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Incriminating Indifference

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Capt. Lochner: You're told that the girl you were with last night was found in Benedict Canyon, murdered. Dumped from a moving car. What's your reaction? Shock? Horror? Sympathy? No — just petulance at being questioned. A couple of feeble jokes. You puzzle me, Mr. Steele.
Dixon Steele: Well, I grant you, the jokes could've been better, but I don't see why the rest should worry you — that is unless you plan to arrest me on lack of empathy.

Someone you love has just died in a terrible and, honestly, kind of suspicious way. Better start crying your eyes out right now.

Wait, you say you have a sense of personal dignity and prefer to mourn in private, and wouldn't dream of sullying your loved one's memory by breaking down just in time for the ten o'clock news team to catch it? Or that you're in shock and too bewildered and horrified to do anything but stare blankly? Or that you're British and would rather keep a Stiff Upper Lip at all times?

Look, you're just asking for trouble, pal. We said cry, so you'd better turn on the gushers. Because if you don't, then you're the killer! And when the case comes to trial six months later you had better still be crying, or the reporters are going to be jabbering about how you sat there "emotionless" during the "most brutal part of the testimony," which is guaranteed to make you look bad even if you aren't actually the one on trial.

This trope has been around on television so long that these days the subversion is at least as common as the trope: the "non-emotional" person at the scene makes for an excellent red herring for the first half-hour of a crime procedural, but is rarely the true killer because that would be too easy. You can expect the truly guilty person to have had the waterworks on full blast, just as expected if only to throw off suspicion.

Sadly, this trope in its unsubverted form is still commonly seen in Real Life crime, where not grieving enough in public, not being sad enough, or engaging in necessary unpleasant tasks such as checking on a spouse's life insurance too soon after the death, is seen as evidence of an evil or heartless nature, and therefore guilt.

Shares some similarities with Loners Are Freaks: failure to conform to expected social norms makes you a monster. Characters who may get into trouble include The Stoic, The Quiet One, the Emotionless Girl, and those with a Sugar-and-Ice Personality.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In a case in volume 16 of Case Closed, one of the sisters comments on the fact her brother's fiancée (who she dislikes) has barely reacted to his death, insinuating that she was a Gold Digger. Ran runs after the fiancée to give her something she'd dropped, only to find her crying about her fiancée's death alone. It turns out she is the culprit, but it's a lot more complicated than they realized.
  • Light in Death Note agonizes over whether or not it would be wise to visibly grieve when his father nearly dies. He ends up being a bit hammy, which ironically leads L to think it might be real, as it is way too corny to be a performance.
  • Shi ni Aruki: Tokiko doesn't appear to mourn at any point, which gives Detective Shuichi Yashiro reason to suspect her of planning most of the deaths that occurred over the first two volumes. However, the rest of the police precinct decides early on that she's innocent despite his skepticism, and the reader is quickly made aware that Tokiko simply lacks the capacity and mindset to even be saddened by most of these deaths, much less visibly show it for the ones that do bother her.

    Fan Works 
  • Discussed in the Animorphs fanfic Ghost in the Shell. CNN claims that Tom was a voluntary accomplice of the Yeerks, and they use footage of him looking blank-faced at Rachel'snote  funeral as evidence of this. In reality, Tom is The Stoic because he has Post-Infestation Affective Blunting Syndrome.note 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Crooked House, Charles notes that no one in Aristide Leonides' family (except his second wife) seems at all distressed by his murder. Reactions range from crocodile tears to a grudging admittance that they'll miss him, to outright admission that they hated him. As Charles notes, this makes everyone look like a viable suspect.
  • The Deadly Bees: During an inquiry into the death of his wife (by bee swarm), Mr. Hargrove displays less emotion towards his wife's death than protagonist Vicki, who was only a guest and knew them both less than a couple of weeks. This only strengthens the theory that Hargrove set his bees on his wife, whom he openly hated.note 
  • Fire in the Sky: This is the main reason why Allan Dallas was suspected of murdering Travis Walton. The fact that Travis Walton showed up five days later after having been abducted by aliens cleared Allan's name but did not stop the police from having a grudge against Allan.
  • In a Lonely Place: The police suspect the main character, Dixon Steele, for the murder of a woman who visited him on the night of her death, due to the fact that he barely reacts to the news and even makes a few sarcastic quips about it.note 
    Capt. Lochner: You're told that the girl you were with last night was found in Benedict Canyon, murdered. Dumped from a moving car. What's your reaction? Shock? Horror? Sympathy? No — just petulance at being questioned. A couple of feeble jokes. You puzzle me, Mr. Steele.
    Dixion Steele: Well, I grant you, the jokes could've been better, but I don't see why the rest should worry you — that is unless you plan to arrest me on lack of emotion.
  • The Legend of Lizzie Borden: Lizzie complains that she is suspected based on the perception that she hadn't been emotional enough about her parents' deaths. Her lawyer tries to put the best face he can on this in his closing statement, claiming that the heart that doesn't cry is the one that actually feels the most pain. (In fact, she isn't emotional about the murders because she did it and she isn't sorry.)
  • Reversal of Fortune. Claus von Bülow doesn't make his legal defense team comfortable with his aristocratic Dissonant Serenity and Gallows Humor (the former may have helped to get him initially convicted).
    Claus von Bülow: Well, so much for the first coma. The second, of course, was much more theatrical.
    Alan Dershowitz: Theatrical? What is this, a fucking game? This is life and death; your wife is lying in a coma. You, you don't even make a pretense of caring, do you?
    Claus von Bülow: 'Course I care, Alan. It's just, I don't wear my heart on my sleeve.
  • At the start of The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne is charged with the murder of his wife. Though there is other evidence that points towards him, what seems to really cinch the case is that he showed no grief, described by the judge as "an icy and remorseless" individual. The fact that his wife was killed along with her lover and that this might confuse his grieving process is never addressed. Sure enough, about two-thirds of the way through the movie, we find out that Andy really was innocent; how can he feel remorse for something he didn't do? The rest of the film makes it clear that Andy just has a calm, quiet, emotionally reserved personality.
  • In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Sherlock Holmes is able to figure out two of Moriarty's men aren't actually twins, but made to look identical through cosmetic surgery, when one of them dies in a shootout and the other doesn't even react. Identifying them as the proof of concept for Moriarty's plan to sneak an assassin into a banquet.
  • Subverted in Star Trek VI. Scotty notes that the murdered Klingon Chancellor's daughter didn't shed "one bloody tear" so she must have been the culprit. Spock points out that that in itself is not conclusive since Klingons have no tear ducts. Whether Scotty was intending for this turn of phrase be taken literally is not clear, but it's academic in the end: not only is she innocent, but the same plotters who arranged for her father to be murdered and for Kirk and McCoy to take the fall target her at the climax. Given that Klingon culture is big on showing strength, it's likely displaying grief in public isn't something they do generally as well.
  • The Thin Blue Line. Randall Dale Adams is falsely labeled as a sociopath for showing "no remorse" for the crime; his lawyer argues that he naturally wouldn't feel remorse for a crime he didn't commit. Harris, on the other hand, genuinely seems to feel no remorse for any of his crimes, as noted by even his friends.

  • Averted in Stephen King's novel The Dark Half. The protagonist is suspected of murder, and the Sheriff is so certain he's guilty by the ton of evidence that he's not noticing the protagonist's genuine reaction of surprise and shock after being told of the murder. (The murders are actually being committed by a supernatural doppelganger of the protagonist.) The two state troopers with the Sheriff finally have to pull the Sheriff aside and say that the reactions of the suspect are that of an innocent man. The Sheriff calms down enough to realize something very strange is going on, and that his first impressions may be wrong.
  • Dead End Job Mysteries: In the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue of the first book, this is what results in a "Guilty" verdict for the killer (along with all the other physical evidence against them) - they showed no emotion during the trial.
  • Discworld:
    • Lampshaded (of course) in the novel Night Watch, when Vimes realizes a little too late that not reacting at all to Coates saying he isn't the real John Keel is a dead giveaway.
    • Played straight in Maskerade, where the murderer is the Deadpan Snarker who makes insensitive but amusing quips about the deceased. It can actually be a bit surprising in a humorous novel where most characters are Deadpan Snarkers at one point or another, but Terry Pratchett has repeatedly commented in his novels how making jokes about killing people, even bad ones, is a telltale sign of twisted morals.
  • An extreme example can be found in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: no matter how well replicants can simulate feelings and hide their Lack of Empathy when submitted to the Voight-Kampff test, a minimal delay in emotional response is enough to incriminate them.
  • Invoked by Father Brown on Hercule Flambeau in "The Blue Cross". He notes that a man generally makes a small scene when he notices a discrepancy, like salt in his coffee or a bill that costs three times the original price. If a man ignores the discrepancy, he has a motive to try to pass unnoticed. In this case, Father Brown switched the sugar for salt in Flambeau's coffee and made the bill cost three times extra... and Flambeau kept quiet about both.
  • This is one of the reasons why Nick looks more and more guilty of Amy's disappearance in Gone Girl. He is quite innocent, but he is not only uncomfortable with showing his feelings but also has trouble feeling entirely sorry that Amy is gone due to how unhappy their marriage had become. Amy, who knows Nick better than anyone, was counting on those two things helping to incriminate him.
  • In I've Got You Under My Skin, one of the main reasons the police and many members of the public believed one (or more) of the four graduates were involved in Betsy's death was because of how calm and emotionless they appeared in the immediate aftermath; not even Betsy's daughter Claire appeared outwardly upset by her mother's murder. The irony is that the culprit was actually Jane Novak, who reacted very dramatically to the discovery of the body and screamed for someone to call 911, although it's later observed that her reaction seemed entirely centered on Robert, rather than Betsy.
  • Naughty: Nine Tales of Christmas Crime: In "Red Christmas," after an elf is murdered at the North Pole, suspicion quickly and correctly falls on the only elf present who is calmly continuing with his work rather than gathering around Mrs. Claus to express grief and trying to figure out what happened.
  • Invoked in the Miss Marple short story, "Tape Measure Murder": the victim's husband is a believer in the Stoic philosophy and takes pride in showing no emotion at the news of his wife's murder. Naturally, everyone else is less impressed and more suspicious about this. Miss Marple is the only one who believes him innocent because he reminds her of an uncle who was also a Stoic.
  • Inverted in the Sherlock Holmes story when a man is arrested for the murder of his father in “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”. The fact that he accepts arrest so calmly and he expected it is used as evidence by the police of his guilt. Holmes, however, points out that it simply shows he was aware of the overwhelming evidence against him and that it was futile to protest; only a guilty man would try and cause a scene.
  • Camus' The Stranger sort of messes with this. Meursault's murder trial paints him as an inhuman monster because he didn't act sad at his mother's funeral. It's a bit of a subversion, as he didn't cry because he didn't really care, and he claimed he killed the man because the sun was in his eyes, but his treatment at the trial still fits this trope. The trope is played to extremes in order to make a satirical point about racism in French-ruled Algiers. The crime Meursault's actually on trial for is murdering an Arabic man, which is noted in the book as not a serious crime - it might get him a year or so in prison. Reflecting that, he has little empathy for the man he killed. As the trial goes on, however, his lack of empathy is noted, and the jury realise that he didn't cry at his mother's funeral, and he gets the death penalty for it. His lack of socially appropriate emotions is the real crime rather than an actual murder because the society he's in doesn't care that an Arab man was killed.
  • A variation in Madeleine L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Zillah, a Native American woman, doesn't cry or scream while giving birth, due to her culture. The suspicious Puritan townspeople (who already blame her for the current drought) use this as evidence that she's a witch.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Cited on many crime shows, both fictional and real, as the reason why cops get suspicious of supposedly grieving loved ones. Inverted too—they get just as suspicious of people acting too upset, suspecting that they're putting on an act.
  • The subversion was lampshaded in an episode of Bones in which they interviewed friends of the victim at a fraternity. The frat members who knew more than they were letting on were pointed out by Dr. Sweets because they were too consistent in how sad they appeared (genuine grief varying in intensity and nature from moment to moment) which indicated that they were concentrating on appearing sad rather than actually being sad.
  • Boston Legal:
    • The victim's girlfriend didn't show any emotion when she saw her hanged, saying only "goodbye". She was considered a suspect by the main characters. It turns out she was only interested in the victim's money, but the act itself was a suicide.
    • This was part of the "evidence" against a suspected Black Widow in the first episodes of season two.
  • Leonard Nimoy does it in the Columbo movie "A Stitch in Crime" (1973). Both Nimoy and Peter Falk (Columbo) act outside their typecast personas in a scene where Nimoy's character pretends to burst into laughter over the ridiculous idea that he murdered a colleague. Columbo, unusually for him, drops his bumbling policeman act and angrily announces his intent to prove his accusation.
  • Criminal Minds:
    • Inverted when the team is investigating a series of brutal murders mimicking Native American rituals. Their first suspect is an Apache teacher/activist whom they take to the crime scene under the pretense of asking for his expert opinion. He then proceeds to analyse the grisly scene in a very detached and unemotional manner and comes to the conclusion that this wasn't done by Native Americans. Hotchner then claims his behavior proves he's innocent: a guilty person would have feigned shock and disgust, as the activist himself points out when Hotch tells him that he's not a suspect.
    • Also played straight in a later episode; a man notices that his daughters have gone missing, about a year after his wife died. Over the course of the episode, we found out that he has a split personality, and is an alcoholic. When one of his two daughters is found dead, he is immediately considered the killer due to his alcoholism causing him some serious anger issues. The other girl is later found crying in a nearby forest. As it turns out, the surviving girl displays no emotion of any kind when she returns to her empty house. J.J. feels that something is wrong and calls the other agents. J.J. finds her in the basement and realizes that the daughter killed half of her family and tried to shift the blame on her troubled dad, and the two end up pointing guns at each other. Once the others arrive, the daughter claims that J.J tried to kill her, but nobody is fooled by her act anymore.
  • CSI in general loves this trope and has played it both straight and as a red herring.
  • In a CSI: Miami episode they came down hard on the husband of the victim as despite seeming genuinely shattered he had returned to work immediately. This was because he worked in a family business and it was helping him cope with his grief but the CSI's still remarked it pointed toward him being responsible, despite his actions mirroring practically every detective and CSI on TV, including in their show, who has suffered a bereavement without the added reasoning of family being present at the work as well.
  • After Rita's murder, Dexter initially comes off as emotionally detached (particularly in his clinical police call). Quinn (who has a grudge) is alone in finding it suspicious; most of the other people at the precinct think he's just in shock, and Debra worries that he isn't allowing himself to grieve.
    • When Angel is in the hospital, the ever-watchful Sgt. Doakes accuses Dexter of this as part of his ongoing campaign to prove his suspicion that there is "something wrong" with him.
  • General Hospital. After Sonny's ex-girlfriend Brenda is hit by a car, he goes to confront his father-in-law about it. When the man has no reaction to the fact that his daughter Lily was injured as well (she sprained her wrist pulling Brenda out of the way), it confirms his suspicions that this was a hit set up by him (the man's spies must have already told him that Lily was hurt, but otherwise okay, hence his non-reaction).
  • In Home Improvement, Tim's boss and friend Mr. Binford passes away, and when he doesn't seem to be sad enough both Jill and Al get on his case about it. He doesn't see what the problem is if he doesn't get all weepy, but it then bothers him when his son seems to be learning the lesson that Men Don't Cry. For the record, Tim does eventually break down at the funeral. They also explain that the reason why Tim handles grief so well is that his dad died when he was pretty young and he knows how to cope.
  • Homicide Hunter: A cop working with Lt. Joe Kenda (the "hunter" in question) notes this as the reason why he's suspicious of a missing woman's husband—aside from the man's detached demeanor, the man hasn't followed up with the police once since reporting his wife missing several days ago—something highly unlikely for a concerned spouse.
  • Law & Order: In the episode "Good Girl", Van Buren and the detectives suspect a girl claiming self-defense of being too calm in describing the alleged assault in front of her parents. An actual victim would be far too uncomfortable to recount it, especially in front of her father.
  • Law & Order: UK: In the episode "Masquerade", prosecutor Alesha Philips becomes suspicious of the young woman they've charged with murder, who is claiming to have acted in self-defense after the victim raped her, noting that she's completely blasé about having to testify, citing that most rape victims are usually terrified at the prospect—as she herself was.
  • Discussed in Lie to Me: "Pied Piper":
    Loker: Does Lightman seem weird to you?
    Ria: Uh, well, he's rude, impatient, distant. He seems pretty normal to me.
    Loker: Yeah, but isn't that weird? He may have helped execute an innocent man, and he has no emotional reaction. Doesn't that make him a sociopath?
    Ria: Or it's just a mask.
  • On Murder, She Wrote Jessica becomes suspicious of a murdered actress's fiance because he does not seem broken up about the death and does not seem very concerned about what happens to the body. When Jessica confronts him about it, he gives her a philosophical spiel about the body being just an empty husk that does not mean anything to him. It turns out that the two were only pretending to be engaged so he would have a reason to hang around the theater where the actress worked. The man is writing a book about a famous star actress performing at the theater and the victim agreed to help him in return for him providing her with blackmail material she could use to get the role she wanted. He did not kill her.
  • In the "Rhea Reynolds" episode of Nip/Tuck, Dr. Christian Troy realizes that the titular patient is not the latest victim of the Serial Rapist/mutilator The Carver when not only does she have zero reaction to him telling her that he was a victim also, she asks about getting her lips enhanced and/or her nose fixed during the procedure to repair her (self-induced) scars.
  • One episode of NUMB3RS has Liz become suspicious when a woman wishes to stay at the FBI office after being told her husband died. This leads to them realizing he was not actually dead.
  • In Poirot's adaptation of Sad Cypress, one of the reasons why the jury was quick to declare Elinor as guilty is that she showed no remorse for the death of Mary Gerrard. Mary was loved by practically everyone, including Elinor's fiance Roddy, and Elinor is the only one who could have the motive to murder the other girl. As it turns out, Elinor did want Mary to die, but did not commit the murder.
  • The Pretender has a variation in an episode when five crooks suspected of killing a young girl (plus Jarod) wind up Locked in a Warehouse after a failed heist. One freaks out when he finds a child bed with a photograph, but another tells them to pull yourself together and points out it's not the girl in question.
  • Cameron in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has a problem convincing anyone that she didn't kill Riley due to her inability to show anything close to grieving. Well, that and the fact that she's the only one with motive.
  • In True Crime Files, a docu-series, there was an episode that dramatized the real-life murder of Sylvia "Maggie" Locascio. When police were investigating the crime scene after the discovery of her body in her Florida mansion, her son Eddie Jr. came home and was stopped by police, who became suspicious by his seeming lack of surprise upon being informed of his mother's death. It was a Red Herring: Eddie was innocent, and the real killer was a hitman hired by his father who wanted to kill her over their very messy divorce proceedings.
  • In Two and a Half Men, Evelyn's new husband Teddy dies before the wedding reception is even over. When she finds him lying dead in a bed (with his pants down and lipstick on his crotch), she picks up the phone... and calls the airline to trade her two plane tickets for a single first-class ticket. The police didn't look too fondly on that.
  • Deconstructed in Unbelievable. The teenager Marie Adler is subjected to a brutal attack by a Serial Rapist in her apartment. Afterwards, her former foster-mother Judith comes to suspect her of making a False Rape Accusation, because she doesn't see her showing any strong emotions after what happened, and her telling this to the police officers investigating Marie's case makes them come to the same conclusion. To the viewer, however, it is made quite clear that Marie's lack of reaction is because she is still in a state of shock and trauma after the rape, and is actually trying her hardest to avoid thinking about what happened. Her other foster mother Colleen points out this to Judith when they talk, noting that people react differently in individual cases.

    Video Games 
  • In Deus Ex: Mankind Divided a sidequest deals with the murder of Angela Gunn, with her ex-husband Johnny Gunn being the primary suspect due to his history as a cyborg mercenary as well as his seeming indifference towards her death. When questioned, while clearly frustrated by the accusations it's made clear that Johnny did care for Angela but doesn't show his grief openly. That and his cybernetic limbs leave no fingerprints unlike the ones left at the scene of the crime, which officially rules him out as a suspect.
  • In Lunar: The Silver Star, Lemia Ausa accuses Alex of planning to overthrow the Magic Guild and Althena with absolutely nothing to back her claim, other than to point out how his lack of response afterward is proof that he cannot deny what he knows is true. She then promptly has him locked up and sentenced to death without even giving him a trial. Turns out she was Xenobia in disguise. She knew Alex had no plans to do anything of the sort, she was just using her position to get rid of a possible threat to Ghaleon and stir up unrest in Vane.
  • In Persona 4, Naoki Konishi deals with a variation of this, as the local gossips criticize him for not seeming 'sad enough' about his sister's murder. Reversing this, he criticizes them for acting like they really care about what happened when it's pretty clear they're just more interested in gossiping about it. The climax of his social link involves helping him mourn his loss by providing a truly sympathetic ear rather than acting judgmental and high-and-mighty while offering transparently fake comfort like the gossips.
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse: During the Massacre path, Skins and Fujiwara have seemingly cottoned on to the fact that you've brainwashed Flynn to serve you and intend to destroy and recreate the universe. After slaughtering them and what remains of their army, Stephen shows up to warn you and Dagda that you will eventually face the same fate as the other gods. As it turns out, Stephen had told the humans the truth and Dagda calls him out for nonchalantly sending them off to be slaughtered at the hands of the player.

    Visual Novels 
  • The Mood Matrix in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, which visualises the emotions a witness is experiencing during a testimony, can sometimes lead to this. The first step in Pulling the Thread towards the real culprit in "Turnabout Reclaimed" is noticing that they don't exhibit surprise when recounting details of how the body was found.

  • Sleepless Domain: In Chapter 14, when Cassidy and Undine are paired for sparring during their training club, Cassidy proceeds to attack Undine, expressing suspicion that she was somehow responsible for the fate of Team Alchemical. Among the reasons she cites for this is just how quickly Undine seemed to bounce back after her teammates' death, continuing to go out on patrol and joining the Magical Girl Power Training Club "like nothing happened" less than a week later. Readers, however, know just how heavily these events have weighed on Undine and, in fact, her joining the club was primarily to get strong enough to do something about it.

    Western Animation 
  • Played with on Daria: in "The Misery Chick", when ace football star Tommy Sherman is killed when a goal post dedicated to him falls on him, at least four characters (Kevin, Britney, Mr. O'Neill, and Sandy) come to Daria asking for advice on how to cope since she is reacting to the tragedy with such relative indifference.
  • Parodied on a Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons when the family hits Flanders with their car and apparently kill him. At the funeral, Homer cautions that if they look too sad they'll draw suspicion. So they walk in with wide smiles.

    Real Life 
  • Lindy Chamberlain was wrongly accused and convicted of murdering her baby daughter, and the media made hay of the fact that she didn't act the way they thought was right. She was probably dazed or numb with grief, but to them, the fact that she wasn't bawling her eyes out made her guilty. She was eventually released... but all up, it was not one of the Australian legal system or media's proudest moments.
  • This accusation was also leveled at the McCann parents about the still-unsolved disappearance of their child Madeleine in Portugal in 2007.
  • While never accused of the crime (in fact she was one of the victims) something very close to this happened to Emma Jangestig in Sweden in 2005. Jangestig and her two small children were assaulted by Christine Schürrer, an ex-girlfriend of the children's father. Schürrer bludgeoned Jangestig and her children with a hammer, killing the children and leaving the mother in a serious condition. In the aftermath of the crimes, Jangestig was never seen crying in public and often smiled for the cameras when being interviewed, which sparked a large debate on whether she really cared about her children's deaths at all. Eventually, Jangestig wrote a book titled "Varför gråter inte Emma?" ("Why Doesn't Emma Cry?") about the murders, her recovery in the hospital, and the aftermath. As the title suggests, the book also deals with why she didn't cry in public and makes it clear that the loss of her children is the biggest tragedy of her life.
  • This trope was in full effect and immediately noted by the police officers who responded to Scott Peterson's house when he reported his wife Laci missing, who was also pregnant with his unborn child. They both noted his calm demeanor and when they went to check the garage, Peterson was more concerned with making certain they didn't scratch the paint on one of his cars than seeing if Laci had been in there. There's also the infamous picture of him laughing at a candlelight vigil for Laci, taken either before or after he called his mistress and chatted with her about how much he was enjoying the New Year's festivities in Paris.
  • Josh Powell couldn't even be bothered to act concerned about his missing wife Susan, offering the cops vague, ridiculous answers as to what could have happened to her and even saying he wanted to "wait a few days" (time is of the essence in a missing person investigation) before coming to the police station and speaking with them some more.
  • The controversial case of Amanda Knox largely revolves around this concept - Amanda's roommate Meredith was found murdered in her room, and Amanda and her boyfriend were suspected of being involved, even after another man confessed to being responsible for the killing and was convicted. Knox and her boyfriend were originally found guilty and imprisoned, then acquitted, but the Italian police still insist they are guilty. Their main reason for believing this? Knox was not seen to be truly grieving over the murder, as she was seen the day after hugging and kissing her boyfriend in public, and doing jumping jacks in the police station between interviews. Because no one who had just had a person close to them horribly killed would ever want to seek some comfort in someone they felt safe with, or gotten bored sitting around having nothing to do.
  • The DA who prosecuted Susan Smith for murdering her sons claims to have known she was guilty from the very night she was claiming they'd been kidnapped when he watched the interview they gave to the news. While her estranged husband David looked legitimately terrified, she could be seen smiling and giggling "We're going to be on TV!" She had a similar reaction when the detective questioning her asked her if the alleged carjacker had sexually assaulted her, piquing his suspicions as well. The same DA also doubted that she had any remorse for her actions as she claimed, noting that during her trial, while a tape simulating how her children drowned was played, she played Tic-Tac-Toe. Even the police sketch artist noticed this, citing how she acted hysterical when her husband David was present but was completely matter-of-fact whenever he left and while describing the alleged kidnapper.
  • The murder of Kristine Fitzhugh is an inversion. Her husband Kenneth staged the scene to look like she'd fallen on the basement stairs due to unstable shoes he said he'd warned her about. His performance in the interview room trying to sell the story was an over-the-top scenery-chewing performance (including Milking the Giant Cow) that has to be seen to be believed. Needless to say, no one believed it.
  • Lowell Lee Andrews had a completely apathetic reaction to the death of his family, telling the cop "look inside" and saying he didn't care how his family was buried. The family minister was able to get him to confess and he was later hanged for the crime.
  • This was noticed about Diane Downs from the moment she arrived at a hospital with her three children, claiming that a stranger had shot them all while trying to carjack her—she cared far more about the damage to her car and her own injury than that of her children, laughed while reenacting the crime for the police, and had the same giddy demeanor when discussing it with the media.
  • Han Tak Lee, infamously imprisoned for arson and murder after his daughter perished in a house fire, was targeted for suspicion mainly because of his emotionless demeanor when discussing his daughter's death (that and the fact that he had packed a suitcase shortly before escaping the house). He was exonerated 24 years later due to evidence that the house fire could not have been intentional. It's generally accepted that the lack of emotion was due both to cultural differences (Lee is a first-generation Korean immigrant) and Lee's general unflappability, both of which illustrate serious problems with trying to apply this trope to real life.
  • A rape victim's stoic demeanor, along with some minor inconsistencies in her story, caused her account to be disbelieved by police, and even charged with false reporting. Years later, they learned that she not only told the truth, but there were many other victims of the same man who attacked her.
  • This was noted by everyone—friends, neighbors, police, the media—about Christopher Watts regarding his missing pregnant wife Shanann and their daughters, despite his attempts to act as if he was concerned.
  • A cop questioning Jussie Smollett about the racist/homophobic attack he'd suffered noted that he was completely nonchalant about the noose that had been placed around his neck, something that would have repulsed and horrified any black person. Sure enough, evidence soon surfaced that he'd staged the whole thing.
  • Lori Vallow making idle chit-chat with neighbors and police when they show up after her brother Alex Cox called 911 to report that he had shot and killed her husband in "self-defense" in her house, who was nonchalant while nursing a head wound that was way too minor to have been inflicted by the baseball bat he claimed Charles Vallow tried to kill him, then going on to host a pool party at that same house that very night. Incredibly, it didn't set off alarm bells with local police closing the case and not investigating either Lori or Alex any further. Lori would later move from Arizona to Idaho with her kids J.J. and Tylee to be close to her new (married) boyfriend Chad Daybell, whom she had met the previous year. As soon as she did, both J.J. and Tylee disappeared, and she once again didn't seem too bothered by it, neglecting to inform police and even telling numerous people that she had never had any children or that they had died years ago. Chad's wife suddenly died in her sleep just a month later, and both Lori and Chad would then move to Hawaii and get married two weeks after that, still apparently not caring about the missing kids. They were both finally arrested a few months laternote , and an investigation of Chad Daybell's Idaho home revealed the remains of both J.J. and Tylee.
  • The media had a field day with Casey Anthony's apparent lack of interest in finding out what happened to her missing daughter Caylee. The fact she didn't report the disappearance for a month and her feeble attempts at her claims of "investigating" didn't help her in the long run either.
  • While Angharad Williamson was awaiting trial for her part in the murder of her son Logan Mwangi, her cellmate, who would later testify at her trial, noticed that she didn't seem at all upset about her son's death; on the contrary, she had proudly bragged that her son was "the boy who was murdered and thrown in the river" and had watched reality shows while smiling and laughing, only to start melodramatically wailing whenever a prison officer came to check on her.
  • One aspect of the controversial case of Darlie Routier, on death row for stabbing her two sons to death, was a video played at trial of Routier at the funeral laughing and spraying Silly String over her son's grave. The prosecution claimed the video was this trope, but family members pointed out that it was a posthumous celebration of his seventh birthday and the jury wasn't shown an earlier video of a solemn ceremony honouring the children. This has led some of her defenders to say that she was "convicted by the Silly String", although there was other evidence against her.
  • Inverted in the case of Gerard Baden-Clay, who was so eager to appear concerned about his missing wife Allison that he called the police long before she had been missing long enough to justify it, which made police suspicious.
  • When author Helen Bailey went missing, her partner Ian Stewart called the police to report her missing. Not only did he seem surprisingly unconcerned given that she'd been missing for four days, but he also took another phone call while in the middle of reporting the disappearance. Sure enough, he turned out to have killed her and dumped her body in a septic tank. After his conviction, he was charged with the murder of his first wife, who he'd strangled and claimed she'd died of an epileptic fit, with the evidence in that case including testimony from paramedics that he'd stood around completely calm while they were trying to save his wife and hadn't bothered to perform CPR when a 999 dispatcher told him to.
  • Thomas Randolph, the "Black Widower", aroused suspicion while re-enacting the murder of his sixth wife, who had been shot by a burglar who was then shot by Randolph, when he stopped his dramatic re-enactment to go off on a tangent about how his wife always left her shoes lying around for people to trip over. It is now believed that he hired the burglar to kill his wife before shooting him to cover it up, and that he murdered three of his previous wives.
  • The Bluebeard Lowell Amos was placed under surveillance after the highly suspicious death of his third wife and was observed by undercover police officers going on a thousand-dollar spending spree and having a threesome a mere two days after his wife's death, only deepening their suspicions.
  • Luke Mitchell didn't seem at all worried when his girlfriend Jodi Jones went missing in June 2003 and the reason he gave for not being concerned varied depending on who he was talking to. When he later found her body while out helping her family look for her (doing so suspiciously quickly given that he'd only just arrived on the scene), he barely registered any emotion, whereas her family became hysterical and broke down in tears. He would go on to be found guilty of her murder.
  • When Jeffrey MacDonald's wife and two daughters were beaten and stabbed to death, MacDonald did initially appear concerned, screaming and crying when he was removed from the house and remaining steadfast in his efforts to convince the police to find the woman he claimed had committed the murder. However, his stepfather-in-law Alfred Kassab became suspicious of him after seeing his casual, dismissive demeanour in a TV interview about the murders and when MacDonald refused to let him see the transcript of an evidentiary hearing where evidence that implicated him was discussed. When MacDonald's case went before a grand jury, he didn't help himself with his sarcastic responses to questioning, dismissal of Kassab's attempts to find his daughter's killer as "bizarre" (even focusing more on how much it irritated him than on the fact that his family were murdered) and admission that he had made no effort to investigate the case himself despite publicly vowing to do so. A psychiatrist also testified that when asked about his family MacDonald would cry for a few moments then stop and answer the question like nothing had happened.
  • Chris Dawson played the grieving husband after murdering his wife Lyn in 1982 but didn't do a very good job: not only did he fail to report her missing until she'd been missing for six days, but a mere two days after her disappearance he moved his teenage lover into their house, gave her Lyn's clothing and jewellery to wear and had all his wife's possessions thrown out. Amazingly, police still believed him and he wouldn't be arrested until 2018. During the interim multiple coronial inquests were held into the possibility that Lyn had been murdered and Chris didn't bother showing up to any of them, which further heightened the perception of his guilt.
  • Mary Elizabeth Wilson, an English Black Widow known as the "Merry Widow of Windy Nook", aroused suspicion partly due to the frequency with which her husbands died (all four married her and died within four years of each other, with one dying only twelve days after the marriage) and partly due to her rather cavalier attitude towards their deaths: she constantly joked about her husbands dying, including commenting at her fourth wedding that the leftovers would still be fresh in time for the funeral, and at one point requested a discount from the local undertaker as a reward for bringing him so much business. She also aroused much suspicion by not bothering to attend her fourth husband's funeral.

Alternative Title(s): Spock Did It