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Never One Murder

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"It will have blood; they say, blood will have blood."
Macbeth, Macbeth

Episodes of detective series are rarely happy with just one murder. There has to be two or three, with the second being found just before an ad break. Frequently the second murder only confirms the detectives' suspicions, especially if the original murder was disguised as a suicide or accident. If the prime suspect for the first murder is the next victim, it's Suspect Existence Failure.

This is also sometimes necessary to establish a pattern to the murders. If one librarian is killed, it could be a random crime. If two librarians are killed, then someone is targeting librarians.

This trope is sometimes used (e.g. by Agatha Christie) to deconstruct the idea that murder of an Asshole Victim is morally justifiable; it turns out that our supposedly upright, reluctant killer finds the second murder now much easier, loses sight of the value of human life, and starts killing innocents to cover their tracks.

Subtrope of Crime After Crime. Murder Is the Best Solution can lead to this outcome. Not the First Victim is a variant of this, but that trope refers to a single person committing a series of crimes that not discovered at the beginning. Serial Killings, Specific Target applies if one victim was the real target and others are killed simply to muddy the waters.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Most of the murder motives in The Kindaichi Case Files is revenge against one's tormentors, and they usually succeed to kill all but one of the people who had wronged them in the past.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Clue the Movie starts out with one murder (Mr. Boddy, the victim from the game), but that one turns into six over the course of the film.
    Wadsworth: Three murders!
    Mr Green: Six altogether.
    Wadsworth: This is getting serious.
  • In Crooked House, the murder of Asshole Victim Aristide Leonides is followed later by the more baffling (and seemingly motiveless) murder of Nanny; although it does clear the two characters who had been arrested for the first murder.
  • In Heat during the opening heist, a crew has captured an armored car, has blown the back door, and has lined up the guards outside while they steal the contents. Psycho Party Member Waingro gets upset because one of the guards won't follow his instructions (ignoring one of the other robbers who points out the guards can't hear anything after the explosion damaged their ears) and shoots one of the guards. The other thieves then have to gun down a second guard who goes for a backup gun, and after a brief hesitation, the final guard who still hasn't tried to resist. The detective later investigating the robbery explains what happened. "So he pops one of the guards. This has now gone from an armed robbery to murder. Since they're all now eligible for the death penalty, why leave any witnesses? So they kill all the other guards."
  • In the Don Knotts/Tim Conway mystery comedy Private Eyes, Lord and Lady Morley are murdered, and when the detectives come to investigate, the household staff themselves begin to drop like flies, supposedly murdered by the ghost of Lord Morley. Subverted when it is revealed that Lord Morley never actually died, and the household staff had been faking their deaths in order to expose Lord Morley's adopted daughter Phyllis, who had murdered Lady Morley and attempted to murder Lord Morley. So, only one person died after all.
  • The movie A Shot in the Dark has several murders, though many of these are botched attempts to kill Inspector Clouseau. The play it was based on had only one murder.
  • Marv's story in Sin City starts off with just one murder but it is soon revealed that the Big Bad is a Serial Killer who has had many victims. Similarly, Marv is "killing his way to the truth."
  • Forms the plot of the movie Very Bad Things. The first death was an accident. The protagonists' attempts to cover it up leads them into a string of murders, eventually reaching the point where they start killing each other, afraid that one of them will talk.
  • In Murder Mystery, the murderers start by killing co-conspirators, and then upgrade to trying to get rid of potential witnesses.

  • In Val Mc Dermid's Clean Break Kate Brannigan puts a second case on a back burner, ruling the murder to be an accident until more people start dying and she severely regrets it.
  • Raskolnikov in Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment kills the miserly pawnbroker as per his original plan, and then, without coming to his senses, kills her younger sister who just happened to walk into the room. This is used to support the Aesop.
  • There's a particularly unpleasant variant in the G. K. Chesterton Father Brown story "The Sign of the Broken Sword." An army general murders the major who discovers he's been selling secrets to the enemy, then covers it up by leading his unit into a battle he knows they will lose, to create more bodies.
  • Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole novels are fond of including serial killers (or killers that appear to be serial killers), so naturally this trope shows up several times.
  • Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot would often posit that once someone has committed a murder for a dire reason, it becomes easier to kill again (often to cover up the first crime), and then increasingly easy after that, until the killer is acting on the most trivial of threats or slights.
    • In The ABC Murders, a serial killer hides the murder that would benefit him amongst a series of others, creating an ABC murderer. "When are you least likely to notice a pin?" "When it's in a pincushion!" This is also lampshaded when Poirot and Hastings discuss detective stories, and Hasting says that more than one murder makes them more exciting.
    • In Three Act Tragedy, the culprit plans at least two murders: one as a "dress rehearsal", and one to kill the actual target. Another is later killed to distract the sleuths from the real clues.
    • In Cat Among the Pigeons there are three murders committed by two people with entirely different motives who are not working together.
    • In The Clocks, a second murder is committed to help cover up the first.
    • And Then There Were None: Twelve people are on the island, being picked off one by one, until there's only two. She shoots the other, then goes to hang herself, at which point the real murderer sends a Message in a Bottle and shoots himself, his job done.
  • In Death series: This trope is used many times throughout the series. Memory In Death and Fantasy In Death are the few expections. Sure, both stories had the murderer try to kill someone else, but the victim survived.
  • A common occurrence in the Kinky Friedman novels. Often Kinky is implicated, not always, but often.
  • Crime writer Harriet Vane describes this trope in the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Have His Carcase:
    'No; well, there's the Philo Vance method. You shake your head and say: "There's worse yet to come", and then the murderer kills five more people, and that thins the suspects out a bit and you spot who it is.'
    'Wasteful, wasteful,' said Wimsey. 'And too slow.'
    • The series itself mostly avoids using the trope directly, with the stand-out exception of Unnatural Death, in which the murderer follows up the original crime by bumping off two people who know two much and making attempts on three more.
  • Marooned in Realtime: In addition to the main murder that the plot revolves around, there's a seemingly accidental death around halfway through that the detective instinctively considers suspicious, which turns out to be the work of the same murderer cleaning up a loose end.
  • In the Miss Marple novel A Murder Is Announced, Charlotte, who's been posing as her sister Letitia all this time, murders her best friend and another one of her friends for coming close to discovering that she was responsible for the first murder of the man.
  • Rita Mae Brown's long running mystery series, Mrs. Murphy Mysteries involving Harry Harristeen and her pets always follows this. At some point in the first 50 - 100 pages someone will die. Then two or three other people. It is always easy to narrow the list of people going to die because they are appearing in 'cozy' Crozet, Virginia for the first time.
  • Sage Adair's cases always see bodies stacking up, usually people who knew too much.
  • In Donald Moffitt's Short Story "A Snitch in Time" (published in Analog SF and F), the cop hero, Delehanty, is killed by the murderer he's been chasing, which finally results in the murderer being caught.
  • The suspicious death of Sam Westing sets off The Westing Game. During the course of the "game", one of the potential heirs is found dead. Subverted, though. Sam was Faking the Dead to disguise himself as the heir who ended up dead... and his second death was also fake.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In a skit for BBC's Children in Need, DCI Burke and DI Rebus (both detectives from ITV) meet at a motorway service station halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, where a man's been murdered. Rebus' female detective companion expresses her concern that there might be another murder. Burke's response:
    "This is The BBC. You don't need another dead body to keep people watching after the adverts."
  • Happens occasionally in Columbo, generally for the purpose of continuing to cover up the first murder (e.g., the murderer is being blackmailed by someone who's figured out what they've done or they're trying to frame victim two for the killing of victim one, etc).
  • Nearly every episode of Criminal Minds deals with a serial killer. Or a spree killer. Or someone sociopathic enough to cover up his more regular crime with at least one dead body...
  • In Days of Our Lives, the Salem Stalker killed one woman (who was going to marry the man she loved) and was forced to keep killing people in order to cover up the murders. Naturally, another villain took the opportunity to bump off her husband, figuring she'd frame the serial killer for that attack. The cops weren't fooled.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Unicorn and the Wasp", where the Doctor and Donna meet Agatha Christie, the murderer first kills Professor Peach, and then manages to off a couple more people before being caught. It turns out the villain has been accidentally brainwashed into acting like an over-the-top Christie villain, and Dame Agatha loved this trope, hence the multiple murders.
  • Elementary episode "One Way to Get Off" has two people murdered in a similar way to imprisoned Serial Killer Wade Crewes. Sherlock is ready to believe that one of the original suspects Victor Nardan committed the murders until another pair come up along with a third victim who Nardan could not have shot with his blind eye.
  • The British miniseries Glue starts with a murder of a teenage boy...but then the bodies start piling up.
  • Hightown: Several occur throughout the series by the same perpetrators.
  • In the Midnight Caller episode "The Added Starter", a prostitute vanishes. Since there's no evidence, the police don't believe the one witness who says she was murdered, until her madam is murdered too.
  • Midnight Sun (2016): The two protagonists investigate the murder of a French citizen, which turns out to be the first in a series of killings.
  • Midsomer Murders has been a frequent user of this trope up throughout its long run, though in the last couple of years, we've actually gotten through an episode here and there with "only" one stiff.
  • This one happens a great deal in Monk, but "Mr. Monk and the Actor" gave it an ironic twist. A character asks if the murderer is likely to strike again; he's told that it was a crime of passion, and the man who did it will probably never put another toe out of line. Cut to the murderer breaking into a pawnshop to cover up evidence of the original murder, which leads to his second murder when the pawnshop owner walks in on him. He continues to escalate from there.
  • New Tricks likes to play with this. A number of cases where we are led to believe follow this trope, turn out to be just one murder or even just a single accidental death. Other times the murders are related but perpetrated by different people for different reasons.
  • A second (and even a third, fourth...) body very frequently shows up in Silent Witness, often providing the piece of evidence that cracks the case.
  • In the Supernatural episode 'Usual Suspects' in which the boys get arrested for the first time, the killer in the case turns out to be this, a crooked cop covering his tracks, and the supernatural being they were hunting turns out to be his first victim trying to warn the rest.
  • In an episode of The Streets of San Francisco called 'Police Buff' in 1976, a vigilante named Eric Doyle (the late Bill Bixby) poses as a San Francisco police officer and kills a mobster in a parking garage (said mobster had the case against him thrown out of court on a technicality, because a witness wouldn't identify him in court). Later, Doyle murders a rape suspect who had the case against him (the rape suspect) thrown out of court on another technicality (it's later proven that this suspect could not have done it, because he was nowhere near where the rape happened). Finally, Doyle tries to kill Lt. Stone (Karl Malden) by carjacking the car that Stone is in at a stakeout that Stone and partner Steve Keller (Michael Douglas) set up to try to nab Doyle; Doyle is then found out and arrested in a local park after a brief shootout, and in the arrest, Stone removes the badge Doyle was using to pose as a police officer.
  • Twin Peaks opens with the discovery of Laura Palmer's murder. It's quickly established that she's at least the killer's second victim, and that he tried to kill a third girl that same night, and he kills two more people over the series - the first to throw suspicion off himself, and the second because she looks exactly like Laura.

  • Arsenic and Old Lace: A body in a window seat turns into twelve as the hero discovers that his sweet, innocent aunts have been quietly murdering lonely old men for years.
  • Macbeth: Macbeth murders Duncan to become king and finds himself forced to commit more and more murders for self-preservation, his lowest point being the ordered murder of Macduff's wife and son in lieu of Macduff himself.
  • Spider's Web: The body which Clarissa finds in the drawing room of her new house turns out to be the second person the murderer has killed while attempting to secure the Macguffin, after the house's previous owner. At the climax of the play, Clarissa nearly becomes victim number three.

    Video Games 
  • The online game Sleuth often features, after the earliest difficulty levels, the killer claiming another victim or two from among the various suspects and people of interest. If you're lucky, it'll be someone else whose alibi didn't check out, narrowing the pool of viable suspects. If you're particularly unlucky, it'll be someone whose innocence was proven and who might have had important information about the killer.
  • the white chamber: The killer aka the main character killed her first assistant by accident and hid the corpse, then killed the engineer when he found the body, then murdered everyone else one by one out of sheer psychotic paranoia.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • The fifth case of the first game gives us the Joe Darke killings. The titular serial killer accidentally ran over a woman with his car, then killed the two people who witnessed the accident, followed by then the kid who saw him burying the bodies, in order to keep the whole thing quiet.
    • And in Trials and Tribulations we have another killing spree that spanned six years. First, Dahlia Hawthorne arranged the suicide of Terry Fawles, killed her own stepsister, then poisoned Diego Armando (he survived, barely) and electrocuted Doug Swallow to keep them quiet. If you include Terry this gives her the highest body count in the game. And that doesn't even count her failed murder attempts of Phoenix Wright and Maya Fey, the latter of which happened after she died.
  • Danganronpa: Usually downplayed, as Monokuma imposes a two-kill limit for each killer to prevent anyone from killing everyone else and winning their trial by default. However, the third chapter of each game generally has two victims.
  • Early on in Shinrai: Broken Beyond Despair, one of the guests at the Halloween party is found dead, with their death being either a suicide or a murder. A while later, the prime suspect in the first victim's death is found dead, and unlike the first victim, the second victim is definitely a murder victim. Just before the climax, a third victim is left to burn to death, but can be saved if the player makes the right choices. It ultimately turns out that Momoko, the first victim, pretended to commit suicide when her corpse was supposedly discovered, since it was all part of a "prank" she thought of with Hiro, Kamen and Kotoba. She then murders Hiro and has Kotoba locked in the boiler room and set on fire before hanging herself for real, making it ultimately a suicide and two murders/one murder and one attempted murder.


    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in the first "Anthology of Interest" episode of Futurama. The "What If" machine shows what would happen if Leela were more impulsive: she murders the professor and then kills nearly all the remaining cast members to cover it up—except for Fry, who she keeps quiet in another way...
  • A kid-friendly variation shows up in Spongebob Squarepants. After acquiring Mermaid Man's belt, Spongebob accidentally shrinks Squidward. He tells himself to calm down so no one will find out when Patrick shows up and is shrunk by a panicky Spongebob, who continues to zap passersby with the shrink ray. By the end of the episode, he's shrunk the entire population of Bikini Bottom- save the already small Plankton, who happened to be out of town and arrives just at the end to see what happened.