Follow TV Tropes


Dying Clue

Go To
It seems Mr. Burns wasn't her only victim.

"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....

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.

Example Subpages:

Other Examples and Versions:

The message was incomplete

    open/close all folders 

    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 Batman comic sees small-time villain the Ventriloquist, or Arnold Wesker, shot in the head in a theater; the killer also takes the time to stomp on Wesker's dummy Scarface. Wesker uses his last moments to use Scarface's fingers to write a message in blood — a street name that proves helpful to the investigation.

     Films — Animated 
  • In The Swan Princess, the dying King William warns Prince Derek "It's not what it seems!" What he means is that the "great animal" who mortally wounded him and carried off his daughter Odette wasn't really an animal, but the evil sorcerer Rothbart.

    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'.

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.
  • 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.

    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, the 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).
  • In the Fan Game Danganronpa Another, the second victim writes her killer's talent in her own blood but then has to amend it with an "X" when someone else comes in to finish the job.
    • In the sequel Super Danganronpa Another 2, the victim of Chapter 2 uses a really convoluted code to implicate her killer: she scratches the letters F and O on seven icicles and the letter I on an eighth, then stabs the longest icicle into the one marked with the "I". This is supposed to mean "one of the other seven female students killed I/me", specifically the tallest girl in the cast — Emma Magorobi.

    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

    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)
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • In Stardust Crusaders, 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.

    Fan Fiction 
  • 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 
  • 5 Card Stud: After being shot through the stomach, Little George puts his hands together as if praying and holds them like that as he dies. When Van sees the body, he realises that George, who was an atheist, would not have been praying for his life, and was leaving him a clue to tell him that the killer was Reverend Johnathan Rudd.
  • 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.

    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 nail 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.

    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