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Finally Found the Body

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When Never Found the Body is subverted—after a long time. It can be an emotional scene, as friends and family can finally take their loved one to a final resting place. (This can also be used to settle any Wild Mass Guessing that claims that the character may have survived after all.)

This is, sadly, often Truth in Television, and may prove Legally Dead true.

A variation can be proof of their fate—for example, a burial record or finding a possession in a manner that strongly suggests the person is dead. If the body a character finds is their own, it's Discovering Your Own Dead Body. May lead to an Identifying the Body scene.

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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 

    Fan Fic 

    Film 
  • Vertical Limit: The old climber's wife is found, along with evidence that one of her fellow climbers had caused her death to save himself.
  • Carnival of Souls: The Reveal that Mary was Dead All Along. She appears to escape after her car crashes into a river, only to have a series of bizarre and frightening experiences. At the end, the authorities pull her car out of the river and find Mary inside, drowned.
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    Folklore 
  • In the old Italian(?) story "Ginevra", the title character's body is found in a trunk, years after she vanished while playing hide-and-seek on the eve of her wedding... she'd accidentally locked herself in.

    Literature 
  • In Blackwater, Brodie thinks Otis might be the one sending him notes pressuring him to tell the truth about how Pauline died, but then Otis' body is found at the bottom of the river.
  • Mundo Cani's skeleton is found underneath the earth in The Book of Sorrows, some time after his Heroic Sacrifice in The Book of the Dun Cow.
  • Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey revolves around the disappearance of Patrick Ashby, who left a suicide note but his body was not found. The body turns up near the end of the novel, many years later.
  • In the British series Case Histories, the detective is charged with finding a girl who disappeared thirty years ago. He finds her in her neighbor's garden.
  • In Final Watch, Anton believes that Kostya's body has never been found after the events of Twilight Watch. Geser proves him wrong.
  • In Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, it's Frank Bennet's truck that's finally found, giving evidence to the cause of his disappearance. When the Cafe is being bulldozed, a skull with a glass eye is found in the garden. Guess what Frank's left eye was made of...
  • Used very poignantly in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (the original novel), where a group of Paris sewer cleaners stumble upon the long-rotted remains of Quasimodo and Esmeralda. Together.
  • In I Heard That Song Before, Susan Althorp is widely believed to be dead, but her disappearance officially remains a cold case as no body had been found. Her body eventually turns up buried on the edge of the Carrington estate, twenty-two years after she went missing and still wearing the dress she was last seen wearing. This doesn't bode well for Peter Carrington, who has long been suspected of killing her the night she went missing.
  • Zig Zagged Trope on The Lovely Bones for a very Bittersweet Ending: Susie's long-rotten-to-the-bones body and the safe it was locked in are finally found when the sinkhole it was thrown in opens again, but the novel ends without them having been identified and the people who found them lament the fact that the deceased was clearly a little girl. Susie, at least, doesn't mind anymore.
  • In the Pretty Little Liars series, Alison's body is found buried behind her house long, long after she goes missing.
  • In The Raven Cycle, Blue and Gansey discover Noah is dead after they stumble across his body in the woods, seven years after he went missing.
  • Happens twice in the Sano Ichiro series:
    • In The Fire Kimono, the victim was thought to have been killed in a massive fire that ravaged Edo, but his body is found decades later under a tree toppled by a windstorm. Rather than being burned, there were signs he had been killed with a sword, starting Sano's investigation.
    • In The Incense Game, the bodies of three women are found sealed in the remains of a house that was destroyed by a massive earthquake. It is thought they died in the quake until someone goes into the room and is sickened by the tainted incense lingering there that actually killed them.
  • In Agatha Christie novel Sleeping Murder, Helen Halliday has been missing for 18 years, but two letters after her disappearance seem to indicate that she left town alive. Miss Marple finally figures out where Helen really is: resting quietly under the bushes behind the house where she was last seen.
  • Troubled Blood: The central mystery involves detectives Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott investigating the mysterious disappearance of Dr. Margot Bamborough in 1974, 39 years ago. They eventually find her, crammed inside an ottoman which was then filled with concrete to cover the smell.
  • In An Unkindness of Ghosts, everyone assumed Aster Grey's mother Lune crawled into some hiding spot where no one would find her and cut her own throat. In fact, she was poisoned by siluminium while repairing a dent in the hull, a task she knew would be fatal, so that others would have a chance of reaching Earth. Aster finds her skeleton in the shuttle twenty-five years later.
  • Experimental Film: Over a hundred years ago, the mentally disabled child Hyatt Whitcomb ran away from his bedroom and vanished. Some years later, his mother Iris Dunlopp Whitcomb disappeared from a train compartment. Both were killed by Lady Midday. After Lady Midday's attack on Ursulines Studio, their skeletons are found near the front of the room. DNA testing confirms their identity.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In a 1970 episode of the soap All My Children, a teen named Bobby Martin goes up in his family's attic to wax his skis. The actor was then abruptly fired and so Bobby was never seen again. Years later, the show lampshaded this by having a character go into the same attic and find a skeleton with a pair of skis, wearing a ski hat with "Bobby" on it—a comedic example of a Bus Crash.
  • In an episode of Angel, the young man who resided in Cordelia Chase's apartment years earlier is discovered behind an added wall, having been bricked in alive by his angry mother.
  • In new Battlestar Galactica, Starbuck comes back from the dead and finds her own body. She and the deeply religious Cylon Leoben are completely freaked out by it. He actually takes off.
  • Bones: Fifteen years after Brennan's parents disappeared (when she was 15), the body of her mother is found. The show's premise is essentially based on this trope as the victims are either skeletal or physically unidentifiable remains by the time they're found by the team of forensic anthropologists.
  • On Castle, an up-and-coming mobster disappeared in the 70s. He was presumed murdered by his rivals but without a body, the investigation quickly went cold. Forty years later, a building is demolished and the mobster's body is found encased in cement inside one of the support pillars.
  • Very often the break in the case on Cold Case Files.
  • And on the fictional version, Cold Case, for the episodes where it was a missing persons case that went cold, rather than a murder case—although we the audience have already seen the victim's body at the beginning of the episode and know that he/she is dead. In a few episodes, there was no case until the body was discovered because, for some reason or another, no one even reported the person missing.
  • CSI:
    • An episode has a woman lose her daughter, son, and husband in a car accident. The son ends up being in a box in her attic. The daughter and husband turn up too, but they ended up being alive, at least until the wife killed the husband in a fit of crazy.
    • In another episode, a corpse found inside a house's chimney leads to the discovery of another corpse matching a young woman who disappeared a year earlier. Her father had stolen the first corpse from a morgue and stuffed it in the chimney since he was sure the house's owner was the culprit and by planting the corpse, the house would be investigated more thoroughly than the first time and his daughter's body found.
  • In Diagnosis: Murder, this is the fate of Mark Sloan's father in the episode "Sins of the Father." Mark had always thought he had run out on the family. He had actually been sealed in a tomb while investigating a case.
  • In the Forever episode "The Night In Question", Henry finally finds the body of his missing wife Abigail.
  • After Harold is kidnapped by Root in Person of Interest, John and Carter chase a lead, thinking they've finally found Root, and investigate Hanna Frey's disappearance from a Texas small town 15 years earlier. The girl in question turns out to be Root's childhood friend and they end up finding her body under the patio of the man who killed her, whose death Root had orchestrated years before.
  • In the pilot of Pretty Little Liars, not Alison's body is found buried in her old backyard after she's been missing for a year. When Ali turns up alive, the body is properly identified as Bethany Young, a mental hospital patient who escaped and disappeared the same night Ali vanished.
  • In Season 6 of Spooks, Zaf is shot in the gut and then kidnapped by mercenaries. Although he was declared dead, there was no confirmation, and some characters still held out hope that they'd find him. The Season 6 finale reveals via photos that Zaf was tortured to death and horribly mutilated.

    Video Game 
  • In Ace Attorney Investigations 2, Yutaka Kazami takes Paul Holic's body and hides it inside a sculpture so it isn't found during the investigation. It's only found 18 years later when Tsukasa Oyashiki buys back the mansion that the murder took place in.
  • In the first Broken Sword game, the long-missing remains of several children are found in the well of a Spanish villa, after having been told to hide until their father returned, during an attack on the villa. The father never made it back.
  • Seen in the first and second Enigmatis mystery games. The detective comes across the bodies of many people who have disappeared over the past thirty years. Only some are identified in-game.
  • How the Rachel Amber subplot in Life Is Strange ends. It drives Chloe into a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.

    Webcomics 
  • In Drowtales it took 45 chapters and 30 years of in-universe time, but they finally found the body of Val'Sharess Diva'ratrika who was coldly left by her own daughters to die of starvation in her throne room by sealing the doors shut with rubble. This discovery is also the final nail in the coffin (so to speak) of the deception campaign her daughters had been running since her death to convince everyone she was still alive, up to and including using a Body Double for public appearances.
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    Web Original 
  • Referenced in Lust over Pendle when Draco is escaping Malfoy Manor while it's under attack from the Ministry. The Bride is a family ghost who, legend has it, is supposed to have been a Muggle who married into the family, only to vanish during the wedding celebrations after everyone had gotten snowed in and someone decided it'd be a good idea to play a game of hide-and-seek. Her body was found several years later, locked in a trunk. The Bride, by the way, guards one of the alternate escape routes - the one Draco ends up having to use - and demands a password from Draco before she'll let him past. He figures out the right one.
  • Used in Marble Hornets when Beardy is killed and then taken by The Operator in Entry #49. It isn't until Entry #65 that Tim stumbles across his body while in an Eldritch Location. Despite the passage of time (almost 2 years), the body shows no sign of decay. However, Tim is forced to leave the Eldritch Location before he can do anything about the body.

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of The Venture Bros. begins with several members of Team Venture being abducted by an old classmate of Dr. Venture, who had faked his own death to capture them at his funeral, as revenge for a decades-old slight. After being eventually thwarted and decapitated, the classmate's robotic body double is revealed, with his real corpse instead found moldering inside a coffin elsewhere in his house.
  • Used brutally in Steven Universe when Garnet finds out, after thousands of years, that the shards of her fallen comrades from the Gem Rebellion have been forcibly fused together in experiments to create The Cluster, a forced fusion of millions of shards incubating in the Earth that will destroy the Earth when it emerges. Garnet assumes that this fate was Homeworld's punishment for defying them. It's implied that the survived Crystal Gems had been looking for shattered gems in the millennia since the war ended to find their missing comrades, as Garnet angrily states the clusters were made from "all the ones we couldn't find".

    Real Life 
  • Happened twice with the Romanov family. First, the bodies of most of the family and several of their household staff were discovered in one grave in the 1980s (though not made public until 1991), over half a century after they were killed, but not all the bodies were accounted for: Tsarevich Alexei and one of his sisters (either Maria or Anastasia, depending on who you ask) were not among those buried in that grave. Then, in 2007, a second burial site containing the remaining two bodies was found. Once the DNA testing was complete, the ninety-year-long mystery of Did Anastasia Survive? was finally put to rest for good.
  • There was a news story about a woman who found the body of her son, who had hanged himself in the basement years earlier. Nobody had happened to have gone into that room since then. They had thought he ran away from home.
  • In Calgary, a car was pulled from a lake. A bystander told the police of a woman who had disappeared in the area many years earlier. The car's license plates were checked, and the woman's disappearance was solved.
  • Similarly, the body of Carole Pappas, wife of baseball player Milt Pappas, was finally found in 1987, five years after her disappearance—inside her car, in a pond only a short distance from her home.
    • Many missing persons cases have been resolved like this. This is a very common occurrence—people driving into lakes, rivers, etc., because they've gotten lost and/or disoriented, disappearing off the face of the earth, leaving their grieving friends and family utterly bewildered as to what happened to them, only to be found even decades later, finally answering their loved ones' questions and giving them some measure of peace.
  • The Franklin Expedition into the arctic vanished in the 1840s, and Lady Franklin made many petitions to the governments of the major powers to go looking for it. She even became an expert in the arctic herself and outfitted several missions to find her husband or any trace of his fate. While they didn't recover the body itself, the searchers found a record of his burial along with a grim hint that the expedition ended in disaster.
    • In 2014, they found one of the ships, identified as the Erebus. 2 years later, the other ship, the Terror, was found.
  • The body of mountain climber George Mallory was found in 1999, 75 years after his disappearance at Mount Everest. It is assumed he was descending from the summit when he had died. The body of his companion, Andrew Irvine, has not yet been found. It is highly possible they actually had been the first to climb to Mount Everest, before Tenzing and Hillary.
  • Many of the "Updates" on Unsolved Mysteries dealing with mysterious disappearances were like this, with the victim's remains being found. The families of the victims will often consider this at least a partial Bittersweet Ending since they at least have closure.
    • For example, in January 1993, young mother Bonnie Haim abruptly disappeared. Suspicion immediately fell on her husband Michael, who was known to be abusive and who she had been planning to leave. Ironically, this suspicion came from his family, not hers, who believed that she had willfully abandoned her husband and 3-year old son. Unfortunately, with no evidence to suggest foul play, the case went cold. 22 years later, construction workers doing excavation in the backyard of the home that the Haim family had shared found skeletal remains that were identified as Bonnie's. At long last, her husband has been charged with her murder.
    • Another story about two friends who inexplicably vanished while on their way to meet other friends at a local bar was found to be one of the "Trapped in a Sinking Car" type stories cited above, after years of speculation that the two had either met with foul play or had run off together.
  • A community member of Rooster Teeth, known to the masses as David "Knuckles Dawson" Dreger, deleted all of his accounts and went missing for a month while leaving his phone and wallet at home. His body was found a month later, after a dedicated effort to bring him home by fans and Rooster Teeth employees alike.
  • From 1972 through 2005, 18 people vanished during The Troubles in Northern Ireland and are believed to have been abducted and killed by Republicans. The remains of all but 3 of "The Disappeared", as they came to be known, have been discovered thanks to the efforts of law enforcement, 2-40 years after they went missing.
  • A recent New York Times article focusing on a detective determined to find the identity of 8 of Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy's unknown victims, cited this phenomenon. While he has only been able to identify one of Gacy's victims, the DNA and dental records sent to him by hundreds of people desperate to find out what happened to their missing loved ones have been matched to numerous cold cases around the country. As such, unidentified remains finally have a name to them.
  • The United States Army Mortuary Affairs service are an entire organization dedicated to the retrieval, identification, transportation, and burial of deceased American and American-allied military personnel. They have offices in many counties where American military personnel fought and died and once a body is identified it is returned to the United States for burial with full honors months, years, or even decades after the soldier in question died.
  • One of the stranger and more extreme examples of this is that of Pia Farrenkopf. Despite coming from a large family, she was a loner who was often out of contact with them or with friends for years at a time, whether due to traveling for work or simply being reclusive. Although she owed money for various reasons and had resigned from her job of 23 years, she otherwise had a large amount of money in her savings account, had all of her bills set up for automatic payment online, had arrangements with neighbors to take care of the lawn and snow shoveling, and regularly refused mail. Other than abandoning her pets so they were claimed by the state and having received a traffic citation for driving with an expired license and no proof of insurance, she otherwise seemed to have pulled one of her usual disappearing acts. It wasn't until 2014 when her account finally ran out of money, her Pontiac, Michigan house was foreclosed, and the bank sent people to check out the property that the discovery was made—her body, mummified from being sealed in the cold for so long, was found frozen in the back seat of her vehicle in the garage, surrounded by unopened mail, an empty wine bottle with no fingerprints, and cigarette packages. Thanks to the condition of the body, the autopsy could not determine cause of death, but it was concluded she had been there for at least five years. The key was in the ignition but the gas tank was still mostly full, ruling out suicide, and while it is possible she had a medical condition, nothing could be proven. The extremely messy and mold-covered nature of her home, unlike her usual neat-freak self, has made some members of her family believe she was hiding in fear of her life from someone and had been murdered. But with no further evidence, the case has remained unsolved.
  • In October 1989, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted while riding his bike home from a local store. 27 years later, a man who had been the prime suspect for some time led police to his remains.
  • In January of 2006, police broke into what they thought was an unoccupied bedsit in London to repossess it after the rent had gone delinquent for too long—only to make the disturbing discovery of a mostly skeletal body lying on the sofa, the TV on and a pile of unopened Christmas presents around it. It turned out to be the body of a woman named Joyce Carol Vincent who, apparently escaping domestic abuse of some sort, had been assigned the apartment only to die there around December of 2003. No one discovered her for all that time because the window was open thus allowing the smell of rotting flesh to escape (which had been confused for the smell of the waste bins below) and did not allow a direct view inside, drug addicts in the area often broke in and caused noise (thus explaining the TV sounds), the rent was partly covered by benefits agencies so that she was still assumed alive and no one investigated until the half not paid added up significantly, and Vincent had cut herself off from all of her family and friends. Her cause of death could not be unequivocally determined; the coroner believed it to either be due to her asthma or a peptic ulcer she had suffered not long before which had put her in the hospital. Others who knew her were not so sure, as it was claimed that at a different point in time before the discovery, the open window had been closed with the curtain trapped in it...
  • Leona Marie Tollett Johnson vanished in 2004. Her remains were discovered in a septic tank on July 26, 2017.
  • In 1969, a young woman named Reyna Marroquin vanished after a frightened phone call to a friend. 30 years later, a man found her remains stuffed in a barrel hidden in the crawl space of the home he had just purchased. It turned out that the previous owner, Howard Elkins, had been Ms. Marroquin's employer and lover and killed her after she became pregnant and called his wife and told her about the affair. He'd intended to dump the barrel in the ocean, but couldn't lift it, resulting in him stashing it in his garage. Elkins killed himself shortly after the police arrived at his house to question him. This case was profiled in an episode of Forensic Files.
  • In 1966, a young woman named Louise Pietrewicz vanished. Suspicion fell on her estranged husband and her married lover, police officer William Boken, but both died before they could be prosecuted. In March 2018, the basement of Boken's home was excavated and the remains of Ms. Pietrewicz were finally found, 52 years later, finally giving closure to her daughter who was only 11 when her mother vanished.
  • In 2008, Arthur Ream led police to the body of Cindy Zarzycki, who had vanished in 1986. Only now has he confessed to being a Serial Killer and admitted that the bodies of as many of six other girls who disappeared roughly 30-50 years ago note  could be buried in that area.
  • Philip Taylor Kramer, a computer engineer and one-time bassist for Iron Butterfly, went missing on February 12, 1995. In May of 1999, a pair of photographers searching for old car wrecks found his skeletal remains in the wreckage of his minivan. The cause of death is officially listed as a suicide.
  • Jonelle Renee Matthews disappeared from her home on December 20, 1984. Her remains were found at a pipeline site on July 23, 2019.
  • Scott Dunn went missing in May 1991. His ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend were convicted of his murder based on evidence found in Dunn's apartment. His remains were eventually found buried near the apartment complex in 2012.
  • Philibert Aspairt was the doorkeeper of Val-de-Grâce hospital in 1793. He ventured into the Catacombs of Paris, presumably to get wine from the cave of Carthusians's monastery (under the Jardin du Luxembourg). He got lost, and his body was only discovered in 1804, 11 years later, in a restricted area of the catacombs.
  • In 2015 Gloria Gladue from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada went missing and her remains only found in 2018 hundreds of miles away in rural Manitoba. Sadly, across Canada and the US Indigenous women have a higher rate of going missing and percentage of female homicide victims.
  • Nearly 15 years after Christine Wilson vanished from a casino parking lot, her remains were found in the backyard of the man convicted of her murder (security camera footage and forensic evidence found in his car was enough to determine that a crime had taken place).
  • A variation can occur when a body is found but is not identified right away, as the lack of identification means that from the point of view of anyone trying to figure out what happened to that person, it's the same as if they Never Found the Body at all; for those people, matching their loved one to an unknown body is in essence finding that person's body, with the only difference being that the body was technically accounted for the entire time. In recent years, DNA technology and the communication potential of the internet have helped investigators identify bodies that had gone unnamed for decades: in 2015, for instance, investigators were finally able to identify the victim of a 1979 homicide as Tammy Alexander and a fatality from a 1995 car accident as Jason Callahan.

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