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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.

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. At the very least, they've attracted unwanted attention while failing to accomplish their objective.

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 the police's radar entirely.

In rare occasions, this trope crosses with The Scapegoat and Fall Guy, where the person who was killed was somebody deliberately set up by the intended target in order in order to escape the hit.

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.

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


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    Anime & Manga 
  • 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 
  • Batman: Black and White: "Case Study" contains several anecdotes about the career of the gangster who went on to become the Joker. In one, a mob boss he's antagonised stakes out his home to kill him, only to find that the person he's filled full of lead is his own girlfriend, who the Joker-to-be had leant his hat and coat to in a You Must Be Cold moment and sent ahead as a decoy.
  • 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.
  • In Silverblade #7, Jonathan (as Dracula) attempts to feed upon Sandra. However, Mathilda is where he expects Sandra to be, wearing a hooded cloak that conceals her face. He attacks her and drains all of her blood, killing her. She later rises as a vampire.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: When the Nazis invent a death ray and start using it on US generals they accidentally kill one general's aide when Diana tackles the general out of the way and the aide steps forward into the invisible beam to try and stop her. The Nazis are not upset about killing him, but are annoyed that their target survived.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • The Bugger Anthology: As the Doctor and Rose Tyler happily run towards each other to reunite, a Dalek tries to warn the Doctor that Rose has a gun before declaring it'll get her. It shoots the Doctor by accident.
  • Cheating Death: Those That Lived: During Snow's Klingon Promotion scheme, he has one glass of poisoned champagne sent to rebellious victor Isobel Sparks to remove the threat she poses. She's using the bathroom at the time, and her mentor, Shunt Gaspar, drinks the poison champagne instead.
  • In A Cure for Love when Light goes to get his Revenge for Astraea's attacks on him and on L, he targets V and her son, who he has mistaken for V's henchman. Light doesn't realize that V's son is still alive... and now bares quite the grudge of his own.
  • In Discworld fic Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a wizard with a passing resemblence to Ponder Stibbons, in poor light, is murdered. And Ponder had been getting the psychic prompts meant for the other wizard, to tell him his days were numbered.
  • Connie Poirier claimed she did this when she murdered Elly Patterson in Who Silenced Elly Patterson, and that her real target had been John. She lied out of the belief that it's better they think this trope happened rather than the Death by Woman Scorned trope.
  • The second murder in Fractured Fates ultimately amounts to this. Itachi targeted Asuna for murder, and he wrote a letter under the name of her closest friend, Kaneki, to try and lure her into a trap during nighttime. Kaneki, however, finds out about the murder plan and goes to confront Asuna's would-be killer herself, ultimately leading to Itachi attacking and killing Kaneki instead of Asuna.
  • The Reaping of Hatsune Miku: Sakine Meiko is killed when she consumes a poisoned drink at a bar. The killer turns himself in some time later and admits that it was meant for someone else; he gave it to a waitress and asked her to "give it to the redheaded lady" without specifying which one.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Played for laughs in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! where an assassin tries to shoot Mason Dixon, only to hit some random bystander he was walking past. Several times.
  • In Bad Match, after Harris is framed for posing insulting tweets and charged with possession of child pornography, he assumes that the person responsible is Riley, a girl who has been obsessively calling him after a single date. Harris goes so far as to capture Riley and try to force her to confess, culminating in him killing her when she tries to escape... only to learn after her death that the person who was actually responsible was a teenager he was competing against in an online game who hacked his account in retaliation for Harris beating him in the game.
  • In Big Driver, Tess shoots Lester's brother Al through the grimy window of Lester's truck (which Al was driving), having mistaken him for Lester. Tess later discovers that Al was complicit in his brother's crimes.
  • Bullet: Tank poisons a package of drugs that Lester buys (knowing it's meant for Bullet) but another junkie takes it and dies instead.
  • 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."
  • Creep Van: In the film's third act, while searching the gas station, Campbell shoves a pipe he's holding into who he believes is the killer who kidnapped Amy. The corpse falls into the light, and we see he killed Amy, much to his horror.
  • 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.
  • In The Gatling Gun, Two Knives orders one of his braves to shoot Martha while she is in a Cat Fight with The Mole Leona. The brave misses and kills Leona. An unimpressed Two Knives draws his own rifle and shoots him.
  • In Glass Onion, billionaire Miles Bron kills another character by poisoning his drink. Although he did get his intended target, he invokes this trope deliberately to deflect suspicion. He poisons his own drink, then 'accidentally' switches the glasses, so that everyone assumes that he was the intended victim and the other character simply got in the way.
  • 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.
  • Narrowly avoided in High Heels and Low Lifes. Frances and Shannon order Danny to drop the blackmail money in a bin in the park. He does so, but before they can pick it up a homeless man starts rummaging through the bin. Assuming this is the blackmailer, Danny and Barry shoot him, but he survives (barely).
  • In Hooded Angels, Hannah shoots and kills the General, who is Wes's father, during her initial killing spree when she is taking vengeance on those who raped her. As she later tells Wes, she was in a blind rage and only saw another uniform; not knowing that the General was attempting to round up the renegades responsible for the sacking of Silver Creek.
  • In Irréversible, 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.
  • In Juncture, Anna's parents and sister were killed by a crook who went to the wrong address.
  • 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.
  • Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight: The old man hears a noise outside his door and assumes that it's one of the killer twins. He grabs his shotgun and aims it at the door, it opens, and he fires. He walks out the door to see that he shot Bartek.
  • 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.
  • The Octoberfest scene of The Pink Panther Strikes Again consists of dozens of assassins trying to kill Clouseau only to kill each other by accident.
  • 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.
  • In See How They Run, Agatha Christie accidentally poisons her butler when he drinks the tea she made for Dennis.
  • Shooter: Inverted. The conspirators choose to assassinate their target when he is standing next to the US President, knowing that everyone will assume it was a botched attempt on the president's life and the victim wasn't the intended target.
  • A Shot in the Dark: Driven mad by Clouseau's antics, Dreyfus decides to murder him to stop the dimwitted detective from causing further embarrassment to the police. He makes four attempts in one night, all of which not only fail but end up killing four innocent bystanders. In the film's climax, he tries to kill Clouseau by planting a bomb in his car only for the six culprits to die instead when they try to use the car to escape.
  • The Terminator mistakenly kills two women who were unfortunate enough to share the same name with the heroine Sarah Connor because it didn't know her full name and precisely where she lived in 1984, and was simply killing every Sarah Connor in the LA phone book to make sure it got the specific one it was looking for. It also murdered Sarah's roommate Ginger due to not knowing what Sarah looked like.

  • 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 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.
  • The Cat Who... Series: During the trip to Scotland in book #14 (The Cat Who Wasn't There), Irma Hasselrich dies suddenly. It's later revealed that the killer was trying to murder Polly Duncan by substituting her vitamin pills with poisoned capsules. Polly, who'd stopped taking the vitamins in question, gave them to Irma instead, resulting in her death.
  • 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.
  • Deathstalker: In "Mistworld", a mercenary is sent to kill Investigator Topaz. Unfortunately, she'd given her distinctive cloak to her husband a short while before, so the killer unwittingly shoots him in the back instead of Topaz; cue Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Discworld:
    • In Men at Arms, maid Lettice Knibbs is murdered by the Gonne-wielding killer, who'd mistaken her for his intended target because she'd been trying on one of her employer's velvet gowns.
    • 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.)
  • 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 the Elemental Assassin novel Deadly Sting, the villains decide to kill main character Gin Blanco so that she can't go "Die Hard" on an X on them when they pull their robbery, but accidentally kill her ex-boyfriend's date by mistake, as they vaguely resemble each other and went to the event in identical dresses.
  • In The Finishing Stroke by Ellery Queen, the murderer kills the wrong victim because he was an identical triplet of the intended target whom the murderer did not know existed. (It Makes Sense in Context)
  • 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.
  • In 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 (having approached the house from the back, not realising that, as with some but not all streets in Britain, the number thirteen had been skipped).
  • Jaine Austen Mysteries:
    • Cameron Bannick did this to Stacey Lawrence in This Pen for Hire. He was trying to kill his friend Marion Hamilton to inherit a photograph and frame that would sell for a pretty penny after he had gotten into some bad investments via his stockbroker. He had been out of town for a month, so he didn't realize that Marion had already died and Stacey (who somewhat resembled Marion) had moved into her apartment. He's not horribly broken up about it, considering that he thought Stacey was a bitch.
    • This is also revealed to be what happened with Bunny Cooper's death in Death of a Trophy Wife. Fiona was actually trying to kill Jaine's neighbor and friend Lance in order to save her job as Bunny's fashion consultant. However, Lupe the maid had accidentally spilled Bunny's cocktail, and poured Lance's drink into her glass to keep from incurring Bunny's wrath.
    • In Death by Tiara, Amy Leighton died because she was wearing the same blue blazer as the pageant director Candace Burke, and looked like her from behind with her blonde hair.However, that's actually just the story Candace was hoping for, to throw suspicion off herself.
  • 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 to open the door and get 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).
  • Laughing Jack: When the mother charges towards Laughing Jack with a knife for gutting James, he vanishes into black smoke, and the knife lands on her son's still-beating heart, killing James. This lands with the mother getting institutionalised in a mental asylum for the criminally insane.
  • In Licence Renewed, James 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.
  • According to the novelization of Murder by Decree, Catherine Eddowes was murdered because she was mistaken for Mary Kelly.
  • Nero Wolfe:
    • In Fer-de-lance, the murderer has a driver constructed that shoots a poison dart into the victim's stomach and slips it into the intended victim's golf bag, who then loans it to another player during their game, causing him to die instead.
    • And Be a Villain sees a horse racing tipster poisoned on a radio program. For about half the book, the investigation delves into which of the other guests and crew of the program had any connection with the victim, but once it's revealed that the poisoned glass contained iced coffee which only the host drank... you can guess the reaction of the investigators. But it's subverted in the end, as the tipster was the intended victim, and the program's host was the murderer.
    • In Please Pass the Guilt, a person is killed by a trap bomb, but it isn't clear for whom the bomb was intended, so a good portion of the mystery is devoted to determining if this trope is in effect. It is — the trope is played straight.
  • In the Philip Marlowe story "The Pencil", Marlowe is hired to help a man called Rosenstein evade a mob hit. While helping his client sneak out of the apartment building where he's been staying, Marlowe notices that one of the other inhabitants resembles his client, and later that man is killed by the hitman, who believes him to be Rosenstein. Subverted. The hitman's victim is the real Rosenstein, and the man who hired Marlowe falsely claimed to be Rosenstein in service of his own agenda.
  • 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.
  • Clue: Happens a couple of times (though given the rules of the series, the victim is never actually dead).
    • In book 6, chapter 8, there's a chain of bathrobe thefts (kicked off by one guest stealing a bathrobe because he forgot to bring his own). One of the guests keeps a diary in their bathrobe; when the robe and diary are stolen, the thief tries to blackmail the diary keeper, who instead tries to kill the thief. However, by the time they make the attempt, Miss Scarlet has stolen the bathrobe from its original thief, and the diary-writer accidentally attacks her, mistaking her for the first thief. Luckily, Scarlet survives the attack (with the side-effect of curing her insomnia).
    • In book 16, chapter 9, the furnace is broken and all the guests are wearing heavy quilts that Mr. Boddy gave them to keep warm. After everyone winds up switching quilts (having lost their originals during a brief blackout), one of the guests attempts to kill Colonel Mustard and accidentally shoots another guest who was wearing the colonel's original quilt. Fortunately, all six quilts are slash-proof, crash-proof and bulletproof, protecting the accidental victim from serious harm.
  • Where Are They Now Mysteries: In book 2, the killer has been contacted by a would-be blackmailer (who accuses him of a crime that he committed decades ago - and even then, the blackmailer was mistaken about the type of crime he'd committed) and goes to their home to kill them. It's eventually revealed that the woman he suspected and killed was innocent; it was actually her great-niece who was trying to blackmail him.
  • Girls Don't Hit: On her first solo hit, Echo screws up and shoots the wrong person, putting the cops on her tail while she runs. Joss has to track her down and fix things.

    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.
  • Arrow: In Season 5, Oliver kills Billy Malone, a police officer who had been dating Felicity. The Big Bad of the season, Prometheus, found Billy snooping and captured him, then dressed him up in Prometheus' costume. What makes it this trope rather than Accidental Murder is that Oliver has recently returned to killing his villains, and he truly intended to murder Prometheus.
  • 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:
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • Used in an episode of Criminal Minds to make a Sympathetic Murderer less sympathetic. He was a vigilante, originally targeting crimes in progress and then advancing to hunting down criminals, and then the people who he felt had wronged him. He got names and addresses of people involved in his wife's murder, but one of those people had sold his home to his brother, so asking "Mr. Smith?" wasn't enough confirmation before killing him. When the team tells him his mistake, he realizes that he's just as bad as the criminals he's been killing.
  • CSI:
    • A killer accidentally kills the wrong woman when her identical twin was the target. Neither knew the other existed.
    • In the episode "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.
  • CSI: NY: The 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.
  • 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 darkness, 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.
  • In a non-lethal example, in one episode of Elementary Captain Gregson's house gets invaded by criminals because Google Maps accidentally displayed his house on the entry for the home of the neighbor the criminals were intended to break into.
  • 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.
  • FBI: Most Wanted: In "Defender", Denise Tyson attempts to kill her son's public defender, but shoots one of his clients dead instead.
  • 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.
  • Jake and the Fatman: In "Rhapsody in Blue", a husband and wife pair of killers break into the company lodge intending the murder the husband's boss. However, in the darkness, they do not realise that someone else is staying in the lodge and shoot him instead. When they discover their mistake, they attempt to frame the boss for the murder.
  • 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.
    • In another episode, an older couple is killed and there are seemingly no good suspects. It turns out a man who intended to murder his own Abusive Parents was blackout drunk, went to the house he grew up in, and killed the new occupants, all without noticing where he was or who they were.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • Subverted in the 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.
    • In another episode, a man running a prostitution ring tried to kill a woman because she threatened to expose him. Unfortunately, the woman in question was an identical twin, and the night he went to her apartment to kill her, her twin had also come by looking for her, and he mistook her for his target and killed her, completely unaware of his mistake until several years later.
  • McDonald and Dodds features a complicated double subversion — after a while they find evidence that makes it seem like the victim was mistaken for someone else (he had a similar body build and while in the other person's house, had put on one of their suits and hats, and then walked out into a dark room), then they find evidence it was intentional after all (photos showing the victim having lunch discovered in circumstances connecting them to the murder) and then it turns out the killer actually did make a mistake after all — because the intended target had been intentionally goading the killer to kill them and then set up a situation where the killer would confuse the victim and the target as part of a scheme to both be rid of the victim and get leverage on the killer.
  • 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.
    • The third victim in "With Baited Breath" is killed because he is the wearing the very distinctive hat of the intended target.
  • 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 the 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.
  • The Murders: In "Queen of Hearts" the murder victim turns out to have been killed because he was mistaken for his girlfriend, a reformed criminal, being targeted due to her past, with the killer thinking it was her in the car.
  • 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.
  • My Life Is Murder: In "Old School", the murderer laid a trap for the deputy headmistress. However, the headmistress, who usually left precisely at 4:30 every day, stayed late because she was filling for the history teacher and wound up taking the bait instead.
  • NCIS:
    • Invoked when Gibbs tricks Alejandro Rivera into killing his sister, Paloma Reynosa.
    • Another episode has the killer sending package bombs to his targets. One goes to the wrong person and kills her instead of the intended target, and another gets stolen and kills the thieves.
    • In "Driven", the Murder by Remote Control Vehicle hits the wrong target by accident. The murderer actually gave the victim the morning off, intending for his actual target, a scientist with a rather abrasive personality and who also owned 50% of the company, to get locked in the car and choke to death on the exhaust fumes when he tried to open the seatbelt at the end of the scheduled test drive.
  • 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.
  • Perry Mason:
    • In the episode "Madcap Modiste", a fashion mogul is poisoned and her husband is blamed for it, particularly because the woman accused him with her dying words, having believed he tainted a bottle of wine he had brought her. Perry eventually discovers that not only was the poison not in the wine, but the mogul was the wrong target. The murderer, a loyal fashion designer to the victim, had intended to kill a model she felt was threatening her boss's marriage, using a gown designed in such a way that the fastening clip, which had been coated with poison, had to be held in the mouth. She couldn't have foreseen that her boss would choose to mess with the gown personally.
    • A particularly tragic case happened in the episode "The Silent Six", where a man was shot to death after a woman was heard screaming, and it was believed that the 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 (2014): 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 two 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.
  • Vienna Blood:
  • Walker, Texas Ranger has this happen on some occasions.
    • Season 6's "The Soul of Winter" had the Rangers dealing with a neo-Nazi organization that killed a kid outside a church. This was a case of mistaken identity, as they meant to kill the pastor's son due to said pastor having known its leader when they were stationed at Fort Hood, and then sent him to prison a long time ago for almost murdering him, but succeeded in murdering a close friend. The reason behind the Nazi group's attempt on his son's life was for the purpose of getting the pastor to resign. Both the murdered kid and the pastor's son were late for the service due to them delivering food baskets to needy families.
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • The Medium by Gian-Carlo Menotti ends with Baba shooting and killing her mute assistant Toby, believing his image behind a curtain to be that of a ghost.
  • 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: Grimsborough 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.
  • A particularly heartbreaking example occurs in Fire Emblem Fates, where Elise takes a blow meant for Corrin and dies from the wound. Making it even worse is that the murderer in this case is her own brother, who is so guilt-ridden that he allows Corrin to kill him in their ensuing battle.
  • 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.
  • Both possible outcomes of Roman and Mallorie's wedding at the end of Grand Theft Auto IV result in one. Either Roman is killed by a stray shot fired by an assassin sent to kill Niko on Dmitri's behalf, or Jimmy Pegorino does a drive-by targeted at Niko but hits Kate instead.
  • Zigzagged in Hidden City's "Crime at the Wedding" case, as nobody ends up dying. The investigation begins when the groom receives a fortune that someone among the invited guests intends to kill him; near the end of the case, the bride's father (who was the prime suspect as the groom's would-be assassin) is poisoned. The main characters manage to give him the antidote and save his life, and it is revealed that the attempted murderer is the bride's mother, who wanted to save her daughter from an unwanted Arranged Marriage that her husband had forced the girl into. She intended to poison the groom while using an enchantment to keep herself from being affected by the poison. However, she accidentally touched her husband and almost killed him.
  • 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 Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All involves this. Acro wanted to kill Regina for not realizing how she was responsible for his brother's coma. His plan involved luring her to a specific spot and then pushing a heavy weight out of a window to land on top of her. However, due to being wheelchair-bound he could not look down out of the window to see who had arrived at the spot, and ended up killing Regina's father Russell instead, a man Too Good for This Sinful Earth and who Acro personally looked up to very much as his own father figure.
  • Danganronpa:
    • In Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, this happens to Teruteru Hanamura when he kills "Byakuya Togami" (actually the Ultimate Imposter disguised as him), due to mistaking him for Nagito Komaeda. After Nagito tells Teruteru that he's planning to commit a murder, Teruteru resolves to stop Nagito himself. Nagito's knife is covered in luminous paint, and when Teruteru - who is in the crawlspace under the kitchen - sees the knife moving in the darkness, he assumes Nagito is up there and stabs upwards through the gaps in the floor with a skewer. However, Teruteru does not realise — until it's too late — that the Imposter had seen the knife and taken it from Nagito.
    • In Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, 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 Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Ace attempts to kill Snake by shoving him into Door 3 by himself and blowing him up, but due to his prosopagnosia (face blindness), who he thought was Snake was actually someone else entirely who Zero had dressed in Snake's clothes and drugged into a stupor to keep him from fighting back or speaking and blowing his cover. The thing is, Ace was probably going to kill that guy anyway for knowing too much, seeing as how, by this point, he's already killed another guy for the same reason (among other reasons) and may even go on to kill a third depending on the route you take.

  • The moment College Roomies from Hell!!! officially completed Cerebus Syndrome was when April stabbed and killed Mike instead of Marsha.
  • Unsounded: One of the assassins after Duane swings around with their sword after being blinded by a spell and runs through Duane's young daughter Mikaila. He did not intend or want to kill any kids and after twelve years of updates and several hints its revealed Mikaila actually survived that night, healed by another of the attackers.

    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.
  • Played for Drama in the pilot episode of Helluva Boss, where Moxxie accidentally shoots a passing child instead of his intended target. Then it's hilariously subverted when it turns out the child was the target.
  • 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.
  • Zsdav Adventures: In part 1 of Út ami hazavisz (Road that leads you home), after Zsdav killed all the cave spiders in the arena, he attempts to shoot Ödön who forced him into this situation. But accidentally shoots a random bystander.

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy:
    • In "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 sitting 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: (Deadpan) That's a way of putting it.
    • In "Killer Queen", a spate of killings at a fat camp initially appears to be the work of a serial killer... until Lois' brother Patrick figures out that the killer has a very specific target in mind and his first few victims were unfortunate cases of mistaken identity.
  • 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. Coincidentally, the Archduke was finally assassinated while he was on the way to the hospital visit several of the casualties of the explosion.
    • The Archduke's wife, Duchess Sophie, was shot by mistake. 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 although he had wanted to kill the Archduke, he had never intended to deprive his 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.
  • At least one expert concluded that John F. Kennedy was, indeed, shot by Lee Harvey Oswald, but the final shot to the head was the result of Friendly Fire from a nearby Secret Service agent. Under this theory, most of the subsequent inconsistencies and suspicious behavior were the result of the Secret Service desperately trying to cover up this incredible screw-up. In 2017 declassified CIA files corroborated this theory, as they clearly stated that two persons had to have been involved.
  • 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.
  • A classic example, actually referred to locally as the Murder by Mistake, concerns John Breads, a butcher in the Sussex town of Rye in 1743. Vowing vengeance on James Lamb, the town's mayor who had fined him for selling meat at short weight, he attacked and killed a man dressed in the mayor's red ceremonial cloak who was on his way back from a banquet that the whole town had known the mayor would be attending as the guest of honour. Turned out, though, Lamb was ill and had sent Allen Grebell (his brother-in-law and a former mayor) in his place, lending him the cloak to keep out the cold. The resulting trial is unique in English legal history as Lamb (being the local magistrate) presided over it, making it the only murder trial in which the judge had been the intended victim.
  • It's generally accepted that Lord Lucan never intended to kill Sandra Rivett, his children's nanny. It was his wife he wanted dead and he expected her to be the only adult woman in the house that night — Mrs Rivett had made the unlucky decision to ask for a different night off that week, something which Lucan was probably unaware of as he and his wife were estranged at the time and he wasn't living at the family home. Lucan would have only realised his mistake after he'd killed Mrs Rivett.


Video Example(s):


The Assassination of Cluny

The woodlanders' attempt to assassinate Cluny the Scourge - and thus put an end his siege on their abbey - is derailed when one of his adjutants wanders into his tent.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / MurderByMistake

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