Why not try to search your room first?
This is always intended to be while the character is out — or, at least, asleep. Sometimes, it succeeds in that, and the search is carried out.
There's two methods. Sneaky, and rushed.
- The sneaky way, the character only discovers the search when he returns and finds it subtly changed — maybe he was sneaky as well and planted threads or hairs on doors and such. The sneaky way often combines with planting bugs.
- The rushed way involves tipping over all furniture, cutting open mattresses, smashing windows, and dumping everything on the floor. Seriously, if the whatever is something small; the mess would be harder to find it in than anything else. Mooks that resort to the obviously ransacked technique may want him to know it's happened, may be Too Dumb to Live, or may resort to it because it's quicker.
- Sometimes the mess is intentionally created to stop investigators from finding out what's been taken, or to intimidate the target by blatantly invading and messing up his personal space.
- A common subversion is for an investigator to assume the place was ransacked — and then the owner (or someone who knew them, if they're dead) says that, no, they're just a slob.
It is very, very, very rare indeed for them to find what they are looking for.
On the other hand, the character can be in the room (by day) or wake up (by night) — or return unexpectedly and surprise the searcher. Drama, and often violence, ensues. However, the searcher can, very likely, escape. Easily. On the other hand, Room Disservice sometimes comes into play, if the search is not obvious yet, and the searcher's position is not obviously comprising.
By the way, the word "ransack" (rarely used in any other context) is from the Old Norse rann "house" and saka "search".
Compare Faking and Entering.
- Taken to extremes with Light in Death Note. He hides the titular Artifact of Death in a false bottom in his drawer rigged to incinerate the Death Note if it isn't opened properly. He also pulls the handle of his door upwards after leaving, along with putting a small slip of paper in the door, because he knows that if his mother, father, or sister were to enter the room, they'd trip the paper-defence, but not notice the paper. When he finds the paper still in the door, but the handle moved, he knows that his room has been searched by pros.
- He's also got the pencil lead on the hinge that breaks when the door is opened (the pros didn't find that).
- Happens to Chiaki at the very beginning of Darker Than Black. They weren't actually trying to find anything, though; it was just to send a message.
- Tintin's flat is ransacked in The Secret Of The Unicorn after his MacGuffin is stolen. He doesn't discover the Plot Coupon which was formerly hidden inside it until afterwards — it had rolled under a chest, where the vandals failed to find it.
- There was a MAD satire once, which showed a picture of a room before being searched by the Queensland police, and then again after. It was very neat before, totally trashed afterwards. It was a puzzle: 'How many differences can you spot between this pictures?'. The correct answer, of course, was 'none'.
- Happens twice in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
- Before Indy leaves the United States, Henry's house was ransacked by Nazi agents.
- After Indy reaches Venice both his and Dr. Schneider's rooms are turned upside down. It turns out that Dr. Schneider's room being ransacked was Invoked, as she was a Nazi spy and the ransacking was staged.
- In Gotcha!, both the CIA and the KGB ransack Jonathan Moore's apartment. They don't find the film spool he smuggled out of East Berlin because he kept it in one of his pockets the entire time.
- James Bond in The Living Daylights walks in on Kara Milovy trying to tidy her room, which was thoroughly ransacked by the KGB.
- In The Last King of Scotland, Nicholas Garrigan comes home to find his entire house (provided to him personally by Idi Amin) ransacked and his UK passport replaced with a Ugandan one.
- Outrageous Fortune plays this straight, then spoofs it. First, the two women go to Shelley Long's apartment while it's being ransacked. After a daring escape, they head to Bette Midler's apartment to find it a complete mess as well. Long panics and tries to run, but Midler grabs her and says "No, this is normal."
- In The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, a team of government agents are following a man pegged as a super-agent whistleblower by an interdepartmental rival - they sneak through his apartment while he's out, photographing all his personal effects and planting bugs. The man, however, is an innocent regular guy randomly picked as a decoy, and his day-to-day activities are feverishly scrutinized by the agents.
- In The Game, Nicholas returns to his house to find it's been ransacked. Luckily, the pistol he hid in a hollowed-out book is still there, but it was a trick set up to make him think they didn't find the gun. They did find the gun and replaced the bullets with blanks.
- Part of the Humiliation Conga in The Big Lebowski. The Dude gets brought against his will to a house party at a pornographer's house, given a spiked drink, blacks out spectacularly, wakes up in a cop car, gets beaten up by the police chief of Malibu, kicked out a cab on the way home, and when he finally gets home, finds that the place has been ransacked by the evil Nihilists.
- Subverted in the TV-movie MacGyver: Lost Treasure of Atlantis. When MacGyver and co. enter Prof. Atticus's study, they think that this has happened. Then Atticus notes that it has always looked like that.
- Played straight in the subsequent film MacGyver: Trail to Doomsday when MacGyver and Natalia find the door to her apartment busted open, and the whole place ransacked.
- In X-Men: First Class, after Beast transforms into his blue furry form.
- Alluded to in Casablanca. Rick tells Captain Renault his men were so thorough in searching for the letters of transit that the staff just barely got the mess cleaned up in time to open that night.
- The Name of the Rose. The herbalist discovers the book that's the motive for the various murders in a medieval monastery. He goes to tell William of Baskerville, who tells him to lock himself in his room and let no-one in until he arrives (Baskerville is held up in a theological conference). On returning to his apothecary, he shocked to find the place ransacked. He bolts the door and quickly goes to check the book is still there. It is — lying on the floor under a table. The herbalist is relieved, until he sees a hooded figure step out from behind a curtain and walk toward him...
- The "trash the place" technique was used on Joan's apartment at the beginning of Romancing the Stone. The shock of the event on Joan was magnified because she didn't even know that she had the map yet, let alone that there were people who were looking for it.
- In Dressed to Kill (1946), Holmes and Watson return to their rooms in Baker Street only to discover they have been ransacked by the gang searching for the music box.
- In The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes' Greatest Case, Thaddeus Sholto arrives home to find the house servant Bound and Gagged, and the library ransacked: books thrown off shelves, furniture broken, chairs slashed, etc. Presumably the rest of the house is in a similar state but the library is he only room shown.
- In Dorothy Gilman's Mrs. Pollifax On Safari, Mrs. Pollifax packs her case with great care and always in the same way. Because of this, she can pick up the subtle shifts that proved someone had searched it and repacked it, very neatly. (Note that tradecraft makes James Bond and Travis McGee carefully arrange things to alert them if they've been searched—Emily Pollifax is just a neat elderly lady. But that's the point.)
- In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Gaunt's Ghosts novel First & Only, Zoran comes to Gaunt because he is aware something is happening: he surprised a man searching his room.
- In Ghostmaker, Gaunt is startled awake and catches Inquisitor Lilith in his room. She assures him that she would not have done it if she had known he was there.
- Emil Karpo (a Russian cop) in Stuart A. Kaminsky's Russian mysteries did that once—as well as the usual thread, he put a single hair of his across a doorway or something, which let him know the KGB had searched his room.
- A grim subversion in 1984—Winston Smith puts a white grain of dust in his diary, as well as the more obvious thread. He thinks his diary's safe, but later the Thought Police inform him they replaced the dust too.
- They may have been lying. Maybe.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Harry's dorm room is ransacked in the rushed manner. Only after putting everything back Harry realizes what's missing: Riddle's Diary. This is a particularly tense moment, since it seems related to the whole Heir of Slytherin debacle, but ''only a Gryffindor could have done it'. It was Ginny Weasley, who saw Harry had the diary and was terrified he'd find out all of her secrets.
- J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings has an inn room ransacked by the Nazgûl, and by ransacked, I mean beds that were stabbed multiple times with BFSes. The hobbits, expecting trouble, had slept elsewhere and left bolsters in their beds.
- The Shadow Over Innsmouth has the character managing to escape a room ransack. Of course, rather than his mattress, they were planning on cutting open him...
- Played with in Hard-boiled Wonderland. Two men deliberately break into the main character's apartment when he's there to both intimidate him and search/ransack the room.
- James Bond's hotel room in Casino Royale is ransacked by Mooks looking for a cheque. They don't find it because he's hidden it behind the room number - on the outside of the door.
- In one Nick Carter Killmaster novel, the title character actually breaks the fourth wall concerning a search, telling people how James Bond ruined the "hair on the doorjam" technique, that he now used a new one, and that we were crazy if we thought he was going to reveal it in a lousy 95 cent paperback.
- The rushed version shows up between scenes with Han's room in The Courtship of Princess Leia, although it hardly matters that it's obvious since he skipped town with Leia already.
- Subverted in Rob Grant's Incompetence. Harry intentionally keeps his apartment messy, but takes photographs before he leaves, reasoning that any fool can ransack a tidy room and replace it as it was, but it takes a professional to ransack a messy room without being noticed.
- In The Code of the Woosters, Jeeves and Bertie search Stiffy Byng's room because Bertie reads a detective novel containing the trope that the top of the cupboard is "every woman's favourite hiding-place." They find themselves treed by an Aberdeen Terrier◊.
"Are you afraid of a tiny little dog, Jeeves?"
He corrected me respectfully, giving it as his opinion that the undersigned was not a tiny little dog, but well above the average in muscular development. In particular, he drew my attention to the animal's teeth.
- In Andre Norton's The Zero Stone, Jern returned to find his father murdered in a room like this.
- In Stephanie Burgis's A Most Improper Magick, burglars break into their home while their stepmother and the girls are away, and leave it ransacked, but take nothing.. Kat deduces they were after their mother's Spell Book.
- In one of the opening scenes of the X-Wing Series novel Starfighters Of Adumar, Wedge mentions that his room has been subjected to a very thorough example of the subtle type. He isn't sure why until General Cracken, head of New Republic Intelligence, comes to brief him; he then (correctly) surmises that Cracken's agents were searching for listening devices.
- Parker does this to Brock's apartment in The Sour Lemon Score; emptying every drawer, cutting open every pillow and cushion, and breaking open every stick of furniture where something could be concealed. Brock is shocked that someone could be destructive, and regards the apartment as having been raped.
- An inversion occurs in Hung Out by Margret Weis. One of the main characters is a telekinetic with trouble controlling her powers. She realizes that her room has been searched because everything is neat and orderly instead of haphazardly strewn everywhere.
- The X-Files ("One Breath"). Mulder is informed by his mysterious informer Mr X that the men responsible for Scully's kidnapping and subsequent coma will be coming to search his room tonight, giving Mulder an opportunity to kill them in 'self-defense'. Instead Scully's sister turns up and shames Mulder into going to the hospital instead. When he returns Mulder finds his apartment trashed and breaks down in tears, thinking he's missed his chance for revenge. But Scully wakes from her coma the next day, making the need for revenge moot.
- Outrageous Fortune. Happens several times through the series.
- Van & Munter stealing the "smoking gun" for Jethro. Rushed, made to look like a normal robbery so it doesn't get back to Jethro.
- Loretta stealing the money lenders cash from Draska. Rushed, had to steal the money before Draska sobered up.
- The Horsemen raiding the West house. They couldn't find the drug money so they stole every object in the house.
- On Heroes, Mohinder comes home and surprises a Company agent searching (and bugging) his apartment. The agent claims to be an exterminator, and protests "this man pulled a gun on me" to a neighbor witnessing the ensuing fight. Of course, the gun holster exposed under the agent's jacket makes this lie rather obvious. Though it turns out the neighbor was also a Company agent which suggests that previous bugging was staged.
- On Burn Notice, CSS agent Jason Bly has Michael's apartment searched. It's a subversion in that Michael is there at the time. Also, Bly doesn't expect to find anything; he's just doing it to mess with Michael.
- In Community episode "Cooperative Calligraphy", Jeff ends up doing this to the study room in search of Annie's pen.
- Finders Keepers featured teams of children tearing through rooms of an on-stage house to find hidden objects for money and prizes.
- Estate of Panic, similar to the above, but with adult contestants ransacking a haunted mansion filled with booby traps and unpleasant animals to find cash.
- The 1993 Australian spy series Secrets showed how this is done in real life, with the Government Agency of Fiction always taking polaroids of the room beforehand so everything could be replaced exactly where it was after the search.
- The first episode of 2 Broke Girls subverts this when Caroline first sees Max's messy apartment.
Caroline:Oh my God, we've been robbed.
Max:No, this is how it always looks.
Caroline:Oh my God, totally cute.
- Subverted in The Mentalist, while Jane's room wasn't exactly ransacked and the bad guys did find what they needed Jane's information regarding Red John and left without a trace. He notices however when a toothpick he purposely left in the door earlier fell out of place.
- He also points out that a completely ransacked room suggests the thief did not find what they were looking for, since at best that would mean they found it in the last possible place it could be (extremely unlikely), or more likely not at all.
- Has popped up a few times in all the CSI series. One prominent one was when Mac from CSI NY went to what he thought was his girlfriend's room on the CSI half of the two-part, two-show crossover. It was really someone impersonating her after she was kidnapped back in New York, and the room was torn apart by someone working for the guys her boyfriend owed money to.
- In M*A*S*H, Frank departs from the operating room and discovers a note in his jacket pocket from Margaret. He reads it cheerfully then tears it up. This shocks Margaret, who has kept every note Frank sent her. While Margaret is assisting Hawkeye with a problem patient, Frank ransacks Margaret's tent looking for all the notes from him she kept. Notably it starts as the subtle type, but by the time Margaret gets back to her tent the next morning, the place has been turned upside down and Frank is asleep in the middle of it.
- Murder, She Wrote: In "Bite the Big Apple", Jessica returns to her new apartment to find that it has been thoroughly ransacked.
- MacGyver (1985):
- Subverted in the TV-movie "Lost Treasure of Atlantis". When MacGyver and co. enter Prof. Atticus's study, they think that this has happened. Then Atticus notes that it has always looked like that.
- Played straight in the subsequent film "Trail to Doomsday" when MacGyver and Natalia find the door to her apartment busted open, and the whole place ransacked.
- The beginning of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - Sophia's office has been searched, with items thrown everywhere. However, they missed her necklace, which was the only thing of value she kept in there, besides the Orichalcum bead. To be fair, they only look like small copper balls that glitter like fire, and contain enough energy to rearrange your DNA.
- The same thing happens in the prequel, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where the villains ransack Jones' father's home in search for the Grail diary. Fortunately it was mailed to Indy beforehand.
- Subverted in Persona 3 FES: in one of the security videos, Mitsuru calls in the cops because she thinks someone has broken into Junpei's room. Turns out it always looks like that...
- The rushed way is played out halfway through Snatcher, culminating in a very tense scene.
- In Teenage Mutantninja Turtles(NES), the Foot Clan do this to the Turtles' apartment when they kidnap Splinter.
- Yeesha's bedroom after you revisit Tomahna in Myst IV: Revelation, in which Achenar had been searching for her Linking Book to Serenia, which you faintly see him use just as you get back to Tomahna.
- In The Venture Bros., Billy Quizboy and Pete White come home to find their trailer has been trashed. Billy is actually very excited, thinking it means their super-science startup is finally important enough to have enemies. But it's only their friend Dr. Venture looking for a shrink ray he had sold to them earlier.
Billy: It's industrial espionage! You've come to steal our great ideas. You've been foiled. We have none.
- In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm mentions a time during is younger(and wilder) days, when he came home to find his apartment ransacked. He immediately grabbed a few clothes and left for a friend's home, because he knew that it was most likely done by the Police, who would have planted drugs in the room, and would likely already be on their way back with a search warrant to "find" it.