A Serial Killer is on the loose, leaving behind a trail of corpses. However, no evidence is ever left behind and the police are grasping at straws. As the police can't stand by any longer or as citizens start to take the law into their own hands, an ingenious plan is devised: baiting the killer by dressing up someone as a suitable target.
Acting as bait is risky, however volunteers can or will be found. Who is suitable will depend on the killer's target group. In many cases, the task will fall upon a female team member who often has to dress up as a prostitute.
One should expect a lot of ups and downs, since A Simple Plan never goes smoothly. Usually insufficient precautions are taken or the killer is underestimated, putting the bait's life at risk. Sometimes they can still be saved from imminent doom, but often team members arrive Late to the Tragedy. In other cases others simply don't care about the bait's safety, making them a sacrifice for the greater good.
- Death Note: In the early part of the story, L devises a plan that lets the police narrow down Kira's whereabouts. During a TV broadcast, someone else claims to be the investigator in charge of finding Kira and mentions his own full name in the process. Kira takes the bait and uses the Death Note to kill the guy shortly after. The TV broadcast was restricted to Japan's Kanto region, thus narrowing down Kira's whereabouts.
- Inspector Canardo: One story involves a serial killer murdering prostitutes. Canardo's friend (a brothel madam) lets herself be used as bait and is barely rescued in time from the murderer (who turns out to be the police commissioner with serious mental issues).
- Ruse: With the great detective out of action, Emma attempts to draw out the Dollymop Murderer by posing as a streetwalker, with Pete Grimes, a Bruiser with a Soft Center, standing by to intervene when the murderer shows up. The plan doesn't work out because Pete keeps jumping the gun and immobilizes every man who comes near Emma before she can assess the suspects' intentions.
- In the Discworld fanfic The Price of Flight, the Ankh-Morpork City Watch set up a sting to catch predators who are targeting young girls. In the targeted part of town, a confused and lost young girl who has lost her way by night is wandering, confused, friendless and alone. She is clearly a recent immigrant with no local connections. The Watch are covertly observing to see who responds and what their motivations are. When the suspects strike, they discover the frail twelve-year-old girl is actually a Banshee. And this is the start of their woes.
- In The Awful Dr. Orloff, Inspector Tanner's fiancée Wanda decides to help him find the killer who is abducting women from nightclubs by going undercover as a cabaret singer.
- In The Final Girls, one of the rules of the horror movie is that the serial killer always shows up right when someone's about to have sex. Even a woman taking her top off is enough. So the protagonists set a trap, and the slutty party girl starts dancing to lure him in.
- Jack the Ripper (1976): After Inspector Selby starts to bear the brunt of the press's criticism for failing to catch the Ripper, his girlfriend Cynthia decides to go undercover as a streetwalker in an attempt to catch the Ripper.
- Fair Cop WPC Josie March goes undercover as a prostitute in an attempt to lure out the serial killer in Night After Night After Night.
- WPC Helen Bradford is sent undercover to act as bait for the Vampire Killer in Scream and Scream Again.
- In Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, Holmes asks Lady Roberta Massingham to act as bait in order to draw out the killer of her sister.
- In the Roger Corman sexploitation movie Stripped to Kill and its sequel a serial killer is killing strippers, so a policewoman becomes a stripper to lure him out.
- Tragedy Girls opens with Sadie and McKayla setting a trap for Lowell, who's been killing teenage couples in their town for a couple months. Their motivation for capturing him actually was to meet their idol and to be mentored on how to kill people. They mention that it took quite a lot of work; figuring out Lowell's pattern, his usual hunting grounds, what kind of girls he liked to kill. Even then, it took a lot of trial and error (and a lot of trips to the local Makeout Point) before he finally showed up.
Sadie: You really have a thing for girls with short hair. Fortunately for everyone, I look great in a pixie cut.
McKayla: She does.
Sadie: All it took was a few boys to set the trap.
McKayla: Do you know how many handjobs this girl had to give? Like, thirty.
- While the City Sleeps: Mobley receives inside information about the killer from his police friend, Lt. Kaufman. After a new murder, the two men devise a plan to set a trap by using Mobley's fiancee Nancy as the bait, with Mobley taunting the Lipstick Killer on TV in order to bring him out into the open.
- In The Darkest Corners, Tessa, Callie and Ryan create a fake account to lure the real Ohio River Monster out. They use a "sexy" selfie portraying Callie with her head hidden outside the frame. Unfortunately, she becomes literal serial killer bait and ends up kidnapped as the real killer recognizes her by her phone case in the picture.
- In Holly Lisle's Last Girl Dancing the protagonist is a female cop who goes undercover as a stripper to find a serial killer.
- Maigret: In "Maigret Sets A Trap" a serial killer is menacing Paris. Chief Inspector Maigret announces that he already caught the culprit and lets several female officers pose as bait to lure the killer out. The whole operation is considered highly risky and born out of desperation. After an officer survives an encounter with the killer, the killer leaves behind key evidence that leads Maigret to him. The story has been adapted to screen multiple times, including as the first episode of Maigret.
- The Pledge: Retired homicide detective Jerry Black continues pursuing an elusive child killer because of a promise he made to one of the victims' mothers. His obsession drives him to use his own unwitting stepdaughter as bait. Not only does it fail to draw in the killer (who died in a random car accident), it also drives an irreparable wedge between him and his second wife when she finds out what he did.
- In Shatterglass, part of Tamora Pierce's The Circle Opens Quartet, a serial killer stalks the female yaskedasi, or members of the entertainment class. Quite a few police officers (of both genders, but mostly women) go undercover as yaskedasi, but this is played straight when someone else comments that the grimly staring few who can't dance, juggle, or sing really stick out.
- Tenderness: The essence of Jake Proctor's plan is to put Maria in Eric's way at juvenile detention and set up a meeting between them, where Eric will try to kill her. Lori actually realizes that Maria is bait for Eric and succeeds in warning him before he hurts her, so the plan is a bust.
- In Winds of Evil, a Bony mystery, the trap is baited with a husband and wife camping out in the area where all the victims have been found; the 'husband' is actually a police sergeant and former wrestling champion, and his 'wife' is a male volunteer in Harmless Lady Disguise. The trap fails to catch the killer at the scene — in the darkness and confusion, the sergeant mistakenly collars another man who had been independently staking out the area in hopes of catching the killer — but the killer sustains an injury that leads to his identity being revealed shortly afterward.
- Arrow: In one episode Felicity tries to bait "Dollmaker" with her beautiful skin by putting on skin cream he used to select his victims. He takes the bait, but is still able to escape both the Arrow and the police.
- Baantjer: Used in the aptly named episode "De Cock en de seriemoordenaar", where a serial killer is going after red-haired women. As the use of a profiler isn't helping the case forward, De Cock devises a different strategy: He uses Vera Prins (a redhead) as bait and sends her to the neighbourhhood where the next murder was going to take place according to him (the killer used the Big Dipper constellation as a map for his killings). Another red-headed woman shows up, only for him to be the murderer disguised in drag.
- Criminal Minds: Since their gimmick is predicting the behavior of offenders, using those predictions to set a trap is a frequent technique. Notable examples include:
- In "Aftermath," Elle goes undercover as an unsub's ideal target, a middle-aged client to a local fertility clinic who's undergone the first round of treatment (he wants to impregnate his victims and figures they're the least likely to abort). Unfortunately, Elle is dealing with the aftermath of her own shooting in the previous season finale, so the concept of coming face-to-face with another offender triggers her PTSD and makes her blow the sting.
- In one episode, the team recognizes that the unsub is going after cops because he feels that he can prove his toughness against them, so Hotch holds a press conference announcing that, essentially, the local authorities are bumblingly incompetent and he is taking over as the ultimate badass in charge, since that will make him the most appealing target and stop him from going after any more cops.
- In "Public Enemy," they realize that the unsub is trying to create panic in the community by killing in respected public places. The team decides to lure him out by turning that sentiment against him; by claiming that his latest victim is fighting for survival and having another victim's widow lead a candlelight vigil at the church where he'd killed her husband, they hope to demonstrate that the victims, the locations, and the community are all recovering and refuse to be broken by him, so that he'll be compelled to finish the job and kill the last victim. There's no particular risk to this one, since the woman is dead anyway.
- In "A Badge and a Gun," the team realizes that the unsub is posing as an FBI agent and using nearby crimes as an excuse to "interview" local women as a means of getting into their houses. In their riskiest invocation of this trope, they put out a fake call about a home invasion in a neighborhood, knowing that it will draw the unsub to the area but not knowing exactly where, meaning they could very well miss catching him on the road and give him an opportunity to kill an unsuspecting woman.
- CSI: multiple examples:
- In "Strip Strangler," the CSI team are hunting a serial killer called the "Strip Strangler" who would rape and then strangle his victims to death and target tall, female brunettes. Sara offers to act as bait to draw him out as she matches his victim preference.
- In "Skin in the Game," Morgan goes undercover as a prostitute trying to find a serial killer. However this goes horribly wrong as Morgan is abducted.
- Dexter: Several examples.
- Part of Deb's undercover work on vice at the start of the series is to bait a client who is killing prostitutes.
- In Season 8, LaGuerta pushes (successfully) for drug kingpin Hector Estrada's early release, as she suspects that Dexter is the Bay Harbor Butcher, and knows that Hector would fit the profile of Dexter's victims.
- Endeavour: Convinced that the police are not doing enough to catch the "Towpath" serial killer in "Zenana," students and teachers at Lady Matilda's college set up a trap: one student acts as bait then the others swarm the attacker. During his ensuing escape the attacker is run over by a car and mortally wounded. Unfortunately the attacker turns out to be a copycat killer, leaving the real killer free to carry on.
- Highlander: In the Episode "See No Evil" a serial killer called "The Scalper" goes after blond women. Duncan recognizes the killings as a copycat crime inspired by an immortal serial killer he decapitated decades ago. When the police tries to bait the killer with a blond woman, this backfires as the killer goes after another victim instead and nearly kills her. Duncan uses his knowledge of of the original killer's modus operandi to set up a trap with Tessa as bait. The killer tries to escape and is eventually run over by Tessa in Duncan's car.
- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Played for laughs in "Mac Is a Serial Killer": Fearing that Mac is sneaking out to murder local blonde women (he's actually in a secret relationship with Carmen, a transgender woman), Dennis and Dee decide to try catching him with Dee posing as a prostitute... which ends with her nearly being recruited by a strange pimp named Pepper Jack, and Dennis having to trade a Fraggle Rock Thermos to get her back.
- Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode "The Ripper": After a serial killer murders a female staffer at a massage parlor, the police plant female cops at the facility. They hope that the killer will target one of the women so they can catch him.
- In the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Demons," Stabler goes undercover to try and catch a paroled serial rapist who targets teenage girls. At one point during the operation, the cops send one of their junior officers out dressed like a teenager to try and bait the rapist. While he stops and gets close to her, he decides not to take the bait.
- The Mentalist: In the second episode, "Red Hair and Silver Tape," Jane links the Victim of the Week — a teenage girl with red hair — with another redhead who was kidnapped previously but not harmed. Reasoning that the first girl was a practice run and the attack was botched, he sends redheaded team member Grace Van Pelt as bait and stakes out the motel room where he expects the culprit to take her. The ploy with Grace misses, but Jane still catches both culprits sneaking a different redhead into the motel room.
- Monk: In "Mr. Monk and the Really, Really Dead Guy," the FBI and police decide the murderer in this case is a serial killer targeting street musicians. To draw the killer out a second time, Randy poses as a street musician, but the whole thing is Played for Laughs. Randy's such a Dreadful Musician, Lt. Stottlemeyer jokes that someone besides the their serial killer might try to kill him, just to shut him up. Then when someone finally does approach Randy, and the police swarm in to arrest him, it turns out he was just trying to join in with him on harmonica. Ultimately the bait turns out to be a complete waste of time, as the murderer just made his work look like a serial killer's doing to distract the police from his actual target, who could be more easily linked to him.
- An episode of Murdoch Mysteries combines this with Of Corpse He's Alive. A killer succeeds in shooting a wealthy aristocrat dead, the team set a trap by dressing up his corpse and spreading rumours that he survived the shooting. (The victim was to give testimony at a trial, so the killer absolutely needs him dead) This fails and the already dead victim is shot again, but they keep up the ruse by making it look like he wore a bullet-proof vest.
- Sister Boniface Mysteries: In "Love and Other Puzzles", Gillespie and Livingstone narrow the suspects to three men and then to one, but with no evidence, they need a potential victim to attract the killer. Their landlady Mrs Clam volunteers.
- In Tracker (2001), an alien serial killer, who was voluntarily infected with a virus as an assassin, is in a Mate or Die situation because of it. Human women he's having sex with die thereafter. Mel insists on being bait to lure the killer out. The operation does not go smoothly. Because of a mistake by his ally Nestov, Cole doesn't notice the moment Mel goes missing. He barely manages to reach their location in time and to save Mel from being raped and infected. When, later, Mel's alien heritage is revealed, this is also a source for Fridge Horror as Mel would have suffered a fate worse than the human victims.
- Wire in the Blood: In "Torment" the team is looking at an utterly bizarre case of murders involving prostitutes being bled to death that exactly resembles a previous killing spree committed by a convicted mental patient. In an attempt to be proactive, DC Paula McIntyre volunteers to pose as a prostitute hoping to bait the killer. Unfortunately it goes horribly wrong and ends with the killer somehow abducting Paula as in reality both killing sprees are being masterminded by Vice Officer DI Shields who knew all the details of the sting.
- The music video for Toby Keith's "Beer For My Horses" has the police using a male officer Disguised in Drag as a prostitute to lure out a serial killer. It almost goes wrong once the killer finds out, and it's up to Toby (playing the lead detective) to catch him before he gets away.
- Paranoia supplement Acute Paranoia, adventure "The Harder They Clone." In the Back Story of the adventure, a researcher was infected with a mind-altering virus and became a serial killer. The Computer orders a member of the Troubleshooter team to act as bait to lure the murderer out, while the rest of the Troubleshooters stand by to kill him.
- Shadowrun adventure Dreamchipper: A stolen prototype skillchip causes its user to think and act like he's Jack the Ripper: hunting and killing prostitutes. In order to capture him and retrieve the chip, the runners must use one of their own female members as bait and lure him into attacking her.
- Blackwell Unbound has the protagonist Lauren tell the journalist cursed with his interview suspects becoming the targets of a crazy woman to write an article about herself in order to get the attention of the serial killer.
- Bug Fables: In the "Requesting Assistance" sidequest, Levi and Celia request Team Snakemouth's help in apprehending Monsieur Scarlet, the infamous criminal who preys on exploration teams by posting false help requests on quest boards and then draining their lifeforce when they arrive into his lair. His lair is obscured by an illusionary wall that becomes invisible for anyone who takes his request. This is also the case when Levi and Celia took his quest to set themselves up as Scarlet's target. Before, they asked Team Snakemouth to assist them to catch Scarlet off-guard. Though Scarlet escapes, Levi and Celia still managed to see his face. After they reveal Scarlet's operating methods to the public, he's no longer able to prey on explorers like he did before.
- The Hunt mission "A Dark Rumour" in Final Fantasy XII turns out to be one of these. Montblanc has heard of a "hunter stalker" attacking and presumably killing clan members on missions, so he and another clan member set up a fake hunt for a monster that doesn't exist (in an isolated location, as a bonus) in hopes of luring them out. It's lucky the protagonists happen to take the job, as the hunter stalker turns out to be Ba'gamnan and his gang, who were after Balthier the whole time. Presumably they found out about the party's quests for the clan and kept attacking hunters in the hopes that they'd be him.
- Final Fantasy XIV has the player character, reasonably new to the art of the samurai, hunting down a mysterious serial killer on the docks of the pirate town of Limsa Lominsa with their master and his assistant. True to the trope, the assistant turns out to be the perfect lure for the killer, and when it's revealed that the man in question is killing people with a finely-wrought katana because he's an Occidental Otaku who thinks the sword is too fine to "waste" sitting around decoratively, your master's wrath is... decisive.
- Samara's Loyalty Mission in Mass Effect 2 has Commander Shepard pose as bait to allow Samara to kill her own serial killer daughter.
- In Night in the Woods, Mae becomes aware of a mysterious "ghost" kidnapping people. Half way through the final chapter, the band are staying over at Gregg and Angus's apartment. Mae, suffering a concussion and barely able to move after an encounter with the villains, decides to go out looking for the "ghost" alone (since it targets people who won't be missed), although it's strongly implied her plan isn't as much to catch the ghost as die knowing the truth. Luckily, when she confronts them, her friends show up to save her, playing the trope straight (and making it much less mysterious after a crossbow bolt to the shoulder).
- Persona 2 Eternal Punishment: In "Tatsuya's Scenario," police officer Shiori Miyashiro calls the JOKER and asks him to kill her, in hopes that she'll be able to arrest him and connect him to a cold case of murders that was also committed by him. Luckily for her, she told Anna about the plan, who in turn calls Tatsuya, and he manages to save her.
- Persona 4: After Mitsuo Kubo confesses several murders, Naoto Shirogane is still not convinced and decides to lure the murderer out by becoming bait. After she appears on T.V., Naoto is kidnapped and appears on the Midnight Channel. As it turns out, Mitsuo Kubo was indeed a copycat killer only responsible for one of the murders.
- A female police officer posed as a prostitute to bait the "Green River Killer." Thereafter they arrested Gary Ridgway, who later turned out to be the killer, on charges related to prostitution. Unfortunately they didn't gather enough evidence to convict him until almost two decades later. By then Ridgway murdered at least 71 women.
- Shane Shindler was caught in Las Vegas after policemen used a bait mannequin looking like the homeless men he murdered.