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Not the First Victim

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Dr Tate: You know, there are a lot of people who depend on me for their well-being.
Jake Peralta: Yeah, except for the ones that you murder.
Dr Tate: That's only happened twice.
Jake Peralta: It's happened before?
Dr Tate: The Rothmans. Nobody misses them.

Someone has been the victim of a crime; abduction is most common. Of course, the heroes have to save this person before they die. But, as they're investigating, they learn something that makes their quest even more desperate. Maybe the killer is Reminiscing About Your Victims (a common appearance of this trope). A Room Full of Crazy or Evidence Dungeon is discovered, and the heroes realize that someone else died or went missing in close proximity to this victim. And they Never Found the Body.

Essentially, in fiction, this refers to the tendency for a villain or an enemy to be revealed as an as-yet uncaught Serial Killer. We've found out about a murderer In Medias Res.

This is a common way to up the stakes. If a person has killed before, it's taken for granted that their moral threshold has fallen below that. On the other hand, we often don't know these first victims very well, if at all, and are not encouraged to sympathize with them. They only matter as context for the current victim's predicament. It's a common form of Ascended Fridge Horror if some focus is paid to the initial victims and the failures of the police. Plus, now your audience really wants to catch this bad guy, because Karma Houdini Warranty is overdue, with some added Paranoia Fuel.

Closely related to Never One Murder, where murder itself is portrayed as unusually common and unusually committed by multiple people (whereas this trope refers only to the tendency to up the heinousness of a villain or Villain Protagonist by giving them multiple victims). If we see this unraveling from a villain or Anti-Hero's perspective, it will usually be Crime After Crime instead. Also related to Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot, except in this context, it's more like a major crime reveals multiple other crimes. It's also closely related to Greater-Scope Villain, except it isn't a question of a greater motivational scope, but of a wider area of destruction. Compare Vicious Cycle and Eternal Recurrence, where the events themselves happen over and over on a grand scale.

This is Truth in Television considering that serial killers do prey on vulnerable populations in real life and so, by their very existence, are almost never caught on their first victim (unless they are caught and then freed). However, no real-life examples, please! This trope refers solely to its use as a plot twist, relies on audience perspective, and is therefore not possible in real life.

Since this trope is a plot twist involving death, expect unmarked spoilers.


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    Films — Live-Action 
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane: Howard kidnaps Michelle and imprisons her in his fallout shelter. When Michelle tries to climb out, she discovers that she is Howard's second victim: another missing girl had scratched a cry for help on the skylight with an earring.
  • Back to the Future Part II: In 1985-A, Marty discovers his father George in this timeline was mysteriously murdered years before. Later, when Biff-A goes after Marty with a gun and corners him on the roof, Marty tries to convince Biff that he will only get caught by the police if he shoots Marty, only for Biff to respond:
    Biff: Kid, I own the police. Besides... they couldn't match up the bullet that killed your old man.
    Marty: You son of a-
    (Biff cocks his pistol)
  • The Bad Seed: It borders on being an Open Secret that Rhoda killed Claude because she was jealous that he won the penmanship medal. Then Christine reveals that, when they lived elsewhere, an upstairs neighbor fell down the stairs after promising to bequeath Rhoda a crystal ball when she died.
  • Berlin Syndrome: Although we only see Andi imprison Claire, the smoothness with which he does it, the blonde hair in the drain (Claire is brunette), and Andi's references to Nathalie having "gone back to Canada" heavily imply that he had at least one other victim before her. She also finds photographs of a girl with the same tattoo that he gave her. He never confirms it, but Claire seems convinced, with good reason.
  • Creep (2014): After killing Aaron it's revealed that "Josef" has been hiring videographers to come out to his house for a very long time. He's revealed to have dozens of tapes in his closet cataloguing his deeds and they all have the names of the associated unfortunate interviewer.
  • Crimson Peak: Lucille and Thomas dispatch Edith's father in order to bring her to the Peak, at which point we see her figuring out how wrong something is with her new family. Eventually, Edith learns that Thomas is The Bluebeard and has been married three times already, and killed all his wives before her. This then comes into play again with the revelation that the real first victim was Thomas and Lucille's mother, whom Lucille killed when their mother caught them having sex.
  • Cruella: Cruella initially assumes that, aside from killing Catherine, Baroness von Hellman is more or less a cruel but otherwise fairly typical businesswoman. However, when Cruella tells the Baroness she killed her mother, the Baroness responds that she's going to have to be more specific. Combined with the later reveal that she tried to have her own infant daughter killed, it's heavily implied that Catherine was far from her first victim.
  • The Descent: The women believe that the cave they're in is totally unmapped and unrecorded, and that they're the only people who've ever been down there. Then Sarah finds the ancient helmet while they're investigating shortly after the cave-in that traps them inside.
  • Double Indemnity: Walter and Phyllis murder Phyllis's husband, apparently to free her from a loveless marriage. And then Lola reveals that Phyllis caused her mother's death.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): As they investigate Harriet Vanger's disappearance, Lisbeth discovers a string of victims leading up to it who were not previously connected. It's then subverted. While Harriet's brother and father were/are serial killers, Harriet is not a victim and she escaped from Martin.
  • Greta: While being stalked by Greta, Frances learns from Greta's daughter's girlfriend that Greta seemed to have been extremely abusive to her daughter. It's never explicitly confirmed because she's a Posthumous Character, having committed suicide prior to the events of the film. It's also heavily implied that Greta had multiple victims because Frances hears the same banging through the wall at the beginning of the film that she later makes while bound to the bed in Greta's house.
  • High Tension: The killer is revealed to have had multiple other victims before Alex and her family, keeping cut-up pictures of them in his truck. Or, well, Marie does. A Rewatch Bonus reveals that Marie tells Alex this before the apparent killer does, in a moment of foreshadowing the twist before it's revealed.
  • The Loved Ones: Lola and her father kidnap Brent after he turns down Lola's prom invite. However, while torturing him later, Lola shows Brent a scrapbook of her other victims, and it turns out that Brent actually ran one of them down after he escaped from Lola's house.
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking: In this Made-for-TV Movie, there is a serial killer on the loose who abducts and garrotes the daughters of wealthy aristocrats, each time dressing them in the clothes of their previous victim. As Holmes concludes, logically there must have been an original victim for him to get the first set of clothes. Sure enough, they're able to find a young woman who was recovered from the Thames naked a few months previously. Whilst the coroner ruled it a suicide, upon exhuming the body, Watson is able to find a silk stocking stuffed down her throat. It's the discovery of this first victim that leads Holmes to the killer.
  • Zola: Possibly. When Derrek is fighting with Stefani, he reveals that Stefani has brought other "new" friends to Florida with him and X before. Given that they run into sex traffickers and that X is a violent pimp, it probably didn't end well, but it's not made clear.

  • Coraline: After being trapped by the Other Mother, Coraline discovers the souls of three other children who were lured in and sucked dry by the same creature.
  • The Cuckoo's Calling: Cormoran Strike knows the Bristow family, and takes the case of Lula Landry aka Lula Bristow, because he was the childhood friend of Charlie Bristow who died years ago when he fell into a quarry. He eventually figures out that John Bristow, who killed his adopted sister Lula, also killed Charlie in much the same way many years ago.
  • Disappearing Earth: The Inciting Incident is the kidnapping of two girls, Alyona and Sophia. It later is revealed that another girl, Lilia, also went missing earlier, though was overlooked and assumed a runaway due to racism.
  • The Landlady: Billy is traveling on business and stops at a small bed and breakfast with two other guests written in the ledger but no departure dates. As he has his tea with the kind landlady and admires her skill in taxidermy with the stuffed house pets in the room, he slowly remembers those names. They were in the news for vanishing some months ago. The landlady insists they are still upstairs. They never left. They were nice, single young men just like Billy. She then plies him with more tea, which he refuses not liking the taste of Bitter Almonds in the brew.
  • The Locked Tomb: Gideon the Ninth: The investigation into two murders in the Closed Circle of the Lyctoral Trials is complicated when they find two burnt bodies who were killed before their arrival. One turns out to be an entrant whose identity the murderer stole.
  • Gone Girl: After Nick figures out that Amy has faked her own murder to frame him, he finds out that she's done something similar twice before: that she framed her "best friend" in high school for stalking her and throwing her down the stairs, and that she framed an old boyfriend for rape. None of them are murder, but both characters note they recognized Amy's pattern of behavior.
  • Midway through The Lovely Bones, murdered protagonist Susie Salmon discovers that her killer, George Harvey, had actually murdered a number of other little girls over the years without being caught. One of these girls just so happens to be Holly, her guide in the afterlife.
  • Magpie Murders: In "Pünd's Last Case", Pünd figures out that this trope is subverted in one way, and played straight in another. Robert killed Magnus Pye, but not his mother, Mary, who is the apparent first victim. It turns out he killed Pye due to having drowned his younger brother as children, and Mary, who knew, had left a confession with Pye in the event of her sudden death because she suspected that Robert would kill her too.
  • Millennium Series: As they investigate Harriet Vanger's disappearance, Lisbeth discovers a string of victims leading up to it who were not previously connected. It's then subverted. While Harriet's brother and father were/are serial killers, Harriet is not a victim and she escaped from Martin.
  • Misery: When he manages to escape from the bedroom, Paul finds an scrapbook kept by Annie where she reveals that she murdered her father, her roommate, and multiple patients at the hospitals where she worked prior to holding Paul captive, as well as killing a police officer to hide him, and has not been caught.
  • Moonlight Becomes You: Nuala isn't the killer's first victim, though she is the first to be clearly and violently murdered. The previous victims' murders were disguised as natural deaths.
  • Pretty Girls: Julia is ultimately revealed to have been one of the first victims of the present-day Serial Killer, Claire's husband, Paul. In fact, he married her specifically because of her relationship to Julia. And he also killed their father, Sam, and made it look like a suicide.
  • Rose Madder: Already established as a ruthless abuser and corrupt cop, Norman Daniels' true insanity shows when he strangles a prostitute after deluding himself she's his runaway wife, Rose. He cleans up the scene and dumps her body, nonchalantly noting to himself that this wasn't his first time. Later, Rose is horrified when she realizes Norman murdered a woman who was supposed to testify against him while they were still married.
  • Sherlock Holmes: In "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb," Victor Hatherly is hired to repair a hydraulic press, with his client (a counterfeiter named Fritz) trying to kill him once he's done with the rather suspicious job. Hatherly only escapes due to the intervention of Fritz's less-ruthless accomplices, one of whom references "the last time" and how Fritz promised "it should not [happen] again." After hearing the story, Holmes recalls the disappearance of another engineer who was likely killed by Fritz after either building the press or conducting previous repairs.
  • SOPHIE: This is the central plot twist that leads to The Ending Changes Everything. The first twist is that the present-day narrator isn't really Sophie - she's simply a woman that Matthew has kidnapped and forced to act as Sophie. The second twist is revealed when she sees the multiple candle stubs around the room and, later when she sees the gnarled corpses in the bomb shelter, that Matthew has killed multiple women through the same "game" over the years.
  • Tony Hill and Carol Jordan: In the book, The Wire In The Blood, Shaz links Jacko Vance to a series of abductions and murders of young women with long dark hair, all of which are, at the most, considered runaways, if they are reported at all. Made even worse by the fact that nobody is aware of Vance's current victim, Donna, until weeks into her imprisonment, and even then it's Shaz, who Vance kills, making her his first "official" victim.
  • Things We Have In Common: Implied in the search Yasmin does for "missing people". She finds Amelia Bell missing from Nottingham and is shocked by how much Amelia looks like Alice, and Sam says he lived further north. It's never answered for sure if Sam killed Amelia, but it's implied that he may have done.
  • Troubled Blood: Janice killed Margaret Banborough thirty years ago. However, she was a prolific murderer both before and after that: she killed Joanna because she had been sleeping with Steve, and was periodically poisoning her son Kevin to kill him for getting between her and Steve. After killing Margot for finding out, she then murdered several other people, including a girl she saw Steve flirting with, her long-term partner, and his mistress.
  • Warrior Cats: During the first series, ThunderClan is horrified when their seemingly loyal deputy Tigerclaw is caught trying to murder their leader — and then even more shocked when Fireheart reveals the truth he has spent the last couple books uncovering: Tigerclaw was the one who killed their previous deputy Redtail, and the accident that had crippled Cinderpaw's leg was actually a trap that Tigerclaw had set in a previous attempt to kill Bluestar.
  • The Word Is Murder: While Robert Cornwallis (aka Dan Roberts) killed both Diana and Damian Cowper, he reveals in his Evil Gloating to Horowitz that he also killed Amanda Leigh, who disappeared years previously, torturing her to death and then dismembering her body across seven graves.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Based on a True Story: Matt reveals that he has killed "seven people the police are aware of...and at least twenty more." Ava struggles with the fact that he's killed 20+ people.
  • The Bletchley Circle: In Series 1, Susan and the other women figure out early that, although they are currently investigating a single murder, there's no way that the killer got as far as he did without messing up, which means he has other "messier" victims. It turns out that he's done this seven times and has a Fall Guy picked out every time, often first.
  • Bonanza: At the climax of the Season 4 episode "Thunder Man," Little Joe realizes that the episode's Villain of the Week (William Poole, a munitions expert the Cartwrights had hired to clear tree stumps from the land to allow for pasturing), is a serial murderer. With direct evidence that he killed a widowed friend of the Cartwrights just moments earlier (whom herself had realized Poole's Dark Secret) and a strong suspicion that he raped and murdered his girlfriend (at the beginning of the episode), Joe directly confronts Poole with the evidence. After Poole bluffs a few explanations, he then arrogantly admits that he killed both Joe's girlfriend and the elderly woman, and then when further questioned he admits that he "don't rightly know" how many women he had stalked, sexually assaulted and either badly hurt if not killed before declaring himself master of women and nature and then – knowing he can take his confession to the sheriff – tries to kill Joe. Joe, however, kills Poole before he is attacked with a vial of nitroglycerin.
  • Bones: "A Man on Death Row" centers on the team trying to find irrefutable proof that Howard Epps, the titular man, did commit the murder he's accused of. They find multiple bodies, revealing he's a full on Serial Killer. Booth is particularly disgusted, realizing Epps suckered them into this investigation; and now he gets his stay of execution, as the new evidence needs to be processed.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: In "The Therapist", Dr Tate reveals offhandedly to Jake that not only did he kill the couple that Jake and Charles are investigating, he also killed another couple before, and that "nobody misses them." Even Jake is taken aback by how dark it is.
  • Chiefs: Chief Lee's episode mainly focuses on the investigation into the death of a boy who fell off a cliff while running away from someone who sexually abused him. Lee then discovers evidence that many boys of around the same age have disappeared under similar circumstances, and correctly suspects that they were killed after being raped.
  • Coroner: The later part of season one deals with Detective Donavon McAvoy dealing with Gerald Henry Jones, a wealthy banker whom McAvoy arrested several years earlier for murdering Floyd Shipman, whose case is being reopened. Meeting with Shipman's daughter she reveals to him her theory that Jones is in fact a serial killer, due to there being four other unsolved murders that occurred in a similar area to her father's death. Whilst Donavon is initially skeptical (partially due to how difficult it was to convict Jones of a single murder) the resultant investigation not only proves her right but that Jones is far more prolific than anyone imagined, having slaughtered people all other Ontario with Shipman being his twenty-third victim. His first victim as Jenny Copper eventually discovers was none other than his own father who Jones stabbed to death whilst in his teens.
  • Criminal Minds: Jo Young-hoon is already known to be a sadistic and vicious Serial Killer who tortured over a dozen women to death. Upon being sentenced to be executed for the murders, he gleefully drags out the suffering of his victims families by reminiscing about his crimes and bragging about how he'll be remembered as one of Korea's worst-ever killers. As such he specifically waits till right before his execution to reveal he has in fact over half a dozen more victims they never discovered.
    • In "The Fox", Karl Arnold is a family annihilator who takes the wedding rings from his victims. The BAU is brought in after he's murdered two families and successfully save a third...and then Hotch finds his trophy case, which has eight wedding rings in it. So he murdered another six families that we don't know about.
    • "Lucky": The police find the top half of a woman who is missing all of her fingers, and then discover the fingers are in her stomach. Then it turns out that none of those fingers are from her, and six of them are index fingers.
    • In "Scared to Death", the team is called in after a grave with four bodies in it is discovered. They later find evidence the Serial Killer has been active for longer than they thought and look for more bodies, uncovering another twelve.
  • CSI: NY has at least three:
    • "Blink", the first episode after the backdoor pilot has a downplayed example. The team discovers a woman whose body was dumped after her neck was snapped, and subsequently finds another victim with much more brutal injuries. They assume their killer is escalating, but they realize that the least injured victim (and another who's been left brain dead) were the most recent. The killer's a Control Freak who'd been refining his technique to put his victims in a state of "locked-in syndrome".
    • The episode "Right Next Door" has Stella's apartment building burned down in an arson attack. Stella discovers that the perpetrator is a little girl who was kidnapped by one of Stella's neighbors. As the CSI team race to find her, they also learn that the neighbor's son isn't actually her son either and was kidnapped four years ago.
    • In "Admissions," Inspector Gerrard's daughter is a victim of date-rape. Turns out the perps (one of whom looks much younger than his real age) have been posing as a high-schooler and his father in order to prey on young girls for a number of years.
  • Dalziel and Pascoe: This forms the final twist of "Bones and Silence". Throughout the episode Superintendent Dalziel is convinced that he saw Philip Swain murder his wife despite the evidence suggesting it was a suicide. However, Dalziel finally realises that when the events transpired Swain had already murdered his wife, and what he saw was him killing a local drug addict who resembled her to cover up her death. To top off she wasn't even Swain's second victim, as he also murdered a man who accidentally found his wife's body, with him using his construction company to hide all the bodies in the Police's new car park.
  • The Detectives: Played for Laughs, in one episode following the duo's incompetence whilst trying to catch drug smugglers leading to them getting trapped within a shipping container and shipped to Amsterdam. When it's finally opened they are confronted at gunpoint by Dutch Gangsters. Dave Briggs reveals they are policemen bragging he'll be too afraid to kill them now he knows, only for the gunman to reveal he loves killing policemen and has already got away with murdering seven at this point. Briggs accuses of bluffing right until he's outright challenging the psycho to kill them, whilst Bob Louis tries desperately to shut him up. Only the timely arrival of the Dutch police saves them from becoming his next victims.
  • In the Heat of the Night: Following Athena Tipps being assaulted and raped in "Rape", after reviewing the crime scene Chief Gillespie becomes convinced that this wasn't the assailants first attack as the particulars of the crime scene suggest a level of experience. Sure enough by tracking the suspect Steven Ainslee's movements, Gillespie discovers he raped at least two other women in the previous towns he worked in.
  • Justified: Duffy sees that Quarles is holding a guy captive that he then viciously beats. When Raylan is digging into Quarles's past later, he learns that Quarles has many victims in Detroit and elsewhere, and this is why Theo Tonin exiled him.
  • Lie to Me: In "Beat the Devil", a college student is accused of waterboarding, resuscitating, and then trying to bury alive a classmate. The investigation leads the police to realize he has had many, many victims, and that he killed his sister years previously.
  • Law & Order: SVU:
    • When an old woman is strangled in "Bound", the detectives initially suspect some sort of insurance or inheritance goal. Then they link it to a series of mysterious strangulations of old women, which were perpetrated by one of the CEOs in order to spare their daughters the trial of having to look after them.
    • "Behave" opens with a woman who has recently been raped, and when the SVU team investigate, they learn that not only is this not the first time this particular woman has been assaulted but that the perpetrator in question has been stalking several women all over the country, keeping track of them at all times, so that he can sexually assault them again at random times. It's revealed that he gets sadistic pleasure from knowing his victims live thinking of him, and only him, every waking moment. Some of them have been so broken by the repeated assaults that their marriages, jobs, and social lives have fallen to pieces, forcing them to live in fear of any human contact.
    • When a DNA test leads Detective Benson to her previously unknown half-brother and with it the identity of her father, her subsequent investigation leads her to discover that her mother was not his only victim.
  • Life on Mars: In the first episodes of both the American and British versions, Sam comes across a series of murder victims in the present day who have been strangled and found with fibers under their fingernails; when he arrives in 1973, he finds out that there had been a string of similar murders back then as well. At first, Sam thinks that Colin Raimes, the suspected present-day killer who he thinks kidnapped Maya (and who was 4 in 1973) is a copycat killer trying to impress Edward Kramer (the killer from 1973; Willie Kramer in the US version), but then Sam alters history by not submitting Kramer's psychiatric report as evidence so that Kramer will serve a lengthy prison sentence instead of the fairly short psychiatric observation he was originally put under (which results in there being no future murders and Maya getting rescued).
  • Midsomer Murders:
    • "The Killings At Badgers Drift" in the very first episode whilst investigating a series of murders in the village, its established that the wealthy Henry Trace's first wife Bella died in a Hunting "Accident" two years previously. We're led to believe that she was killed by Phyllis Cadwell, who was besotted with Henry in a moment of desperation. However, at the climax, Inspector Tom Barnaby concludes that Phyllis's attempt failed, and Bella was actually murdered by the episode's killer, who had their eye on Henry's money.
    • "Death and Dreams" sees Inspector Barnaby investigating a series of stranglings that appear to tie to a respected local psychiatrist who provides support for ex-criminals. It is eventually revealed the murders were committed by her three children as the individuals were taking away their mothers' attention. It at first seems they were motivated by the death of their father, only for it turn out they murdered him as well for the same reason.
    • "A Sacred Trust" involves Inspector John Barnaby investigating an elderly nun being strangled at a priory. Following the local priest also being killed, after realising the killer murdered the wrong nun, he gets their intended target to confess the dark truth that a local businessman is in fact a former mercenary who thirty years previously had taken part in the massacre of a native village (which she saw due to being a missionary at the time).
  • Orange Is the New Black: Played for Black Comedy when Frieda is talking about her crimes. Despite being Affably Evil, Frieda killed four people and can't remember if she was caught for killing the cop she killed or not.
    Frieda: Are you kidding me? Kukudio is a suspect and I'm not? Heck, I killed a cop with his own gun! Wait, did I get caught for that? I'm getting old.
  • Oz:
    • There's a single episode character Richard L'Italien, who is a Serial Killer known to have murdered several women. Days before his execution he confesses to there being many more victims than were known about, complete with a long list of names.
    • Although Keller is already in prison for murder, it's in the context of having killed someone during a robbery (as well as a host of other violent crimes). In Season 4, he ultimately reveals (shortly before killing Barlog via a Neck Snap) that he is also a Serial Killer of gay men whom he'd have sex with and then kill.
  • Pagan Peak: Following hitting multiple walls whilst investigating the Krampus Killer, Ellie Stocker concludes that considering their willingness to commit so many brutal crimes it stands to reason they killed before. By comparing their murders to the unsolved murders they strike upon the case several years earlier of a computer security company CEO who was bludgeoned to death that resembles the killer's most recent murder. Sure enough he was the killer's first victim who murdered him for rejecting him.
  • Prime Suspect: Starting the series in "Price to Pay" the Metropolitan police are investigating George Marlow on suspicion of the brutal murder of a prostitute. Ironically partially thanks to her misogynistic subordinate attempting to undermine her through tracking missing person cases, DCI Jane Tennison manages to uncover a series of similar murders stretching back years all of which correlate with Marlow's movements.
  • The Rookie: "In Justice" upon being promoted to a detective for her first case Angela Lopez is assigned to investigate a seemingly minor break-in at funeral directors, only for Lopez to realise they broke in to use the furnace to dispose of a body. Upon catching the culprit, a former employee who was recently fired, during the interview he reveals that this is in fact the ninth body he's secretly disposed of in the furnace, having been forced to act as a cleanup crew for a vicious local street gang for the past few months. After losing his job he was too afraid to tell them when they turned up with the latest corpse so was forced to break in.
  • Silent Witness:
    • "Paradise Lost" features a variation. The terrifying serial killer Arnold Mears was arrested several years previous for murdering three women; however, Annie Farmer was convinced he also killed her daughter and after repeated meetings got Mears to confess (though only to her) that those three were in fact his last victims, and he'd already killed nine other people before them lying her daughter was amongst them to manipulate her into his twisted games. To top it all off the three he was convicted for weren't even his last victims, with him having already abducted another woman before they arrested him, who his mother still had imprisoned for him after all this time.
    • "Red Hill" involves the team investigating the death of convicted paedophilic serial killer James Wade, who abducted, raped, tortured and murdered nine little girls before he was caught, with the question remaining why anyone would want to kill him when Wade was already in prison and dying of cancer. As it is revealed at the climax, Wade's first victim was no other than his younger sister Miriam whom he tortured (and it is implied to have raped) when they were children, using her as a prototype to discover what he enjoyed.
    • "Deadhead" involves the Lyell Centre team dealing with a string of suicides. It eventually turns out to be the work of Jim Bell who is finding vulnerable people and convincing them to end it. Throughout the episode it's implied he's motivated by his father's death, only for it to be revealed in the climax that he was Bell's first victim.
  • Squid Game: When investigating the archives, it's revealed the games have been going on since at least 1999, and judging by the number of files, probably a lot longer.
  • A Touch of Frost:
    • In "Widows and Orphans", whilst investigating the murder of an elderly woman who was seemingly randomly beaten to death in her own home, a second woman being killed in the same manner Inspector Frost begins to suspect these aren't the killer's first victims. Sure enough the police uncover two other elderly women who were murdered in the same manner the previous year. The fact the dates match leads Frost to the killer.
    • "Near Death Experience" sees Frost investigating a particularly vicious murder where the killer somehow managed to break into his victim's home, then bound and cut her before finally killing her. Bringing Martine Philips for advice after checking the crime scene, she becomes convinced that they can't be the first victim as the killer shows signs of having experience with binding and murdering people despite there being no record of similar murders in the area. Upon widening their radius to the surrounding counties they manage to discover no less than five other victims stretching back several years.
  • The Undoing: Possibly. Jonathan killed Elena and was responsible for her Plot-Triggering Death. However, when investigating his background, Grace learns that the "dog" he was so upset about having killed was actually his younger sister Katie. Jonathan's story is that he simply wasn't watching closely enough, but his mother seems very unconvinced.
  • Unforgotten:
    • Series 1 has Cassie and Sunny investigate Jimmy's murder. When they're digging up a house relevant to their inquiries, they find another body.
    • Series 3 reveals that Hayley was the victim of an uncaught Serial Killer, Tim Finch, who confesses that he has raped and murdered multiple young women over a period of decades, of which Hayley was neither the first or last.
  • Whitechapel (TV Series): Early in the first season, becoming convinced the murder he's investigating is the start of the works of a very dedicated and meticulous Jack the Ripper copycat Detective Chandler discovers from local Ripperologist Edward Buchan that outside of the agreed five Ripper victims many experts believe that the murder of Martha Tabram was Jack's first kill. Unable to find any other murders in the right time scale, Chandler instead looks into attacks which quickly leads him to discover another woman who was left in a coma, that had been attacked in the exact same manner as Tabram on the anniversary of her death.
  • Wire in the Blood:
    • "Justice Painted Blind" sees Tony and Carol hunting for a vigilante killer who murders their victims by binding them, forcing a bag over their head and strangling them with a rope (designed to mimic a hanging execution). It soon becomes clear they're targeting the jury members of a trial that acquitted a local man accused of abducting and murdering a child. Initially the police are hunting for one member of the jury who had vocally come to regret their decision and whom no one had seen since before the killings began, suspecting they've started killing to correct what they perceive as their mistake— only to discover their body in the trunk of a car, said member being the real killer's first victim.
    • "Nothing But Night" involves Tony and Carol dealing with a series of incredibly brutal murders with no clear pattern or seeming MO. It's only after the body of the first victim is recovered (whom the killer murdered two months previously and pushed into the sea) that Tony is finally able to realise the killer is copying murders from films and TV shows.
    • "The Names of Angels" sees Tony and Alex facing an utterly bizarre killer who rapes and murders young women who work at white-collar businesses and then dumps their bodies dressed in other people's clothes. As they discover the clothes in fact belonged to his previous victims, and he has a long history of raping then murdering at least eight other victims all over Europe. Now no longer able to travel, to maintain the thrill he's decided to kill in the area and challenge the police to catch him. He escapes and doesn't get caught, suggesting that this pattern will repeat itself with another police force.
    • The season seven episode "Unnatural Vices" starts with Tony and Alex investigating the death of Golvita Umed, who had been missing for a month, after her body is found in a suitcase that had been set alight on the commons. However, upon visiting the scene Tony realises that the killer's actual intent was to dump the body in the nearby lake (only for the case to get stuck). Searching it reveals three other bodies, revealing a killer's been active since the beginning of the year.
  • You: Played with. Candace is Spared by the Adaptation in Season 1, revealing at the end of Season 1 that she is not dead but still alive. However, unlike in the novel, Joe is shown to have killed a music executive whom he believed was cheating with Candace before the events of the series. Season 2 also reveals that Joe killed his mom's abusive boyfriend as a kid.

  • Arsenic and Old Lace: Mortimer Brewster returns to his childhood home to reveal to his aged aunts Abby and Martha that he has papers to send his elder brother Teddy to a mental hospital, as the man believes himself to be President Theodore Roosevelt and continually "charges up San Juan Hill" by yelling as he ascends the stairs. While in their living room, he opens a chest to find a recently deceased man. Shocked at this discovery, he is mortified to learn his aunts killed the man and plan to bury him next to the other eleven men they have buried in their basement. They see this as an act of charity to these kind old men who come to their home for tea.

    Video Games 
  • In Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's The Premature Burial, the player is aware throughout the entire game that Renelle Fore almost certainly murdered both his current wife Victorine and his previous wife Louise. (Victorine is actually still alive, but that isn't discovered until very near the end of the game.) It's quite reasonable to assume that Louise was the first victim of his horrible scheme - until you play the game's bonus chapter and discover that Fore is The Bluebeard, and Victorine is his third wife.
  • Mass Effect: Early in the game, Shepard learns that the Protheans were destroyed by a race of sentient machines called the Reapers. It isn't until much later that they learn that the Protheans were not the only race to have been destroyed by the Reapers - the cycle of galactic civilizations rising, flourishing briefly, then being annihilated has occurred countless times.

    Visual Novels 
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice: The initial victim in case 3 is Tahrust Inmee, but midway through the trial it's discovered that Tahrust's disciple, Puhray Ze'lot, had also been killed, and Phoenix later proves that Puhray had died before Tahrust. Puhray is the true victim; Tahrust killed himself so as to frame Maya for the crime because the true (albeit accidental) killer was his pregnant wife.
  • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony: In Chapter 3, the culprit behind Angie and Tenko's deaths turns out to be an unhinged Serial Killer with the goal of murdering one hundred girls, all to please the ghost of his older sister and give her "friends" in the afterlife. By his own word, he had almost accomplished it, too.

    Web Comics 
  • Done on a cosmic level in The Order of the Stick. According to backstory, the first world created by the gods was destroyed by an Eldritch Abomination called the Snarl, which was then imprisoned within the second world that the gods created. Much later in the comic, we find out that the Snarl destroyed that world too. In fact, the gods kept creating worlds as the Snarl kept destroying them, and the number of worlds it has gone through is implied to be more than any mortal can count.

    Western Animation 
  • In Pantheon, Chanda gets forcibly transformed into a UI(Uploaded Intelligence) by his sociopathic boss, a process that leaves his human body dead. Eventually he meets a frightening humanoid wraith that reveals he was a previous test subject whose form proved unstable. Even worse, the multiple wraiths that appear are actually copies of that same mind; all the other guinea pigs before Chanda perished outright.
Chanda: You're...You're one of the others. From the slums. He killed you first!


Video Example(s):


Rick Prime's Free-For-All

Rick Prime puts Rick, the Mortys, and the six other alternate Ricks into a battle to the death, saying the winner will be reunited with Diane, although Rick knows this is a trick.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / InvoluntaryBattleToTheDeath

Media sources: