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Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot

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"That's how it always begins. Very small."

Someone investigates a minor crime, or possibly something as major as murder, but finds something much bigger going on behind it. The first crime might be part of a Revealing Cover-Up, or it might be just a Red Herring; it can also be both the cause and effect of Crime After Crime. This is extremely common in crime fighting action films where the plot is more about building up a lead in from normal life and confronting the big secret; in other fiction there might be all manner of twists, turns and dead ends before it all links up. This is a staple of the detective variety of Film Noir.


Some of the more complex Evil Plans may stretch from the most trifling crimes to the mind-bogglingly evil in a mind-bogglingly complex manner.

Sometimes the Anti-Villain is revealed to be quite heinous; in other cases the Anti-Villain teams up with the Heroes to fight the Big Bad.

Works in which several different crimes are committed (e.g. a Police Procedural TV series) sometimes follow the pattern that every Minor Crime reveals a Major Plot — the main characters can't investigate any crime, big or small, without stumbling upon an Evil Plan involving several different people and six- or seven-digit sums of money. This is largely an Acceptable Break From Reality: of course, in Real Life, thousands of crimes are committed each day without any sort of plan or conspiracy behind them — burglars sneak into homes to steal some small cash, people are killed when petty arguments get out of hand, dastardly villains cross streets in illegal ways to get to the other side faster — but it makes for a more interesting story to have your master detectives slowly uncover the villainous plot of a Diabolical Mastermind than to have them book random mugger after random mugger.


Contrast Infraction Distraction, where a minor crime is committed to conceal a greater one.

Truth in Television. Real Life professional criminals will bend over backwards to make sure they don't trip up over something minor because it's happened before. The best way to avoid capture is to not attract attention — at all. However, many criminals do not maintain professional standards and are caught for things like not paying fare on the subway, or expired license plates. It's given rise to the expression "Only break one law at a time".

As this is a trope about plots, many of the examples will contain spoilers. You have been warned. When it's the criminal who only intended to commit a minor crime, it's Unintentionally Notorious Crime.

Not to be confused with Wanted Meter. Compare Working the Same Case, where two or more seemingly unconnected cases turn out to be connected to the same plot.



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    Anime & Manga 

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  • Detective Conan has the Black Organization. It looked like a simple case of blackmail, but they're actually an elite group of murderers that owns huge biological research facilities.
  • Dirty Pair: Affair on Nolandia: Mysterious crash involving a runway made to appear out of whack and subsequent murder of the latest client of the Lovely Angels → a Social Darwinist's attempt to remake the universe in his own image.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist has at least two points that could be considered either the crime with the warrant that turns out too small or the far more sinister plot. They both go from the Elric brothers' attempt at human transmutation to the murder of Maes Hughes all the way up to outing and defeating an Ancient Conspiracy which may as well be called Amestris' very own Illuminati.
  • Subverted in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, where the murder of a policeman who discovered illegal surveillance devices appears to bring the elite hacker Laughing Man out into the open, but it turns out the guy was an imitator. However, later it's played straight: hacker in government-run halfway house → conspiracy involving Japan's entire military-industrial complex.
    • The Made-for-TV Movie, Solid State Society, begins with a crime that is no means minor, but over the course of the story, explodes into an absolutely massive Milkman Conspiracy that actually tramples two other conspiracies going on at the same time: Suicides of several members of a deposed Korean military junta → A gigantic socio-economic engineering project led by Japan's invalid and elderly, via abducting at-risk children and manipulating legal records.
  • No. 6: One mysterious death, then more, leads to the truth of an entire utopian city being used as test subjects to revive Eliurias.

    Audio Plays 

    Comic Books 
  • Batman Black and White: "Blackout", set in World War II, starts with Batman investigating a window that's showing a light in defiance of the blackout order, which leads to him discovering a jewel robbery in progress, which leads to him learning that the owner of the jewels was using them to fund a Nazi spy ring.
  • Sensation Comics: Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor meet a poor boy and are concerned about his home life due to some things he says, when Diana looks into it she discovers that not only is the uncle he and his sister and mother live with so incredibly abusive their mother is terrified that he's going to kill the kids, he's also running a huge racketeering ring from his basement and plotting the armed robbery of a bunch of gold.
  • Sin City: Murder of a hooker and frameup of the guy who was with her → uncovering a cannibal farm boy and a corrupt priest who has pretty much the entire city in his pocket.
  • Played with in Status 7: Overload, we have a botched ATM hacking leading to a Cyberwarfare attack with a terrorist attack on a Mega-Corp for good measure but the whole thing was a cover for embezzlement that gets dealt with during the epilogue.
  • Suske en Wiske: the album "Het Aruba dossier" ("The Aruba File"). The minor crime: two men ignore a red traffic light and crash into Professor Barabas' car, sending all three of them to the hospital. The major plot: once in the hospital, Barabas is accidentally given a briefcase that belongs to the other two men. In the briefcase, he finds a file that describes plans of a big criminal organisation to distribute a highly toxic substance as a new fertilizer for crops.
  • Many Tintin stories tend to be built around this premise.
  • Watchmen: Investigating the murder of an ex-superhero → uncovering a plot to prevent nuclear war by destroying a city.
  • X-Men Noir: Open-and-shut gangland murder → a secret brotherhood of Corrupt Cops.
    • In the sequel: Murder of Cain Marko → a secret government agency training criminals to be the ultimate spies and assassins.
  • Hellblazer: Inverted in one story where John reveals to a journalist that the British royal family are in fact snake people from space who had Diana killed because she was trying to resist the Body Horror required for her to give birth to their spawn, that Kennedy was killed by The Greys (a Servant Race to the aforementioned reptilians) because he saw his wife quite enjoying sex with a reptilian, and that the Earth is hollow, filled with tunnels that allow easy transportation beteen the continents. John then fakes his death, ostensibly by governmental spooks. It's all BS, of course: the journalist was getting uncomfortably close to a perfectly mundane drug-supplying ring in Buckingham Palace and John was hired to scare him off.

    Fan Works 
  • Juxtapose: Investigating Izuku's old middle and elementary schools for their neglect in letting Katsuki bully other students reveals a potentially nation-spanning conspiracy by the Meta Liberation Army to indoctrinate people with strong Quirks.
  • Conversations with a Cryptid: Izuku has a talent for uncovering these:
    • Conversations with a Cryptid: Izuku attempts to uncover One for All's long, long criminal history → Discovery of a two-centuries-long and ongoing conspiracy.
    • Kidnapping of a Cryptid: Izuku, Mineta and Mei investigate why it's illegal for pro-heroes to use their own Support items for private use as prosthetics. Which reveals the government's massive human rights violations and corruption and how the anti-quirk laws are actually extremely unconstitutional.
  • A Drop of Poison: Iruka realizes that Naruto is being purposefully failed and shows the Hokage who has a dozen men look over the last ten years of exams. They find that at least a couple dozen students have been deliberately failed and all of them (barring Naruto and those who failed the previous year) are listed as Missing, Dead, or Presumed Dead.
    • Naruto ends up discovering a plot of his own. He starts by investigating arson cases and other setbacks perpetrated by mysterious figures against Konoha businesses, including his own holdings. They turn out to be part of a conspiracy by the Merchant Council to create a monopoly of businesses held by a single bloc of voters. It's implied that Danzo's ROOT organization is connected to both of these plots, which would make this an instance of Working the Same Case.
  • (æ)mæth: When Masumi is being plagued by nightmares involving Duel Monsters she's never seen or heard of before, she decides to look their names up in her school database. That's when she finds out they've been erased, implying that not only are they real, but that her dream might not have been a dream after all.
  • Adventures of a Screwed Up Clone: A minor mission Danny has with the League has him discover that there's a secret operation involving shades going on, which he could only discover because his powers allowed him to see through the invisibility.
  • In God Save the Esteem's version of "Murder, She Snored", someone attacks Kevin shortly after he's accused of cheating on the test, hospitalizing him with minor injuries; Daria and Cindy have to investigate why. In the process, they discover that Kevin got his test answers from a massive operation spanning multiple schools, which they get shut down. (Amusingly, Kevin's attack had nothing to do with this—he was cheating with some other guy's girlfriend and just got jumped as revenge.)
  • In Perfection Is Overrated Hitomi using Mind Control to force people to make withdrawals from their bank accounts (which later escalates to murder) → plot by SUEs to kill all the Himes and reshape the world.
  • Pokémon Reset Bloodlines has some examples of this.
    • In Chapter 22 the main story, the strange behavior of Poison-type Pokémon in the Crimson City area is revealed to be part of a plan to attack the Gringy City power plant.
    • A side story has Gym Leader Clay helping the local police with a ship whose paperwork is out of line. This leads to League authorities encountering Shadow Pokémon for the first time.
  • In later chapters of NCIS fanfic Shards to a Whole, small discrepancies in the totals of military pay accounts → embezzlement and corruption within CGI (Coast Guard Investigations) → a decades-old conspiracy to rig US Presidential and Congressional elections.
  • In Son of the Sannin, Naruto's first C-Rank mission has him and his teammates sent to protect a village from bandits. They end up discovering Orochimaru's takeover of the Land of Rice fields much earlier than in canon.
  • Starlight Over Detrot starts with the investigation of a murder outside a swanky hotel, and quickly turns into a race to stop a plot that could destroy the whole city.
  • Double subverted in A Teacher's Glory: the invasion causes the reveal of some corruption in the Konoha hierarchy afterwards, but considering how much a Curb-Stomp Battle the invasion was, the corruption is actually more important and devastating after all.
  • More like Major Crime Reveals Major Crime, but in Who Silenced Elly Patterson, investigating Elly Patterson's death ended up opening a cold case on a woman's disappearance when Gavin Caine came under suspicion of Elly's death and a house search found the woman's body. To make things worse, the woman was his first wife.
  • In Eye of the Storm, Shirou looks for Sakura that went missing. With the girl being both a lesser grail and in presence of a Servant, it is obvious that it will lead him to current Holy Grail War.

    Films — Animation 
  • Big Hero 6: Theft of Hiro's microbots and death of his older brother Tadashiplot by Hiro's former mentor Professor Callaghan to destroy Alistair Krei for causing his daughter's death by using the stolen microbots and Krei's teleportation portal.
  • The Great Mouse Detective: The kidnapping of a toymaker → a plot to rule England's mouse population.
  • Monsters, Inc.: The eponymous power company's scare floor being used after hours by Randall, resulting in Boo breaking loose and wreaking havoc in Monstropolis → a dangerous machine designed to extract screams from children as part of a scheme by Randall and Mr. Waternoose.
  • Zootopia: A series of seemingly unrelated missing mammals → the Mayor's imprisonment and cover-up of predator species who have inexplicably "gone savage" → the Assistant Mayor's plot to create and exploit anti-predator sentiment for political gain.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Ace Ventura: Pet Detective: Dolphin kidnapping → murder of the head of operations for the Miami Dolphins, and the kidnapping, and attempted murder of NFL star Dan Marino by a vengeful ex-kicker who blamed him for the failed field goal that cost the Dolphins the Super Bowl.
  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: Theft of the Oscillation Overthruster and kidnapping Penny Priddy → the Red Lectroids' plot to return to Planet 10 and conquer it, leading to a threat by the Black Lectroids to start World War III.
  • Alien Nation: Murder of a cop during a robbery → re-introducing a devastating alien drug.
  • All the President's Men is about Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Washington Post investigation into the Watergate scandal.
  • The Avengers (1998): Sabotage of a weather control project → holding Britain to ransom with the threat of a weather attack that will destroy London.
  • Basic: A training exercise gone wrong with an elite Army unit (with one person confirmed dead and others missing) → a case of multiple murders, a major drug dealing/drug smuggling scandal on the base involving highly placed personnel, and even rumors of a group of former special forces soldiers that have started their own drug cartel and are settling scores from their old Army days.
  • Beverly Hills Cop: Murder of a man in Detroit → international drug smuggling operation in Los Angeles.
    • Beverly Hills Cop II: A series of crimes base on the alphabet leads to a major gun-running operation.
  • The Big Lebowski: A pair of thugs break into The Dude's house and pee on his rug → kidnapping, embezzlement and a web of connections between a young runaway, a gang of toe-cutting nihilists, a pornographer and the chief of police of Malibu.
  • Big Trouble in Little China: The kidnapping of a girl with green eyes → David Lo Pan's plan to rule the universe from beyond the grave.
  • Black Dynamite: Murder of the protagonist's brother → government conspiracy to shrink black men's penises.
  • Blue Thunder: Murder of a LA city councilwoman → a U.S. government conspiracy to eliminate political undesirables with the title combat helicopter.
  • Cast a Deadly Spell: Theft of a book and killing of the thief → conspiracy to call Cthulhu to Earth.
  • Cellular starts off as trying to trace a woman who was kidnapped by unknown men but soon found out some of the cops in involved in a greater plot
  • Changeling. The kidnapping of Walter Collins → the vast corruption in the LAPD.
  • Chinatown: Who killed Hollis Mulwray? → rape, incest, and massive corruption of the LAPD.
  • Constantine: Suicide of a woman → a plot to bring the Devil's son to Earth and bring about Armageddon.
  • Doc Savage. Death (murder) of Doc's father → a plot to steal Indian land in Central America that contains a giant pool of gold.
  • Dreamscape: Murder of a woman while dreaming → creating a psychic assassin to kill the President of the United States in his dreams.
  • Dredd: Flaying and murder by very high fall of three men → elaborate plan to put slum tower on lockdown to kill the responding Judges and keep the massive drug market from being revealed, combined with four corrupt Judges helping the drug clan with this. Not that Judge Dredd sees this as being particularly eventful.
  • Drop Zone: Skyjacking and kidnapping → scheme to break into DEA headquarters, steal the names of all DEA undercover agents and sell them to the drug cartels.
  • Dude, Where's My Car?: Two hungover Lazy Bum stoners discover their car is missing → Two extraterrestrial factions vying over a powerful device capable of universal destruction.
  • Fair Game (1995): Drive-by shooting attempt on a divorce lawyer (which then escalates to trying to blow her up in her apartment) → Stern Chase of said attorney all over Florida by bunch of renegade Russian spies plotting to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from shadow accounts for their own profit and using the boat that was being disputed over in said divorce as base of operations.
  • The Fugitive. Murder of Dr. Richard Kimble's wife → drug company conspiracy to market a deadly medical drug to an unknowing public.
  • Ghostbusters
  • The Golden Child: Kidnapping of a child → attempt to bring Hell to Earth.
  • Gone Baby Gone Who kidnapped the little girl? Not who you'd think.
  • Hot Fuzz Series of murders made to look like accidents → part of a decades-old conspiracy that mercilessly executes anyone who would jeopardize the reputation that Sandford, Gloucestershire has for serenity and cleanliness. "Have you ever wondered why the murder rate in this town is so low, and yet the accident rate is so high?"
  • Hudson Hawk: Theft of several items → using a gold-making machine to destroy the world's economy.
  • I, Robot: Suicide → Zeroth Law Rebellion
  • In Like Flint. The President's golf swing taking 3 minutes → A diabolical plan to take control of the minds of women all over the world and put a nuclear Sword of Damocles in orbit around the Earth.
  • It (2017) A series of missing children in a small town → A horrifying demonic creature that lives in the sewers of the town that wakes up every 27 years to feed on any child who crosses its path.
  • A common trope in the James Bond series:
    • Dr. No. Murder of a British agent → Dr. No's SPECTRE operation to destroy American missiles.
    • From Russia with Love. Rosa Klebb coerces Tatiana Romanova to defect to MI6 → Elaborate scheme hatched by SPECTRE to steal Lektor decoding machine from the Russians and selling it back to them while exacting revenge on Bond for killing their agent Dr. No.
    • Goldfinger. Cheating at Gin Rummy, murder of Jill Masterson and gold smuggling → A plot to nuke Fort Knox.
    • Thunderball. Attempted murder of Bond → A plot to hold the world ransom with two stolen nuclear warheads.
    • You Only Live Twice. American and Russian spacecraft are stolen → Elaborate plan by SPECTRE to start a nuclear war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.
    • On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Ernst Stavro Blofeld claims title of 'Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp' → Plan by SPECTRE to abduct women from around the world and use them as pawns to spread a dangerous virus that is capable of destroying crops and livestock unless he gets a pardon for his past crimes.
    • Diamonds Are Forever. Diamond smuggling → Plot to hold the world for ransom with a laser-armed Kill Sat.
    • Live and Let Die. Deaths of three British agents → Massive heroin smuggling operation.
    • The Man with the Golden Gun. 007 receives gold-plated bullet → Theft of device used for controlling solar energy.
    • The Spy Who Loved Me. Disappearing nuclear submarines → A plot to start a nuclear war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.
    • Moonraker. Disappearance of a space shuttle → A plot to kill all humans on Earth.
    • For Your Eyes Only. British spy ship containing Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator (ATAC), which controls nuclear subs gets sunk → A plot to steal ATAC for the Soviets.
    • Octopussy. Smuggling stolen Faberge Eggs and murdering a British agent → Nuclear sabotage, wiping out an American military base along with nearby cities and WW 3.
    • A View to a Kill. A scheme by Max Zorin of systematic doping in thoroughbred horse racing → A scheme by Max Zorin aimed at destroying Silicon Valley (though these two plot points don't directly connect)
    • The Living Daylights. Faked sniping attack on a fleeing general → Attacks on British agents and an illegal weapons smuggling network in the middle of the war between U.S.S.R. and Afghanistan. The movie, however, also counts as an inversion. The villains are pitting British and Russian spies against each other by trying to convince the former that the latter are targeting them all for elimination - hoping that they will respond by eliminating the KGB director supposedly responsible for the operation. This is being done to protect their scheme of misusing KGB resources to turn a huge profit smuggling drugs and weapons, which the director is on the verge of exposing. It's a serious crime, but nowhere near as potentially destructive as inciting a war of assassins between the KGB and its Western counterparts (which as Koskov said, in the worst case scenario, could conceivably even lead to nuclear war).
    • Licence to Kill. Felix Leiter gets injured while his wife gets killed → A plot to smuggle cocaine dissolved in petrol into Asia and sell it disguised as fuel to drug lords.
    • GoldenEye. Theft of a prototype helicopter → A revenge scheme by a traitorous MI6 agent aimed at crippling London with an EMP-based Kill Sat to cover up a massive electronic bank robbery.
    • Tomorrow Never Dies. An unusually fast newspaper article on a ship sinking → A scheme aimed at starting a war to gain exclusive media rights in China.
    • The World Is Not Enough. Murder of a prominent businessman → A plot to force a nuclear sub into meltdown, nuke Istanbul, and contaminate 90% of the world's oil supply.
    • Die Another Day. Rogue North Korean colonel trades in smuggled diamonds for weapons and is presumably killed for it → Plot by said rogue colonel, who is revealed to have been Faking the Dead all along, to use a solar-powered Kill Sat to cut a path through the Korean DMZ, allowing North Korea to launch an invasion of South Korea.
    • Daniel Craig's Bond gets one that spans two movies: elimination of a bomber-for-hire → the shut down of a banker to terrorist cells around the world → The Reveal of an N.G.O. Superpower.
    • Skyfall: Attempt to recover an encrypted hard drive containing the identities of every active undercover NATO agent goes wrong → MI6 comes under intense government scrutiny for the mishap → An attempt a by rogue agent turned cyber-criminal to destroy MI6 and get his revenge against M for selling him out to the Chinese.
    • Spectre: Unauthorized mission by 007 to foil terrorist plot in Mexico City → A campaign to shut down the 00-agent section and replace it with an intelligence-sharing program called "Nine Eyes" → The Reveal that said N.G.O. Superpower whom Bond fought against in Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace was also behind events of Skyfall, hopes to use the "Nine Eyes" program to stop any investigation into their operations, and its leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld is revealed to be Bond's estranged step-brother, who masterminded the tragedies 007 faced since Casino Royale (2006).
  • Judge Dredd: Murder of an investigative reporter → assassination of the Judges' Council and a coup d'etat.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service: Reported kidnapping of a college professor (who, strangely, was seen walking freely in public after the report) → Plot to kill off most of the human population via a cellphone-distributed Hate Plague.
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: "Your case and my case... are the same fucking case!"
  • L.A. Confidential: The Night Owl Massacre of an ex-cop and several other staff members → a massive corruption ring in the LAPD and an attempt to control all of Los Angeles' organized crime
  • The Last Witch Hunter: murder of Secret Keeper → plan to resurrect Omnicidal Maniac and bring about The End of the World as We Know It.
  • The Lethal Weapon franchise:
  • Looker: Murder of female models → company conspiracy to brainwash customers with subliminal advertising.
  • Men in Black: Disappearance of a man after encountering a UFO and a suicide → theft of a galaxy and possible destruction of the Earth.
  • Minority Report: Review of an old Precrime murder case → Precrime's systemic incarceration of potentially innocent people → A top precop's future murder being an elaborate frameup to keep him from discovering the real culprit behind that old case was actually Precrime's founder (and his friend) to use the victim's clairvoyant daughter to create Precrime in the first place.
  • Molly's Game: Molly moves from California to New York, and asks a New York lawyer if it's legal to run high-stakes poker games. He tells her yes, subject to certain conditions, but adds "Don't break the law while you're breaking the law." It will be easier for her to get away with running an illegal poker game if she isn't dealing drugs or prostitutes on the side.
  • The Naked Gun: Attempted murder of Officer Nordberg → plot to assassinate the Queen of England.
  • The Paper: During the course of their investigation, Henry, Martha and McDougal find out there's more involved than just a couple of white businessmen getting gunned down in Williamsburg. Turns out they may have been the victims of retaliation for losing a fortune in Mob money, with the assassins spray-painting a racial epithet on their car as a Red Herring.
  • Predator 2. The movie starts with an investigation into a gang war between rival drug organizations, complete with Jurisdiction Friction between the LAPD cops and the DEA. It eventually becomes a hunt for an extraterrestrial killer who's slaughtering both cops and drug criminals.
  • Defied in Pulp Fiction. The Wolf asks Jules and Vincent if there is anything wrong with the car, which they had just cleaned thoroughly, so that if he is pulled over by the police, he knows any problems to talk about - and the police won't have a reason to inspect the vehicle, and find any hint of the body or blood the Jules and Vincent had spent time cleaning.
  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes: As is the story on which it is partially based ("The Six Napoleons"), an investigation into the seemingly motiveless crime of someone smashing plaster busts of Napoleon uncovers a case of grand theft and murder.
  • Showtime: a drug bust leads to the discovery of a dangerous new weapon that is about to hit the streets. Admittedly, it's difficult to call a drug deal operation a "minor crime", but still. Also, the Big Bad was extremely upset that the drug dealer used one of his prototype guns, tipping off the cops.
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The kidnapping of some German scientists → A plot to build a spaceship that will destroy all life on Earth.
  • Sneakers. The theft of a black box and the murder of its creator → a plot to cause the collapse of the world economy.
  • Soylent Green. Murder of a businessman → discovering a horrible truth about the entire food supply.
  • Star Trek
    • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. A routine hostage situation turns out to be an attempt to hijack a starship.
    • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The murder of the Klingon chancellor is part of a bigger co-conspiracy between the Federation and the Klingon military to remain in a state of perpetual cold war, otherwise each side's admirals and generals would have no purpose in life.
    • Star Trek: Insurrection: Data goes berserk on an alien planet → conspiracy to rob said alien planet of its Phlebotinumvengeful genocide of planet's inhabitants.
    • Star Trek Into Darkness: A series of devastating attacks by a mysterious terrorist → conspiracy to militarize Starfleet from within and deliberately instigate a war with the Klingon Empire which they deemed inevitable.
  • Star Wars: In Attack of the Clones, an assassination attempt on a senator → a clone army, that no one seems to remember ordering, ready just as the Supreme Chancellor commissions a Grand Army of the Republic to deal with the Separatist Crisis → (finally discovered in Revenge of the Sith) a plot by the Supreme Chancellor to overthrow the Republic and destroy the Jedi.
  • Subverted in Strange Days: While investigating the murder of a rapper and a prostitute, the hero learns that the murders are related to a massive police conspiracy involving "death squads". It turns out that the guy telling him all this is just making it up to distract the hero. It's really just a murder cover-up.
  • A variation in Super Troopers. Two crimes end up hinting at the major plot, but neither can be considered minor. A routine traffic stop reveals a major marijuana smuggling operation through Vermont. A body found in a Winnebago ends up revealing that the local Spurbury police are running protection for the Canadian smugglers. The latter is subverted in that the state troopers don't really figure it out until Ursula pretty much has to show them what's going on. They do get credit for apprehending all the culprits, though.
  • Tell No One: Two bodies are discovered in the woods → an eight-year-old murder and the cover-up behind it.
  • Invoked at the beginning of The Usual Suspects: The Suspects attack a police car so as to draw attention to a corruption ring that will escort wealthy criminals around town, protecting them from actual arrest. This ring apparently was active all throughout the NYPD, going as far up as the District Attorney.
  • Trading Places: Ruining Louis Winthope's life over a one dollar bet → Attempt at cornering the frozen concentrate orange juice market.
  • Another variation in Transylvania 6-5000 (1985). Two tabloid reporters get sent to Transylvania after their editor receives a tape—obviously fake—of a couple of tourists getting attacked by Frankenstein's Monster. But during the course of their investigation, they discover that something is indeed going on there which involves a disgraced doctor trying to clear his family name, while Transylvanian officials engage in a conspiracy to shut the doctor down.
  • Vantage Point tries to do this when the first warrant is for "Who shot the President?" Who infiltrated US Intelligence and tried to kidnap the President? is indeed somewhat weightier, //technically//.
  • The Way of the Gun: Parker and Longbaugh kidnap a surrogate mother hired by mob accountant Hal Chidduck and hold her for ransom. Chidduck can't pay the ransom because it would expose the money laundering services he's been providing to the mob, who would kill him before letting their financial get threatened by the resulting investigation.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: a private eye hired to take some "dirty" pictures → the murders of Marvin Acme and R.K. Maroon, probate fraud, the attempted destruction of Toontown and genocide of its residents, the Toons.
  • Wrongfully Accused: The murder of an Eccentric Millionaire → A scheme to assassinate the United Nations Secretary-General, Sir Robert McKintyre.

  • A cop pulls over a man for speeding.
    Cop: Sir, you were doing 70 in a 50 mph zone. Any particular reason?
    Driver: Well, so you wouldn't find the 200 kilos of crack cocaine I've got in the backseat. Or the anthrax bomb in the glove compartment. Or the dead hooker in the trunk. Or the six-year-old girl tied up next to the dead hooker. To be honest, I'm on like fifteen different kinds of drugs right now and I drank six beers before starting out, so I might have left a few out.
The cop, seeing the arrest of a lifetime before him, immediately calls for backup, who proceeds to thoroughly search the car and test the man. Once they're finally done, having found absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing, another cop comes up to the driver and apologizes for wasting his time, as the arresting officer thought he was dealing with some kind of serial killer pedophile terrorist criminal.


By Author:

By Work:

  • All the time in the Alex Rider series, except for maybe Scorpia.
    • Stormbreaker: murder of MI6 agent Ian Rider → plot to kill all of London's schoolchildren.
    • Point Blanc: "accidental" deaths of a New York multibillionaire and an ex-KGB general → an apartheid scientist replacing the children of sixteen powerful men around the world with teenage clones of himself.
    • Skeleton Key: sale of uranium to a former Russian general and death of the two men who delivered it → plan by the general to detonate a nuclear bomb among a fleet of decaying nuclear submarines, contaminating most of Europe, seizing power in Russia, and reinstating Soviet communism.
    • Eagle Strike: attempted assassination of journalist Edward Pleasure → attempt to wipe out drugs by dropping 25 American nuclear missiles on worldwide drug sources.
    • Ark Angel: attempted kidnapping of Paul Drevin → plan to drop the Ark Angel hotel from outer space onto Washington, D.C.
    • Snakehead: two deaths of ASIS agents infiltrating a snakehead and the theft of a bomb prototype → plot to wipe out an island conference aiming at ending world poverty by creating a tsunami that will also wipe out most of Western Australia.
    • Crocodile Tears: investigation into an accountant at a bio-research facility → the Big Bad's plot to create a famine in Africa via poisoned wheat, then claim millions of dollars through his charity.
    • Scorpia Rising: This one's complicated. The murder of Levi Kroll plus a shooting at Alex's school → a plot to assassinate the American secretary of state and frame Alex (and by extension the British government) for the crime, thereby giving Scorpia leverage to force the British government to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece. Then at the end, it's revealed that the school shooting had nothing to do with Scorpia's plot. That was masterminded by Alan Blunt so Alex would think he was in danger and agree to go to Cairo for MI6.
  • Happens several times in the Artemis Fowl books.
    • The Arctic Incident: Gangsters smuggling AA batteries into Haven → high treason and an attempt to Take Over the World.
    • The Eternity Code: LEP space probes being hijacked → a crooked businessman's plan to illegally destroy his competitors.
    • The Opal Deception: A high-profile criminal escapes from prison → a plot to start an interspecies war.
    • The Lost Colony: An imp being kidnapped → an effort to exterminate the demon race.
    • The Time Paradox: The theft of an endangered lemur → a conspiracy to achieve ultimate power.
  • The Barsoom Project: Electronic tampering with a high-tech LARP → multiple acts of lethal sabotage in support of covert corporate takeover scheme
  • Ian Rankin's novel Bleeding Hearts features an assassin who is contracted to kill a tv reporter. When he carries out the hit but is nearly arrested, he believes he was set up and sets out to find out why, eventually uncovering and dismantling an evil cult. In an interesting use of the Detective Patsy trope, he was hired and set up by the same person, the reporter, in order for him to discover the truth about the cult.
  • In The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, a routine EPA investigation into a potential leak at an industrial waste dump uncovers a conspiracy to revive a God of Evil.
  • The Cat in the Stacks Mysteries: In book 2, Charlie is invited to James Delacorte's house to inventory his rare book collection, since Delacorte thinks a family member has stolen from him. This puts Charlie in place to investigate Delacorte's subsequent murder, which is actually committed for unrelated reasons.
  • City of Devils starts with a simple missing mummy case and spirals into the discovery of a ring of powerful monsters including some law enforcement, illegally kidnapping humans and turning them into monsters on film as a bizarre form of pornography.
    • The sequel ups the ante by starting with a couple missing persons (and one missing toad) cases and a secret admirer, and turns into the creation of Godzilla.
  • In The Day of the Jackal, the French police are baffled by a series of seemingly-unconnected bank robberies and jewelry heists. It turns out they're being orchestrated by the OAS terrorist group to fund the titular assassin's plot to kill Charles De Gaulle.
  • Discworld City Watch novels:
    • Men at Arms: A break-in at the Assassins' Guild → a plot to overthrow the Patrician.
    • Feet of Clay: The death of a palace maid's grandmother → solving the otherwise-unsolvable poisoning of the Patrician.
    • The Fifth Elephant: The murder of a rubber goods manufacturer and the theft of a replica Scone of Stone → a plot to overthrow the Low King of the Dwarfs.
    • Thud!: The murder of a rabble-rousing dwarf, and the theft of a painting → a plot to prevent peace between dwarfs and trolls by obfuscating their shared history.
    • Snuff: The death of a goblin (not strictly murder except in the soul of Sam Vimes) → a massive smuggling ring and slave plantations.
      • Vimes actually lampshades this while talking with another character, referencing a case wherein a man had killed his dog, with Lord Vetinari ordering Vimes to search the man's house, stating that "where one finds little crimes, one often finds larger crimes." Vimes confirms to the other character that they did find larger crimes connected to the dog-killer.
  • The Dresden Files does this almost once per book.
  • Once the villain of Emil and the Detectives is arrested for stealing a few bills off a kid, a further search reveals him to carry the cash from a recent bank robbery.
  • Fatherland: An alternate history in which Germany won WWII and a Nazi Protagonist detective discovers the truth about the Holocaust after investigating a series of murders and suicides (the government officially claimed that Jews and other Holocaust victims were being resettled in Eastern Europe).
  • Goldfinger: James Bond is sent to investigate an industrial magnate suspected merely of illegally smuggling gold out of the UK. He discovers in the process that Goldfinger is plotting with Chinese intelligence to rob Fort Knox.
  • Half Moon Investigations has the young detective investigating a series of sabotaging attacks on various members of the community, but in the process, he discovers that several of the events were carried out by a separate conspiracy. YMMV as to which conspiracy was the major or minor, but the fact that the one accidentally discovered was being carried out by ten-year-old girls with all the efficiency of an adult...
  • Harry Potter examples:
  • The Cold War thriller An H-Bomb for Alice by Ian Stewart. A detective investigates the apparent suicide of the Australian Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. Although he was about to pass an important bill, there appears to be no motive for murder as no government or mining interests are threatened by it. It turns out the Soviet Union is planning to invade China, and a hidden strike force is waiting to seize the US surveillance station at Pine Gap which they fear will provide prior warning of the attack. The strike force was operating under the cover of a hippy colony that would have been evicted from Aboriginal land if the bill had been passed.
  • In Hickory Dickory Dock (1955) by Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot gets interested in a student hostel because of a series of petty thefts. A kleptomaniac seems to be stealing random items, most of them with no real value. Poirot's investigation ends up uncovering connections between the owner of the hostel and smuggling operation.
  • Honor Harrington: In On Basilisk Station, routine policing to stop smuggling and the murder of several local cops leads to the discovery of a plot for invasion. Amusingly played with in that the people doing the plotting try to call the invasion off and would have been able to do it unmolested if their plot hadn't been so revealed.
  • The Illuminatus! Trilogy starts off with this. Murder of a news columnist → Wheels within wheels conspiracy for control of Earth, involving rock bands, undead Nazis and Eldritch Abomination(s).
  • In Death:
    • Origin in Death: Murder of a "saintly" doctor → massive decades-old illegal human-cloning and people-made-to-order operation.
    • Born in Death: Murder of two young accountants → tax fraud and other financial crimes → baby-selling ring.
    • Faithless in Death: Murder of artist → Breeding Cult involved in Human Trafficking and related crimes.
  • In The Snows Of Haz: Finding Dimali's murderer → foiling a plot to topple The Empire.
  • Just like the films, James Bond had this as a common trope:
    • Moonraker: National hero cheating at cards → plot to nuke London with the most powerful missile ever built by said national hero, who is actually an ex-Nazi.
    • Dr. No: Disappearance of British agent and his secretary → plot by Evil Genius to shut down the missile launches at Cape Canaveral while selling the missile's secrets to Moscow.
    • Goldfinger: Richest man in England cheating at cards and smuggling gold → absolutely insane plot to blow Fort Knox open with a nuke and steal all the gold. Bond even lampshades this trope at one point in the book, musing how he went from simple investigation to being tangled up in Goldfinger's scheme.
    • For Your Eyes Only has one in "Risico": Bond contracted to kill famous smuggler → working with said famous smuggler to kill Bond's client, who is a major drug lord.
    • Thunderball: Attempted murder of Bond at health clinic → plot to destroy Miami with two stolen nuclear warheads by Nebulous Evil Organization.
    • On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Bond getting kidnapped by Corsican mob boss → scheme to stop Blofeld from devastate England with biological weapons made at a health clinic in Switzerland.
    • You Only Live Twice: Meeting with MI6 ally in Japan → final attempt to assassinate Blofeld for once and for all.
    • The Man with the Golden Gun: Brainwashed and Crazy Bond attempting to kill M → plot to assassinate psychotic Cuban hitman.
    • Colonel Sun: M gets kidnapped → plot by former Nazi and sadistic PLA Colonel to mortar a peace conference.
    • Trigger Mortis: Going undercover at Nuremberg Rally to protect British racing driver → plot to blow up the Empire State building by South Korean millionaire.
  • The Laundry Files usually has Bob, one of the titular organization's field agents/computational demonologists/IT guys sent out on a minor call, only to pull the string on something larger:
    • The Atrocity Archive: Extract a British national being kept inside America by the CIA's occult wing → stop an Eldritch Abomination from crossing over from a world where the Nazis won World War II.
    • "The Concrete Jungle": Get sent to Milton Keynes because there are one too many concrete cows → uncover and prevent an internal coup within the Laundry.
    • The Jennifer Morgue: Go to a conference for occult intelligence across the EU → get roped into a James Bond plot and have to stop a mad billionaire from resurrecting an ancient cyborg war god.
    • The Apocalypse Codex: Get sent to oversee an external contractor who's looking into a televangelist's close relationship with the Prime Minister → stop said televangelist from summoning an Eldritch Abomination in the middle of Colorado Springs.
  • "Coldheart", a novella in the League of Magi collection of the same name, starts with a missing woman and goes into hundreds of kidnappings, immortal sorcerers, superpowered beings, monsters, and oh yeah, a ritual summoning of a wendigo.
  • Lord Peter Wimsey: In Murder Must Advertise, the murder of an advertising copywriter → massive cocaine-smuggling ring.
  • The Macbeth Murder Mystery: Parodied when a Genre Savvy Detective Drama reader mistakes the book of ''The Tragedy of Macbeth'' for a Detective Drama, → The Reveal of the identity of the real murderer, menacing the Shakespearean canon of the last four hundred years.
  • In Nerve Zero, the hero just wanted to find an old flame to get her off-world and ended up discovering a cult, an investigation by the secret police, and a plot to evacuate the planet.
  • The mid-war Philip Marlowe novel The Lady in the Lake starts with finding a missing (possibly run away on her own) wife and leads to three murders and mafia involvement in defense industries.
  • In the Greg Egan novel Quarantine, an investigation into the disappearance of a severely developmentally delayed woman from a care home eventually reveals a plot to radically alter the nature of reality at a quantum level.
  • In Rainbow Six, the FBI carries out a search for a missing woman, believing it to be part of a kidnapping or serial killing, only to find a plan to wipe out most of humanity.
    • Clear and Present Danger starts off with the Coast Guard pulling over suspicious yacht, only to discover the men aboard it have murdered the family of a wealthy American businessman, which leads to the discovery of his connections to a Colombian drug cartel.
  • The Reckoning: A beloved minister is murdered in 1946 Mississippi by a prominent citizen who takes his reasons to the grave → Misplaced Retribution for cheating with said prominent citizen's wife, resulting in her having to have a painful abortion.
  • The Repairman Jack novels by F. Paul Wilson often start with Jack being asked to solve a small mystery, such as a missing person or a robbery. This mystery invariably turns out to be related in some way to the bigger 'Adversary Cycle' arc that spans the whole series.
  • Rivers of London: The Hanging Tree starts off with Peter having to fulfill his owed favour to Lady Ty by making sure her daughter isn't implicated in a suspicious death by drug overdose, which is tied into an investigation of how the teenagers at the party in question got access to a flat in the highly-secure One Hyde Park. This leads to the identity of the Faceless Man being exposed.
  • In the Sano Ichiro novel The Samurai’s Wife, Sano’s investigation into the death of the imperial left minister eventually exposes a plot to overthrow the Tokugawa government and reinstate the emperor as ruler of Japan.
  • Sherlock Holmes stories had a lot of this.
    • "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons". A madman is stealing Napoleon busts and smashing them → The recovery of a stolen pearl.
    • "The Blue Carbuncle". Man loses his Christmas dinner → The recovery of the eponymous stolen gemstone (seriously).
    • "The Red-Headed League". A man was a member of an exclusive club only for redheads → A bank heist using an underground tunnel.
    • "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches". A woman gets a too-good-to-be-true job offer → Turns out that she was there to take the place of the daughter of his employer who is imprisoned somewhere in the house.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: In A Game of Thrones, the investigation into the murder of Jon Arryn leads Eddard Stark to evidence that none of the heirs to the throne are actually the children of the king and the assumption that Arryn was murdered to cover up this fact. This knowledge eventually leads to a succession crisis called the War of the Five Kings, and Stark's own murder. Ironically, it is revealed later that Arryn wasn't murdered to cover up the Queen's affair at all, but rather because Arryn's wife wanted to be free to marry the man she'd been having an affair with for years.
  • In the Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note series, Aya discussed this trope with Kuroki during The Backyard Knows, expressing some disappointment that the crime involved in the arc was indeed minor, performed by a perennial small-time criminal without more apparent complexities. But the story does go that way, although still downplayed: it lead to a case of museum theft which causes the loss of some expensive butterfly specimens.
  • The Teresa Knight Trilogy: In Strip Poker Teresa looking into blackmail and an ordinary murder leads her to discovering an international conspiracy by corporations smuggling coltan mined inside the Democratic Republic of Cargo by forced child labor that's connected with brutal rebels who have committed countless atrocities.
  • The Thinking Machine: In "The Problem of the Organ Grinder", the investigation of what appears to be a truly pointless crime—the murder of an organ grinder's monkey—leads the exposure of a major counterfeiting ring.
  • Several of Andrei Belyanin's Tsar Gorokh's Detective Agency novels use this trope:
    • The very first (eponymous) novel starts with the theft of the Tsar's chrysoprase ring and a chest of gold coins. This leads to the unraveling of a massive conspiracy to destroy the city.
    • The second novel, The Plot of the Black Mass, starts with several merchants complaining about the theft of black fabric. This leads to a mad rush to stop a demonic Summoning Ritual that would leave the land in ruin.
    • The third novel, The Flying Ship, starts with the theft of the blueprints for the latest novelty invention. This leads to an attempt to stop an Evil Overlord from building a fleet of flying warships capable of laying waste to any city.
    • The fourth novel, Bride Elimination, starts with the theft of a diplomatic gift. This leads to an attempt by a foreign diplomat to start a multinational war.
  • The Venus Prime series loves this trope. In the first book, the investigation into a case of sabotage leads to the uncovering of an elaborate plot to steal a very expensive book, which in turn flushes out a member of a hidden conspiracy involving eugenics and aliens. Similarly, the second book starts with the investigation into an attempted murder, which uncovers a secret drug ring, which ends up being connected to the above-mentioned conspiracy. The third book starts with an investigation into the murder of a colony administrator and exposes a nasty union fight, which again turns out to be connected to an ancient conspiracy...
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr starts with the investigation of a collision between a freighter and an orbital terraforming mirror. It makes a detour to a modest embezzlement scheme before settling on a plot to eliminate the only wormhole link between Barrayar and the rest of the populated galaxy that would actually, due to incomplete analysis of the underlying science, result in the destruction of at least one space station with several thousand residents and transients aboard.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • This happens with amusing regularity to COMMISSAR CIAPHAS CAIN, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!!. With the caveat that "minor crime" is usually a planet-engulfing war, and "major plot" is something with the potential to severely upset the balance of power across the galaxy.
    • In Ravenor, the titular inquisitor's investigation into the flect trade reveals that a cabal of rogue traders are smuggling Chaos-tainted computers onto the sub-sector capital. This, in turn, reveals that a cult lead by highly-influential members of the sub-sector government is using those computers to reconstruct a dead Language of Magic in order to become gods.
  • In The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a man's murder (while stretching the limits of minor crime) eventually reveals a plot by conservative Jews in collaboration with right-wing America to overthrow Palestine (which in this Alternate Universe is still a widely recognized sovereign state, Israel only having existed in the modern world for a few months) by blowing up the al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, which is dramatically worse.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The pilot has the team investigating how an Average Joe gained superpowers. This leads to the discovery of Project Centipede; the season-long investigation into this group and its enigmatic leader, The Clairvoyant, ultimately leads to the uncovering of HYDRA's plot to destroy SHIELD from within.
  • Arrow: The Hood taking out corrupt people; A conspiracy to destroy the impoverished part of the city.
    • Season 2: An unethical bid by an opportunist to be Mayor: The Big Bad's goal to destroy the entire city to spite The Hero.
  • Babylon Berlin: Pornographic filmmaking (extremely illegal in 1920s Germany) and blackmail of public figures with the same → robbery, illegal arms trade, murder & conspiracy to commit high treason.
  • Better Call Saul: Jimmy notices some minor overbilling on the part of his elderly client's nursing home. Digging further, he finds that the home's entire parent corporation has been engaging in outright fraud on its clients to the tune of millions of dollars.
  • Bones: A recovered skull → A cannibalistic serial killer who ends up recruiting Zack as his apprentice.
  • Castle: This appears to have been the case for Beckett's mother's murder. Decade-old murder of a lawyer → wide-ranging corruption and conspiracy, the full extent of which has yet to be revealed.
    • Also, murder of a taxi driver → plot to detonate a dirty bomb in New York.
    • But subverted with a second season episode where vehicular homicide of a bike messenger → terrorist attack. The attack idea came out of the sender being listed S. Nadal Matar, who turns out to be on the terror watch list. ESU breaks down a door to discover an old lady named Sally Neidermeyer.
      Castle: Our bad.
    • Also subverted in "The Lives of Others": evidence of foul play and possible murder in the apartment across the street birthday party for Castle
  • In the Cold Case episode "The Road", the Monster of the Week is caught after making a turn without signaling. When the cops run his plates, they realize that it matches a car seen leaving the site of a woman's kidnapping a year prior. What's more, the cops soon discover that she was just his latest victim and that he's actually a Serial Killer who's been abducting and killing women for years.
  • Crazy Like a Fox: In "Sunday in the Park with Harry," finding a pickpocketed wallet leads to the discovery of a murder scheme.
  • Criminal Minds:
    • DEA raid on a suspected meth lab → an impending terrorist attack using nerve gas.
    • Investigating a series of spree stabbings in New York City → Uncovering a massive terrorist plot.
  • This has happened frequently on CSI: Miami. To provide a few examples:
    • Gang shooting (that was pretty unusual for a Miami gang shootout because it ended with various gang members vaporized and literally splattered all over a warehouse's wall) → evidence of conspiracy to sell classified military weaponry (an Expy of the "Metal Storm") to foreign enemies.
    • Junkie appears with his neck snappped → dead junkie turns out to be a radiological hazard, leading the Miami police to suspect potential nuclear terrorism → local crusading lawyer turns out to have been poisoned with radioactive dye, which leads to the suspicion that a local medical company (that the lawyer was investigating for corrupt and incompetent practices) had performed the (slow and very painful) assassination → Stalker with a Crush informant within the company that provided the lawyer with important evidence for her case had taken the fact that she didn't like him back very badly, leading to him stealing the dye from the company's nuclear medicine supplies to poison her, and snapping the neck of the junkie when he tried to steal the syringes that carried the dye, believing them to be drugs. Zig-zagged all over the place, and at least the lawyer was able to pass away knowing that her poisoner had been caught and the company was going to get the book tossed at it for both the malpracticing she was investigating and allowing the dye to be so easy to steal.
    • An accidental death in a child beauty pageant → serial kidnapping and raping of 6-year-old girls by a pederast.
  • Daredevil (2015): The exposure of a numbers racket inside Union Allied Construction LLC → the uncovering of a powerful figure controlling Hell's Kitchen.
  • In the Decoy episode "Death Watch", Casey infiltrates a ring of department store shoplifters and discovers that they're also working as hitmen.
  • Subverted in Dexter. In season 1, while pursuing the Ice Truck Killer, the Miami PD comes across a man named Neil Perry due to his having traffic tickets issued near the scenes of the Killer's kidnappings. The subversion comes because the man is actually a computer hacker who specifically planted those minor pieces of evidence in order to lead the police to himself. Therefore he could falsely confess for the killings and be famous.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries: In "The Price of Love", Charlie and Lucien discover a murder (and later all kinds of dark goings-on at a military base) when Charlie stops a car for speeding, and Lucien notices blood dripping from the boot.
  • Doctor Who: In "Daleks in Manhattan", the Doctor and Martha land in 1930 New York City and find that the local Hooverville shantytown is dealing with a swathe of abductions of its residents. As you may have guessed from the title, they find out upon investigating that the Daleks are behind it.
  • Happened on occasion in Due South. One notable example was Frasier and Vecchio stopping to ticket a man who had parked in a fire lane, only to discover the guy's trunk was full of illegal firearms.
    • The show also had a fair bit of fun playing with this, showing us Frasier doggedly pursuing someone (through a blizzard, say, or over a waterfall) only to charge them with a minor-sounding crime which turned out to be far, far more serious than the description made it sound. (E.g. "That's the last time he'll fish over the limit!" → The crook's catch was measured in tons since he had been blast-fishing, and Frasier has also confiscated all the explosives and donated the fish to local tribes.)
  • Elementary: Murder of a conspiracy theorist → A member of a group that created a terrorist plot for a government training simulation that worked too well killing/mentally incapacitating the other members of said group to prevent knowledge of their plot from spreading. It turns out that the two cases are completely unrelated; the conspiracy theorist was killed by another conspiracy theorist over a disagreement about a different theory.
    • Someone attempts to poison a prize racehorse → the capture of a world-infamous drug cartel assassin.
    • An older man is found dead of an apparent heart attack dressed in a leather gimp suit → the nanny of the dead man's children was accused of killing her abusive father in a similar way → turns out the dead man was a child molester who sexually abused his older son; the older son poisoned his father to prevent his little brother from being abused, and tried to frame the nanny.
    • Detective Bell is investigating a break-in at a dockside warehouse → discovers his boss is a Mafia plant and barely averts a city-wide mob war.
    • Played in an episode where a van runs a red light and crashes into a construction truck. The van driver and a bystander die in an explosion and the investigators find that the van was full of gasoline. The police immediately jump to traffic accident -> terrorist bomb triggered prematurely. However, Sherlock's investigation uncovers that the van driver was a thief who was transporting stolen gasoline. The investigation appears to be closed but Sherlock is curious about people who knew the dead driver insisting that he was a Consummate Professional and would never run a red light while transporting stolen goods. Sherlock keeps investigating and discovers that the traffic lights were hacked. The investigation now balloons into: van full of stolen gasoline -> nefarious hacker sabotaging New York City's traffic systems. It looks like it might expand to reveal a government conspiracy but, as witnesses come forward, it starts to deflate again till the truth is revealed: van full of stolen gasoline -> plot by construction company owner to sabotage a rival construction company and get a lucrative government contract.
  • In the third season of Engrenages, an apparently trivial incident in which a child was bitten by an inadequately-trained security dog leads to the uncovering of large-scale council corruption (the use of the dangerous dog was a sign of general corrupt penny-pinching).
  • This seems to be the point of the Buddy Cop Show, The Good Guys. An old Noble Bigot with a Badge Cowboy Cop is paired with a young By-the-Book Cop and sent to investigate minor crimes (vandalism, shoplifting, etc.) to keep them out of trouble, but the duo almost always stumble across something much bigger (drug smugglers, car theft ring, etc.).
  • Hightown: A single young woman's murder turns out to be tied into the work of a major crime syndicate.
  • In the Heat of the Night. A young man goes to his teacher's house for tutoring, only to find her being raped. The cops eventually catch the guy, but they wonder why the kid was so reluctant to admit that he was being tutored in the first place. They discover that the teacher was not only being paid to tutor the boy, but to tamper with his grades (he was a high schooler who could barely read at a third grade level) so that he could be accepted into the seminary.
  • JAG: In "Brig Break", a handful of prisoners busting out of the brig gradually escalates into a plot to destroy the base with a nuclear explosion and selling stolen nuclear weapons to Saddam Hussein.
  • Not a few Law & Order episodes start with some minor problem, such investigating a noise in an alley, lead to a dead body (or two), and often then into something much, much worse, often involving murder, prostitution, and/or financial skulduggery. Fairly common on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, but turns up on the other variations as well.
    • An early episode involves the murder of an off-duty officer who was a childhood friend of Logan's. As the cops investigate, they find that the dead cop was on the trail of a former priest who was a serial child abuser, and that said former priest lives only a few blocks from where the victim's body was found. The detectives eventually determine that the cop's death was actually a suicide and the responding officers staged it as a murder so his family could get his pension, but by then, the case against the priest is starting to take shape.
    • One episode opened with a dispatching error sending Briscoe and Curtis to what they think is a murder, but turns out to be the discovery of a dead horse instead. Much to their frustration, their Lieutenant tells them to look into it anyway (there being no other pressing cases at the time) and their investigation eventually leads to a con artist who may have murdered his millionaire patron.
    • In another episode, a jogger had a heart attack in the park. When one of the officers on scene stepped into the bushes to, ah, take care of some business, he found a murder victim. (Of course, it turns out the jogger was actually murdered too, it just takes them awhile to figure that part out.)
    • In another, the burglary of a safety-box depository uncovers wads of cash being stored there that date to an armed robbery/homicide from the 1960s.
    • In one episode, a man receives an email from his uncle where the uncle confesses to killing his wife. That investigation is fairly straightforward, but then they learn the email was sent as part of a program designed to send out messages in the event of the Rapture, but the system was inadvertantly activated when one of the men behind the scheme was murdered, and that case isn't so simple.
    • A pair of cops are asked by a couple to find their missing dog. They think it's just a waste of time only to find the dog among others being used for an illegal dog fighting club by some rich guys who the cops immediately arrest. The detectives are then called in as one of the dead dogs has a human finger in their stomach, leading to a murder committed to cover up how a multi-millionaire has been selling "rare" wine that's actually quite cheap.
    • This can sometimes be done to a ridiculously huge degree. One episode involves finding the body of what looks like a hobo in a stairwell and ends up with a UN trial involving the Russian mafia.
    • In one SVU episode, a schizophrenic man kidnaps a child after mistaking the boy for his own estranged son and kills the man who tries to stop him. The detectives ultimately determine that the group home he had been living at was corrupt and their negligence had led to the death of another resident, which they attempted to pass off as a suicide; the man had witnessed this, so the group home had intentonally messed with the man's treatment so that his symptoms would return and he wouldn't be taken seriously if he tried to report what he saw.
    • The 14th season finale of SVU involves the arrest of a man for indecent exposure; he eventually turns out to have perpetrated multiple sex crimes, up to and including sexual torture and murder, in several different states, but has managed to escape conviction in every case.
    • Doubled in Law & Order: Criminal Intent, when the motive for the Victim of the Week's murder almost always turned out to be far more complicated than implied in the opening sequence.
  • Several Leverage episodes do this, albeit on a smaller scale than a lot of the examples:
    • "The Homecoming Job". Coverup of a friendly fire investigation → multi-billion-dollar money-laundering scheme.
    • "The Snow Job". Negligent home contracting job → nationwide foreclosure-related fraud.
    • "The Stork Job". Spanish Prisoner scam with orphans → weapons smuggling.
    • "The Gone-Fishin' Job". People being scammed by fake IRS agents → anti-government militia planning a terrorist attack.
    • The canon novel "The Con Job". Dealing with a forger stealing original work from aging comic artists → Preventing a Japanese real estate developer/crime boss from killing everyone at Comic-Con with a car bomb so he can set it up in his own hotel(!).
      • There are some big ones from Season 3 onwards, however;
    • "The Inside Job". A theft from an agricultural company → plot to cause a global famine so the company can profit from its monopoly on blight-resistant wheat.
    • "The Double-Blind Job". Accidentally foiled kidnapping/assassination → plot to knowingly release toxic drug nationwide, killing anywhere from thousands to millions, earning the Evil Drug Company billions for a 15% fine.
      EDC CEO: That's like tipping your waiter. "Thank you very much for taking our drugs. Here's a little something for your family."
    • "The Big Bang Job". Investigation of international criminal → plot to destroy Washington DC with a prototype EMP city-buster.
    • "The Long Goodbye Job". Stealing orphan drugs to treat rare terminal illnesses → stealing proof that international law enforcement let international criminals steal one-third of the entire world's wealth during the 2007/2008 financial crisis.
  • Lois & Clark: Frogs being stolen from a pet shop → A conspiracy to replace the President of the United States with a clone who'd then sign a pardon for Lex Luthor.
  • An episode of the revival of Magnum, P.I. sees Magnum's search for a missing cat lead to a murdered FBI agent.
  • Happens constantly in Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. For example, in "Death on the Vine" a simple case to investigate the origin of some mysterious photographs ends up exposing a Town with a Dark Secret.
  • In a few Monk episodes:
    • In "Mr. Monk and the Class Reunion", the murder of a retired college nurse leads Monk to discover a murder plot involving Trudy's freshman roommate.
    • In "Mr. Monk Is On the Run" (both parts), Monk is framed for a shooting by a dirty county sheriff. Once Monk escapes, he finds the shooting tied to a plot to assassinate the governor.
    • In "Mr. Monk Buys a House", the death of a wheelchair-handicapped man who fell down a flight of stairs in his own house is tied to money from an unsolved robbery.
    • In "Mr. Monk and the Magician", Monk's upstairs neighbor Kevin is killed by Karl Torini the night he debuts as an amateur magician = discrepancies in Torini's airline receipts that were evidence of Torini's involvement in a drug trafficking ring.
    • In the Tie-In Novel Mr. Monk In Outer Space, the heart-attack death of a fast-food company CEO that is dressed up as a shooting -> exposure of an embezzlement scam.
    • In "Mr. Monk and the Paperboy", the investigation on who killed the paperboy who delivered Monk's paper led him to find out the plan of a girl to play Black Widow to a multi-million-dollar lottery winner who lived in the same building (and who didn't even knew he had won, because the plan included keeping him ignorant of this fact).
      • A somewhat unusual case, as the initial crime leads Monk to coincidentally solve two completely unrelated crimes while operating under the assumption the killer was trying to prevent him from seeing the newspaper.
    • In "Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine", the investigation of a drive-by shooting in which Stottlemeyer gets shot in the shoulder turns out to be tied to an upcoming armored car robbery.
    • In "Mr. Monk, Private Eye", a dent car case leads Monk to a murder of a woman caused by the person who dented the car.
  • NCIS:
    • "Enemies Foreign" starts with the team busting an identity thief. One of the identities she stole leads them to a pair of Mossad agents who are in D.C. in advance of Director Eli David—who is being followed by Palestinian terrorists who want him dead.
    • “Kill Screen” starts out with a cop witnessing a pickpocket lifting a purse from a crowd of customers at a hotdog stand. The bag has the cut-off fingertips and teeth of a recently-killed corporal, which gets NCIS involved. The case then spirals to a game developer’s plot to wipe out every military computer on the Pentagon’s grid using his new video game and its mainframe to generate enough power to break through the firewalls.
    • "Troll" starts with a typical murdered sailor—and leads to a four-episode battle with international terrorists who create Child Soldiers via the internet, set off several bomb attacks (one of which kills Ned Dorniget), and almost-fatally shoot Gibbs.
  • NewBlood is founded on one of these when the two investigators realise that their murder and fraud investigations are linked to each other and indicative of a larger conspiracy.
  • The first episode of The Night Of follows, in parallel, the detectives investigating a bloody murder scene and the street cops arresting a reckless driver who refuses to take a breathalyzer. We already know him as the guy who, earlier in the episode, woke up to a damning The Murder After scenario and fled in a panic, but it's tense seeing the two investigations converge.
  • Happens a few times in NUMB3RS
    • "In Plain Sight": While trying to decrypt the computer of an escaped drug kingpin/cop killer, Charlie discovers that he is also concealing pornographic images of his very young daughter on his hard drive.
    • "Black Swan": An apparent innocent bystander at the scene of a drug raid flees from the cops, and the FBI discovers that he's involved in a domestic terrorist plot.
    • An Invoked Trope in "Robin Hood"; a high-tech bank robbery turns out to be just one piece in an intricate scheme to expose the misdeeds of the bank's president.
    • "Assassin": While busting a passport forger, the FBI discovers evidence of a plot to murder the last member of an influential South American political family.
    • "Waste Not": A sinkhole suddenly forms underneath an elementary school playground, killing a teacher and injuring several children. During the investigation into why it happened, it's revealed that a construction company has been dumping toxic waste underneath the playgrounds they've built at several low-income schools.
  • Happened many times on NYPD Blue. One notable example is in "Bombs Away", where a Romanian immigrant has a fender-bender with Sipowicz and Simone. The detectives hear a woman yelling and pounding in the man's trunk; he's brought in for questioning, which leads to a search of his apartment and the discovery of IEDs and a list of wealthy families in New York. He finally reveals to Sipowicz that he's holding a rich family for a million-dollar ransom, having tied them up and attached bombs to them in their home.
  • Happens regularly in Person of Interest. Attempt to murder one person equals exposure of whatever crime they were trying to use the murder to cover up. This is actually The Machine's job, finding the simple links that would prevent terrorist attacks. The fact that it finds the same connections in more conventional crimes was purely accidental.
  • The Shadow Line: The death of a drug baron → A Government Conspiracy using drug money to fund police pensions.
  • From the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part episode "Unification": Theft of a Vulcan ship from a scrapyard → Romulan plot to take over the planet Vulcan.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In the two-parter Improbable Cause/The Die Is Cast, the bombing of Garak's shop → the Tal Shiar and Obsidian Order making a preemtpive strike on the Dominion.
  • State of Play starts off with a murder, an affair and a suicide which are all investigated by the newspaper who find that they are all related to a much larger government conspiracy.
  • Exaggerated in season 3 of Stranger Things, where the instigating incident is barely even a crime. Joyce and (reluctantly) Hopper investigating why the refrigerator magnets in Hawkins have stopped working leads to them discovering a secret Soviet experiment into alternate dimensions on American soil. Similarly, Nancy and Jonathan trying to write a story on why rats are suddenly eating fertilizer uncovers an Eldritch Abomination building a Body of Bodies for itself.
  • Teen Wolf: A dead woman is found in the woods → Werewolves exist, so do some other creatures, and there's a war-type-thing going on between the werewolves, the other creatures, and the people who hunt them.
  • Twin Peaks: The murder of a teenage girl → otherdimensional demonic conspiracy (to confuse the audience).
  • Weeds subverts the hell out of this early in the third season. The second season Cliffhanger ends with Silas arrested for petty vandalism with a trunk full of marijuana but Celia drives away in his car before the cop sees it, and a few episodes later a DEA agent shows up at the Botwins' door while they're bagging product but never gets in the door so he doesn't notice it.
    • Also played straight at the end of the third season: stolen cross → new grow house.
  • A bomber in the third season of The West Wing is busted when he gets pulled over for a broken taillight.
  • The Wire: Season Two: Wharfienote  with suspicious amounts of money buys a stained window for a church → bulk smuggling of drugs, prostitutes and goods; multiple ethnic gangs, murders agogo. Hilariously, or depressingly, the guy who tipped the unit off to the church windownote  doesn't give a shit about the vast criminal network they uncovered, he just wants his slobby dockworker nemesis to pay big-time, and he'll gladly fuck his own people over if it will ensure that it happens.
  • Without a Trace. The reason behind the disappearance of the Victim of the Week was almost always far more complicated than indicated in the opening sequence.
  • Invoked in Yes, Minister. James Hacker hears of Italian Red Terrorists somehow being in possession of British bomb-making equipment and decides to tell the Prime Minister so there can be an investigation. His Permanent Secretary tells him not to get involved or it could lead to all sorts of things coming out, citing Watergate as an example and saying in politics you shouldn't get involved in anything that doesn't concern you. Hacker is then frightened off from telling the PM by the Chief Whip, who tells him it could be diasterous to some of his Cabinet colleagues along with the PM.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu supplement Masks of Nyarlathotep. The murder of author Jackson Elias by cultists leads to a worldwide conspiracy to open a Gate and let the forces of the Cthulhu Mythos conquer the Earth.
  • Magic: The Gathering: In the Dissension novel, Agrus Kos is sent to infiltrate the Simic Combine to find out their involvement in a potential Dimir plot...and is surprised and chagrined when guildleader Momir Vig begins monologuing about his own, completely unrelated plan to Take Over the World.
  • This is the standard structure for Pathfinder Adventure Paths, to justify starting at level 1 (when everything is kobolds and copper pieces, and you get excited over a potion of barkskin) and ending at 15-20 (when you can pick fights with legendary monsters and win): adventurers go to Town X at the behest of Patron Y, and whatever happens there starts them on a path to stopping the evil plan of Potentially Setting-Reshaping Threat Z. Iron Gods begins with someone sabotaging the purple "flame" that fuels most of the town of Torch's industry and ends with an unhinged AI launching a bid for godhood from within the confines of an ancient crashed spaceship. Carrion Crown starts with the apparently accidental death of a scholar, with the player characters being old friends attending his funeral, and winds its way through various horror tropes to an attempt to bring back an ancient lich. Legacy of Fire begins with a mysterious fire killing a merchant princess's personal astrologer, and the investigation ends with a crazed genie and his minions attempting to steal the power of an Eldritch Abomination. There are others.
  • One Shadowrun supplement, about Lone Star Security, mentions how police in the Robbery division often wind up investigating major crimes: ones that'd started out looking like a simple robbery due to cover-up efforts by the perpetrators.

  • The court case in The Broken Jug (Der zerbrochne Krug) by Heinrich von Kleist is about - you guessed it - a broken jug. As it turns out, there is a particularly nasty case of blackmail behind it.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed: Odyssey: In the Fate of Atlantis DLC, people getting kidnapped → two Isu turning innocent humans into bioweapons to take over Atlantis.
  • Baldur's Gate: An Iron shortage due to bandit attacks → plot to spark a war between Baldur's Gate and Amn. Attempted assassination of some nobody orphan → resurrection/replacement of a dead god.
  • BlazBlue: Attempt to destroy an underground magic device → Encounter with the hero's extremely dangerous Arch-Enemy → The destruction and re-creation of all existence.
  • Chrono Trigger: Save the Princess → Prevent the End of the World as We Know It.
  • Dead Rising 2:
  • Dragon Age II:
    • Sneak a free Qunari mage out of Kirkwall → Halt a Chantry plot to spark open conflict between humans and Qunari.
    • Humorously played with in the Bone Pit mine, going from an invasion of small dragons to a Coterie plot to steal shipments to a High Dragon taking over. One of the miners called it, too.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Daggerfall: Exorcise a walking spirit and deliver a letter → Shape the future of The Empire.
    • Morrowind: Investigate a pair of cults becoming more active in the eponymous province → stop a deranged Physical God from taking over the world.
    • Skyrim:
      • The sidequest "Laid to Rest". Investigate a suspicious house fire that killed a woman and a child → Break up a plot by vampires to take over the town and enslave its inhabitants.
      • The Thieves' Guild questline. Investigate why someone is trying to drive a patron of the Guild out of business → uncover the truth behind the death of the previous Guild Master and the treachery of the current one against both your guild and their patron deity, along with reclaiming an artifact with reality-warping powers.
  • Eternal Darkness: Investigate your grandfather's violent murder → Stop a two-thousand-year-old "liche" from summoning a world-destroying Eldritch Abomination.
  • Fallout: New Vegas:
    • Find the man that shot you and stole the package you were supposed to deliver, get said package back, and finish the delivery → decide which of the factions vying for control of New Vegas and the rest of the Mojave Wasteland emerges triumphant, or make your own power play and take over for yourself.
    • Prostitutes being abused → Omertas plotting to attack the Strip.
    • Sabotage of an NCR base → a terrorist attack on the monorail.
    • False radio reports → high treason.
  • Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade: A minor noble from Lycia goes missing, and another minor noble plots rebellion → A mad sorcerer was using those nobles to try to summon dragons to destroy the world.
  • For the King: The Lost Civilization DLC has a plot involving a Mayincatec civilization attempting to end the world from their secret jungle temple, but it starts with the protagonists investigating a case of poultry smuggling.
  • The first Gabriel Knight game: Investigate seven ritualistic murders → Stop an ancient cult that has taken over New Orleans and cursed your family for centuries.
  • Ghost Trick: The protagonist wanting to find out who murdered him → foreign government trying to steal a meteorite and gain its mysterious powers. Worsened by a certain individual with said powers who wants to take his personal vendetta on those who ruined his life ten years ago by killing them or framing them for murder. Said individual also manipulated two people into divulging national secrets and seizing a police station.
  • Heartbeat: Investigating a string of incidents in which Mogwai are being assaulted and having their cores stolen by an abnormally powerful wisp → stopping a mad Mogwai queen from annihilating humanity.
  • Kirby: Squeak Squad: Kirby's cake being stolen → a plot by the Squeaks to attain a chest that is said to grant ultimate power— which, unbeknownst to anyone (besides Meta Knight), contains an ancient Eldritch Abomination.
  • True to its genre, L.A. Noire has some:
    • Apparent drunk driving crash → statutory rape → blackmail → attempted murder → giant shoot-out with mobsters on the set of Intolerance.
    • Series of house fires → a giant real estate scheme.
  • Mass Effect:
    • In the first game, an unprovoked attack on a human colony → The destruction of all sentient life by Eldritch Abominations.
    • The sequel gives us: Human colonies disappearing → Creation of an Eldritch Abomination.
    • The Arrival DLC has: Admiral Hackett's friend Dr. Kenson has been kidnapped by Batarians → the Reapers will arrive and begin the galactic extermination in 2 days.
  • Max Payne: Murder of Alex Balder → Massive government conspiracy involving a failed attempt to create a Super Serum for the military which Max's family was killed to protect.
  • Max Payne 2: Investigating a break-in at a workshop suspected of housing an illegal gun shop → a massive crime war between The Mafia and a secret society and The Mafiya, the uncovering of a paramilitary group complicit in the cover-ups of hundreds of murders, the death of a corrupt NYPD Detective in love with the Russian mob boss and nearly all parties involved dying, with Max arrested for murder at the end.
  • Max Payne 3: Kidnap attempt on Rodrigo Branco + kidnap of his wife Fabiana → cooperation between illegal paramilitaries and Dirty Cops organ harvesting of the poor, staged by a Sleazy Politician to get himself elected on an anti-crime ticket, with those cops being his private army.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir: Sabotage of a trade ship → yuan-ti plot to take over the world.
  • Cyrus' storyline in Octopath Traveler: a collection of rare books has been stolen and sold to pay off a gambling researcher's debt → excerpts from a still-missing book are in the hands of a crazy guy trying to copy the evil research within → the headmaster of the academy and his assistant took the original book to learn how to gain ultimate power through dark magic and human sacrificethe revival of a dark god by the assistant's main benefactor.
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door: Princess Peach contacts Mario about a treasure map but gets kidnapped by X-Nauts → sinister plot to revive an ancient Eldritch Abomination sealed inside a crypt and possess the princess, and said Eldritch Abomination will then throw the Mushroom World into chaos.
  • Persona 3 has your team investigating the mystery of the Dark Hour and why your school turns into a freaky tower every night. You end up saving the world
  • Persona 4 has you and your team exploring the Midnight Channel and stopping people from being killed by facing their enemies without. You end up uncovering a Killer Cop and an Assimilation Plot by the goddess Izanami to turn everybody into Shadows and form one, collective conscience.
  • Persona 5 has you and your gang of vigilantes using the Metaverse to perform Heel–Face Brainwashing on untouchable or hidden criminals. Then you discover a conspiracy that's also using the Metaverse to pull off assassinations or engineer disasters in order to install their leader as Prime Minister, and that the events of the game were started by the Knight Templar god Yaldabaoth in order to give itself the moral justification to enslave mankind.
  • Happens quite a bit with the villain teams in Pokémon. For example:
    • Pokémon Red and Blue: Fossil theft in Mt. Moon → A plot by Team Rocket to Take Over the World and enslave all Pokémon.
    • Pokémon Gold and Silver: Slowpoke losing their tails in Azalea Town → An attempt to restore Team Rocket to its former glory by a few senior operatives trying to get the former Boss Rocket's attention.
    • Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire: Burglars targeting Devon Corporation → An eco-terrorist plot to either expand humanity's grip on the Earth or return what humans stole to Pokémon (depending on the version), involving a very powerful Legendary.
    • Pokémon Diamond and Pearl: Goons attempting to strongarm Professor Rowan and steal from an energy company → An attempt to restart the world with all humans as Empty Shells.
  • In Police Quest 3, the endgame involves the investigation of a house linked to a series of murders. When it turns out that the place is fortified, the player must go back to the courthouse and get authorization to use the departmental battering ram, which uncovers a cocaine manufacturing ring.
  • The entirety of Resident Evil and its mess of a biological war can be traced back to the first game and its prequel - an investigation of the murder of ten people, seemingly eaten, allows the massive conspiracy behind Umbrella and its viruses to come to light. In Resident Evil 5, The attempted arrest of an international arms dealer selling a highly dangerous biological weapon → a plot by the series' Big Bad to conquer the world by spreading the biological weapon everywhere.
  • Shadowrun for the Super NES has a Who Dun It To Me that reveals a major conspiracy to take control of the entire Internet.
  • Shadowrun Returns Dead Man's Switch campaign: Investigating the murder of your old runner buddy Sam Watts → victim of an organized organ-harvesting plot → mastermind is also part a plan to create an Insect Spirit hive in Seattle and kill its entire population.
  • In South Park: The Fractured but Whole, the plot starts with the kids trying to find a missing cat with a $100 finders fee. This leads them to uncover a criminal conspiracy where cats are being kidnapped as part of a drug epidemic, being targeted by ninja assassins and ultimately Cartman's plot to take over the city.
  • The standard plot of Tex Murphy games. Tex gets a small, simple gig (find my missing friend) and it turns into a save the world scenario.
  • A common plot in games in the Touhou Project:
  • YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG: Investigate the disappearance of a woman in an elevator.Stop a conspiracy meant to bring about The End of the World as We Know It.

    Visual Novels 
  • Happens very often in the Ace Attorney series.
    • In the second case of the first game, trying to solve the murder of your mentor leads to you discovering a massive blackmail chain. It gets better too: the investigation reveals a reference to the "DL-6" incident, which becomes prominent later on.
    • Investigating the murder of a lawyer in the middle of a lake (case 1-4) quickly reveals a connection to the assassination of another lawyer 15 years ago which has been unsolved all this time. Turns out this was just the result of a fifteen-year-long revenge scheme against Miles Edgeworth, ace prosecutor.
    • A police detective was murdered in "Rise from the Ashes" so he didn't leak the truth about the assassination of Prosecutor Neil Marshall 2 years ago, the constant extortion of the current Chief Prosecutor, and an evidence forgery to convict a serial killer for Marshall's murder (which he didn't commit). Unfortunately for the mastermind behind this incident, Phoenix exposed everything in court, so in the end it was All for Nothing.
    • The theft of a priceless (in the worst sense of the word; it's worth nothing) historical treasure in Case 3-2 → a series of blackmails and thefts of 100,000-dollar items and the murder of a security company's CEO.
    • The poisoning of a genius programmer in a restaurant → a million-dollar debt with the mafia's don (not on behalf of the programmer, but his killer) and the infection of the entire precinct's computer network with a virus the programmer created.
    • In the last case of the third game, the murder of a children's book author is ultimately tied into a gigantic revenge scheme.
    • In Investigations, the seemingly disconnected murders of a police officer, a plane flight passenger, a prosecutor and a defendant over the course of a few days → All of them were involved in an international smuggling ring. One that had a politician/ambassador of a country on the edge of war as the ringleader, incidentally.
    • Every case in the fourth game Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney has this:
      • The murder of an unknown guy in a restaurant, which spans the entire game - The victim is actually the protagonist's step-father and the defendant's old client, and the real murderer's motive is tied to the events of seven years ago.
      • A non-fatal hit-and-run, a panty-snatching and the theft of a noodle stand led to a murder where the defendant is the son of the city's biggest crime boss, who's unaware that he's on the verge of death thanks to a turf war that caused him to get shot in the heart.
      • The murder of a singer's manager during a concert is pretty big, but when that manager turns out to be an Undercover Interpol Agent who was killed by a smuggler, who was funneling a controlled substance that is on the top of Interpol's list of illicit contraband into the country, it gets even bigger.
      • An isolated painter is found dead in his home. Oh, and he happens to have drawings depicting all the cases that the titular character has worked on up to that point. And as if that wasn't enough, he turns out to be a forger who was apparently responsible for making the evidence that got Phoenix disbarred seven years ago. And to top it all off, it turns out that his murder was actually supposed to happen seven years ago during those events, but the "time bomb" that the killer set for him got delayed thanks to some luck, that happens to tie into Apollo's sister's family being a group of famous magicians. ... quite a complex web for a case that starts out as your run of the mill murder. Even Phoenix himself notes this throughout the case.
    • The bombing of Courtroom No. 4 in Dual Destiniesan international spy destroying evidence that would reveal his identity and his guilt in a seven-year-old murder, and the murder and impersonation of a police detective, and two consecutive terrorist attacks on the Space Center.
    • The theft of Khura'in's national treasure and the murder of the guard looking after it in Spirit of JusticeA coup d'état plotted by the very Justice Minister of the kingdom and a popular revolution involving basically every known character up to Case 5. The plot is so big, its influence encompasses Japanifornia, thousands of miles away. But wait, there's more: in investigating the coup d'état, the truth about the queen's assassination 23 years ago comes to light, which further shakes the kingdom as the current queen was responsible for that arson and the law that killed off all lawyers in the land.
  • In the second Paramedium game, the protagonists are sent to investigate reports of a ghost being a hazard to traffic. It turns out that the ghost was one of a group of kidnapped school children, and haunts the road because she was hit by a truck while trying to escape and fetch help. Following her reveals the kidnapper, who had otherwise managed to escape justice for twenty or thirty years.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: Team RWBY's vigilante investigation of a Dust store robbery eventually sweeps them into a vast, global conspiracy dating back thousands of years.

    Web Comics 
  • In Forest Hill a school bully repeatedly running away from home, and what at first seems to be an unrelated incident of a 5-year-old girl sexually molesting a boythe school bully is being prostituted by his father to other pedophiles and the girl is the daughter of one of his clients, who has been forcing the two of them to have sex.
  • The Letters Of The Devil is started by Cedric's investigation into Rita Carey's fraudulent business practices, and we discover a plethora of other, more heinous crimes as his investigation progresses.
  • The Order of the Stick: Murder/robbery of Eugene Greenhilt's mentor → Multiverse-spanning plot to gain control of an Eldritch Abomination that could destroy the world and kill the gods.
    • Although in this case the murder wasn't related to the major plot, as the villain responsible didn't join the major plot until long after the murder.

    Web Original 
  • Can You Spare a Quarter?: It turns out that Jamie's parents are part of a much larger group of people who abuse children. And the investigation in the case of Jamie leads to the arrest of a number of people in high positions.
  • The Salvation War: Pantheocide: Discovery of illegal human items in Heaven → multiple conspiracies to bring down Yahweh.
  • The creepypasta Teacher Wanted, Must Love Kids has one hell of an example: Male teacher is fired for allegedly groping female student. → Female teacher framed him to cover up the fact that she's an Eldritch Abomination doing much worse things with the male students.

    Web Videos 
  • The Cartoon Man trilogy: Missing persons case. → A plot by said missing person to enslave the world.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!: Parodied, and played straight. Steve does a research project on peanut butter and discovers a secret conspiracy dating back to the days of Abraham Lincoln. The parody occurs earlier in the episode in the form of a Noodle Incident where Snot claims that he gave up sleuthing after "the case of a missing bike horn turned into a double rape homicide".
  • Ben 10: Alien Force's 1st two-part episode has alien weapon smugglers on Earth. Magister Labrid was correct saying "That's just the tip of the iceberg", as it's discovered later on that said smugglers were gathering enough cash in the black market to fund their Galactic scale Apocalypse How plan.
  • A common plot in Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers. Finding a missing kitten → foiling a plot by a mad scientist to level the city with lightning. Reuniting a nightingale with a Chinese ruler → foiling a plot by said ruler's sister to take over the throne. Helping a kid find his lost science project → foiling a plot by the same mad scientist wanting to level the city...again. An attack on a fish truck → stopping a submarine full of seas creatures from flooding the city. Even their first mission had a case of a stolen ruby turn out to be part of a scheme to rob the world gold depository.
    • One such episode even has Chip lampshading the idea: he doesn't want to help a bird migrate to Capistrano because the case is "too small", only for it to turn into a case of a woman using a giant magnet to screw up birds' sense of direction in order to capture them and bake them into pies, which ends up bringing down an entire airplane in the end.
  • Gargoyles begins with Elisa investigating the relatively minor crimes of property damage and theft, and this investigation exposes her to the major plot from the very beginning.
  • Kim Possible has this happen quite a few times. The biggest example is from Kim Possible Movie: So the Drama where the attempted kidnapping of a toy magnate was merely the first step in Drakken's most ambitious Take Over the World plot. In one episode this trope is also implied when it is mentioned that Kim once brought an end to an interstate police chase that was set off by a driver having a broken brake light, but no further details are given.
  • Happens in several episodes of The Simpsons
    • "Bart the Fink": Bart not getting a check signed by Krusty the Clown himself → Krusty is arrested for tax fraud.
    • "24 Minutes": Bullies steal expired yogurt from the Kwik-E-Mart → Plot to unleash a stink bomb on the school's bake sale.
    • "Mona Leaves-a": Homer fulfills his late mother's final wishes → Uncovering Mr. Burns' plan to send a rocket full of radioactive waste to the Amazon rainforest.
  • 1973-74 Super Friends episode "The Planet Splitter". The theft of diamonds weighing 100+ carats → A plot to split Cygnus Uno, a planet in another solar system.
  • Young Justice: The first outing (unofficial, at that) of the Team is to investigate a fire at Cadmus Labs. The fire allows them to uncover a vast secret project to create genetically engineered soldiers... including Superboy. It's also the first glimpse into the operations of the Light, who are secretly responsible for every villainous act in the series.
  • Parodied in an episode of Code Monkeys, when both Dave and the United Nations believe that: the theft of the new Impalavision game console from the US, along with two video-game developers → create a computer-powered superweapon capable of launching nukes at the US. The actual plot is much smaller, if not weirder: steal consoles and kidnap developers → restore Khakistan's coffers by selling the consoles back to Americans at a discount to make tons of cash (the programmers were needed to make games, as apparently the Impalavision's launch titles weren't great).

    Real Life 
  • Watergate, perhaps the most famous example of this trope in a real-world context (to the point where it was even formerly the page image). A foiled "third-rate" burglary at the Watergate complex → the subsequent investigation by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered suspiciously diverted funds and a massive conspiracy to manipulate the US election that went right up to President Richard Nixon himself. As well as adding a new suffix to the English language. Even the burglary itself was tipped off by a tiny clue: A security guard found the lock on a stairwell door taped open. Thinking it had been left by maintenance workers, he removed it. He came back to find the lock taped again, and decided to make a more thorough search, catching the burglars in the act.
    • On a related note, Howard Hunt told one of the burglars to throw a brief tip he owed his country club to drop it in the mail chute. When the burglars get arrested that night, the check gets discovered, and Hunt immediately faces indictment, along with dragging the White House into the mess. Furthermore, Hunt's silly action made it much easier for Woodward and Bernstein to make the link to the White House and resulting in Nixon's resignation, whereas Nixon likely would never have been discovered to have been involved if the burglar did not have his tip.
  • The Cuckoo's Egg tells of how astrophysicist Clifford Stoll was asked to resolve a 75¢ discrepancy in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory computer usage accounts, and ended up uncovering a German computer hacker selling secrets to the KGB.
  • The Los Angeles Police Department Rampart Scandal in the late 1990s, which was the inspiration for the movie Training Day and the TV series The Shield:
    • It started on March 18, 1997, when Rampart CRASHnote  officer Kevin Gaines was shot dead in self-defense by undercover LAPD officer Frank Lyga. The resulting investigation revealed Gaines not only had a history of road rage but lived a lifestyle far beyond his annual LAPD salary and was associated with Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight, and it came out that Death Row had gang ties with the Bloods and hired off-duty LAPD officers as security guards.
    • The investigation into Gaines also led to suspicions that he and other officers were involved in the fatal drive-by shooting of The Notorious B.I.G..
    • In March of 1998, eight pounds of cocaine worth $800,000 was stolen from an evidence room. Rampart CRASH officer Rafael Pérez was arrested for the theft, suspected to be an attempt at framing Frank Lyga in retaliation for Gaines's death; the cocaine stash was evidence in a prior arrest made by Lyga. Pérez was also suspected of knowing about the illegal activities of fellow CRASH officer David Mack, who'd robbed a bank his assistant manager girlfriend worked at in November 1997. When Pérez got a mistrial, he took a plea bargain and pled guilty to cocaine theft in exchange for providing prosecutors information about two "bad" shootings and three other Rampart CRASH officers engaged in illegal activity. Ultimately, over 4,000 pages of sworn testimony came out of Pérez, which resulted in more than 70 officers being implicated in serious misconduct. Worse, the scandal led to the Police Chief, District Attorney, and Mayor of Los Angeles all eventually being not re-appointed or re-elected (after allegations arose that the chief had tried to censor the lead investigators in the Rampart case, and one of these detectives resigned as a form of protest). Over 100 criminal convictions were also overturned as a result.
  • Accountants are taught to consider even tiny discrepancies in financial data important, as even the smallest shortfall can be a clue to large-scale embezzlement or fraud.
    • Enron is an example of this. Initially, the only question people had about Enron was whether its stock was overpriced. See Enron's example below for full details.
  • Some of the most infamous murderers in history have been caught thanks to them tripping up over traffic violations:
    • Timothy McVeigh was arrested for illegal firearm possession and driving without a license plate, and nearly made bail before he was finally connected to the Oklahoma City bombing.
    • David Berkowitz, the 'Son of Sam' serial killer, was tracked down because his getaway car was ticketed for illegal parking at the scene of one of his murders.
    • Ted Bundy's initial capture was this: On August 16, 1975, an off-duty cop driving around his own neighborhood in a suburb of Salt Lake City saw a Volkswagen Bug that didn't belong there driving with its lights off. Bundy promptly took off. The cop eventually chased him down and cited Bundy for failure to stop for an officer and possession of burglary tools. A detective connected Bundy with an open case of kidnapping and attempted murder. He was soon linked with some two dozen murders and became America's most notorious serial killer. This happened two more times. After he was convicted of kidnapping in Utah, Colorado extradited him to face a murder charge. Bundy managed to escape (after an attempted escape in Utah), but was pulled over in a stolen car weaving in and out of the lanes. He then managed to escape yet again from a Colorado jail and went to Florida, where he killed two more women. He was then stopped in another stolen car by a patrol officer making a routine check and captured for the last time.
    • Serial killer Joel Rifkin initially drew the attention of a patrolman for driving without a license plate. When he was stopped (after a high-speed chase), police found the body of a dead prostitute in the trunk. Rifkin was eventually convicted of 17 murders.
    • Similarly, Leonard Lake and Charles Ng kidnapped and killed upwards of 25 people together and were only stopped when Ng was caught shoplifting from a hardware store, having driven there in a car that belonged to one of their victims. Lake was taken into custody where he promptly killed himself knowing it was all over, but Ng managed to evade authorities until he was again busted while shoplifting.
  • The Charles Manson Family was originally arrested for car theft, and it wasn't until one of them bragged to a fellow inmate that they were implicated in the string of high-profile murders occurring at the time.
  • The "Festina Affair" that first blew the lid off the systematic doping by teams at the Tour de France in 1998 began with one of the Festina team's cars being routinely stopped by customs at the France-Belgium border and the discovery of steroids, EPO, syringes and other paraphernalia in the car's trunk.
  • In 9/11, a documentary about 9/11, Jules and Gedeon Naudet and James Hanlon are making a documentary about probationary firefighter Tony Banatatos in his journey to become a full-fledged firefighter in New York City. Weeks go by and they get great footage of the life of firefighters, but no "real" fires happen. Then, one September morning, the firefighters investigate a gas smell. While filming this, Jules captures something that no regular person anywhere in the world would've expected to see: American Airlines Flight 11 flying into the north tower of the World Trade Center, one of the only two known recordings of this first strike in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the only known recording to clearly show the plane impacting Tower One.
  • Real life police officers are taught to take extreme care when pulling over a car at a traffic stop because of this trope. If the driver is being pulled over for a traffic violation like speeding or reckless driving, but he committed a much more serious crime, he will likely believe he's being pulled over for the latter and might try to take off. Or start shooting.
  • It's possible for someone abducted and locked in the trunk of a car to invoke this trope. If the car is an older model or the interior trunk release is disabled, it may be possible to pry off the lining to get at the cords leading to one of the tail lights. Disabling one increases the chance that the car will be noticed by the police for the minor violation.
  • The PTL scandal could have its beginning linked to a 1980 scandal involving a sexual encounter between PTL founder Jim Bakker (who was temporarily separated from then-wife Tammy Faye) and a young church secretary named Jessica Hahn (depending on whether you believe either Hahn's account; accusing Bakker of essentially date-raping her, or Bakker's version, stating the sex was consensual and possibly an attempt at revenge due to Tammy Faye's infatuation with music producer Gary S. Paxton). What got the Charlotte Observer's attention was initial concerns of financial misdeeds such as the $1,000 lifetime partnerships for their Heritage USA theme park, along with later revelations that $265,000 was given to Hahn as "hush money" to keep the incident quiet.
  • In the 2003 Antwerp diamond heist, which is one of the largest at over $100 million, the criminals were largely caught thanks to littering when they made a rather unlucky choice of where to dump their trash and it was quickly found the next day by an annoyed resident.
  • In 2012, a chef at the Virginia Governor's Mansion was fired for stealing food from the mansion. The investigation into this small-time petty crime ended up revealing a far more serious crime involving Governor Bob McDonnell accepting extremely expensive gifts in return for illegally using his office to market a dietary supplement. The chef ended up with two misdemeanor embezzlement charges, while McDonnell and his wife were convicted of a combined 19 felony charges relating to corruption and fraud.
  • In April 2011, sheriff's deputies in Gloucester County, Virginia, searched a home for stolen property. They found a six-year-old girl near death, locked in a cage, apparently having been hidden from society for most of her life. And her brother's remains buried under a shed.
  • After assassinating John F. Kennedy and Officer J.D. Tippet, Lee Harvey Oswald was nabbed while sneaking into a movie theater without paying a ticket. The theater manager suspected Oswald might be more than a petty criminal and called the cops.
    • Although Jim Garrison's prosecution of Clay Shaw has been generally ridiculed by serious assassination researchers, Oliver Stone found the way it spun out of a fight between two low-rent private eyes to be fascinating, which led to the movie JFK. He said "This pistol whipping occurs on the night of November 22, 1963, on a rainy night in which this guy, Jack Martin, gets his skull laid open by his boss, Guy Banister, and out of that little Raymond Chandler kind of incident, Garrison spins this tale of international intrigue — a hell of a trail. As a dramatist, that excited me."
  • Malcolm Webster, the Black Widower, was tripped up in this manner. Alleged embezzlement of angler club funds → murder of Claire Morris, his first wife, and attempted murder of Felicity Drumm, his second wife.
  • Britain's most prolific serial killer, Dr. Harold Shipman, was originally investigated over allegations that he had forged the will of a recently deceased patient. The fake will was traceable to his typewriter, which led to the patient being exhumed. Traces of diamorphine were found in her body, and other apparently healthy patients who died suddenly were then also exhumed. It has been suggested that Shipman deliberately invoked the trope himself, making the ham-fisted forgery because he wanted to be caught.
  • A pair of Los Angeles Times journalists investigating small-time malfeasance in Maywood, California, then stumbled across a much larger, far-reaching embezzling scheme in the neighboring town of Bell. Despite having a population of 35,000, three of its leaders had annual incomes higher than the President of the United States. The embezzlement is so complicated and intense that it threatened to suck the people of both Bell and Maywood dry of money, and five years later, the FBI is still discovering new ways that Bell officials had siphoned money into their hands.
  • The 1962 assassination attempt on French President Charles de Gaulle was solved when a wanted Foreign Legion deserter was detained for not having papers at a police checkpoint.
  • On April 20, 2007, Davon Boddie was arrested for pot dealing outside of the Royal Suite nightclub in Roanoke, Virginia. Boddie was the cousin of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and gave Vick's home address as his own. Five days later, police searched the home and discovered a massive dog-fighting ring, leading to the arrest and conviction of Vick and four others.
  • In 2005, a former Brazil Postal Service executive was filmed negotiating a bribe, while saying he had the backing of a congressman. Said politician went on to reveal the government was buying the support of a lot of deputies. If that wasn't big enough, a decade later a money laundering operation using a gas station uncovered a massive corruption scheme that sunk the value of the country's biggest company and ultimately forced the president out of office—which, embarrassingly enough, happened right after she was forced to miss the Olympics due to a suspension pending a verdict in an impeachment trial intended to remove her.
    • And, as of 2017, the latter scandal has resulted in an investigation into Brazil's sitting president, the vice president who had replaced the president, and the conviction of her predecessor on corruption charges. All this galvanized support for the Brazilian far-right, culminating in the controversial election of the very far-right-aligned Jair Bolsonaro to the Brazilian Presidency in 2018. And the corruption has only gotten worse under him, to the point where the people are actively calling for him to be impeached, too—it doesn't help that the obstruction investigation the Supreme Court authorized towards the end of April 2020 in the wake of his termination of Brazil's top cop came as the country was sinking fast under the weight of his gross mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In late 1670s France, an investigation into a forged marriage certificate led to the exposure of a massive network of poisoners, one that reached as far as the inner circle of Louis XIV. The "Affair of the Poisons" became one of the greatestnote  scandals in French history.
  • The Profumo Affair began when a petty criminal fired at a house his ex-girlfriend was hiding in and resulted in the Harold Macmillan government being permanently discredited.
  • Around the time Nintendo released one of its disc-based consoles, a bunch of employees at one game store decided to play a prank involving a Box of Stupid, an empty box for a console which they had filled with junk to see if anybody would steal it. The unlucky victim was their assistant manager, and the incident turned out to be just the latest in which he had been helping himself to the store's inventory.
  • An investigation into how the daughter of a New Age South Korea cultist managed to get into a prestigious academy despite weak grades eventually led to the discovery of the enormous influence the cult had on President Park Gun-hye and her subsequent impeachment.
  • A curious state trooper stumbles upon major Criminal Convention on November 14, 1957 → The discovery of a secretive Italian-American criminal society called Cosa Nostra, or Our Thing in Italian. Vito Genovese, the organizer of the disastrous Apalachin Meeting, received a lot of flak from his peers and was imprisoned on presumably trumped-up drug charges. To make matters worse, a low-level mobster named Joe Valachi squeals on national TV in 1963, giving a good glimpse on the mob's inner workings, including its structure and a who's who of the American Mafia.
    • Later in the late 1970s, FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone attempted to infiltrate mob-affiliated truck hijacking and burglary crews by posing as a jewelry thief named "Donnie Brasco". Barely getting past by the fences that were his initial target, Pistone found himself making contacts in the Bonnano family to the point of being proposed for membership. The intel gathered by his investigation revealed the existence and scope of the Mafia Commission, links between the various Mafia families in the country, mob involvement in labor racketeering, and a large-scale drug-running operation between the United States and Sicily.
  • In the late 1970s and early 1980s, American and Italian authorities were investigating the business failures of prominent banker Michele Sindona, due to reports of financial irregularities. Digging into bank records and Sindona's dirty laundry revealed not only that he was a fraudster and connected to The Mafia, but also the existence of a very scary secret society called Propaganda Due.
  • The Lockheed Bribery scandals began as an inquiry into Lockheed for the potential misappropriation of government bailout money. By the time it was over, a multinational bribery scandal had been revealed that caused major shakeups in the governments of Japan, West Germany, and the Netherlands, the arrest of Japan's prime minister, a constitutional crisis in the Netherlands and nearly destroyed Lockheed as a company for good.
  • The attempted Millennium Dome heist and the subsequent sting operation that led to the arrest of the would-be robbers began when police investigated a series of sophisticated armored car heists. While by no means small, they would have paled in comparison to a successful heist at the Millennium Dome, which would have netted the robbers £350 million in diamonds.
  • What started as yet another series of allegations against a celebrity, this time Harvey Weinstein of The Weinstein Company, would end up mushrooming into something bigger and a lot worse (and that's saying a lot considering how bad the initial allegations by themselves, revealed by the New York Times, were) after actress Alyssa Milano made a tweet calling for other women to come forward with stories about abuse: the uncovering of a gargantuan amount of sexual misconduct incidents committed by high-ranking celebrities and politicians, an event most commonly known as the Weinstein Effect. This phenomenon has implicated film actor Kevin Spacey, film director Bryan Singer, The Loud House creator Chris Savino, Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi, comedians Andy Dick and Louis C.K., voice actor Vic Mignogna, actress Asia Argento, and many more. Some were not hit as hard, notably John Lasseter getting a job at Skydance Animation after leaving Pixar and Donald Trump still being President, just to name a few, while there were some whose allegations were only exposed when they were already dead, such as Justin "JewWario" Carmichal.
  • Before the Weinstein scandal broke, Hollywood's biggest scandal began in 1991 when one of Dustin Hoffman's checks bounced. Then, the premiere of Thelma & Louise was delayed. Then, Sean Connery threatened to boycott the premiere of The Russia House unless he was given a letter of credit due to him beforehand. Then, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer missed a payment of bond interest. Within a few years, it was discovered that all four events had one thing in common: they resulted from the financial indiscrepencies of one Giancarlo Parretti, a saga of racketeering and fraud which entangled not just the studio that once boasted of having "more stars than there are in the heavens" but also Crédit Lyonnais, then the largest bank in France, and numerous smaller film studios, of which those that survived the ordeal, if any, can be counted on one hand.
  • This can happen twice to the same person. In 1957, 23-year-old Gerald Mason ran a red light in California, was stopped by two police officers, and promptly shot them. He was just driving a stolen car from a lover's lane where he had robbed four teenagers at gunpoint and raped one of them. 45 years later, a computerized fingerprint database found a match between a print in the steering wheel of the car and Mason's file for a burglary in South Carolina in 1956. The police went to look for Mason, who was now a wealthy, retired businessman and grandfather. He immediately collapsed and confessed everything. He had little choice because he still bore in his back the scar left by a bullet fired by one of the officers as he fled.
  • The Sandusky Affair started with one Aaron Fisher, then a freshman at Central Mountain High School, mentioning a relationship with former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky that involved "inappropriate touching". Three years later, it would explode into a university-wide scandal that went all the way up to its president, among other higher-ups, cost one of the all-time most revered college football coaches his job shortly before his death, got the NCAA involved, and still influences local politics and leaves bitter memories among Penn State alumni to this day.
  • Rinse and repeat with the case of Larry Nassar at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, only the second major sex scandal to rock the sports world since the Sandusky Affair. It started when a coach heard one of her gymnasts and another girl discussing Nassar's "treatments" and thought that something didn't sound right, so she reported it. From there, what unfolded was a full-blown sex abuse case, with well over a hundred victims ultimately named, and Nassar recieving a Longer-Than-Life Sentence. What's more, the investigation not only involved Nassar himself, but also implicated Michigan State University and a few higher-ups at USA Gymnastics in a major coverup, and also opened the door for subsequent allegations of verbal and physical abuse against individual coaches. The full extent of the situation may not be known until the conclusion of the investigation, which is expected to take years.
  • The Volkswagen emissions scandal was also revealed this way when a small research team from West Virginia University did a study on the difference in emissions between European and American cars. While they were at it, they discovered a difference in emissions from Volkswagen cars in a controlled environment and those same cars on actual roads. When investigated, it turned out that Volkswagen had been installing "defeat devices" on all its diesel cars, fooling laboratory tests into thinking the cars met standards they didn't in actual driving. The fallout from that, including a major backlash against diesel cars as a whole to the point of threatening to become a Genre-Killer both de jure in certain parts of Europe and de facto most elsewhere, caused Volkswagen stock to drop by a third, several higher-ups resigned or were suspended, and ended up with a 2.8 billion dollar fine. One wonders why they thought that would be less expensive than actually bringing their cars up to standard.
  • In the late '80s, a certain priest in Louisiana named Gilbert Gauthe was busted for molesting dozens upon dozens of children. Over the next few decades, it became increasingly clear that he was only the first case of a real-life Pedophile Priest to be exposed, and when the lid was blown on Pennsylvania in 2018, Gauthe turned out to be not even the earliest real-life example by four decades, and in a similar fallout to the Weinstein Effect law enforcement is hellbent on finding out how much worse it is than what has already been revealed. Worse, the entire scandal has the potential to cause the single biggest schism this side of the Reformation, as traditional Catholics who supported Pope Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict, and reformist Catholics who back the decidedly more liberal-minded Pope Francis are at each other’s throats like never before.
  • In December 2018, Niagara Regional Police noticed a car parked in a handicapped spot without a permit. They checked the plates and discovered it was stolen, with a prohibited rifle and fentanyl opioids in the backseat.
  • The dissemination of stolen emails from the DNC and various members of the Clinton campaign in the 2016 presidential election lead to the revelation that the Russian government had a sophisticated digital operation to meddle in the election. It began as just a disinformation campaign that involved in helping Trump and hurting Clinton. While the relationship between Trump and the Russians goes back to the '80s, the operation really ramped up after Trump went to Moscow in December 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant. According to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, no Americans were willing accomplices in an active conspiracy with the Russians, but there were a few people who helped but didn’t know.
    • There was also another big plot for Russian influence in the election uncovered by a relatively small crime, being an unregistered agent of a foreign government. Russian National Maria Butina started a Master’s program in 2016 at American University in Washington DC which ended up being merely a cover story. She was a purported Russian gun rights advocate who’d been dabbling in American politics for a few years at that point, mainly with the NRA. She had been under the mentorship of Russian oligarch/former member of parliament, Aleksandr Torshin since 2011. She was charged and later pleaded guilty to the fairly minor aforementioned crime. Turns out the Russian government was trying to covertly fund the NRA as a roundabout way to help Trump (foreign nationals aren’t allowed to donate to American elections) and she was the point(wo)man. The only American who’s been charged in this scheme is her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, who has been indicted on the also relatively minor to the accusations charges of wire fraud and money laundering.
  • A pediatrician working for Indian Health Services is assaulted by one of his patients → multiple allegations of pedophilic sexual abuse by said pediatrician, a certain Stanley Patrick Weber.
  • The 2019 college admissions bribery scandal got blown open because Morrie Tobin, who was under investigation by the SEC in an unrelated pump-and-dump securities fraud, offered information about the admissions scheme to the government in exchange for leniency. An alumnus of Yale, he told authorities that the Yale women's soccer head coach, Rudolph "Rudy" Meredith, had asked for $450,000 in exchange for helping his daughter gain admission to the school. The FBI had Tobin wear a wire while talking to Meredith in a Boston hotel on April 12, 2018; Meredith subsequently agreed to cooperate with the FBI and led them to William Rick Singer, the ringleader.
  • A retired Major League Baseball player is shot in a hit gone wrong → a drug running conspiracy.
  • While not so much "minor" as much as a case of two seemingly unrelated crimes being connected that led to the downfall of former Illinois Republican Governor George Ryan. During an investigation into a traffic accident in Wisconsin where 6 children in the Wills family were killed while the parents survived but were severely burned, it was discovered that unqualified truck drivers were giving out bribes to members of Ryan's staff when Ryan was Illinois Secretary of State; resulting in a grand total of 79 people (mostly state officials and lobbyists) being charged - 76 of them convicted while Ryan decided not to run for a 2nd term in 2002note ; eventually being indicted on 22 various counts in late 2003 (during the trial, Ryan's daughters and one son-in-law would also be implicated in the scheme); and - aided by part by Ryan's former chief of staff Scott Fawell testifying against Ryan - eventually being convicted on all charges (two of which would be thrown out by the judge in post-trial motions) and would ultimately serve 6 and a half years in federal prison.
  • An investigation into fraudulent credit card charges of carpet cleaning business ZZZZ Best by the Los Angeles Times led to the lid being blown off one of the biggest accounting scandals ever, involving fraudulent restoration jobs and eventually revealing that ZZZZ Best was just a front for a Ponzi scheme. The scheme landed whiz-kid founder Barry Minkow in federal prison in 1988. After Minkow's release in 1995, he became a pastor, but eventually fell back into his old ways, pleading guilty to securities fraud in 2011 and to defrauding his church in 2014, serving a five year sentence and paying restitution to the tune of $3.4 million, on top of the $26 million he was ordered to pay for the ZZZZ Best scheme.
  • Cracked has this article about the little things that unearthed several major celebrity scandals, including the aforementioned college admissions scandal.
  • As covered by Down the Rabbit Hole, the 1985 Austrian Wine Poisoning Scandal initially started when a wine-ferrying trucker refused to allow his cargo to be tainted with water. His tipping off of it to the Austrian government eventually snowballed into one of the biggest public health scandals in central Europe, as investigators discovered that tainting sweet wines with diethylene glycol— an initially hard-to-detect but highly toxic chemical used in wallpaper remover and some brands of antifreeze— to artificially flavor and sweeten them as a means of counteracting climate change-induced premature grape abscission had become standard in the Austrian wine industry. The end result? Countless arrests and incarcerations, the total collapse of the Austrian wine industry (which would take around a decade to fully recovernote ), and massive amounts of public ridicule around the world, up to and including a jab from The Simpsons in 1990.
  • In 2001, the energy company Enron saw its luck sour, as many questioned how the company was managing its finances when their reported stock value was 55 times larger than their earnings, among numerous other opaque and bizarre accounting practices. This and other discrepancies led to the SEC looking into the company, and as the investigation went on, more and more crimes were uncovered. What had essentially started into looking into the odd accounting practices of the company mushroomed into a laundry list of crimes committed by and with the knowledge of the majority of its executives that included embezzlement, insider trading and fraud, the last of which included the supervillain-level scheme of deliberately blacking out California to profit on hugely inflated energy prices. The end result saw several Enron executives going to prison (and one other executive who was convicted dying of a heart attack before he could be sentenced), the creation of stronger punishments for financial evidence tampering, Enron becoming the world's largest corporate bankruptcy in history until the collapse of WorldCom and destroyed the reputation of Arthur Andersen, one of the world's largest accounting firms, so thoroughly that they too soon folded.
  • In 1948, an attempted robbery took place in Los Angeles, in which the perpetrator was shot and killed. Normally, this wouldn't lead to much... but the investigation revealed an illicit partnership (and allegedly a love affair) between LAPD vice cop Elmer V. Jackson and madam Brenda Allen. The subsequent prostitution and police corruption trials resulted in a massive shake-up and reform of the Los Angeles Police Department.
  • In January 2020, the head of San Francisco's Public Works Department (Mohammed "Mr. Clean" Nuru) and restaurant owner Nick Bovis were arrested by the FBI for a 2018 attempt to bribe an airport official with five thousand dollars, which the official reported. Over the next year, a "permit expediter" named Walter Wing Lok Wong agreed to cooperate with authorities, revealing a history of bribery and fraud going back to at least 2004 and leading to the arrest or resignation of, among others, the General Manager of the Public Utilities Commission, the Building Inspections Director, and the City Administrator (the highest-ranked appointed official in the city), with revelations of millions of dollars in bribes and cheating on multi-million dollar bids, with indictments from the US Attorney, city attorney, and the IRS. (As of January 2021, the investigation is ongoing.)
  • A tax collector's house is raided in connection with his stalking of a political rival → a sex trafficking ring also involving local representative Matt Gaetz (R). Only in Florida!

Alternative Title(s): A Far More Sinister Plot, Gonna Need A Bigger Warrant


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