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False Confession

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A major crime has been committed and a killer is on the loose. Luckily for the police, someone has come forward confessing to the crime. Unluckily for the police, the person making the confession didn't commit the crime. Sometimes the police will see through the confession and instantly know that the person is lying. Other times, unfortunately, they will buy into the guy's story, derailing their investigation (at least temporarily). In some cases, even after the person's confession is shown to be false, some of the detectives will still go with it.

The possible reasons for the false confession are many. Perhaps the character is confessing because he knows or thinks one of his loved ones is really the criminal and is covering. Perhaps the character is mentally ill and is willing to confess to just about anything the police tell him to confess to. Perhaps the character actually committed a worse crime, and is attempting to get a reduced punishment by using this crime as a Fake Alibi. Perhaps the character just wants the publicity. Perhaps the real killer is coercing the character into Taking the Heat. And maybe, just maybe, the character actually thinks he committed the crime. Also, as real life interrogation tapes show, being questioned by the police can be a highly stressful experience. If made to go through it long enough, a suspect may confess just to end it, whether they're guilty or not. This can also be done sometime through Police Brutality.

If the character has a history of confessing to things he didn't do, expect the police to remember him from the last time he made a confession. This could possibly lead to a subversion of this trope when it is later revealed that the "serial confessor" actually did the crime this time.

Taking the Heat is a subtrope. Often the product of the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique. Compare Insists on Being Suspected.


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    Anime & Manga  
  • Death Note: Early on, when L and the police first announce their investigation into Kira, it's mentioned that a number of random people came forward claiming to be Kira. The investigation clearly doesn't believe any of them, though they do mention they're processing and investigating the claimants just to be thorough.
  • Stardust Crusaders: Providing the page image, during a stop in the holy city of Varanasi in India, Joseph Joestar becomes infected with the manifestation of the Empress Stand, which initially looks like a pimple on his arm but quickly grows into a living tumorous growth that he can't remove. When he's getting it looked at by a doctor, the Stand ends up killing the doctor and manipulates a scared nurse into thinking that it was really Joseph who did it, causing him to become wanted by the police. Fortunately, Joseph is able to defeat Empress afterward but still has to keep a low profile until they escape the city and resume their journey since he obviously wouldn't be believed if he told the police the truth.

    Comic Books 
  • In Bedlam, Fillmore Press is a former psychotic killer who turned to solving grisly murders using his unique understanding of the criminally insane mind. To this end, he confesses to a string of serial killings because a) he feels the police won't listen to him unless they absolutely have to, and b) he thinks the real killer is just getting warmed up and has to be stopped as soon as possible. He helps along the investigation quite a bit, but the detectives working the case think he really is the killer and refuse to let him go when he recants his confession.
  • From Hell, apart from the dozens of letters from "Jack" (with different handwritings), the appendix accounts a few false confessions.
  • Predator: Race War: Upon his arrest, serial killer Mark Towers tries to take credit for a string of ritual homicides actually committed by a Predator. Amusingly, the false confession has a nested "false confession about a false confession" within it, as he claims some of his other murders were wrongly confessed to by Ted Bundy. A profiler sees right through Towers when shown the tape of this interview; "trophy-taking" isn't in his MO, he's just trying to create a media circus around him for attention. Towers gets what he wants, six life sentences and a rep anybody will respect, but the Predator kills him in his cell, takes his skull as a trophy, and decides the supermax prison full of violent offenders is an ideal hunting ground.
  • Sin City has two rather tragic examples. Both John Hartigan and Marv are framed for crimes they didn't commit but in both cases, they confess to the charges to protect loved ones.
  • The reason that Eddie Brock (Venom) hated Spider-Man was because after Eddie broke journalistic ethics to apprehend someone who had confessed to being the serial killer Sin Eater, Spider-Man caught the real Sin Eater, revealing Brock's catch to be a false confessor.
  • In Watchmen, Night Owl and Silk Specter discuss a "supervillain" who would compulsively confess to all sorts of crimes because he wanted to be beaten up by a superhero.
    "He pulled it on Rorschach, and Rorschach dropped him down an elevator shaft."

    Fan Works 
  • The Chosen Six: During the First Wizarding War, another werewolf decided to start claiming that he was Fenrir Greyback whenever he killed anyone. Greyback was so enraged that he tracked down the imposter, killed him, and sent his head to The Daily Prophet, accompanied by a note ordering them to check their facts.
  • Dermabrasion: At one point, Dabi tells Hawks about a Single Mom Stripper who was arrested and charged with drug trafficking. While completely innocent, the police tricked her into falsely confessing and shipped her off to prison. She only got out when she took advantage of some villains breaking out to escape, kidnapped her children from foster care, and wound up working as a drug trafficker for that very same gang, as her faith in the system had been completely destroyed.
  • In Harry Potter and the Prince of Slytherin, George is framed for a prank that almost turned deadly. Fred confesses in order to protect his brother. While the Hogwarts staff isn't fooled, they're forced to suspend him... until Lockhart confesses to the crime several months later during an unhinged rant to the Aurors trying to arrest him for unrelated crimes. This turns out to be a false confession in its own right: the real culprit was a Voldemort-possessed Ron, but the Lockhart who confessed was a disguised Regulus Black, who threw several false confessions in alongside confessions of crimes Lockhart had actually committed.
  • I'd Trade My Life For Yours diverges from Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony when Shuichi Saihara, who'd been suspected of Rantaro Amami's murder midway through the trial, falsely confesses to doing it, and is executed instead of Kaede Akamatsu, who he knows is the murderer by this point. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, like in canon, Kaede is also innocent of the crime, and Rantaro was actually killed by Tsumugi Shirogane.
  • Innocent (MarauderLover7): After realising that she has tried to kill an innocent man, Marlene McKinnon goes to the police and confesses to a violent crime that she didn't commit, just so that she will be imprisoned and punished.
  • A Rabbit Among Wolves has a variant: while Jaune actually is the leader of the White Fang faction in Vale, its government doesn't just want him to confess — they want him to take a plea deal and renounce the White Fang in order to scuttle its rising popularity. So they keep him locked inside a blank, windowless, freezing room, causing loud noises whenever he starts to sleep and lying to him about what's happening in the outside world, claiming the White Fang have been violently rioting. They also leave a few items around the room that he could use to kill himself, while keeping a security camera trained on him at all times so they can "prove" that they didn't openly do anything to him.
  • Recommencer (Miraculous Ladybug): When Lila accuses Marinette of sending her a number of nasty (and nonexistent) text messages, Lina claims that she's actually responsible. This throws Lila for a complete loop, as she simply can't comprehend why somebody might be willing to take the heat for somebody else, especially not for something that never actually happened.
  • Played for Laughs in The Rejuvenationverse when a mare makes a highly dramatic confession to Princess Cadance... because she'd memorized the whole spiel for a play that ultimately went unperformed, and had been dying to get the chance to show off her acting chops. Afterwards, Cadance declares that she needs a freaking drink.
  • In Whispered Tribulation, the ultimate goal of Aizawa and his allies is to extract one of these from Izuku, as Aizawa refuses to accept that Izuku isn't The Mole for the League of Villains like he suspected. After all, that would require Aizawa to admit that they kidnapped and roughed up an innocent student for no good reason at all.
  • With Pearl and Ruby Glowing:
    • Proteus confessed to a robbery to protect Sinbad, since Proteus is a richer and whiter-looking guy with no prior criminal record and would get a lesser sentence.
    • Blue Oak's father Maxie confessed to raping and murdering Leaf Ketchum. His demeanor during his confession in "Statements" makes it clear that he didn't really do it, but it isn't until the 50th chapter of Water of the Womb that the real killer is revealed: Leaf's sister Green was manipulated by Bill Cipher into drowning her in the Oaks' pool, but Maxie saw her and he took the fall to protect her.
    • Snake confessed to Ace's crime of raping Ricky in a fit of rage after Ricky tried to rape Arturo at Green Lake, thinking the gang would do better if he was taken away than if Ace was. Ace had already confessed, and didn't end up being re-arrested anyway, but he appreciates the attempt.
    • Played with in a Shout-Out to Interesting Times: Yang Mie, when captured and interrogated by traffickers, is able to trick them into fleeing and leaving him behind by truthfully telling them there are definitely not two thousand three hundred and nine military police officers looking for him, in a manner which sounds like he's confessing that there are.
  • Withering Hope:
    • During the second trial, Ryan falsely confesses to being the murderer in an effort to protect the true culprit.
    • In Part 04, Steven pretends that they're The Mole working for Despair in an attempt to convince the rest of the survivors to vote for them. This doesn't work the way they hoped, however, and falls apart after it makes Bonks break down crying.

    Film — Animation 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Citizen X, a mentally disabled man leads the police on a wild goose chase after they get him to "confess" that he was the killer. The police pretty much know the man isn't guilty, but the political leadership want a scapegoat, even after more bodies pile up.
  • Closet Land: The Interrogator claims that he was the man who abused the Author in her childhood as a last-ditch attempt at getting to her. However, she doesn't believe it (he's been playing mind games with her this whole time, and also isn't that much older).
  • In Copycat, Nicoletti is shown interviewing a man confessing to the murders. However, it soon becomes obvious that he didn't do it when he does not even know that the victim was strangled, not stabbed. This seems to be a regular practice for him, as many cops greet him by name as Nicoletti is escorting out of the station.
  • In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent "outs himself" as Batman in response to public outcry that Batman turn himself in, in response to the Joker's murders, in order to spare Bruce Wayne from doing so, correctly deducing that Joker would attempt to kill him in custody, thus exposing him to the real Batman.
  • In Election, Tammy covers up for Tracy by lying and saying that she tore down Paul's campaign posters.
  • The 1994 HBO film The Enemy Within (a modern remake of Seven Days in May) has low-level Mac Casey discovering that a general, the Secretary of Defense and Vice-President are planning what amounts to a coup to remove the President in protest over his refusal to invade a foreign country. They're mocking the President on how he has no evidence and they're about to pull the plot off when Mac bursts into the Oval Office. He tells them to call the whole thing off or he'll go to the press and... confess. "To my complicity in our plot to take over the government." As he points out, how else could he know of all this unless he was in on it? The conspirators realize to their shock that by confessing to involvement, Mac will reveal the entire plot and while he may go to jail, they certainly will for treason.
    Secretary Potter: No one will believe you! You're just a lowly Colonel!
    Mac: So was Oliver North. The American people are funny. They may not believe an accusation from the President but they will believe a confession from just about anyone.
  • The Exorcist III has a mention of when a serial killer was on the loose, and the police wanted to weed out false confessions. So they released a false detail of the crimes, and everyone who confessed gave that false detail.
  • In The Firechasers, a woman calls Quentin to confess to being the firebug. However, when he confronts her she claims to have lit the most recent fire in the basement of the building, and Quentin knows he building didn't have a basement. the police later tell him that they know he woman and that she calls up about once a week to confess to whatever the latest major crime in the news is.
  • Happy Death Day: Tree falsely claims she was driving drunk after a cop stops her for speeding, hoping he will take her to jail where she'll be safe. Unfortunately, it doesn't work.
  • In Horrors of the Black Museum, the police arrest a man named Tom Rivers who confesses to all four murders, with enough detail to make him convincing. However, he later starts confessing to additional murders, and talks about a death ray he is inventing, and the police realize that he is a serial fantasist. He is ultimately confined to a mental institution.
  • In the Name of the Father: The Guildford Four are tortured and threatened until they falsely confess that they committed two bombings.
  • I Spit on Your Grave: In the third film Oscar kills himself and falsely confesses to the murders when Jennifer's accused of them, so she'll be let go.
  • Just Cause: Blair Sullivan takes credit for the rape and brutal murder of a young girl, in exchange for the real killer, Bobby Ferguson, killing his parents (his confession got Ferguson freed).
  • In the 1931 film M, several people confess to being the serial killer, mostly for the publicity.
  • M.F.A.: Skye leaves behind a suicide note stating that she is the "Campus Killer". However, Noelle finds the note and destroys it before anyone else can see it.
  • My Cousin Vinny: Two guys are arrested as suspects when a store clerk is murdered. They think they were caught shoplifting, and when one of them explains that he accidentally stole a can of tuna, the sheriff asks if that's why they shot the clerk. Cue the kid's confused half-question-half-statement "I shot the clerk?" which he repeats several times, trying to wrap his head around the idea. The sheriff takes it as a confession and later testifies to that effect in court.
  • A mentally unstable grocery boy in The Naked City confesses to have killed Jean Dexter, but detective Muldoon convicts him of lying by asking details of the murder which the boy answers wrong.
  • Nightworld: Lost Souls: Jack Mennias, who has been imprisoned for the last eight years for the murders of two children, was a mentally ill drifter who was constantly confessing to different crimes he didn't commit, and who "forgot" almost every detail of the murders. Most people agree that his conviction was a miscarriage of justice. They're right. Mennias really was innocent.
  • In Rashomon, the wife of the deceased insists that she murdered him, while his ghost claims seppuku. Apparently, the reality (she told her rapist to fight her husband so she could leave the marriage, and the husband was a wimp in battle) is more embarrassing for both of them.
  • In Reservoir Dogs, Nice Guy Eddie advises against Mr. Blonde torturing a cop he captured during the heist gone wrong (mostly because of Blonde going on a killing spree) to see if there is a mole amongst the team precisely because of this trope.
    Nice Guy Eddie: If you fucking beat this prick long enough, he'll tell you he started the goddamn Chicago fire, now that don't necessarily make it fucking so!
  • In So I Married an Axe Murderer, a person gives a confession for the "Mrs. X" murders, giving Charles the peace of mind to go through with his wedding to who he suspected was "Mrs. X". It turns out it was a false confession given by a mentally ill person, who also confessed to murdering Abraham Lincoln.
  • In Some Guy Who Kills People, Ben doesn't exactly confess to the murders, but he offers no defence either, because he is Not Used to Freedom and being sent back to the asylum is looking pretty inviting to him. Sheriff Fuller figures it out when Ben doesn't know anything about the notes the killer sent the police.
  • In Turk 182, a whole crowd of people show up to confess that they are the titular graffiti artist, including Jimmy Lynch (who really is Turk 182). It is, in fact, Jimmy's disgust and derision at the false confessors that convinces a TV reporter that he is, in fact, actually Turk.
  • Under Suspicion: Henry, who has been accused of murdering two young girls, is broken in spirit after he finds out that his wife Chantal helped the cops find incriminating photos of the two girls (incriminating in that he has them, but innocuous photos). He is still confessing when the cops find out that he didn't do it. They caught another man red-handed with the fresh corpse of a third victim, and not only that, they found pictures of the bodies of the first two victims in the other man's car. The cops promptly let him go, but his marriage to Chantal is shattered.
  • In White Heat, Cody confesses to a minor robbery in Illinois he didn't commit in order to provide an alibi for a murder he did commit in California.
  • Wishcraft: A man arrested for simple assault confesses to all three murders, which makes the police think he was the killer at first until his fingers won't fit a recovered bowling ball that was the last murder weapon.
  • From David Fincher's Zodiac:
    "I'm the Zodiac Killer."
    "Okay, so how did you kill your victims?"
    "With a gun... no, wait — a hammer!"

  • Anne of Green Gables has a Lighter and Softer example. Marilla's amethyst brooch goes missing, she assumes Anne tried it on and lost it, and she makes Anne stay in her room until she confesses. Finally, Anne tells an elaborately detailed story of having worn the brooch outside and lost it in a pond. But soon afterward, Marilla finds the brooch and realizes she misplaced it herself: Anne then admits she only confessed so she would be allowed to go to the picnic she had been looking forward to.
  • Chocoholic Mysteries: In Clown Corpse, Royal Hollis makes comments that the police interpret as a confession to the murder of Moe Davidson. He's confirmed innocent, with the real killer behind bars, by the end of the book.
  • In The Confession, Donté Drumm eventually records a confession of having committed Nicole Yarber's murder. But this occurs after having been bullied by the cops for 15 hours straight and broken. Donté is innocent.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: This trope serves as the punchline to one of Greg Heffley's comics, "Trevor the Talking Sideburn". Trevor always speaks things that get his human host, Douglas, into trouble, such as saying that a man looks like his dog before implying the dog looks better than him, or asking the barber to cut off Douglas' arms.
  • Discworld:
    • "Done It" Duncan, who will confess to anything and everything (up to and including stealing fire from the gods). Can actually be a good source of information: if he says "It wasn't Bob who did that burglary, it was me", you can be pretty much sure that it was Bob who did it.
    • In Feet of Clay, a golem turns itself in and confesses to a murder. Colon is ecstatic when the golem also confesses to every unsolved crime in the city. Carrot demonstrates the problem with this by getting confessions to things that never happened.
    • Used heartbreakingly in Jingo. The Goriff family runs the Klatchian takeaway Mundane Meals, which gets firebombed due to the anti-Klatchian sentiment running around. Soon after, the son is running the counter and mistakes a late-night customer for another attacker and fires the crossbow kept under the counter. Luckily, the crossbow is in such poor condition that nobody is hurt, but by the time the Watch arrives, Mr. Goriff covers for his son and says that he did it.
  • In Frankenstein, Justine, who's been convicted of the murder of William, is pressured into giving such a confession by a minister, who says that if she doesn't confess, she'll go to Hell. She only tells the truth when Elizabeth and Victor go to see her one last time before she's hanged.
  • The publicity version is parodied in The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul, when a Heathrow check-in desk blows up:
    The usual people tried to claim responsibility. First the IRA, then the PLO and the Gas Board. Even British Nuclear Fuels rushed out a statement to the effect that the situation was completely under control, that it was a one in a million chance, that there was hardly any radioactive leakage at all and that the site of the explosion would make a nice location for a day out with the kids and a picnic, before finally having to admit that it wasn't actually anything to do with them at all.
  • Dorothy L. Sayers' Montague Egg story, "Murder at Pentecost".
  • In Purple Hibiscus, Jaja gives one of these to protect his mother, who has just killed her abusive husband.
  • In A Storm of Swords, Tyrion Lannister responds with an angry and contemptuous "Your son was a monster. Of course, I did it" when asked by his brother Jaime if he (Tyrion) poisoned Joffrey (Tyrion's nephew and Jaime's incestuously born son). Tyrion actually had nothing to do with the murder other than being the one who unwittingly gave Joffrey the poisoned wine. He was confessing in order to cause Jaime maximum pain, as Jaime had just admitted that Tyrion's first wife, Tysha, hadn't been the hired whore Tyrion had been told she was.
  • Towards Zero opens with Superintendent Battle's daughter getting into trouble after she confesses to stealing. When the Superintendent sees her, he realises that she didn't commit the crime, but was pressured to confess when her headmistress publicly insinuated that she was guilty.
  • In the Rumpole of the Bailey story "Rumpole and the Path Through the Woods" (from Rumpole and the Angel of Death, a collection of stories not directly adapted from TV episodes), Rumpole defends a hunt saboteur who claims to have killed a fox-hunter. Rumpole quickly realises the man isn't a murderer, and further investigation reveals the story just doesn't add up, but the only way he can stop his client from pleading guilty is by saying that, if the case is over that quickly, he won't get the publicity he wants for his cause.
  • Quarters: Shkoder's justice system makes use of bards' Commands ordering people to tell the truth during their trials so only the guilty will be convicted. However, Pjerin is framed by being made to falsely confess with a post-hypnotic suggestion so he's convicted of treason.

    Live Action TV 
  • Barney Miller had a background character who compulsively confessed to all sorts of crimes. No one ever believed him.
  • On Carter a serial killer killed seven women, including Carter's mother. When an eight woman is killed, a young Carter and his friends help the police catch the killer. The killer confesses to all the murders but never reveals what he did with the body of Carter's mother. Years later the killer is murdered in prison and someone starts playing mind games with Carter, including sending him his mother's ring. The investigation into the killings is reopened and they discover that the man only committed the last murder and it was a crime of passion. However, he loved the publicity and since he was going to prison for life anyway, he confessed to the other killings as well. The real serial killer became more careful after this and got really good at hiding his killings through Make It Look Like an Accident. When a new book came out about the killings, the serial killer finally got tired of an imposter taking credit for his work so he had the man murdered and started playing games with Carter so the real truth could come out.
  • On Castle, a woman confesses to killing a man in a hotel room. She knows details of the crime that only the killer would know but does not know why she did it. The detectives cannot find any connection between her and the victim and then find out that she was somewhere else when the crime occurred and that there are witnesses who will confirm that. Then a man comes in and confesses to the same crime. He tells pretty much the same story and the detectives discover that he also could not have done the crime. When a third person comes in to confess to the murder, the detectives don't even bother to interrogate him properly since they know by then that the memories are false. The murder victim was an actor who starred in videos used in an experimental treatment method. The people who confessed were test subjects, and as part of the treatment they were made to play out a scene where they confront the source of their problems (as represented by the actor) and kill it. When the subjects started showing disturbing side effects, the researchers drugged them and induced Easy Amnesia in order to cover up what happened. The killer knew what happened to them and deliberately staged the murder to look exactly as the fake murder in their memories.
  • One episode of CHiPs had a man who would confess to recent crimes to the point of annoyance, only to be proven innocent and turned away. It turns out to be an elaborate plot to be turned away from confessing to a crime he does commit. Unfortunately for him, Ponch is present at the crime he does commit and confirms his confession.
  • In one episode of The Closer, a man confessed to murdering a young girl. It was later discovered that the actual culprit was his 17-year old son, and he only "confessed" so he can distract the police while the son escaped to Mexico.
  • One episode of Columbo ended with a friend of the killer confessing. As the killer is dying of a brain tumor (and in fact, as a result of the tumor doesn't even remember that she's the killer), Columbo, who knows the truth, gently points out that in the hands of a good defense attorney the evidence will show that the friend didn't do it. The man agrees, but says it will probably take a good six months of so before he'll go to trial, by which time the woman will be dead.
  • A man in the CSI episode "The Descent of Man" confesses to the murder of his spiritual guru because one of their tenets is being extremely agreeable.
  • CSI: NY:
    • One episode featured the case of a man walking into a police station confessing to have murdered a doctor, carrying the revolver used to kill her as proof and sporting gunshot residue on his clothes. Turns out it was his wife that killed her. The man had a terminal illness and the couple was swindled by the doctor into spending all their money in a non-working treatment, causing the wife to kill her in a rage, leading the guy to discharge the gun someplace else to incriminate himself, seeing as he is about to die anyway.
    • Another has a man confess to a fatally hitting a girl on a bicycle so his daughter, who was really driving, wouldn't be charged because he wanted her to finish med school.
  • Death in Paradise:
    • One episode has a confession by someone that he killed the victim of the week in a drunken stupor and then when he woke up properly he disposed of the body, cleaned up, and went to get drunk. The part about disposing of the body and cleaning up the crime scene was true, but he didn't kill the victim. He only thought he had, because when you wake up in a chair after drinking heavily, with a bloody knife in your hand and someone you hate lying dead on the floor, it's a reasonable assumption to make. The real murderer had arranged it with the intent of using a false alibi to narrow the murder down to happen within a very limited period of time and then getting to the scene with a witness... but unfortunately the person to be framed had woken up from his induced alcoholic stupor before the limited time-frame was to start, and had been seen drinking at a bar at the supposed time of the murder, a fair distance from the scene of the murder.
    • Another episode had someone confess to having shot and killed the victim of the week, with it quickly being established that the victim was already dead at the time of the shooting. He did shoot the victim, but he was perfectly aware she was dead. The entire point was to establish an attempted murder to confess to to eliminate himself as a suspect for his earlier (impulsive) actual murder.
    • A third episode has, about halfway through, a wife confess she killed her husband after he'd made her fear for her life... except her testimony claimed she shot him at point-blank range (she's blind and had her other hand on him when she shot) when the ballistic report indicated he was shot in the heart from twenty feet away, with that being followed by it being confirmed he was shot by a different revolver than the one she had on hand. She'd shot him with a blank, as he'd switched out the bullets in the revolver for one when she was distracted before deliberately provoking her as part of a scheme to get her money. Unfortunately for him, he hadn't accounted for the possibility that the accomplice he'd roped into shooting him non-fatallynote  to sell the incident might hate him enough to shoot to kill instead.
  • In the Decoy episode "The Lost Ones," a teenage girl is accused of shooting her abusive father. It turns out the murder was actually committed by her older brother, and the girl decided to take the heat because for her it would only mean a few more years in the reformatory, while for him it would mean the end of his dreams of being a surgeon.
  • Defending Jacob: Leonard Patz is coerced into confessing he murdered Ben to clear Jacob.
  • In one of the final episodes of Desperate Housewives, Karen McCluskey overhears Carlos and Gabrielle talking about how Carlos killed Gabrielle's abusive stepfather. Seeing a way to repay for their help in her cancer battle, Karen confesses on the stand to killing the guy herself, using details she overheard to sell it. As it happens, the judge and D.A. don't actually believe it but know the damage is done with the jury to drop the charges on Carlos. They also know there's no point trying a woman who's dying of cancer anyway so Karen is allowed to go free.
  • On Dexter, Neil Perry confessed to being the Ice Truck Killer because he wanted to be someone important.
  • Subverted on Elementary. A man confesses to shooting dead his wife's lover but the victim was actually stabbed in the neck with a screwdriver. It briefly appears that the man might be covering for his wife but Sherlock concludes that the man is indeed telling the truth. A re-examination of the body reveals hairline fractures in the ribs, which are indicative of someone being shot in the chest while wearing a Bulletproof Vest. The husband is charged with attempted murder while the detectives investigate why the victim was wearing body armor while working in a college biology lab.
    • Played straight in "The Five Orange Pipz", in which a bereaved father claims he killed a man who rushed a dangerous toy into production that killed his son and several other children. When his story doesn't hold up to Sherlock's scrutiny, he admits that he doesn't care what happens to him anymore and confessed because he thought his ex-wife might find some peace of mind believing he'd avenged their son's death.
    • One shows up in "You Do It To Yourself", and is almost instantly spotted as such by Sherlock; "He's giving no corroborative detail. He's just rephrasing the questions he's asked in the form of statements. Mr. O'Brien, did you first attempt to construct a massive robot to kill Trent Annunzio? Yes, I first attempted to construct a massive robot to kill Trent Annunzio..." He's pretty sure the man is innocent, but snarks that his musical taste is so bad that he deserves to rot in jail.note 
  • The F.B.I.: In "Pound of Flesh", Byron Landy (Bruce Dern)—the prime suspect in a murder—suddenly confesses after first denying the charges. Erskine is suspicious because Landy gets several basic details of the crime wrong. He eventually figures out that Landy is looking to die, and doesn't care if it happens in Vietnam or in the gas chamber.
  • The Five (2016): Jakob Marosi confessed to killing Jesse. As he did kill other children, this was believed until Jesse's blood turns up at another crime scene. It's revealed he'd targeted Jesse and really did plan to murder him, but was stopped by Frank intervening. He then confessed just to screw with Jesse's family. Years later, he even led police to where he'd supposedly buried Jesse. It turns out to be a different victim of his.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Ned Stark makes one to save his daughter Sansa.
    • Tyrion subverts this twice by claiming he wishes to confess, only to launch into a "The Reason You Suck" Speech against his accusers.
  • Harrow: In "Parce Sepulto" ("Forgive the Dead"), Nichols is grilling Connor, a suspect in the murder of the week, who is protesting his innocence. Nichols then says that Connor can prove his innocence by taking a blood test. Connor agrees, but then asks how a blood test will prove his innocence. Nichols tells that the killer left cannabinoid residue on the skin of the victim, and if Connor's system is free of cannabioids, he cannot be the killer. Connor then changes his tune and immediately confesses. Nichols has him arrested, but Harrow thinks this was bit too sudden, and Nichols agrees. It turns out, the killer is actually Connor's terminally ill fiancee Rebecca, and Connor is confessing to save from going to prison.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street: When Detectives Bolander, Felton, and Howard are shot, the investigating detectives convince one suspect that he'll do better in prison as an attempted Cop Killer than as the child-killing pedophile he happens to be. Unfortunately, his attempt at confessing reveals that he's completely ignorant of how the shooting went down.
  • House had a pillar-of-the-community Patient of the Week who confessed a series of petty personal crimes to the well-wishers who gathered, and accused himself of ever-worse activities, like sleeping with a teenager or murdering his business partner. The team learn the partner committed suicide and realize he's confessing to everything under the sun essentially at random (to test it, Chase casually mentions he can't find his spare shoes, and the guy confesses immediately to having stolen them).
  • In Justice: In his backstory, Conti got a suspect to confess that he'd committed rape and murder. The man hanged himself in prison, and it turns out he was innocent. Conti has been haunted by the case ever since, and this inspired him to join the National Justice Project working for innocent prisoners so they can go free.
  • In the 1988 mini-series Jack the Ripper, Inspector Abberline is not impressed to find the local constabulary have rounded up a "Murder List": petty crooks and vagrants who get arrested every time there's a murder. The police assure him it's (mostly) voluntary as they get free soup, and one vagrant proceeds to give a Large Ham confession to having strangled the victim with his bare hands for being a filthy Roman spy for Julius Caesar! Abberline finds this Actually Pretty Funny and lets them have their soup.
  • Law & Order had several of these.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent: In "Stress Position", the Victim of the Week was a prison guard who was murdered by his shift supervisor who was worried that he might be about to spill the beans regarding the the mistreatment of the 'off-the-books' prisoners in the secure wing. He then gave enough information about the killing to make a believable confession to an ex-con he knew to be a serial confessor, and pointed Goren and Eames at the ex-con as someone who had beef with the guard. The ex-con immediately confesses when Goren and Eames confront him, but Goren gets suspicious because the man was packed up and ready to go back to prison before they arrived at his apartment.
  • In an episode of Lie to Me, a man confesses to a murder to cover for the real killer. Cal has deduced by this point that the killer is a psychopath, and rules the man out by giving him a test that proves he isn't one.
  • Life On Mars had several of these, including the factory boss confessing to what was revealed to be an accidental death because an accident would trigger safety concerns and get the factory shut down.
  • Monk:
    • Subverted on an episode where a woman repeatedly comes into the police station to confess to "crimes" such as murdering her roommate's gerbil. It turns out she was searching each of the interrogation rooms in turn trying to find a diamond that had been hidden under one of the tables.
    • Another episode has Monk investigating the murder of an immigrant cab driver and start dating a woman of the same nationality. After a crucial piece of evidence is uncovered, the woman confesses, but Monk is not entirely convinced she did it. It turns out she was covering for her mother, who recognized the cab driver as a war criminal and killed him for his crimes. The judicial system is sympathetic enough to grant the woman a reduced sentence, but just getting her arrested is enough for the daughter to break up with Monk.
  • Murder, She Wrote:
    • An early episode does this. A woman confesses to shooting her father before he fell overboard while at sea. Later, when his body washes ashore with two gunshot wounds to his chest she claims to have fabricated the story as part of a plan to help her father fake his death. The established time of death and the mismatch of the bullets in his body with her gun seems to support her claim, as does Jessica having met the man after he had been "lost" at sea. In a twist, the daughter actually had murdered her father, and was hoping that her easily disproved false confession would create the impression that she was being framed and eliminate her as a suspect.
    • Another episode has a man confess to stabbing the victim with a screwdriver, but Jessica quickly determines that the victim was already dead at the time, making the man guilty only of attempted murder. Later, however, she deduces that the confessor actually knew that the victim was already dead at the time because he had strangled him earlier, and committed and confessed to the "stabbing" murder, knowing that a coroner would figure it out, to throw off suspicion.
    • Yet another episode had most of the episode pass before a woman confesses to murdering (although she had a very good claim to self-defence) her stepfather — at which point Jessica had already noticed things that didn't quite fit with the confession. It was of the 'genuinely thinks they committed the crime' variety. She had stabbed him and he had fallen into the sea in the shock... but after she left he got out of sea, put on a jacket, got himself to a nearby house to get help, whereupon he managed to provoke his mistress living there into clubbing him on the head and using a wheelchair to roll him out to sea and dump him there to drown
  • The Murdoch Mysteries episode "The Witches of East York" featured a man, arrested for attempting to drown a self-proclaimed witch, die horribly in the cells. His daughter, who is revealed to be the witch's apprentice, proudly declares that she killed him with magic. When Murdoch expresses his disbelief, she says that she's made her confession, and if he doesn't believe it, he has to let her go. While Murdoch initially believes she killed him by more mundane means, it turns out to actually have been her mother, and she genuinely believed her spell had been effective.
  • New Tricks had a man confess to killing numerous dogs. The man has been the prime suspect in that crime for years. However, by the time of his confession the detectives had determined that he didn't do it and easily trick him into "confessing" to things that didn't happen. He just wanted publicity for his anti-animal views.
  • Night Court had an elderly woman come in and confess to the murder of her husband. It turns out he was very sick and suicided, and she didn't want him to be remembered as giving up. She's caught out when her story doesn't line up with what the detectives find at her home.
  • Noughts & Crosses: Ryan falsely confesses to bombing the hospital. While the police realize he didn't do it (the bomber was partly seen on video, and looked nothing like him) they accept it anyway to look good with the higher-ups. He did it to protect Jude, who really planted the bomb. Ryan later pleads guilty, and is sentenced to thirty years in prison.
  • One episode of NUMB3RS involved Don finding out that he arrested the wrong guy for a murder the previous year. The suspect didn't realize how weak the case against him actually was (to be fair, neither did Don), so he confessed and took a plea bargain so he'd at least have a shot at parole rather than go to trial and be locked up for life if found guilty. Don gets the conviction overturned and the innocent man released as soon as they catch the real killer.
  • The Practice:
    • Subverted. A man named William Hinks is caught at the scene of the last of a series of brutal murders of women and confesses to all nine murders, but his confession includes incorrect details the police had given the press in order to weed out nut jobs. After almost being ruled out by an FBI profiler, Hinks speaks to a psychiatrist who comes to believe he's delusional and not a killer at all. Hinks insists he's guilty while Lindsey tries to prove his innocence, and she coaxes even more false details out of him on the stand. She posits that Hinks, chasing the notoriety of a serial killer, learnt of the location of the last murder via a police scanner, headed there and waited to be caught near the scene, whereas the prosecution argues that he was forced to rush his last murder, got caught and hit upon the idea of giving the impression of being a delusional man who merely thinks he's the killer. While they're awaiting the verdict, Lindsey gets the impression that the prosecutor's version of events is true, and Hinks tells her it is. However, the jury doesn't see through it and returns a not guilty verdict on all nine counts.
    • One innocent prisoner was convicted largely after he got coerced into confessing by the police due to being held without sleep for hours. It was deemed voluntary anyway, since they didn't use physical force.
  • On The Shield, Vic realized a fellow cop is wearing a wire for Internal Affairs. Vic cleverly "confesses" to the cops listening that his reputation as a brutal corrupt cop is all an act to intimidate crooks into thinking he'll go after them.
  • An episode of The Thin Blue Line had a guy being arrested after confessing to the crime the team was investigating. When he is interrogated, he confesses to the crime...along with several others...and starting WWII...
  • In The Unusuals, a character is established in the backstory as a serial confessor. It turns out that he would falsely confess to crimes so that he could get inside the police station, where he was involved in a scheme to steal evidence.
  • This is a major part in the Lily Kane murder mystery in the first season of Veronica Mars: Disgruntled former Kane Software employee Abel Koontz confesses to the murder of Lily Kane, but in reality the Kanes agreed to pay for his daughter's future so that he would take the fall (he's dying from a disease, so he doesn't particularly care what happens to him), because they believe that their son Duncan killed Lily in an epileptic fit. Because of his confession, Sheriff Lamb ends the investigation, saying they found the killer, causing Veronica and her disgraced-Sheriff-now-PI father to investigate it themselves.
  • When They See Us: The boys are coerced into falsely confessing by the police. In spite of their confessions both contradicting each other and physical evidence, the jury still convicts them.
  • Whiplash: In "The Other Side of The Swan", it is revealed that the Governor's brother is wanted for murder in England. It is ultimately revealed that he had sent a letter to the police confessing to the crime and then fled the country to protect the woman he loved.

    Print Media 
  • Games Magazine once ran a puzzle called "Untrue Confessions", where Dr. Fred Shrynker, who worked at an insane asylum, was murdered by one of his patients. Unfortunately for you, he headed the ward for Persons Suffering from the Delusion that They Are Murderers, and eight patients have confessed. Your task was to study the scene of the crime and then determine which of the confessions isn't false.

  • Two examples in Spider's Web by Agatha Christie: Act I ends with twelve-year-old Pippa hysterically declaring that she killed her biological mother's lover. This leads to her Good Stepmother Clarissa dosing her with a sleeping draught and Taking the Heat. When Pippa awakens in Act III, it turns out she's been dabbling in witchcraft and thought she killed him with a curse. Clarissa tells her that he was killed with a blunt instrument, not magic.

    Video Games 
  • Investi-Gator: The Case of the Big Crime: Played for Laughs. In episode 2, Investi-Gator must figure out who kidnapped Grizzelda, the daughter of a rich man named Mr. Crimes. The game makes it obvious to the player that Grizzelda faked her kidnapping as part of a ploy against her father, but none of the characters realize it. In the end, Investi-Gator explains that since he found no evidence that anyone else kidnapped her, the kidnapper must be he himself. He even admits that he doesn't think he kidnapped her, but it must have been him because he can't think of anyone else.
  • This is a major plot point of no-one has to die.. Troy, the guy who claims to have killed the guards and lit the building on fire, didn't do it. He's claiming to have done it so you'll kill him. The reason? He's gone through this scenario five times, and after seeing everyone else sacrificed to save him over and over, unable to change anything, he has absolutely no will to live left.
  • In Persona 4, Mitsuo Kubo, the first major suspect for the murders, confesses to killing Mayumi Yamano, Saki Konishi and Kinshiro "King Moron" Morooka, as well as kidnapping Yukiko, Kanji and Rise. In reality, he's only guilty of killing King Moron, and confessed to the other murders for the attention.
  • Persona 5 has it for its Hello, [Insert Name Here] moment: you enter the protagonist's name by signing one while high on sodium pentothal and after a severe No-Holds-Barred Beatdown received from Dirty Cops.
  • Red Dead Redemption 2: At the end of Chapter 5, when the gang flees to Beaver Hollow to escape the encroaching Pinkertons, Dutch's lover, Molly O’Shea drunkenly confesses that she’s the one that's been feeding information on them to the authorities, resulting in Miss Grimshaw killing her with a shotgun. Unfortunately, it's eventually revealed Molly wasn't really The Mole and was just venting her rage at Dutch's seeming uncaring attitude towards her with the most hurtful thing she could think of. It ends up helping the actual mole, Micah Bell cover his tracks for even longer.
  • Yes, Your Grace: During one stage of the game, it's necessary to execute a scapegoat for a murder that has been committed to avoid losing the help of a powerful ally. If the player refuses to choose a scapegoat among the three options given, a character whose survival is necessary to get the Golden Ending will falsely confess to the murder instead.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • In the bonus case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Lana Skye confessed to stabbing a detective to death. She was arrested and put on a rather lengthy (by AA standards anyway) and complicated trial before it was eventually revealed that she was covering up for the chief of police, the real murderer, who for the last two years since the SL-9 Incident, had been using Lana as his puppet. In reality, Lana did stab the victim, however, she did so after said victim was already dead in order to fabricate a false murder weapon to throw suspicion away from the chief. She was caught in this act by a witness, making it seem like she was stabbing the victim to death. However, this is more a case of Lana having to cover for the real killer rather than wanting to. As Phoenix says: "Protecting? No. I think 'afraid of' is more like it."
    • In Trials and Tribulations, Ron DeLite, a meek and timid guy, confessed being the Gentleman Thief Mask☆DeMasque the day after his last heist, even though he didn't have the object stolen, and when Phoenix goes to visit his wife she tells him that Ron is deluded and thinks he is DeMasque. Turns out DeLite is Mask☆DeMasque, but didn't commit the crime in question. He confessed to having an alibi because, at the time of the theft, there was a murder in which he was implicated, but which he didn't commit either, and the one who did commit the murder had the same idea and had Phoenix find him as Mask☆DeMasque in court.
    • Happens in the flashback segments of Case 3 in Ace Attorney Investigations 2. After Jeff Master is accused in the murder of Isaac Dover he's subjected to an interrogation so intense it turns his afro pure white after just one day. To his credit, it takes nearly a year of this treatment to get him to give his False Confession, and even then he only confesses to (and is convicted of) being an accomplice and not the actual murderer.
    • Done in Dual Destinies as well, but this time it's not just one confession, but three of them, back-to-back. One of which is from Juniper Woods, the defendant, and the other two are from the two witnesses in the trial (as well as friends of the defendant), Hugh O'Connor and Robin Newman. It turns out that All three confessions are in fact false, and occurred one after the other in a domino effect. Robin "confessed" to save Juniper from getting convicted, causing Juniper to "confess" so her friends can't take the rap for her anymore, which in turn causes Hugh to "confess" to nullify Juniper's confession. Hugh's confession is also partly out of self-protection: Since Robin and Juniper's confessions were rather obviously out of protection for one another rather than due to their actual guilt, Hugh, the only other suspect at the time, would have seemed pretty guilty if he stayed quiet. In other words he actually confessed to make himself NOT look like the culprit.
      • Hugh O'Connor does this again the next day when it starts seeming like Juniper would be found guilty, even using Insane Troll Logic to "prove" how he could have committed the crime. It's so ridiculous that Simon Blackquill leaves the courthouse to take a walk while Athena tears it apart.
    • During the fifth case of Dual Destinies, it's revealed that Simon Blackquill did this during the UR-1 incident to try to keep the blame off of Athena, who would have been the prime suspect otherwise due to what he himself and Ponco had witnessed. Athena became a lawyer in the first place because she and Simon's sister (and a few others, like Edgeworth) were the only ones who believed that he was truly innocent.
  • Danganronpa:
    • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: The fourth case has three of these, although two are due to the individuals involved not knowing if they actually dealt a fatal blow to the victim. Yasuhiro, thinking Sakura had invited him to a meeting with the intention of killing him, panicked and hit her over the head with a heavy glass bottle, but Sakura is Made of Iron and merely fell unconscious. Yasuhiro then left a message in blood implicating Toko and fled the scene. Toko, who had been hiding in the room the whole time and saw everything, left her hiding place to get rid of the "evidence" implicating her, at which point Sakura woke up. Faced with the sight of an angry Sakura covered in blood, Toko passed out, which caused Genocide Jack to wake up, who was startled by the sight of the bloodied Sakura and smashed her with a second bottle, which again only knocked her unconscious. Ultimately, Sakura's best friend Aoi claims to have given her poison instead of the medicine she requested, but in actuality Sakura had drank the poison herself, wanting to repent and prevent anyone else from being executed; Aoi intended on having the others vote incorrectly and die for turning their backs on Sakura for being The Mole.
    • Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair:
      • The first case involves one motivated by the confessor trying to protect the true criminal... though it turns out to be far more complicated than that. Mainly, the one claiming to be responsible is involved, because they were plotting their own murder attempt that the other was trying to foil. By killing them first. They just missed the mark and hit the wrong target.
      • The second case involves one in regards to motive. Peko claims that she's the Serial-Killer Killer Sparkling Justice, and killed Mahiru for having covered up a murder in the past, so that the other students will vote for her. Though she isn't Sparkling Justice, she actually did kill Mahiru. However, since she was raised from birth to be Fuyuhiko's bodyguard/servant and conditioned to view herself as nothing more than a tool without free will, in her mind she isn't the murderer but the murder weapon, and Fuyuhiko is the real murderer since she acted on his behalf. Thus, voting for her is the wrong choice and Fuyuhiko wins the killing game and gets to go free. Neither Monokuma or Fuyuhiko accept this argument.

    Web Original 
  • During an episode of The Drunken Peasants Podcast, TJ makes a false confession to being the mastermind behind the Benghazi situation, out of desire to see the issue finally put to rest.

    Web Video 
  • In The Nostalgia Critic's review of Foodfight!, when the Critic witnesses an Uncanny Valley rendering of a mother and her child walking through the Marketropolis Market, he breaks down and confesses to a number of nonexistent crimes (including the cancellation of Firefly, the idea of turning Fred into an online series, and Cartoon Network's live-action movie push) just so that he doesn't have to look at it anymore.

    Western Animation 
  • Played with in Avatar: The Last Airbender. In an early season 2 episode, Team Avatar stumbles upon what they think is a celebration of the Avatar. It turns out that it’s an anti-Avatar event because the previous Earth Kingdom Avatar , Kyoshi, had murdered their leader. Aang stands trial in her stead only for her spirit to visit them and say that she had killed him. Aang points out that she didn’t confess to murder because she didn’t murder him, he chose to not move. Kyoshi later tells Aang that she sees no difference between killing him and letting him die because she was fully willing to kill him.
  • A variation is used in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Party of One": Pinkie Pie, suspecting her friends are hiding something from her, forces Spike to tell her exactly what she wants to hear: that they're avoiding her because they don't want to be friends anymore. In this case, it's obvious that isn't really the case, and a stressed-out Spike is just parroting back her own words to make her stop pressuring him.
  • In one Scooby-Doo episode, a bunch of toys come to life in a warehouse and nearly kill several employees. A rising star toymaker admits responsibility, and is taken into custody, but it's later revealed to be lying to make himself appear more talented.
  • In The Simpsons' "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" 2-parter, Smithers remembers stumbling drunkenly around town and shooting at someone the night of the crime. While in custody, he's exonerated by evidence that he was at home when Mr. Burns was shot. Further investigation showed he actually shot Jasper, but just in his wooden leg.
  • Happens in South Park when Mr. Mackey is investigating which of the boys crapped in the urinal, and thinks it's over when Clyde confesses. Then Clyde's parents arrive and inform him that he had a colostomy.
  • In Steven Universe, Steven takes the heat for a crime supposedly committed by his mother, feeling that he must take responsibly for her actions during the Gem War. But when questioned on how he did it, he can't reproduce the details. This leads his lawyer realizing that it's incredibly unlikely that Rose Quartz could have done it, with an on-the-fly examination of the case leading her to enthusiastically state that only a Diamond could have pulled it off... the Diamonds being the the dictators of the planet and the judges currently presiding over the case.

    Real Life 
  • A man named Robert Hubert confessed to starting the Great Fire of London in 1666 by throwing a fire bomb through a bakery window. It was shown during his trial that he was out of the country until two days after the start of the fire, that he was never near the bakery in question in any case, the bakery had no windows, and that Hubert himself was a cripple who was physically incapable of throwing a bomb. Despite all this, Hubert was found guilty and hanged for the crime.
  • Over a hundred people confessed to the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping in 1932.
    • And over five hundred confessed to committing the Black Dahlia murder in 1947.
    • Especially in high profile cases like these, it's now fairly common practice for police not to release a key detail about the crime scene or victim, so they can easily tell that a confession is false if the confessor doesn't know that detail.
  • John Mark Karr confessed to killing JonBenet Ramsey. Not only did he not do it, he had a record for being a serial confessor.
  • It's not just the whackjobs confessing: it's well documented that police can get false confessions out of people they honestly believe to be suspects by wearing them down in interrogations and/or scaring them. Despite all the times this happens, some juries, police and prosecutors still claim that innocent people wouldn't do this and express disbelief at the idea.
    • It has been shown that even if the jury knows a confession is false they are more likely to convict a person who gave a false confession, than one who did not, with the same evidence.
    • It's also been demonstrated that some interrogation tactics (such as repeatedly having the suspect go over how they would have committed the crime if they did it) can if applied with sufficient energy leave an originally rational suspect believing they really did commit the crime. Which doesn't help said suspect during a trial at all, of course.
    • Another tactic is "tainting the suspect". The suspect is "accidentally" brought into a room where a bunch of evidence is on display and left there for a few minutes before taken into the interrogation room. When the suspect is then finally brow-beaten into confessing he can mention the key detail mentioned above as "proof" he is the real thing. It's also common to feed the suspect crucial information during the interrogation that they can repeat back as if it were their own. Thankfully interrogations are often recorded now and this can be shown.
  • Lee Strobel, during his job as a reporter for The Chicago Tribune, once recalled an unusual case where a man pleaded guilty to shooting the host of a party. It was later found that the host had shot himself by accident, and the man "confessing" had done so because he found that his time being spent in jail while awaiting his trial counted as part of his sentence. If he was found guilty, he would get to go home anyway in three days. If he pleaded not guilty, but was found guilty, then his sentence could have been massively increased.
  • Sadly common in totalitarian regimes. An old Soviet joke runs like this: The CIA, the KGB and the GIGN have an argument about who is best at catching fugitives. Tired of their bickering, the Secretary-General of the United Nations sets them a task-each is given a ten square miles of forest, in which there is a white rabbit, which they must catch. Their respective efforts go like this:
    CIA: The CIA bugged the entire forest, used satellite imagery, set up a network of informants among the woodland creatures, and interviewed all plant and mineral witnesses. After six months with no leads, they concluded that the rabbit does not exist.
    GIGN: The GIGN, after a month with no leads, burned down the forest, killing everything in it. They argue that the rabbit had it coming.
    KGB: Four KGB agents walk into the forest. Ten minutes later, they emerged with a badly tortured squirrel, which is yelling "Okay, I'm a rabbit, I'm a rabbit!"
  • A visit to The Innocence Project is well worth your time. They have an entire category, linked above, for cases where false confessions were given.
  • Many false claims of responsibility by a wide range of groups pop up whenever a terrorist incident takes place, moreso if the incident itself doesn't have an immediate clear-cut perpetrator (i.e., a package left behind with a bomb in it). Here, it's generally because the nominal repugnance of whatever just happened (at least to those making such claims) is less important than getting one's particular group's name out into the public consciousness.
  • A Swedish man named Sture Bergwall (or more famously in the media, Thomas Quick) once confessed to having committed over thirty murders while incarcerated at Säter mental hospital. He would later on get convicted for eight of the murders solely on the basis of his own confessions while undergoing recovered-memory therapy. Many years later, he confessed having made it all up, partly because he did not want to leave the hospital, partly because he wanted to please his doctors and get their friendship by being an interesting patient and partly because he was "rewarded" with strong medications when he confessed. Journalists later found out that the prosecution, the police, Bergwall's doctors and even the original defense attorney had systematically withheld information from the courts showing that he lacked any detailed knowledge about the murders he confessed. The Swedish legal system ended up granting him re-trials and ultimately acquitting him on all charges, even if the prosecutor and some of the people originally involved in his case still insist on his guilt.
  • Bruno Ludke confessed to killing over fifty women in World War II Germany, but may not have committed any of the murders.
  • Henry Lee Lucas confessed to murdering over 3,000 people in the southern United States with his partner in crime Otis Toole. While it is agreed he did murder one couple, Lucas began confessing to many other murders as well (likely for better treatment, as he had been roughed up by other inmates in jail). Police began giving him more cold case files of murders, which he duly confessed to, but without showing any verifiable knowledge. In some, it was shown he was many miles away at the time, or had rock-solid alibis. Aside from this, his murder spree would have required going across thousands of miles in one month. Though convicted of 157 murders on the basis of his confessions, all but 11 would later be overturned. His death sentence for the murder of one unidentified woman was commuted (notably by George W. Bush, one of the only times he did this) and Lucas died in prison. Some investigators believe that he might have killed around 40 people along with Toole. As the latter had offered statements to corroborate Lucas's, doubt has been raised over Toole's guilt in many murders also. One murder he confessed to was that of 6-year old Adam Walsh, which inspired his father to create America's Most Wanted, but later recanted. The case was closed in 2008 with the authorities officially stating they believed Toole did it. Nonetheless, this shows the danger of false confessions, as hundreds of cases have been closed even though Lucas and Toole are likely not the real perpetrators, who are no longer even being sought.
  • An original, literal Witch Hunt is associated with these. There's almost no way to prove you're not a witch once accused, and many suspects confessed because they were tortured or suffering in jail and wanted to get it over with. This had varying outcomes; in some places a confessed witch would still be sentenced to death, but not burned alive, but in others they would only be jailed in hopes of using their testimony against other witch suspects. Salem is known for the latter approach; confessions usually named names or at least said there were more, unidentified witches, heightening the town's paranoia. Confessing at Salem would also spare your life, unlike in most such cases.


Video Example(s):


The Canister

To save Debra from the Wrath of Marie, Frank take's the Blame for the Missing Canister

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / TakingTheHeat

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