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Interrogating the Dead

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Nina Sharp: How long has he been dead?
Orderly: Five hours.
Nina Sharp: Question him.
Fringe, "Pilot"

Death. The End. Once you're down for the count, you aren't getting back up. There's no way you can tell the police or other law enforcement agencies who dunnit to you. Fortunately, the authorities have advanced technology, or in fantasy settings, necromancers or Police Psychics at their disposal that can either revive or channel you or scan your post-mortem mind in order to gather information. So just lie back on that slab and start talking.

Eye Remember is a subtrope based on a folk belief that the last thing a person sees when dying is burned or imprinted onto the eyes themselves.

Sometimes overlaps with Dead Person Conversation, I See Dead People, and Ghost Memory. Compare Fate Worse than Death, when the interrogation is more about torturing the dead.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd: After people die, some mental traces still linger for a while, so Psi-Judges often probe the minds of corpses to investigate the circumstances of their deaths. Judge Anderson is even introduced using this on the charred skeleton of Judge Death (though in that case it isn't so much "dead", but "left for better digs").
  • Kid Eternity: Kid Eternity sometimes used his power to summon anyone from the afterlife to assist him just to ask questions to deceased people he was convinced would have information that would help him in his present adventure, often to solve disputes that were related to the demise of whoever he summoned. On some occasions, he'd even get someone framed of committing murder acquitted by interviewing the victim for evidence that could be used to identify the real murderer as well as prove the accused's innocence.
  • A common use of nekomancy in Monstress, and the Sword of the East has six children who survived the battle of Constantine killed so their ghosts can be more reliably interrogated.
  • The Sandman (1989):
    • Arc "A Game of You": Thessaly the witch, having disposed of her More than Meets the Eye neighbour George for trying to kill her, promptly brings his spirit back, by cutting his face off and nailing it to the wall, in order to find out who sent him.
    • She later interrogates the recently deceased Wilknison as well. Mercifully, it's much less violent, likely because he's an aspect of a dream world.
    • In "The Kindly Ones" arc, the second Corinthian is able to witness the memories of those whose eyes he eats.
  • The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Chromedome reveals that he has this ability, turning his fingers into needles and sticking them through the dead targets' eyes, seeing what they saw in their last moments.
    Chromedome: Ratchet, could you put his brain back in his head? With corpses, I prefer to go through the eye sockets.
    Drift: I cannot begin to tell you what's wrong with that sentence.

    Films — Animated 
  • Sinestro does this in Green Lantern: First Flight, reanimating Kanjar Ro (whom he killed in the first place) to question him on the location of the Yellow Element.
    Kanjar Ro: Where...
    Sinestro: You're in the morgue. You're dead.
    Kanjar Ro: Dead?
    Sinestro: I killed you. I'm reconnecting synapses for some information. This shouldn't take long.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The 6th Day, the mind scan used to imprint clones with their donors memories also works on corpses for a few hours after death. As well as imprinting clones, the recordings can also be reviewed via computer, seeing through the eyes of the donor.
  • In Dark Star, dead and cryogenically frozen Commander Powell can still be asked for advice.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves features the heroes using a "Speak With Dead" spell on the graves of a Barbarian Tribe to ask what they know about the whereabouts of the Helm of Disjunction. Like in the game, it briefly reanimates a corpse to ask exactly five questions before they die again for real, but the party learns the hard way that any question, including rhetorical ones and questions amongst themselves count (and more inconveniently for the corpses, they have to be asked no less than five lest they be left hanging). They end up taking a while to dig up several corpses to find what they're looking for.
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: Breaker stabs two needles in the sides of a dead assailant's head, claiming that he can scan the mind for about three minutes after death. The guy is eaten by nanomachines before he can reveal anything more than a single image.
  • Hellboy (2004): Hellboy digs up the corpse Ivan and reanimates him to have a guide in the Russian cemetary.
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army: Dr. Krauss uses the gas he's made of to briefly reanimate one of the Tooth Fairies for interrogation.
  • The Princess Bride: Miracle Max uses a bellows to allow a mostly dead Westley to reveal that his motivation for living is "true love".
  • Rashomon: A shinto priestess allows the victim to speak through her by magic and give his version of the murder. Not that his account is any more reliable than any of the others'.

  • In the Babylon 5 Expanded Universe novels, Technomages have developed a technique to extract memories from dead brains with nanotechnology. It's not pretty.
  • In Baccano!, Ladd laments the fact that he can't do this to a dead comrade.
  • Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard: The only reason the Alliance maintains any contact with the uplifted elephants of Barsk is that they're the only sophonts in the galaxy that know how to make koph, a drug that rare people called "Speakers" can use to call up the particles of the dead and converse with them.
  • In Beka Cooper, the titular character has a minor magical affinity for spirits. Usually the dead quickly pass into the Peaceful Realms, but those with Unfinished Business are carried by pigeons until that business has resolved or enough time passes that they just slip into the afterlife anyway. Beka can simply listen to them in the first book and they're rarely aware of her or their circumstances, but in the second and third they half-possess the birds they're riding and can have actual conversations with her. The mage she meets in the third book, Farmer Cape, can use magic to listen and participate in these conversations, as well as to talk to people already in the Peaceful Realms - though he does note that due to how the afterlife works, the longer they've been dead the less they remember. Farmer is grateful that when he learned and tried to speak to his late father, it was early enough that his father's spirit remembered his son even if he couldn't remember his name.
  • Black Badge: Black Badges can "Divine" a recently deceased person's body to experience the last thirty seconds of their life, including all the pain. It happens automatically with just a touch, one of the reasons Crowley wears gloves.
  • In Camera Obscura, the Doctor's current nemesis, Sabbath, has one of the villains of the week killed, only later realizing that the whereabouts of the extremely destructive broken time machine he and the Doctor are both trying locate died with him. The Doctor then provokes Sabbath's henchwoman into fatally stabbing him in order to travel to the realm of the dead to speak with the man, in a scene reminiscent of Inanna's journey to the Underworld.
  • Discworld:
    • Played for laughs in the story "Theatre of Cruelty", in which it's mentioned that the existence of zombies mean that the victims are sometimes the key witnesses in their own murder.
    • Also played straight-ish (as straight as any trope on the Disc can be played, anyways) in Making Money, where a dead professor from the Unseen University is brought back to consult on an ancient civilization.
  • The first chapter of Greg Egan's Distress features police with a technology that briefly brings back people from the dead, which is used to aid in solving murders.
  • There are various ways to do this in The Dresden Files, most of them against strictly-enforced rules. Rules enforced with pointy objects and angry wizards. Molly does one of the legitimate ones, on what turned out to be the victim of a succubus. Awkwardness ensued for the watchers. Most of those other ways tend to involve Necromancy, and invite Wardens to come and behead people.
  • Eisenhorn: In Xenos, Inquisitor Eisenhorn and Commodus Voke attempt to interrogate the high level psyker they kill. The psyker turns the interrogation into a portal to the warp, sending multiple daemons to attack the gathered Inquisitors.
  • In the world of The Goblin Emperor, some clergy of Ulis have the ability to do this, termed Witnessing for the Dead in-universe. The discoveries of Witnesses are legally admissible, and any social stigma against the practice comes from divine magic being considered unfashionable and superstitious in some circles rather than any negative connotations of necromancy.
  • A specialty of the Lan Sect in Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation: Mo Dao Zu Shi. Members are taught a musical language they can then infuse with spiritual power, allowing spirits to answer in the same language. If the questioner is strong enough, they can compel the spirit to only speak the truth. Wei Wuxian also uses a technique called Empathy (it's unclear whether he invented, refined, or merely prefers the technique) that is far more dangerous but also far more comprehensive, allowing him to experience the spirit's memories.
  • Heretics of Dune: An Ixian Probe can scan the mind of a recently dead person. Taking the drug "shere" will prevent a probe from working long enough for the brain cells to die and become unreadable.
  • Johannes Cabal: The titular Necromancer can call up spirits or reanimate corpses long enough to make them answer his questions. He uses this for Mundane Utility in Johannes Cabal the Detective, to the dismay of his traveling companion.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: Strange calls up the ghosts of some enemy soldiers in the Napoleonic War for questioning. As they can now only speak in the Ghostly Wails of Hell, it's not particularly useful.
  • Journeyman Wizard by Mary Frances Zambrano has the heroes perform a Questing (the magical version of this), only to bring back the deceased's vengeful ghost instead.
  • Late in The Malloreon, the heroes bring in a Dal Necromancer (in the older meaning of the word) to force a post-mortem confession out of a minor villain.
  • Necroscope: Harry Keogh can converse with murder victims due to his clairvoyance. There are also various vampire necromancers that bind souls to corpses so they can torture the truth out of them.
  • In the Nightside series, Walker gets pretty sick and tired of people reminiscing about the time he invoked this trope, using his Voice to question a dead body.
  • Ravnica Cycle: In his first case, Agrus Kos and his partner stumble upon the site of a massacre. Noting the ghosts of the victims hovering overhead, Kos tries to interrogate one as a witness to its own murder, with mixed results due to the ghost's confused mental state.
  • The so-called "mechanical educators" in E. E. "Doc" Smith's Skylark Series can be used to read dead minds, as long as they're relatively intact and haven't been dead for more than a few hours.
  • Speaking with the Dead by Elaine Cunningham (Realms of Mystery anthology), as one can guess, is about this with a "little" twist.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Standard police procedure in Altered Carbon due to everyone having a cortical stack that stores their memories and can be loaded into a new body or virtual reality. However, Neo-Catholics can't legally be "spun up" due to religious objections, which has led to the underworld using them as Disposable Sex Workers and even faking official conversions sometimes.
  • Charmed (1998):
    • One episode features an evil spirit that possesses one of the sisters after killing its previous host. The demon who was pursuing the spirit finds the previous host's body later in the episode and uses his powers to momentarily resurrect said host in order to learn the identity of the spirit's new host. Once he has the desired information, the dead previous host is unceremoniously re-killed.
      Host: [notices the knife sticking out of his chest] How am I still alive?
      Demon: Not still. Again. That's my specialty, along with this. [rekills host]
    • Another episode involves Phoebe trying to convince a room of jurors that a magician didn't kill his wife and that he only knew where to find the body and the weapon was due to a premonition. The jurors grow increasingly skeptical, so what does Phoebe do? Cast a spell to summon the dead wife.
  • Fringe:
    • Walter Bishop has developed a technique to extract information from a corpse, provided the body has been dead for less than five hours. It is implied that William Bell is capable of doing this as well.
    • Fringe likes this trope. As well as providing the page quote, they have used the aforementioned technology to interrogate two people, sent the protagonist into a dreamstate to interrogate the mental ghost of her partner formed after a telepathic conversation, and used the "the eyes store the last thing you see" version.
  • Miles on Lost can detect a dead person's last thought and determine how the person died, as long as he is near the body.
  • In MADtv (1995) there is a skit that parodies CSI. The victim, who was clearly murdered by the knife sticking out of his back, is straddled by the lead investigator, grabbed by his collar, and shaken while the lead investigator says, "HOW DID YOU DIE?"
  • In Monty Python's Flying Circus, "the late Arthur Aldridge" is brought into court to testify from his coffin.
  • Motherland: Fort Salem: A spell is capable of making the recently dead speak and relate their last moments. This is used to get intel or find information about how someone died. The necromancers do this to Porter, to see if he truly committed suicide. The Spree interfere with the ritual to protect Scylla, who actually killed him.
  • Pushing Daisies: Ned can revive the dead by touching them once. Touching them a second time kills them again. He uses this to glean information from murder victims to help the team start their investigation.
  • Salem: Tituba calls up William Hooke's soul by necromancy to find out John Alden's secret, channeling it through his dead face.
  • Stargate Atlantis: In the series finale "Enemy at the Gate", the Wraith leader of the Hiveship attacking Earth revives the fallen Ronan so he can question him about the infiltrators on his ship. This gives his friends the opportunity to rescue him.
  • Torchwood occasionally has the Torchwood team use a gauntlet that can revive the dead for about a minute to aid the investigation. It's a piece of Imported Alien Phlebotinum they acquired before the series begins and they don't have the first clue how it actually works. It also ended up kicking off the whole plot of the pilot episode: Torchwood operative Susie Costello had a pet theory that it held the key to immortality, and was attempting to learn more about it... which, unfortunately, required a steady supply of fresh corpses. You can see where this is going, can't you?

    Mythology and Folklore 
  • In the Poetic Edda, Odin goes down to Hel and raises a long-dead witch to ask her about Baldr's dreams of his impending death.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ars Magica: The spell "Whispers Through the Black Gate" is cast on a humanoid corpse to converse with its spirit, though it doesn't compel cooperation or truthfulness.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has the third-level clerical spell Speak with Dead. Although it actually draws information from an "imprint" left on the body rather than truly bringing them back to life. It allows you to ask one question of the dead person per two caster levels (up to 10 for a max-level cleric). One drawback to Speak With Dead is that it requires the corpse to have a mostly intact mouth; Genre Savvy killers with enough time can defeat attempts to use by removing or destroying, say, the victim's jawbone. Another drawback is that it only works once, ever. So you'd better be careful what you ask, and hope that the killer wasn't a mage that cast the spell themselves to prevent your attempt.
  • Exalted has several ways of doing this; most of them involving summoning up ghosts. One notable thaumaturgic ritual requires you to remove the flesh from the skull, use bronze wire to fix the jaw in place and ritualistically make out with it for a few minutes before you can interrogate it.
  • Ironclaw has a necromancy spell for when you simply want to talk to a corpse. Though, it has the same unique Critical Failure condition as every other spell in the school so there's a small chance of the stiff jumping up and attempting to strangle you.
  • Magic: The Gathering: In the backstory of the Innistrad block, Liliana Vess comes to the plane seeking the demon Griselbrand to kill him and to reclaim the portion of her soul she sold to him. She soon learns that the last remaining person who knew Griselbrand's whereabouts is dead. This would be a dead-end for most people, but Liliana happens to be a necromancer...
  • New World of Darkness:
    • Geist: The Sin-Eaters: All the Bound can interact with ghosts as one of their Powers via Possession, and they can learn more advanced applications, like summoning ghosts from The Underworld or compelling their cooperation.
    • A high-level Wayward creed power in Hunter: The Reckoning allows them to do this by looking into the eyes of the deceased, although if the deceased in question happened to be misinformed about something, they'll pass that misinformation on, thinking it to be the truth. The Wayward isn't automatically aware of whether the deceased is right or wrong, so double-checking may be required.
    • Mage: The Awakening:
      • Mages with basic knowledge of the Death arcanum can divine a corpse's cause of death and interact with earthbound ghosts. More advanced spells can compel obedience, and masters can call up ghosts from The Underworld for questioning.
      • If a dead mage created a Soul Stone in life, another mage can use it to summon their shade and demand up to three services. Common choices include magical tutelage, skill training, and information.
  • Warhammer 40,000: A little-used power of the Space Marines is that they can consume a creature's brain to experience its memories.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Priests of the God of the Dead Morr can invoke a departed spirit and compel it to answer a few questions truthfully, though Morr strictly regulates the power. Wizards with the Lore of Death have more limited spells to that effect, but the dead are free to ignore or lie to them.
  • Wereravens in Werewolf: The Apocalypse have the unique ability to absorb the last sight of the dead by eating their eyeballs. Among other uses, it lets them find out what killed the poor sap. Allegedly, this is an acquired taste.

    Video Games 
  • In Arcanum, you can summon spirits of dead people. Some will have side-quest-relevant info, but most will only complain about the pain (which, as you discover later, is main-plot-relevant!).
  • Baldur's Gate III: The Speak with Dead spell which works on most humanoid corpses, to varying degrees of usefulness. Sometimes it's just fluff and Easter Eggs, other times it's another way to learn information that you accidentally lost somehow, and sometimes there's unique information that you can only glean from talking to the recently deceased (for example Auntie Ethel's hideous real plan for Mayrina's daughter).
  • The Constantine (2005) video game has a mission in which John uses necromancy to learn about the final moments of a murdered angel.
  • A variation in Custom Robo for the Gamecube. Marcia, your mostly stoic female team member, has the ability to 'half dive,' that is, read another person's control cube and see the last thing they saw from the viewpoint of their machine. Somewhat akin to watching a person's last saved replay. This is helpful in that it lets her identify the suspect when a man is found murdered after a match: the problem is no one is prepared for the murderer to be an apparently-autonomous robot.
  • A subplot in Diablo III involves you contacting a the spirit of a long-dead mage for information. But he refuses to answer your questions unless you help bring him back to life.
  • Divinity: Original Sin II: As Godwoken, the player character is one of the few who can see and interact with spirits. Some willingly share information to help lay them to rest; others need to be compelled to share their memories in a battle of wills.
  • This is fairly routine in Fallen London, since Death Is Cheap for the entire city barring a few causes of death. You just wait for the victim to come back to life.
  • Icewind Dale II: The party ends up assisting a Necromancer in interrogating a dead goblin, gaining information about an incoming attack. Unfortunately, you're always just too slow to do any good with the information.
  • Ronan sometimes interrogates dead people in Murdered: Soul Suspect though it's not as helpful as one would expect because death is kind of traumatic and the victims remember as much as a normal person would, which is not much. In a nice twist, Ronan can do this because he is also dead.
  • In Shadowrun Returns, interrogating the spirits of murder victims is a routine procedure for the police. Although the dead do have hazy memories, they often offer unique insight that living investigators usually miss.
  • Pillars of Eternity: All Watchers can do it.
  • Trouble in Terrorist Town has gathering information from corpses as a major part of its gameplay and the main way to find out who's the traitor. They provide the living innocents who died, what weapon was used to kill them, how long since they died, the last person they saw, what their last words were, and anybody they killed.
  • In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Yennefer uses necromancy to temporarily revive and interrogate a young Skelligan man in an effort to track down Ciri. It's an unpleasant experience for everyone involved and even Yen seems a bit disgusted with herself afterwards.
  • There's a scene in Zork Nemesis where you have to cut the head off a corpse, then mount it on a machine so you can ask it questions.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney often deconstructs the nature of this trope as even the dead might not know (or may not be willing to tell) the circumnstances behind their death:
    • As explained in the first game, in the DL-6 incident, being a Locked Room Mystery, the police decided to ask the master of a spirit channeling school to channel the murder victim to know the killer's name. This led to the spirit of the murder victim accusing an actually innocent man for his death, and that led to the master (and the entire spirit channeling school) becoming disgraced. Eventually, Phoenix discovers the truth: Gregory Edgeworth accused Yanni Yogi because only Gregory, his son Miles, and Yanni were trapped in that elevator, and Miles was Gregory's son; of course Gregory would never incriminate him. All three were actually unconscious from oxygen deprivation when Gregory was murdered, so Gregory never knew that his killer was someone outside the elevator- Manfred von Karma, who'd opened the doors when everyone inside was out cold and taken the chance to kill Gregory for getting him penalized in court earlier.
    • And in Trials and Tribulations, Phoenix gets to cross-examine a ghost that is being channeled. Said ghost is the Big Bad and Phoenix’s psycho ex-girlfriend, and not only is she twisting the facts to spite Phoenix, she is honestly unaware of a few unimportant details; she doesn't know that the person channeling her was killed (though she admits her memory is fuzzy around that point), and she doesn't know who is channeling her in the courtroom.
    • Part of Spirit of Justice's court gameplay involves channeling the recently deceased in order to play back what they saw in the moments before they died in a large pool of water at the center of the courtroom. It is what the kingdom of Khura'in does in lieu of letting defense attorneys argue on behalf of the accused (which they outlawed sometime prior to the game so they could move to the theocratic court system). Phoenix's job is to look through this "footage" and figure out what doesn't jive with the facts, as they can be misinterpreted from what really happened. Furthermore, "The Rite of Turnabout" is the first time Maya channels a victim onscreen. The victim is then interrogated and cross-examined like any other witness. The victim was technically one of the culprits, as he killed himself and covered up another murder so that they could not pin it up on his wife.
  • Atsuki Saijo of Lux-Pain can read thoughts, and though quite risky, this includes the last thoughts of a deceased person.

  • It also shows up in Casey and Andy while they are visiting a fairly D&D-ish world, but the target turns out to have a special "Zealot" prestige-class that enable him to resist the post-mortem interrogation.
    Zealot: Bite... my... ass...
  • Kore the dwarven paladin uses Speak with Dead in Goblins on the goblin fortuneteller Young-and-Beautiful after murdering her. She very much doesn't want to speak with him, but the spell compels her to answer.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Parodied when Xykon has Redcloak necromantically question a dead goblin to find his lost keys.
    • Played straighter later, when Durkon casts Speak with Dead on a deceased Draketooth clan member. The end result is still humor at the Order's expense, since a dead brain takes the questions very literally.

    Real Life 
  • Attempted in 1921, during the tail end of the Spiritualist movement. Detroit Spiritualists Thomas Bradford and Ruth Doran wanted to test whether or not an afterlife truly existed, so they came up with what they believed to be the only way to conclusively prove the existence (or lack thereof) of an afterlife: Bradford would commit suicide, and afterward his spirit would relay details about the afterlife to Doran. He went through with the suicide, but Doran would later report that she never received any messages from him.
  • Metaphorically, in pathology departments.
    Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae. ("This place is where death rejoices in teaching the living.")


Video Example(s):


D&D: Honor Among Thieves

The party utilizes the "Speak with Dead" spell to interrogate a dead warrior, only for Edgin to unwittingly waste the spell due to the warrior answering questions that weren't even directed at him nor meant to be answered as part of the spell.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (23 votes)

Example of:

Main / InterrogatingTheDead

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