A Fresh Clue is a piece of evidence that reveals someone was at this location recently. This can range from just moments before to a few days ago. Once the evidence is found by someone, they can then deduce that whoever left it there must be nearby.
Warmth in any form is a big giveaway, and so is smoke - from a cigarette, a stamped-out campfire, or a gun.
Compare Signature Item Clue, which is about who was here instead of when they were here, although the two can overlap. Also compare Follow the Chaos. In Real Life, this is sometimes called "tracking and trailing".
- When the trio of Sid, Manfred and Diego arrive at the human camp in Ice Age, Diego remarks upon a piece of kindling: "It's still green. They broke camp less than two hours ago."
- In Megamind, Megamind and Roxanne go into Metroman's hideout and find a glass of water with ice in it, which is proof that someone was there recently. Sure enough, they turn around to find Metroman still living there.
- Raiders of the Lost Ark. At the beginning of the movie Indiana is leading an archaeological expedition in the Peruvian jungle. They find a dart and one of the bearers, Satipo, tastes the tip and determines how close the local indigenous tribe is.
- In Young Frankenstein, when the main trio follow mysterious violin music into a secret room, they find a cigar smoldering in an ashtray.
- In Beethoven's 2nd, as the family is tracking their pet dogs, they happen to find some dog poo that likely belongs to one of the dogs. To find out when they left it there, the daughter sticks a finger in it to feel if it's still warm. It is.
- In the film version of No Country for Old Men, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is investigating Llewelyn Moss' trailer and notices condensation on a bottle of milk. The killer they're tracking had left the milk there less than an hour ago. Unfortunately, this doesn't really help them find the killer now.
Ed Tom Bell: Now that's aggravatin'.
Ed Tom Bell: [points to a bottle of milk] Still sweatin'.
Wendell: Whoa, Sheriff! We just missed him! We gotta circulate this! On Radio!
Ed Tom Bell: Alright. What do we circulate? "Lookin' for a man who has recently drunk milk?"
- The Peacemaker: Colonel Devoe realizes their bomber just left because the breakfast eggs are still warm. In fact, the bomber went down one elevator just as his team was going up the other.
- In The Last Boy Scout, this is how Joe Hallenbeck figures out that his wife is cheating on him:
"Oh, that's right. Sometimes you forget I'm a detective. See, there's all this steam in the shower like somebody was just in there. Only your hair's dry. So it must be somebody else we're talkin' about. A male somebody, because the toilet seat's up. Since he's not under the bed I figure you must have stuck him in the closet when you heard my key hit the lock a day early. So... who's the guy in the closet?"
- Inverted in an Encyclopedia Brown story. EC deduces that the perp had not just just pulled up after a hours-long drive (as he claims) because a baby sits on the car hood and doesn't get burned; therefore the car must have been sitting there long enough to cool down. Played straight in some other cases, as when a perp offers him apple cider that has supposedly been sitting in an unused shed for months — the cider is still unfermented, which tells him the shed has been used recently.
- In The Three Investigators story "The Secret of Phantom Lake" Jupiter Jones likewise realizes that the perp hadn't just pulled up and tried to help because his car hood is cold and the ground underneath it is dry. (They're in the middle of a downpour.) This proves that the perp had been there for quite some time digging up a Buried Treasure.
- Prince Humperdinck in The Princess Bride is an expert tracker, and manages to correctly interpret Wesley's adventures while rescuing Buttercup.
Iocane. I'd bet my life on it. And there are the princess's footprints. She is alive, or was an hour ago. If she is otherwise when I find her, I shall be very put out.
- In the fourth Protector of the Small book of Tortall Universe, Kel and her soldiers are able to tell how close they are to the Scanrans they're pursuing by the freshness of the horse manure they leave.
- Used magically in Circle of Magic book Shatterglass. The more lightning in Keth's blown glass, the closer they are to the time of murder (unfortunately, that also means they can't see the location, murderer, or victim until it's too late). Dema, Tris, and Niko also have a significant amount of trouble talking the religious bureaucracy into letting them look for fresh clues before a site is magically cleansed of all evidence.
- A children's book called The Good Spy's Guidebook included a section on Tracking and Trailing. A practice picture in the book asks you to decide which track out of three your quarry recently took. The correct path has three obvious clues.
- Invoked in "Suitable For Framing", an episode of Columbo. The killer puts an electric blanket over the body in an alibi trick, so that the body would still be warm when the police arrives.
- The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "Where is Everybody?". A man finds himself all alone in a deserted town with a case of amnesia. While he's exploring a police station he finds a lit cigar smoldering in an ashtray. When he looks in a cell he finds a sink with the water running and shaving equipment (including a brush with wet shaving cream) sitting around. All of this is evidence that someone was there not too long ago. The Twist Ending is that he's actually in a hallucination caused by isolation. Watch it here.
- A couple times on The X-Files, a still-burning Morley cigarette left on the ground or in an office ashtray indicates that the Cigarette-Smoking Man has been there recently. Since he's The Chessmaster who's far from careless, he most likely deliberately left these there.
- In the very last shot of the last scene of the last episode of Now and Again, the government goons sent after Michael Wiseman and his family get there just in time to see the breakfast still on the table and the back door swaying.
- In the Elementary episode "Snow Angels" a Federal Reserve cash processing facility is robbed during a blizzard. When they find the tracks left by the robbers' vehicle, Sherlock is not only able to determine how long ago they were there from the fact that they can still see the tracks when it's snowing two inches an hour, but what kind of vehicle they were driving.
- In one episode of New Tricks, an "Old-School" detective states he knew someone was a suspect when he saw that a cat was sleeping on the still-warm hood of their car, disproving their account of not having driven it. Subverted when it turns out that was just bullshit he made up to justify his hunch, and that all the team knew that was a widely used justification in The Met during the 70s.
- In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Phage", when the team is tracking the Vidiians that stole Neelix's lungs, Janeway's tricorder detects a heat signature indicating that a humanoid life form was in the room within the last few minutes.
- Whenever Ian Edgerton shows up on NUMB3RS, he does two things: track the bad guys using Fresh Clues, and kill them from afar when necessary. In his first appearance, he establishes his credentials by finding a sandwich and identifying it as being less than a few hours old.
Ian: He didn't finish his PB&J. The ants haven't found it yet.
- Dungeons & Dragons module CM1 Test of the Warlords, adventure "The Ruins of Alinor". The PCs find a cave filled with the bodies of dead giants and wolves and a fire with venison cooking over it. From the condition of the bodies and the roasting meat, the PCs can deduce that the attack occurred within the last half hour and that the perpetrators are probably nearby.
- Call of Cthulhu supplement, Terror Australis adventure "Old Fella that Bunyip". The Investigators may stumble upon the scene of one of the Bunyip's attacks. They find a picnic site with signs of a struggle and a tea kettle of water heating over a fire. The kettle is still whistling, which means they arrived minutes after the attack.
- A popular myth about the disappearance of Mary Celeste is that when she was discovered, there were cups of tea on a table, still steaming hot.
- In the third Jack French game, there are some still-smoking cigarettes in the ashtray when Jack gets to a crime scene. This is used to show that the murderer was there minutes ago, and provides a clue to his identity - Vince, the police officer who alerted you about the murder.
- Guards from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion will sometimes say "the body's still warm... The murderer cannot be far away." They will do this even when they are the one who killed the victim, or when you killed him in front of them.
- In A Story About My Uncle, when you find the last abandoned campsite of Uncle Fred, the narrator points out that the fire is still smoldering and he can feel the distinct smell of Fred's aftershave.
- Mass Effect 2: After finding a few dead animals with bullet wounds in Jack's Loyalty Mission, this is how you find out the abandoned Cerberus facility isn't abandoned...
Jack: That's a fresh kill. Who the fuck shot that varren?