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Inconveniently Vanishing Exonerating Evidence

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A character is attacked and uses a weapon to kill his attacker in self-defence, but his attacker's weapon disappears by the time the police arrive at the scene. Perhaps the weapon just happens to fall somewhere inaccessible, but sometimes one of the attacker's accomplices steals it or maybe one of the officers just sticks it in his pocket and walks away. Either way, the character has no way to prove that his attacker was armed and that his actions were in retaliation, so he finds himself charged with murder.

A variation involves a murderer killing someone, then stealing (or otherwise disposing of) a weapon belonging to the person they are looking to frame, so that they cannot prove their weapon was not the one used in the crime.

A Sister Trope to Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon, Inconveniently Vanishing Exonerating Evidence provides another means for having a character accused of murder.

Can overlap with This Was His True Form if the hero is unable to convince the authorities that someone was a rampaging beast when he killed him.

Compare/contrast Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!. Also compare It Was Here, I Swear!, when an entire location disappears by the time the authorities arrive.


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    Comic Books 
  • In Batman Eternal, Jim Gordon shoots and kills one of Professor Pyg's henchmen who he sees pointing a gun at him. However, Gordon's shots cause a train wreck in which people die. When no gun is found on the henchman's body, Gordon is sent to prison. It is later discovered that Gordon was framed by the Big Bad using Mind Control technology on him to cause him to see a gun when the henchman was unarmed.
  • In Jon Sable, Freelance #20, Jon gets caught up in a liquor store robbery. He pulls his back-up derringer and chases the robber. A rookie cop sees Jon with a gun and fires (without first identifying himself as a police officer). He unloads his weapon and Jon goes down, with chest wounds. His partner turns up with the store clerk, who yells that he shot the man who was chasing the robber. The partner tells him to call an ambulance and goes to work on Jon. The rookie returns and says its coming and that Sable had a gun. The partner yells "Where is it?" We see a bystander pocket the derringer.
  • Nonlethal variation in one Rantanplan story: A cavalry officer has left his grandson Douglas in the care of the prison's warden, but he ran off with the circus along with Rantanplan. In order to keep the colonel from investigating, the warden forges letters from Douglas that claim he's still in the prison. When both the circus and the colonel end up in the prison at the same time, the colonel demands to know about the letters he wrote, which of course Douglas knows nothing about. The warden quickly sweeps the fake letters off his desk where they're eaten by Rantanplan in the few seconds the colonel has his back turned. Having a bit of a breakdown, the colonel leaves.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In After the Thin Man, the murderer throws away the gun of someone he wants to frame. (As with the example below from The Shawshank Redemption, testing the gun would prove the suspect's innocence.)
  • Inverted in Blade: Trinity, where Blade is tricked into killing a familiar instead of a vampire so that the body doesn't disintegrate in the sunlight.
  • The plot of Blue Steel is set off by the main villain stealing the gun of a robber the protagonist shoots, getting her suspended since there's no evidence he was armed.
  • In Con Air, Poe is attacked outside a bar by a drunk with a knife and kills him. One of the drunk's friends grabs the knife before the police show up. This results in Poe being sent to the Super Max which starts the plot.
  • Exit 0: Billy finds a videotape of a murder that happened in his hotel room. He puts it in his dresser drawer and tries to show it to the police, but it's gone when he tries to bring it out. He later finds it, in the dresser srawer where he left it. But when Detective Mueller plays it at the police station, all the tape shows is static.
  • In Fallen, the cop Hobbes is hunting a demonic serial killer, and gets provoked into shooting the demon's latest possessee in broad daylight. He knows no one will believe him if he tries to claim demonic possession was involved—but he can claim self-defense since the man was pointing a gun at him, right? Nope, it turns out the gun was loaded with blanks, and the demon just possesses a bystander and testifies that Hobbes shot the man with no provocation.
  • A self-inflicted version occurs in Hangman's Knot when Psycho Party Member Rolph Bainter shoots and kills the Confederate officer who betrayed them, but who was also the only one who could have testified that they were acting under orders and did not know the war was over when they massacred the pay train and stole the gold shipment.
  • Variation in The Shawshank Redemption. Andy was planning on killing his wife and her lover, but decided against it and threw his gun into a river. The wife and lover were subsequently murdered by someone else, and Andy can't use ballistic evidence to prove he didn't commit the murder because his gun is missing.
    D.A.: You claim you threw your gun into the Royal River before the murders took place. That's rather convenient.
    Andy: It's the truth.
    D.A.: You recall Lt. Mincher's testimony? He and his men dragged that river for three days and nary a gun was found. So no comparison can be made between your gun and the bullets taken from the bloodstained corpses of the victims. That's also rather convenient, isn't it, Mr. Dufresne?
    Andy: Since I am innocent of this crime, sir, I find it decidedly inconvenient the gun was never found.

  • In one of the Artemis Fowl books where Commander Root has a belt full of explosives locked on him and supposedly the only way to disarm it is to shoot a tiny corner of the attached screen displaying the villain's face. Holly Short shoots the screen to save Root, but the villain was lying and it explodes anyway. To the security cameras surrounding them, the belt and screen were invisible, so it looks like she shot the commander to death.
  • Different Seasons: Unfortunately for Andy in Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, he threw his gun in the river the day before the murders, so the cops can't check it against the bullets.
  • In Horns, the DNA evidence from Merrin's body which would have cleared Ig of her murder is destroyed when the building where it is being stored burned down. When Ig's horns start compelling people to confess truths to him, his father confesses that he got a friend to destroy the evidence on the assumption that Ig was guilty.
  • Mercy Thompson: In Iron Kissed, Gray Lord Nemane intended to take all of the fae items that had been stolen by Tim Milanovich, including a mind-warping goblet that the thief had tricked Mercy into drinking from. However, Honey stands up to Nemane, pointing out that they need to keep the goblet as evidence of Mercy's innocence — without it, the surveillance videos make it appear as though Mercy randomly decided to murder Tim after having "sex", when in reality he had raped her. After Adam and Samuel chime in, Nemane decides to avoid this trope, allowing them to keep the goblet until Mercy is cleared of all charges.
  • A Murder of Quality: Subverted with the murder weapon, which gets discovered by the police despite the killer discarding it in a ditch four miles away from the crime scene. Naturally, this complicates the killer's attempt to frame another as the culprit, as their intended target was constantly supervised during the period that it was dropped off.
  • Sherlock Holmes: In "The Problem of Thor Bridge", a woman commits suicide using an elaborate method that disposes of the weapon, having already planted evidence that will frame the woman she considered a rival.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A larger scale version twice to The A-Team.
    • The team were ordered by their commanding officer Morrison to rob the bank of Hanoi as part of a secret mission, but was then killed in an artillery strike and since the mission wasn't public knowledge the only people who knew the Team weren't just bank robbers were the Team themselves.
    • The second was when it was revealed that Morrison had been a traitor and had sent them in to be ambushed and killed, which gave them a motive for Morrison's death. The witness who could prove that they weren't responsible ends up being killed by his criminal partners before the truth could come out.
  • On The Closer, Sgt Gabriel returns fire on a fleeing murderer but the gun isn't found and it appears he's shot an unarmed man. Brenda realizes that the shooter, the man's partner in the original murder, had been standing right by him and disappeared in the darkness after Gabriel returned fire.
  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation:
    • In the episode "Who Shot Sherlock", it's set up to make it look like the victim did this by attaching a gun to a piece of surgical tubing. It turns out the killer did this to make it look like a suicide set up to look like a murder. In the same episode, Sanders mentions that the families of suicides will often hide the gun to avoid the stigma.
    • One of the many fallouts in the two-parter "A Bullet Runs Through" comes from the cops apparently shooting an unarmed suspect; it turns out that the cop turned around and saw him with a gun just as he was moving to throw it, meaning it was thrown on a roof as he was shot.
    • In the episode "Homebodies" a man attempts to disguise his suicide as murder by tying balloons to the gun so it floated away. The same trick was attempted in Real Life, as well.
  • One episode of Dragnet has an unintentional example when an off-duty Joe Friday is shot at by a teenager attempting to rob a vending machine. Joe returns fire and fatally wounds the suspect, but then has trouble proving the other guy shot first when the crime scene investigators can't find the corresponding bullet. It hit a shelf at just the right angle for the shelf to cover the bullet hole. If one of the lab techs hadn't been an OCD case and wondered about an out-of-place "pencil mark" under the shelf, Friday would have gone down for murder.
    Bill Gannon: Nothing's ever easy for you, is it, Joe?
  • In the first part of an Early Edition two-parter, Gary is arrested for murder and tells a cop that his gloves will prove he didn't shoot the victim by the absence of powder on them. The last shot before "to be continued" shows a pair of hands pulling gloves out of an evidence bag, putting them on and firing a few shots with them...
  • In one episode of Falling Skies, Anthony is put on duty guarding an Overlord that the 2nd Mass has taken prisoner. While watching the Overlord, he sees it pull out a small device that looks like a bomb, and opens fire, killing the Overlord. When the others arrive, the device has vanished, and they all assume that Anthony, who hasn't been in the best emotional shape recently, snapped and killed the Overlord in cold blood, and thus he is ordered to hand over his gun. This precipitates him making a Faceā€“Heel Turn and joining Pope's revolt against the 2nd Mass.
  • Frontier Circus: In "Quick Shuffle", Ben catches a crooked dealer cheating him in a poker game. The dealer pulls a derringer and Ben shoots him. Another gambler kicks the derringer under a cupboard to get Ben arrested so he can use a doctored IOU to claim ownership of the circus.
  • One episode of Hill Street Blues has a rookie police officer shoot an armed suspect in an alley. When his veteran partner asks where the suspect's gun is, the rookie can't locate it. Not wanting his young partner to get railroaded by Internal Affairs, the senior officer produces a second firearm, puts the suspect's fingerprints on it, then announces that he "found" the perp's weapon. Later the suspect's actual weapon is found and both officers are put under investigation under suspicion of planting false evidence.
  • The Littlest Hobo: The goal of Hobo's companion in the two-parter "Manhunt," who killed a man in self-defense... but the weapon that he was attacked with is missing, and without it he faces a murder charge.
  • In Magic City, Judi Silver's confession that would blame someone besides Ike Evans is burned by Jack Klein.
  • In the Person of Interest episode "Zero Day", the Dirty Cop organization "HR" tries to assassinate Detective Carter, but Carter proves quicker on the trigger than the shooter. HR member Detective Terney improvises, pocketing the shooter's gun to make it look like Carter shot an unarmed man and getting her demoted by the premiere of the next season.
  • Recht Op Recht: Happens to Chris' client from the episode "Dode Rambo". He killed someone in self-defense, but is arrested (and nearly tried) for murder, because the attacker weapon disappeared out of the blue. It eventually turns out that one of the attacker's allies hid the knife to frame Chris' client (and save his own skin).
  • In Santa Barbara, after Kelly kills Dylan in self defense, the tape showing the incident ends up in Gina's hands, who uses it to deliver a Scarpia Ultimatum to C.C.
  • One episode of Space Precinct has the cops accused of shooting down a criminal's car during a chase. The witnesses have been hypnotized into claiming it was unprovoked, and a robot who recorded everything is broken down.
  • A heroic example in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Covenant". Faced with an aerospace billionaire who means to blow the whistle on the stargate program, the SGC has their Asgard friend Thor beam the evidence right out of his office building so he can't prove anything he said, discrediting him.

  • Hamilton: "I'm burning the memories, I'm burning the letters that might have redeemed you."

    Video Games 
  • At the beginning of Assassin's Creed II, the Auditore family is charged with treason and arrested. Ezio, the only man in the family to not get caught in the initial sweep, quickly acquires some documents that would exonerate them, but unfortunately, the court official he delivers them to is part of the conspiracy that framed his family, so the evidence disappears before the trial and Ezio's father and brothers are all hanged.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, an investigation into an old case, DL-6, which seems to have a connection with the final case of the game, reveals that the incredibly intimidating enemy prosecutor, Manfred Von Karma, may have arranged for the crime to be committed thanks to his involvement in DL-6. That's when Von Karma happens to show up. You show him the incriminating evidence, and he happens to misplace the 50,000 volt taser he happened to be holding... right into your gut. And when you come to, he happens to have lost said incriminating evidence, with the exception of one crummy bullet. Whoops!

    Western Animation 
  • On The Gary Coleman Show, any physical evidence that Andy LeBeau has of his tempter/tormentor, Hornswoggle, is doomed. That said, since his supervisor, Angelica, is carrying an Idiot Ball the size of creation itself, even HD film might not help.