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Murder by Mistake

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"Mierda! I hit the wrong one."
Franco, Licence Renewed

To err is human, and for the most part, murderers are as human as the next guy. Sometimes mistakes are made and the victim of a murder turns out to not be the intended target of the one who committed it. In Cop Shows, especially Police Procedurals, this can cause investigators to pursue Red Herrings and make other errors as the mistaken victim is initially assumed to be the killer's intended target.

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For criminals, hitting the wrong guy means that their intended victim might be alerted that someone's after them. Even worse, the wrong guy might be a person they actually care about.

Occasionally inverted when the killer kills the right person, but purposefully makes things look like Murder by Mistake; if the murderer intentionally kills several people along with their intended target as a smokescreen, it's Serial Killings, Specific Target. Especially brazen killers make themselves appear to be the intended target, thus taking themselves off of the police's radar entirely.

In Real Life, this is common enough for the rule of "transferred intent": intent follows the bullet, so that the intent to kill someone makes your killing anyone intentional. The Other Wiki has more here.

Compare to Accidental Murder, where the dead people are accidental collateral damage rather than dead by misaimed intention, Taking the Bullet, where the victims deliberately take the hit meant for someone else, and I Didn't Mean to Kill Him, where the killer did mean to do something to the victim. Also see the milder Misplaced Retribution. If the mistake that led to the wrong victim being killed was related to improper gun safety (such as not verifying the identity of the target before opening fire), this trope crosses over with I Just Shot Marvin in the Face.

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As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • A character of Ai no Kusabi intended to Murder the Hypotenuse but while he succeeded, he also unintentionally got the beloved person killed as well.
  • In FAKE, Ryo's parents were killed by the mafia when they were mistaken for the targeted drug runners for said mafia after taking the wrong bag at the airport.
  • In Last Exile, Sofia orders an attack on Maestro Delphine's flagship. Just as the ship is destroyed, she learns that her Love Interest Alex Rowe was on board and had just moments before killed by Delphine himself.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, this overlaps with Accidental Murder when Kenshin kills Tomoe when she gets between him and his would-be assassin.

    Comic Books 
  • Blacksad: In the album Red Soul, a gavial assassin named Ribs is hired to assassinate renowned scientist Otto Lieber. His first attempt backfires when he ends up killing a similar-looking owl scientist instead.
  • In the Marvel G.I. Joe series, this is why the Hard Master was killed. He was teaching Snake-Eyes a technique called the "Cloak of the Chameleon" while imitating the intended target: Snake-Eyes himself.
  • In one issue of Jonah Hex, a killer tries to shoot Jonah through a curtained saloon window. He instead shoots the Soiled Dove who is prancing about the room in Jonah's hat.
  • In NYX, Hector Morales attempts to shoot and kill Kiden Nixon at school, but she is able to dodge the bullet when her powers activate in response. Unfortunately, the bullet keeps going and strikes her teacher, Cameron Palmer, instead. Subverted in that Palmer does survive, but Hector's lethal intent firmly makes it this trope.
  • X-Men:
    • This is what created the Age of Apocalypse alternate reality. The time-traveling mutant Legion attempted to assassinate Magneto, but missed and killed Charles Xavier instead. This caused Apocalypse to awaken some twenty years earlier than he did in the main Marvel universe. With neither the X-Men nor any of the other Marvel superhero teams (Fantastic Four, the Avengers, etc.) having been formed yet at that time, there was no one equipped to oppose Apocalypse and prevent him from taking over the world.
    • Jubilation Lee's parents were mistakenly killed by hitmen who had actually been sent after their neighbors, who were also named Lee. This was later retconned as merely being Jubilee's inference in an issue of Wolverine. A later issue of Generation X reveals that the murder of her parents was quite deliberate, with the grandfather of one of Jubilee's current classmates being responsible.

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    Film 
  • In The Cat's Meow, Thomas H. Ince is shot by William Hearst from behind because he was wearing a bowler hat and Hearst mistook him for Charlie Chaplin, his intended target.
  • From the movie Clue:
    Mr. Green: "You're Mr. Boddy!"
    [Wadsworth laughs evilly]
    Professor Plum: "Wait a minute. So who did I kill?"
    Wadsworth: "My butler."
    Professor Plum: "Oh, shucks."
  • In Crooked House, Nanny is fatally poisoned when she drinks Josephine's hot chocolate. This is a case of the killer making herself look like the intended target. Josephine hated hot chocolate, and never drank it. Nanny only made it for her so she could drink it herself.
  • Fatal Instinct: Lana Ravine and Max Shady both attempt to kill Ned Ravine on a train ride (the former for her husband's life insurance, the latter for revenge). Lana ends up shooting Shady by mistake because he happens to be wearing the same blue suit as her husband, making them look sorta similar when viewed from the back.
  • In the film version of The Firm, DeVasher shoots and kills the Nordic Man thinking that he was Mitch McDeere, through a closed door after seeing a silhouette of the Nordic Man carrying McDeere's briefcase.
  • In Forty Guns, Brockie attempts to murder Griff at Wes's wedding. However, at the moment he fires, Griff bends forward to kiss the bride, and the bullet hits Wes, killing him.
  • Halloween:
    • In Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers a group of vigilantes shoot to death parkgoer Ted Hollister, thinking he might have been Michael.
    • Laurie seemingly kills Michael by chopping his head off with an axe in Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, only for the next sequel to reveal that Laurie actually killed a paramedic whose larynx Michael had crushed before knocking him out and switching clothes with him.
    • In the remake Patty tries to blast Michael with a shotgun during his escape from Smith's Grove. Michael grabs an earlier downed guard and uses him as a shield.
  • In Irreversible, Pierre mistakes one man for the rapist that attacked Alex and beats him to death with a fire extinguisher. Meanwhile, the real rapist is looking at this altercation with a smug smile on his face.
  • Played with in Last Action Hero. A gunman supposedly attempting to murder the head of the Tortelli crime family missed and struck the very large Leo the Fart instead. However Slater realizes that if the gunman sent by Vivaldi was the surgically-precise Benedict, there was no way he would have missed his intended target. This, combined with a break-in at the morgue where Leo's body was being prepared, and the recent theft of poison gas from a military convoy, leads Slater and Danny to piece together Vivaldi's intent to assassinate the entire Tortelli family.
    Danny: You mean...
    Slater: Yep. Leo the Fart is going to pass gas one last time.
  • In Legally Blonde, the murderer wanted to kill her step-mother, and planned to kill her as she stepped in to their home. So when the door opened, the murderer took a shot. It ended up being her father.
  • The surviving characters in Lighthouse devise a trap involving molotov cocktails to kill the psychotic Rook. They manage to torch a guy from earlier part of the film who chose the wrongest possible moment to return to the lighthouse.
  • Lord of War: After Yuri rejects Simeon Weisz's desperate offer of partnership, he rigs Yuri's car to explode. Yuri gifts it to his uncle, who is blown up in his place.
  • In Midnight Mary, Leo and his mooks set out to kill Tom, but they accidentally kill his friend, Sam, instead.
  • In The Phantom of Crestwood, the killer was actually intending to murder Esther Wren, not her sister Jenny. Jenny was dressed identically to Esther, and backed out of her room, so the killer could not see her face. As Jenny was a blackmailer, everyone assumes she was the intended target.
  • In Prom Night (1980), the slasher accidentally beheads Lou instead of Nick because Lou is standing the darkness backstage wearing Nick's Prom King crown.
  • Resurrection (1999): After detective John Prudhomme interrupts one of the Serial Killer's rituals, he sends John a taped message informing him that he'll kill his wife as revenge and leave the body behind for him to find. When John races back home, it turns out that the killer murdered his wife's best friend instead since he didn't know what she looked like.
  • The Terminator mistakenly kills two women who were unfortunate enough to share the same name with the heroine Sarah Connor. It also murdered Sarah's roommate Ginger due to not knowing what Sarah looked like.

    Literature 
  • In the Jack Ryan novel The Bear And The Dragon, the action is kicked off when a relatively high-profile pimp is killed within view of the RVS chairman in a very public way. Because they were both in the same model and color car, the question for half the plot becomes whether or not the pimp was the intended target. He wasn't, the Chinese hired a former Spetznaz guy to kill the chairman to cause disorder in the Russian government.
  • In the Isaac Asimov sci-fi mystery novel The Caves of Steel, the murderer was initially cleared from suspicion due to a mental scan that revealed that he was psychologically incapable of killing. However, he was perfectly willing to destroy a robot... which is what he thought he was doing when he pulled the trigger and killed the roboticist who had created R. Daneel in his own image.
  • Agatha Christie loved inverting this trope. For example:
    • In both the Hercule Poirot mystery Peril at End House and the Miss Marple mystery The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, the murderer convinces nearly everyone that this was what happened, when in fact, the person who died was indeed the target, and the apparent intended victim was the murderer.
    • Miss Marple encountered this again At Bertram's Hotel, where the murderer claims her victim was accidentally shot while defending her from an unknown assailant.
    • A variant occurs in another Marple novel, They Do It with Mirrors. It's evident that Christian Gulbrandsen was killed intentionally, but the murder set it up to make it look like Gulbrandsen's murder was only incidental to his real target. Actually, Gulbrandsen was the primary target and all other actions were just to cover it up. Differs from the above examples in that the murderer is someone other than the apparent intended target.
    • Played with in The ABC Murders. The final murder does not fit the killer's pattern, making it appear that the murderer made a mistake. In reality, the final murder was unimportant to the pattern, and the killer merely chose his victim randomly.
    • Similarly played with in Three Act Tragedy. The first murder, which appears to be a mistake, turns out to be a "dress rehearsal" in which the killer didn't have a specific target in mind to begin with.
    • A variation in A Murder Is Announced is more like an inversion of Suicide By Mistake, where the gunman who appeared to have made an attempt on Miss Blacklock's life before accidentally killing himself turns out to have been murdered by her.
    • In the short story "Triangle at Rhodes", the victim was poisoned by her husband, who dressed it up as a misaimed attempt on his own life by the husband of his accomplice (and lover), hoping to marry her after getting him hanged.
  • Agatha Christie also played this one straight a few times:
    • In Sparkling Cyanide, the killers poisoned their intended victim's glass of wine at a restaurant, but then everyone at the table got up to dance and returned to the wrong chairs, so someone else got the poisoned glass.
    • In Curtain, Hastings turns around a bookcase, inadvertently swapping Mrs Franklin's coffee cup with a poisoned cup she had prepared for her husband.
    • In A Caribbean Mystery, the murderer killed the wrong victim after misidentifying her in the dark.
  • In Dragon Bones the king wants to murder the queen's lover (a man he himself ordered to become the queen's lover in the first place), but kills the twin brother of the man instead. Not a big difference, though, as the victim's family is not amused either way, and the evil plot against the king was just in his paranoid imagination ... well, at least before he killed the son of a noble family.
  • In Feet of Clay, a plan is put in motion to slowly poison Lord Vetinari with arsenic-dipped candles. Because the palace servants are allowed to take home various odds and ends (leftover food, old clothes, what have you), a maid's elderly mother and infant son end up being exposed as well, and die. (When Carrot confronts the man responsible for supplying the poison, he's only concerned by the possibility that the victims may have been "important" people; Carrot remarks that the guy's really lucky Vimes didn't find him first.)
  • This trope turned out to be the solution to one of The Great Merlini short stories — when planning to snipe your victim at dusk from across the street, you might want to make sure you've correctly identified the target before pulling the trigger.
  • In The Hollow Needle by Maurice Leblanc, the thinly veiled Expy of Sherlock Holmes pursues Lupin to his hideout and goes for a debilitating shot... unfortunately, it's the perfect height to murder the only wife that Lupin had been willing to fake his death for. Cue, instead of a Roaring Rampageof Revenge, a Heroic BSoD and a lifetime of commitment issues for Lupin, despite still sleeping around with one identity a known cad.
  • The Inspector Morse novel Death Is Now My Neighbour. The first victim dies because the killer meant to bump off the guy next door, but entered the wrong house.
  • James Bond
    • In Licence Renewed, Bond interferes with the assassination of the Big Bad's ward by distracting the sniper, causing him to shoot one of the Co-Dragons instead.
    • In the opening chapter of Never Dream of Dying, Bond tries to stop some mooks leaving in a van by shooting some petrol barrels near them, which explode spectacularly. This causes the film studio where the shootout is happening being set on fire, which kills eighteen people. Bond feels great remorse for this, and has nightmares about it for weeks.
  • Joe Pickett: In Blood Trail, the murderer is trying to get a clear shot at a target who is sitting in a darkened pickup, They shoot the tyre which causes county prosecutor Robey Hersig opens the door and gets out to examine the tyre. With the dome light on, the killer has a clear shot at their target. However, Robey stands up as the killer fires and intercepts the bullet intended for the other man in the truck.
  • In the John Putnam Thatcher novel Death Shall Overcome, the murderer thought he was poisoning his intended victim's Bloody Mary. The poison actually got into a glass of tomato juice ordered by another character, who had recently been diagnosed with an ulcer and quit drinking as a result. note 
  • In The Kennel Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine, one of the victims is killed because the killer mistook him for his brother (the intended victim).
  • In the Nero Wolfe novel Please Pass The Guilt by Rex Stout, a person is killed by a trap bomb, but it isn't clear for whom the bomb was intended.
  • In Point Of Impact, which was the basis for the Mark Wahlberg film Shooter, the assassination is aimed for the President and, due to prevailing cross-winds, simply missed and hit the wrong target. Or so everyone believes, but the bullet hit who it was supposed to.
  • Anthony Price:
    • The plot of Gunner Kelly kicks off when a respected old gentleman without an enemy in the world is killed by a car bomb intended to kill his driver (who achieves a Serendipitous Survival).
    • The plot of another Price novel seems to similarly involve an innocent killed by a bomb intended for another, but it turns out in the end that it was set up to look that way when he was the intended victim all along.
  • In The Professional Killers by J.T. Edson, Deputy Tom Cord is killed because he matched the description the hitmen were given of their target (old trenchcoat and hat) and got off the train the target was supposed to be arriving on. It is later discovered that target had changed his mind and not caught that train at all.
  • It happens a lot in Redwall:
    • Redwall has Cheesethief, whom Constance thought was Cluny.
    • In Mossflower, Tsarmina fires an arrow at her brother as he, Ferdy, Coggs and Mask escape from Kotir. Mask ran behind them and coincidentally ended up shielding Gingivere and Coggs from the arrow.
    • Happens twice in Salamandastron, with both cases regarding Ferahgo. First, Lord Urthstripe fires an arrow at him, only for Goffa to step in front of him and coincidentally get hit. Later, Forgrin and Raptail kill Sickear because they thought he was a wounded Ferahgo lying on a rock. And then Ferahgo shows up behind both of them...
    • Martin the Warrior also has two cases. First, Badrang conspires with Gurrad to poison Cap'n Clogg, whilst Clogg simultaneously conspires with Oilbeak to have Badrang knifed. So naturally, Oilbeak accidentally chucks his knife at Gurrad's throat, and then proceeds to steal the tainted drink from Gurrad's body, which he later drinks from. Later, Badrang's archers fire arrows at a small group of animals they thought were Fur and Freedom Fighters. They turn out to be Hisk and his four trackers.
    • During Swartt Sixclaw's failed attempt at taking over Redwall in Outcast of Redwall, a rat captain named Scraw gets shot full of arrows after Swartt's archers mistook him for woodlanders hiding in the bushes.
    • In Loamhedge, Lonna picks up Raga Bol's body and uses it as a shield. The Searats chuck a few spears at Lonna, but hit Bol instead.
  • In Someone in the Room by Elizabeth Fancett, a woman alone in her house after her husband left her is horrified when she hears someone breaking into her bedroom. She reaches for the bedside lamp and beats them to death with it - only to discover she's just killed her young son.
  • In John Morgan Wilson's Spider Season, the murderer tries to frighten Justice by putting a brown recluse spider in the mailbox. Instead, s/he accidentally kills Fred, one of Justice's elderly landlords.
  • The Thinking Machine: In "The Opera Box", the killer stabs what he thinks his intended victim through the lattice work separating two adjoining boxes. However, in the gloom, he did not realise that the woman attending the opera with her parents that night was actually his intended victim's sister.
  • In Wings of Fire, Sora attempts to kill Icicle with a bomb made from a dragonflame cactus, but she sets the fuse to reach the cactus too late so she ends up killing Carnelian and Bigtail instead, to her horror.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Agatha Raisin: The second Victim of the Week in "Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate". The killer had never met the victim, so identified her from a picture in the parish magazine. However, the picture had been incorrectly captioned and the killer targeted the wrong woman.
  • Bones: One Victim of the Week was killed just for being the intended target's identical twin.
  • In Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Warren shoots Tara accidentally while trying to kill Buffy. This launches Willow into a double plus Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Cannon: In "Country Blues", a country and western singer is killed when Vehicular Sabotage causes his plane to crash. However, the sabotage was actually aimed the pilot (who survives the crash), who was supposed to flying the plane solo. An argument with his wife caused the singer to order the pilot to fly him to Mexico, instead of flying the band's instruments to Texarkana.
  • Columbo:
    • In the episode "A Bird In The Hand", a football team owner's gardener is mistakenly killed by a car-bomb. The killer is caught after Columbo watches a video tape of the explosion and notices the team owner's nephew wince as the gardener gets into the rigged car.
    • Subverted in the episode "Requiem For A Falling Star", where it looks like an aging movie actress was intending to kill a gossip columnist, but ended up killing her assistant by mistake. It's eventually discovered by Columbo that the assistant was the actual target, the actress having arranged for her to end up in the situation that lead to her death.
  • CSI:
    • One episode, "And Here's To You, Mrs. Azrael", has a particularly nasty example: A woman who's grief-stricken by news that her teenage daughter had been killed in a drunk-driving accident, slipped into the hospital and murdered the young woman who'd been driving the crashed vehicle. Turns out it was her own daughter whom she'd killed, as the two near-identical girls had both suffered disfiguring facial injuries; the other girl was too drunk to drive so she gave her friend her driver's license so she could drive.
    • In "The Lost Reindeer", the murderer planned to kill the man hired to play Santa at a Christmas party. However, the Santa left earlier and one of the other guests put on the costume.
  • The first Victim of the Week in the Death in Paradise episode "Wicked Wedding Night". Poole even remarks during the Summation Gathering that the case made no sense till he realised that the first victim had never been the intended target. A season 3 episode, after Poole's own murder, has the classic 'the victim was the intended victim, while the apparently intended victim was the murderer' thing.
  • Dexter: Dexter, a serial killer who mainly targets other murderers, on a few occasions kills the wrong person entirely while going after someone else.
    • Season 3 is kicked off by a "wrong place at the wrong time" situation when Dexter tracks down a drug dealer who is responsible for at least one murder. He breaks into the dealer's home late that night but interrupts an altercation with a third person whom Dexter accidentally ends up killing instead (he finds and kills the dealer later). This guy turns out to be Oscar Prado, the younger brother of Assistant D.A. Miguel Prado, who then takes an interest in Dexter.
    • In season 4, the cops are investigating several disappearances and suspect that they were murdered by a scumbag photographer who physically abuses his models. Dexter seems to find evidence of the guy's culpability and kills him, but afterwards finds out that he misidentified his target when his colleagues arrest the photographer's assistant as the real culprit.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries: The Victim of the Week in "This Time and This Place". Blake's Eureka Moment occurs when he realises that the victim had come out on a cold night without a jacket, and her friend loaned had loaned her hers. Blake realises that in the darknness, the killer had been aiming at the jacket.
  • Ellery Queen: Happens to the first victim in "The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario". The killer then tries again and gets it right.
  • The third episode of the French series Empreintes Criminelles starts with a scientist being shot in a brothel, from an unknown source. It turns out an Asshole Victim was being killed next room, and one of the bullets overpenetrated through the guy and the wall.
  • In Ezel, Serdar is ordered to kill the eponymous protagonist and make it look like an accident. A combination of low visibility, sleep deprivation, and intoxication leads Serdar to kill the wrong target, Ezel's brother Mert.
  • An episode of Foyle's War had a man who accidentally killed someone with a similar name to the depraved RAF officer who impregnated his daughter, then drove her to suicide.
  • On Golden Boy Det Owen is pursuing a decade old cold case. A man was murdered on the morning of Sept 11, 2001 and Owen was close to catching the killer when the first plane hit the Twin Towers. In the chaos following 9/11, evidence was lost and the trail went cold. One possible theory of the crime was that the victim was killed by mistake. He went to the wrong address and a similar looking drug dealer was known to operate in the area. This is proven correct when the drug dealer, dying of a terminal illness, finally admits that to knowing who performed the botched hit. The hit man was so distraught by killing the wrong man that he kept a newspaper clipping with a photo of the victim in his wallet. When confronted with this, he quickly confesses.
  • In Heroes, Isaac is trying to shoot an invisible Peter — he sees movement out of the corner of his eye, and shoots, sending a bullet straight through Simone's heart. What makes it even worse is that both Isaac and Peter are in love with her. Leads to Died in Your Arms Tonight with two pairs of arms.
  • In the season 5 finale of Highlander: The Series, Duncan MacLeod is hunting around an abandoned racetrack in the dark, looking for a demon who is taunting him by prancing around wearing the faces of student Richie Ryan and conquered enemies Kronos and James Horton, who all appear at the same time and trap him between them. They all disappear, Duncan whips around...and in his confusion beheads the real Richie, who was there even though everyone told him not to go.
  • In Homicide: Life on the Street, the episode "Every Mother's Son" features a fourteen year old killer who shot another kid in his ear at a bowling alley, killing him. As it turns out he confused the kid he shot for another kid who threatened to 'get' him. What makes the situation worse is that the kid is so smug and arrogant that he thinks he'll be acquitted because he shot the wrong kid, and equates the whole thing to someone accidentally being killed in car accident.
  • JAG: In the Pilot Movie, Lieutenant Carter accidentally threw Lt. Arruti overboard in anger because she wore a jacket with Lt. Cassie Puller's callsign Lobo on the back. Cassie had beaten Carter in weightlifting three times and he couldn't stand being beaten by a woman.
  • This happens very often in Law & Order. Often, the intended victim will just be wounded, while an innocent bystander is killed. In "Mushrooms" a baby is killed and his brother wounded by the footsoldier for a drug kingpin who wanted to kill a real estate developer. As it turns out the shooter got turned around and also couldn't read.
  • Subverted in the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Raw", where a sniper shoots several children playing in their school's yard. One of the murdered children is the authentic target; the sniper shot the others intentionally to muddy the waters and make it seem like a random crime.
  • Midsomer Murders:
    • The first victim in the episode "The Glitch" was killed by accident.
    • The first victim in "A Sacred Trust". As Barnaby points out, one nun in glasses looks much like another in the dark.
    • The first victim in "The Maid in Splendour", who was in the wrong place at wrong time in the wrong clothes.
    • The victim in "Death and Dust" is run down because he is driving the intended target's car.
  • Monk:
    • Subversion: Monk thinks, at least until the end of the second season, that Trudy was killed because of this, believing himself to be the intended target. In "Mr. Monk Goes to Jail", it's revealed that Trudy was always the intended target and not him.
    • Subverted in "Mr. Monk and the Secret Santa", Captain Stottlemeyer receives a gift (apparently from a body shop) in the form of a bottle of port, which happens to have been poisoned. At the police station's Christmas party, he is to give a Secret Santa present to fellow detective Terry Chasen, but when he's unable to find the hair trimmer he planned to give, police officer Alice Westergren suggests he give Terry the bottle of port (especially since Stottlemeyer hates port). Terry drinks it, the poison hits him, and he dies. At first, it looks like someone tried to kill Stottlemeyer as retaliation, possibly an ex-con named Frank Prager, whose brother Michael was killed by Stottlemeyer during a bank robbery. However, Monk then proves that Alice is Terry's ex-girlfriend, and she killed him because he decided to return to his wife.
    • In "Mr. Monk Takes a Punch", an attempt on Ray Regis's life that begins the episode goes like this: the bomber plants his device in a heavy punching bag, assuming that Regis will be the first to take a swing at it. However, when Regis does arrive, the only contact he makes with the bag is tapping the top of it. An innocent washed-up drunken ex-boxer named Eddie, however, ends up accidentally killing himself by taking a demonstrative swing at the bomb-rigged bag.
    • "Mr. Monk and the Rapper" plays it straight. A rapper named Extra Large is killed by a bomb under his limousine, and his rival rapper, Murderuss, is the prime suspect. Turns out the killer was one of the executives of Extra Large's record label, who had planned to kill his business partner, but set the bomb's timer off an hour because he forgot about Daylight Saving Time taking effect that morning.
  • Motive: In "Ruthless", the killer poisons the room service breakfast being delivered to hotel room of her victim. However, the victim was not eating breakfast and the meal was for her lover whom the killer did not know was spending the night.
  • Murder, She Wrote: The Body of the Week in "A Body to Die For" turns out to be a case of this. Once Jessica realises that the killer fired through an open window into a darkened room, she realises that they were firing at someone they expected to be there; not knowing that their appointment had been cancelled.
  • Invoked on NCIS when Gibbs tricks Alejandro Rivera into killing his sister, Paloma Reynosa.
  • NYPD Blue: A young killer insists he's innocent of murder because the guy he meant to kill was unharmed.
  • In Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black, elderly inmate Taslitz tries to murder Vee. Except she doesn't have her glasses on and proceeds to stab another black inmate. Right before Vee's eyes.
  • The Path: Lilith, the woman who originally saw the visions that became the Meyerist faith, has had another vision that current leader Eddie Lane must be martyred while addressing a large crowd of devotees. She takes it upon herself to do this, and accidentally shoots Eddie's friend Vera — her own beloved daughter. Vera thus becomes the martyr, and Eddie follows his own visions to lead Meyerism into the 21st century.
  • A particularly tragic case happened in Perry Mason episode "The Silent Six", where a man was shot to death after a woman was heard screaming, and it was believed that woman's brother shot him in response to harassing her. Turns out that it was a case of wrong place at the wrong time mixed with Not What It Looks Like: Another man was actually the one who roughed up the woman before knocking her and her brother out and fleeing. The victim then arrived in response to the screaming and was looking over the girl when her neighbor also came to help. Upon seeing the victim leaning over the woman, he jumped to conclusions and fatally shot the man.
  • The Practice: The firm once tried and failed to save a client from being executed for this kind of murder.
  • On Pretty Little Liars, both people responsible for the death of Bethany thought she was Alison. Coincidentally, earlier that evening, Alison was attacked and nearly killed by someone who thought she was Bethany.
  • In the Queen of Swords episode "Vengeance," a local noble is killed, causing everyone to think that an ongoing feud is escalating. The assassin was actually aiming at the doctor standing next to the nobleman, and missed.
  • Rizzoli & Isles:
    • The first victim in "Rebel Without a Pause" was hit by a ricochet of a shot intended for someone else.
    • In "Phoenix Rising", a killer set fire to the house next door of his intended victim because they had near identical vehicles parked in the drive. Two people died in the fire.
  • Sons of Anarchy: Tig attempts to kill Laroy in a public Drive By Shooting, because he mistakenly believes Laroy to be responsible for a prior hit on Clay. He misses Laroy, but ends up killing Laroy's girlfriend in the clusterfuck. This mistake later comes back to the Sons with a vengeance, because the woman in question was the daughter of the high-level drug lord who's been bankrolling Laroy's street-level gang.
  • The pilot of Starsky & Hutch is set up as this, with a hit on Starsky mistakenly taking out an innocent couple (due to their mutual possession of a fairly distinctive car); it develops that they actually were the intended victims, with Starsky set up as a fake target to misdirect attention from the real motive.
  • Tyrant: Jamal's attempted hit on Rami Said when he suspects Rami of plotting to overthrow him results in the death of Jamal's mother Amira after they switch cars at the last second.
  • On Unforgettable a celebrity chef is killed by a bomb planted in the room below a kitchen. The detectives later discover that another chef was supposed to have been cooking there and the tho chefs switched cooking times so the bomber killed the wrong man.
  • Vera: In "Black Ice", the killer fatally rams a car off the road; not realising that his intended victim was not the one driving.
  • The X-Files: In the episode "The Blessing Way", Dana Scully's sister Melissa is killed by mistake when Luis Cardinal and Alex Krycek, thinking that Melissa is Dana, shoot her in the head as she enters her sister's apartment.

    Roleplay 
  • In Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues, Rhys uses his power to transform his hand into a gun and tries to shoot Daigo with it. However, Daigo is quick enough to lure Carlie into the path so that she gets shot instead, grievously wounding her and leaving Rhys horrified at what he's done.
  • In V1 of Survival of the Fittest, Cody Jenson kills Amanda Jones, Adam Dodd's girlfriend, this way while trying to kill Sidney Crosby. This came shortly after the rape and murder of Madelaine Shirohara, which was the moment when Cody crossed the Moral Event Horizon, and would launch Adam Dodd into a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
    • Near the end of V2, Bryan Calvert shoots at who he believes to be principal murderess Mariavel Varella. He shoots Whitney Acosta by mistake instead. And in V4, Ilario Fiametta kills innocent Etain Brennan when trying to shoot Kris Hartmann.

    Theatre 
  • In The Duchess of Malfi, Bosola jumps out in the dark and kills someone he thinks is trying to kill him. Turns out the guy he kills is actually Antonio, the person he's spent half the play trying to protect. Oops.
  • Hamlet:
    • Hamlet stabs Polonius through a curtain, thinking him to be his Evil Uncle, Claudius, whom he has sworn vengeance against.
    • Later, Queen Gertrude drinks from a poisoned goblet of wine that Claudius had intended for Hamlet.
  • In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus kills a guy on the road due to him pissing him off. Turns out it was Oedipus's real father, in accordance with the Curse that was laid on the father that stated that his own son would kill him.
  • In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, this happens to the Beggar Woman, who Sweeney did not know was actually his wife until it was too late, and very nearly happens to Johanna. In both cases, Sweeney's obsession with murder and vengeance blinded him to the true nature of both parties.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering has a card called Goblin Assassin which may cause any player (including its owner) to sacrifice a creature any time a Goblin comes into play. Its flavour text strongly hints at the reason for this.
    The more victims he kills, the more likely he is to get the right one.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed: Revelations: One of Ezio's students screws up her first major assassination by killing someone who happens to wear the same clothes as her target. You basically lecture her as she drags the body into the river.
  • Case 17 of Criminal Case features this. The killer was a chef who intended to poison a food critic who had given a bad review of her restaurant and ruined her business. Unfortunately, the waiter delivered the poisoned food to the wrong table and murdered someone else instead.
  • This is pretty much what kickstarted the storyline of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The introduction of the game shows that the Ballas have murdered CJ's mom at her house when they were really attempting to murder Sweet instead.
  • In the Star Fox series, the Nintendo Power comics had Andross, the main Big Bad of the series, plan to get rid of James McCloud, father of Fox McCloud as he was in love with Vixy Reinard McCloud, Fox's mother and James' wife. However, she didn't love him back... at all (it was implied he was more of a Stalker with a Crush). So, he decided to kill James with a car bomb. Unfortunately, on the day he planted it, James let Vixy use his car to get to work, as hers was broken down, and she was killed in the following explosion.

    Visual Novels 
  • The third case of the second Ace Attorney game involves this. Acro wanted to kill Regina for not realizing how she was responsible for his brother's coma. He had a plan to drop a heavy weight once she arrived a certain spot. However, he could not see who had arrived at the spot due to his condition and placement, and ended up killing Regina's father, a man who he looked up to very much.
  • Danganronpa:
    • In Super Danganronpa 2, this happens to Teruteru Hanamura when he kills Byakuya Togami (or rather, the Ultimate Impostor), due to mistaking him for Nagito Komaeda. After Komaeda tells Hanamura that he's planning to commit a murder, Hanamura resolves to stop Komaeda himself. Komaeda's knife is covered in luminous paint, and when Hanamura - who is in the crawlspace under the kitchen - sees the knife moving in the darkness, he assumes Komaeda is up there and stabs upwards through the gaps in the floor with a skewer. However, Hanamura does not realise - until it's too late - that the Impostor had seen the knife and taken it from Komaeda.
    • In New Danganronpa V3, Kaede Akamatsu attempts to end the killing game right away by murdering the mastermind with a complicated death trap, which ultimately results in the death of Rantaro Amami instead, who is clearly not the mastermind since the killing game is still going on. In the final chapter, it's discovered that Kaede's death trap actually failed, and the actual mastermind killed Rantaro by simply sneaking up behind him and clobbering him over the head and then arranging the scene to make it look like the death trap worked.
  • In one of the endings to Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors it is revealed that Ace's prosopagnosia resulted in him murdering Nijisaki, the decoy, instead of Snake. Granted, judging by the murder of the 9th man partly being motivated by him knowing too much, he would have murdered Nijisaki, an accomplice in the Nonary Project, anyway.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • Both Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Horrible brought his Death Ray to kill Hammer, but backed off at the last minute. Hammer took advantage of this, picked up the now-malfunctioning gun, and shot it at Horrible. Instead of killing Dr. Horrible, it exploded in Captain Hammer's face, and the shrapnel from the explosion killed Penny, leading to Horrible Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.
  • Tonin: In Season 2, Vilano-san goes to Tonin's past to kill him before the events from Season 1 took place. The plan fails because he mistakenly kills Tonin's twin brother.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Family Guy episode "And Then There Were Fewer", the murderer Diana's plan to murder James Woods and frame her ex partner Tom Tucker goes Off the Rails when Quagmire's date, one-off character Stephanie, ends up setting in James' chair when the gun timed to fire at it went off, resulting in her death. At first, all the characters thought Woods had invited them to his mansion so he could kill them all, until Woods himself ends up dead courtesy of Diana. While investigating, Joe discovers the gun and timer and realizes that James was the real target all along.
    Joe: Stephanie was an accident.
    Quagmire: That's a way of putting it.
  • Gravity Falls has this in a single episode, when Mabel and Dipper set out to discover who "murdered" a life-size dummy of their great-uncle Stan (the newest addition to a collection of wax dummies). It's revealed that the dummies are alive and they decapitated the replica of Stan because they weren't the main attraction at the mystery shack anymore. It gets worse when they confirm that their intended target was the real Stan and not the replica.
  • Spider-Man: The Animated Series: In "The Return of the Green Goblin", Spidey believed Norman did this when he threw a bomb at Peter and Harry's rented apartment. In fact, the Green Goblin believed he had killed Spidey until our hero showed up to fight him. Spider-Man unmasks the Goblin only to learn Harry took in Norman's footsteps.

    Real Life 
  • The very first attempt on the life of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria involved the would-be assassin throwing a hand grenade at the Archduke's car and missing. The explosion injured several innocent bystanders instead. Ironically, the Archduke was finally assassinated while he was on the way to visit several of the casualties of the explosion.
    • The Archduke's wife, Duchess Sophie, was shot by mistake as well. She was sitting next to her husband in the back seat of their open touring car, across from General Potoriek, the military governor of Bosnia, another intended target of the assassination conspiracy. Gavrilo Princip testified that he was so shocked by the presence of the lady right in the path of his intended victims that he didn't even take aim when he fired, but shot with his eyes closed. He expressed great remorse over Sophie's death, stating that he had never intended to deprive the Archduke and Duchess' children of their mother. (Additionally, some accounts of the murder have Princip's arm being grabbed by a plainclothes police officer who was standing next to him, thus deflecting the bullet that was meant for General Potoriek so that it hit the Duchess instead.)
  • The assassination of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak by Giuseppe Zangara, instead of his intended target Franklin D. Roosevelt. His aim was thrown off by the woman next to him hitting his arm with her purse.
  • During the Night of the Long Knives, one of the people on the Nazis' hit list was an SA leader named Willi Schmidt. However, the SS instead ended up killing a music critic with the very similar name Willi Schmid. This case of mistaken identity made Schmid the only known unintended victim of the Night of the Long Knives.


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