someone besides Mal would ever come back to his Hacker Cave or didn't have time to prevent the message from looping. His Dying Clue thus leads the Operative right to Mal Just in Time for the big Fight Scene.
  • In Triangle, with his last breath one of the murder victims manages to write "Jes" on the mirror using his blood. Too bad, Jess (the killer) sees it first and rewrites the message to her advantage.

  • Something Wicked by Alan Gratz: Duncan is found dead with his son's name, MALCOLM, written in his blood, but the hero realizes it's a frame-up because Duncan and everyone else called his son Mal.
  • The culprit in the Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet wrote RACHE on the wall to make the police think of a revenge killing by a secret society ...or that the murderer's name was Rachel.
    • In "A Study in Pink", a loose adaptation of the story in Sherlock the victim did write RACHE, but she died before she could finish writing RACHEL, the password to her phone.
    • In "A Study in Emerald", a weird crossover between Sherlock Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos, the victim again wrote "RACHE" in the wall. Turns out it was, indeed, actually the nickname of the killer.
  • Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile has the letter J written in blood at the scene of the crime, but Poirot dismisses it since Jackie, the obvious "J" person, had an airtight alibi and couldn't have possibly committed the murder, and in any case the victim clearly died instantly and wouldn't have left any clues. Poirot deduces that it was actually left by the murderer trying to frame Jackie. Or, as it turns out, because they had a flair for the dramatic.
    • Another Agatha Christie example appears in Thirteen at Dinner. After a young woman is murdered, Poirot and Hastings discover a note she had written detailing some kind of prank she was apparently playing at the titular dinner; a portion of the page has been ripped off, but it doesn't seem important, as the whole message is still legible. Unfortunately, the killer deliberately tore the page in such a way that, in the portion of the letter hinting at who had put the victim up to the trick, the word "She" became "he," prompting the detectives to examine male suspects instead of focusing on the woman who was behind the whole plot.
  • In the Father Brown mystery "The Wrong Shape", the victim is found with a sheet of paper on their body which has typwewritten on it, "I die by my own hand; yet I die murdered!" with no quotation marks. The unusual shape of the paper (the upper left corner is snipped off, as it is on all of the sheets of paper in the room) and the presence of one less corner than sheets of paper leads Father Brown to realize that a quotation mark was removed from a line of speech. The end of the story has a confession which indicates that the victim had been writing a story involving a man killed by hypnotism and the killer borrowed that last sheet to distract the investigators, snipped off the quotation mark, and burned the rest.
  • A few cases in the book Minute Mysteries involve this, along with other books with mini-detective puzzle shorts. More often than not, they are a framing attempt made by the person writing the note, and it's left to the reader to find the reason.
  • Judge Dee: Sergeant Hong is murdered in broad daylight by the person he's having tea with. He tries to write the murderer's name in spilled tea, but the murderer notices and wipes it away contemptuously.

    Live Action TV 
  • On one episode of The Cosby Mysteries, a reporter murders a British actress, writes Guy's phone number on her hand (to imply she was going to call him), and forges an entry in her diary to cast suspicion on her husband. However, Guy notices two mistakes: the forged diary entry uses the American spelling of "color" instead of the British one ("colour") and his phone number was written on her left hand which was the hand she wrote with.
  • In an episode Forensic Files, a murder victim writes out the word "ROC" on a wall in her own blood, which is the name of one of her ex-boyfriends. It turns out that Roc is innocent, and the killer wrote that to hide his trails. Unfortunately, he left fingerprints on a nearby pizza box and made a phone call traced back to the scene of the crime.

    Video Games 
  • In Layton Brothers: Mystery Room, the big mystery of the first case is that the victim was found with her hand inside her sandwich. At first it appears to be a dying message, as with her hand where it is among the ingredients, the first letter of each spells out "PHELPS", the misspelled name of her lover. The fact it's misspelled sets of a major red flag for Alfendi and Lucy that it's fake. Turns out that this was faked by the real killer who, on top of just trying to frame the boyfriend, used the dying message as a diversion for the real reason he put the victim's hand in the sandwich.

    Visual Novels 
  • Happens several times in the Ace Attorney games, and they are almost always written by the killer in order to frame someone else. The most blatant example of this is in the second case of The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, where the victim's supposed dying message was written in a language he didn't even know. A close runner-up was the first case of Justice for All, where the name supposedly written by the victim was spelled wrong, and it was the name of the victim's girlfriend, whose name he obviously would have known how to spell correctly. Not to mention the fact that the victim's neck was fatally broken, meaning he would've had to have written the message with a damaged spinal cord but the prosecution ignores this. Even when the message is written by the victim, there is always some kind of twist to it. For example, in the third case of Apollo Justice, the victim wrote his own ID number to let people know he was actually an undercover Interpol agent tracking a smuggler; and in the first case of Dual Destinies, the victim wrote a genuine message implicating the killer, but the killer found it first and altered it in order to implicate someone else.
  • In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Yasuhiro, thinking he'd murdered the fourth victim (who actually isn't dead yet), tries to frame Toko by writing her name in blood inside a magazine.

Real Life

  • Three words: "Omar m'a tuer". To this day, the Omar Raddad case is still unsolved. It is still not proven whether it was written by the victim or forged by a killer trying (and succeeding) to frame him. DNA evidence recently added more doubt to the mix.
    • The grammatical errors in the phrase (it should read "Omar m'a tué") make it doubtful the educated victim would have written the message. Yet no-one can prove this definitively. And impending death might very well work a number on your writing skills.
  • When Scotland Yard officially closed the Whitechapel Murders case (Jack the Ripper) in 1988, a photo of Mary Jane Kelly not previously known to the general public came to light, (excessive gore warning!) in the background of which many people swear they can see the letter "M" scrawled on the wall in blood, or paint. Since Kelly was in no shape to do this as or after the killer exited, she would have had to do it earlier in the evening, at which time she probably would have been better off screaming. There seems little reason for the killer to write it, and at any rate, his writing would be neater. But clearly, the "M" exists only in the imaginations of some people who have stared at the photo a little too long. There also seems little reason for an "M." There was a suspect whose first name was Montague, but aside from the fact that he seems not to have become a suspect until after Kelly's murder, there's no reason to think she knew him; in other words, she couldn't have drawn his initial on the wall if she didn't know it.

Alternative Title(s): Dying Message