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Suspect Is Hatless

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Time to round up the 1,728 suspects in Monongalia County, West Virginia that fit this description.

"This is Papa Bear. Put out an APB for a male suspect, driving a... car of some sort, heading in the direction of... you know, that place that sells chili. Suspect is hatless. Repeat, hatless."
Chief Wiggum, The Simpsons, "Homer's Triple Bypass"

You're a witness to a crime, and you saw the criminal and which way he's going. There's just one problem: you can only offer a uselessly vague description of no help to anyone. For example, the best you can do is that you're almost certain he wasn't wearing a hat. This happens with both civilians and police officers.

Basically, a witness gives a vague and more or less useless description, with the only definite clues being ultimately irrelevant (or at least apparently unhelpful).

Truth in Television, when it comes to witness descriptions, especially in cases when it wasn't obvious that the suspect was committing a crime at the time.

May result from watching The Nondescript commit a crime, since they're naturally unmemorable.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • The first episode of Trigun has the insurance girls and several groups of bounty hunters looking for Vash the Stampede. Each of them is using a different description of Vash that is technically accurate, but is also vague enough that it also describes one of the bounty hunters ("blonde man with red coat"). Confusion ensues.
  • In one Detective Conan case, the police are trying to apprehend a criminal and catch three suspects. The case seems ridiculously easy when they find three eyewitnesses... but then each of those witnesses give vague descriptions (that the criminal was wearing sunglasses, that the criminal was very tall, and that the criminal was an old woman) and none of those traits match any of the suspects. The police eventually have to figure out what conditions took place to cause each of the eyewitnesses to see the traits they saw, and which suspect all three applied to.
  • One of the powers of Assassin of Black (Jack the Ripper) in Fate/Apocrypha is to invoke this. Anyone who fights Assassin and survives the fight quickly forgets all details of their opponent, so they cannot describe Assassin to anyone else, or recognize Assassin should their paths cross again. This stems from the fact that the powers of Servants are derived from their legends, and a key part of Jack the Ripper's legend is the fact that Jack was never conclusively identified.
  • In one chapter of Dragon Half, Rosario and Vina independently summon up monsters and send them to kill Mink, describing her as having horns, wings, and a tail. Since both monsters also meet this description, they end up killing each other before running into Mink.
  • In Black Lagoon, the L'homme Sombre arc kicks off with five women searching Roanapur for a tall black man. While that would be unusual in most of Thailand, Roanapur is a Wretched Hive attracting all sorts of criminals and within a couple days, they've already questioned at least six such men.
  • In Sekirei, Benitsubasa calls the Izumo Inn and demands to speak to the "big-breasted woman". Among the 108 Sekirei, there's maybe ten who don't fit that description and half those are men or children.
  • One Patlabor OVA centers around the men searching for a bomber in a public bathhouse, with the only information they had to identify the suspect being a description of an armpit. The gang goes through a number of crazy hijinks trying to examine the armpits of every man washing up, which ultimately starts a huge brawl. And in the end in turned out to be for nothing, as the perp was female, and SV2 had sent the only female member present to report in to headquarters, leaving nobody to search the women's side of the baths.
  • Date A Live: Origami Tobiichi asks Tohka Yatogami to describe the flame-wielding spirit she witnessed. Tohka says she was red and had lots of fire, causing Origami to call her useless.

    Audio Play 
  • In the Big Finish Doctor Who audio "Day of the Master", when the Eighth Doctor asks his companion Liv to describe which incarnation of the Master she just met, Liv is only able to describe him as "bearded, urbane and a bit sadistic". This is an accurate description of the Master Liv met, who is the War Master, but the Doctor notes that the description could apply to many incarnations of the Master, which thus prevents the Doctor realising that this version of the Master is from his relative future.

    Comic Books 
  • In one issue of Groo the Wanderer, Groo asks a passerby whether he has seen the man who was standing next to where Groo was standing a while back.
  • Subverted in the third Valhalla album, when Thor tries to describe his encounter with a mysterious stranger. Loki asks "How many eyes did he have?", and it occurs to Thor that the stranger was, in fact, one-eyed, which means it was probably Odin (who has been missing for a while).
  • Bruce Wayne invokes this trope in Batman: Year One. When creating a disguise (pre-Batsuit), he dresses in generic clothing, and adds a large fake facial scar, noting that "a single identifying mark" is all most people will remember, despite his face being otherwise completely unconcealed.
  • In The Blue Lotus, the Fakir warns Tintin to watch out for a dark-haired Asian man with glasses. The story takes place in China.
  • Youngblood (2017) begins with a character trying to report her missing friend to the police. The problem? They're both superheroes, and she doesn't know his real name or what he looks like without a mask. The best that she can give is his hero name (Man-Up) and the fact that he's tall.
  • Parodied in Red Ears. A woman filing a police report gives an incredibly precise description of her rapist's appearance (muscular, balding, red beard, black glasses, yellow bowtie, striped green-maroon jacket, beige trenchcoat, grey fedora) to the police officer interviewing her, but he doesn't seem to notice that she's talking about his lieutenant.

    Fan Fiction 
  • At one point in Father Goose and the Black Knight, Detectives Finn and Munch wonder if Xander is invoking this by wearing an eye patch and face doodles. Anyone trying to describe him would focus on those two aspects which are easily removed. In reality, Xander is unrelated to the crime they're investigating and while the eye patch is real, the doodling is because he fell asleep on the bus with a group of teenagers.

     Films — Animated 
  • The Swan Princess: The dying king describes Rothbart's transformed form (which is a gigantic bat-man hybrid) who attacked him and took Odette, as "a great animal" that "is not what it seems". This (and Derek's discovery that the king meant a transforming "animal") doesn't really helps them in determining which animal to start looking for and as such leads to hilarity (comic sidekick Bromley trying unsuccessfully to attack various small animals) and drama (Derek trying to kill the transformed Odette, because an animal that "is not what it seems" obviously could disguise itself into something like a swan...).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • James Bond examples:
    • In Octopussy, as Bond speeds through the American Air Base's security checkpoint to stop a bomb from detonating, the Security Guard has only this to say:
      Security Guard: Captain, some nut drove through here in a stolen car. Wants the base commander, and he's wearing a red shirt!
    • In The Man with the Golden Gun, when Bond talks to Miss Anders about Scaramanga:
      Bond: How will I recognize him?
      Anders: Tall, slim and dark.
      Bond: So's my aunt.
      Anders: Yes, but how can I tell you? He's not like other men. [gestures toward her chest] He has three...
      Bond: Fascinating anatomical tidbit. But probably the most useless piece of information I've ever heard. Unless, of course, the "Bottoms Up" is a strip club and Scaramanga is performing.
  • In Desperado, the first description Bucho gets of Navajas is that he has brown hair and eyes, which Bucho points out, is not exactly distinctive in Mexico. The description then goes on to list some actually useful information.
    • The first movie El Mariachi plays this straight, which is what kicks off the plot as there's two men "dressed in black, carrying a guitar case" walking around town. Apart from that, neither of them look anything like each other.
  • From Barton Fink:
    Barton Fink: He... he said he liked Jack Oakie pictures.
    Detective Mastrionotti: You know, ordinarily we say anything you might remember could be helpful. But I'll be frank with you, Fink. That is not helpful.
  • In Fargo, none of the witnesses can describe Carl Showalter (played by Steve Buscemi) as anything more than "kinda funny looking" ("in a general way"). Well, except the one hooker who says he was uncircumcised. Meanwhile, his partner-in-crime Gaear Grimsrud (played by Peter Stormare) is only described as "Swedish".
  • In Se7en, Detective Mills interviews John Doe's neighbors, and gets descriptions of a man between ages 30 and 40, between 150 and 160 pounds, and between and in height.
  • No Country for Old Men: "What do you suggest that we circulate, 'looking for a man who has recently drunk milk'?"
  • In Batman Begins, you can't help but feel sorry for the Gotham cops trying to describe the Tumbler to the dispatcher. At least there's no mistaking it after you've seen it.
    Cop in Crushed Cruiser: He is in a vehicle!
    Dispatcher: Make and color?
    Cop in Cruiser: It's a black... [looks at his partner, who shrugs] ...tank.
  • In Cornered!, when a man goes running out of the store, the best description a bystander can give is "he was wearing a hat".
  • In Airheads, Officer Wilson is told to look for Kayla, Chazz's girlfriend, on the Sunset Strip in LA. He's told she's a "blonde wearing something tight and black", unfortunately, nearly every female looks like that, making him mutter "Great, grand, wonderful...". Although he does find her eventually.
  • Reversed and Played for Laughs in Loaded Weapon 1, when in the background of one scene. A man is seen being asked by cops to describe a suspect. He gives an outrageous description, claiming the suspect had big red lips, eyes as big as plates, and so on. In a later scene, a person looking like Mr. Potatohead actually having these features is arrested by the police.
  • Played with in Martin Lawrence vehicle Blue Streak. In one scene, an inexperienced cop tracking a suspect tries to give a description over the radio, but is hung up on the suspect's greasy, dirty hair. After he spends too long being fixated on that, Lawrence's character angrily butts in and starts pointing out more useful things to be noting.
    Man, are you a cop or a barber? Stop staring at his hair and take a look at his arm. That's a prison tat. Your boy has done some time.
  • Cellular: "He's the one on a cell phone." "EVERYONE'S on a cell phone."
  • Played with in Taken. When the daughter is being kidnapped, her father tells her specifically to scream identifying characteristics into her cell phone, so he can have something to work with when rescuing her. That doesn't really add much evidence to his searching though, and the real lead comes from when the kidnapper talks into the cell phone after kidnapping the daughter. She does manage to describe a tattoo the man has, which lets Brian identify the gang.
  • Parodied in The Film of the Series of I Spy, Eddie Murphy's character is kidnapped and forced to reveal the identity of a spy he is working with. He desperately blurts out every bit of information he has on the spy. It turns out that the kidnapping and interrogation are staged and Murphy's character is praised for giving “vague” information.
  • In D.C. Cab, Harold asks Mr. Rhythm if he remembers which cab he found the violin in. Mr. Rhythm replies: "Of course I do. It was the yellow one."
  • After one of the murders committed by the Outlaw Couple in Sightseers, we hear on the car radio that the police are looking for "a ginger-faced man and an angry woman."
  • Special Agent Dale Cooper predicts in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me that the next victim would be a blonde female highschooler who "is sexually active" and "is using drugs; she's crying out for help." Albert snarks: "Well damn, Cooper, that really narrows it down. You're talking about half the high school girls in America!"
  • The kid witness Gillie in Tiger Bay describes the murderer to the police as a "tall-ish, fair-ish, fat-ish man... with a hat". Although she's doing it on purpose to help the real murderer escape.
  • The Clint Eastwood movie Tightrope:
    Max: The killer's a Caucasian, blood type O... about in his mid-40s. We found traces of a red fiber on all the victims.
    Woman: From what?
    Max: We don't know.
    Woman: Any suspects?
    Max: About 120,000 of them.
    Woman: Anything you'd like me to tell the mayor?
    Max: Yeah. He's one of them.
  • In Witness, the best description that young Samuel, visiting from the nearby Amish community, can give of the murderer whose face he saw is basically that he was a black man. The detective assigned to the case gets nowhere, with either a line-up or a collection of mugshots, until Samuel wanders the police department and spots the killer in a newspaper clipping of a narcotics officer.
  • This immortal line from an RST Video customer in Clerks:
    Customer: Do you have that one with that guy, who was in that movie that was out last year?
  • Averted in The Night of the Generals. While the witness could only provide one, seemingly unimportant detail regarding the killer (he was wearing trousers with a red stripe on them), that description greatly narrows down the field of suspects, as only German generals wear trousers with a red stripe. Major Grau quickly narrows the suspect pool to the three generals in the city who do not have alibis.
  • Parodied in Paddington:
    Mrs Brown: He's about 3'6, wearing a blue duffel coat and a red hat. [thinks for a moment] And he's a bear.
    Policeman: It's not much to go on...
  • Carry On Spying has this description of The Fat Man from the Chief.
    The Chief: Male.
    Desmond: "Male."
    Harold: [to Charlie] "Male."
    Charlie: [while writing down] Male.
    The Chief: Fat.
    Desmond: "Fat."
    Harold: [to Charlie] "Fat."
    Charlie: [while writing down] Fat.
    Desmond: [disappointed] Is THAT it?
  • In Signs, Graham and Merrill are giving their cop friend a description of the trespasser they saw on their property the previous night. The suspect in question was a Grey and the two brothers aren't quite ready to believe that there's an Alien Invasion going on yet, so the only concrete statement she gets out of them are that the suspect is well over six feet tall, presumably male judging by its athleticisim, and, repeatedly, that it was very dark.
  • In Judas Kiss, the security guard gives Detective Friedman a description of the person he saw taping over the camera lens: the only one of the kidnappers he saw before he was knocked out. He had dark hair and was in his late 20s. Or 30s. Or maybe 40s. He then admits that his eyesight isn't so good.
  • Exploited as part of a brilliant Ringer Ploy in the climax of The Thomas Crown Affair (1999). Crown goes into a museum and makes sure that the security cameras see him, and that they can identify him as wearing a business suit and a bowler hat, and carrying a valise. Upon donning the hat, his face can no longer be seen by the cameras, so the guards have to track him by his outfit. Within a minute, over a dozen other people of the same height and build wearing the same outfit start randomly walking around the museum, carrying identical valises that they repeatedly pass between each other. While security runs around in circles trying to detain all the men in business suits and bowlers, Crown ditches his for a tan trenchcoat and is able to complete his business and walk away completely unnoticed.
  • In the third act of The Santa Clause, the police are looking for protagonist Scott. The thing is, Scott has been transforming into Santa Claus throughout the movie, and it's Christmas Eve. It seems like the cops just opted to arrest any Santa that they found on the streets, including ones who look nothing like Scott (different race, wildly different body types, etc.)
  • Predestination. While pouring out his Dark and Troubled Past to The Bartender, John complains bitterly that the only description the nurses could give of the man who kidnapped John's baby from the hospital was having a "face-shaped face like yours and mine". This foreshadows The Reveal that it was the Bartender—a future version of John—who kidnapped the baby.

  • Pablo Picasso was robbed, but remembered the criminals and painted their portraits. Police arrested ten handicapped people, eight elderly women, three sewing machines and one washing machine.note 

  • In the first Sammy Keyes book, the heroine sees a murderer but can only tell police that the man is of average height and weight, looking about thirty.
  • Discworld:
    • In Maskerade, the angry mob is absolutely certain of the identity of the Ghost of the Ankh-Morpork Opera House; he's the guy in the mask. Granny Weatherwax has to point out the flaw in their logic, and when that doesn't work, she has to exploit that exact same flaw.
    • This came up earlier in Witches Abroad, where The Girl Who Fits This Slipper trope is pointed out to have this problem. The same slipper that fit Emberella could also fit, say, Nanny Ogg.
    • Also used in Going Postal, when Moist reflects on how tricky he was to describe.
      He was about...he was 'about'. He was about twenty, or about thirty. On Watch reports across the continent he was anywhere between, oh, six feet two inches tall and five feet nine inches tall, hair all shades from mid-brown to blond, and his lack of distinguishing features included his entire face. He was about... average.
      • Also from Going Postal. People apparently keep going into the library of Unseen University (which contains every book that exists and many that don't) to ask questions like "Do you have a book I remember reading once? It had a red cover and it turned out they were twins".note 
    • Likewise, when Ridcully's trying to bring to mind one of his staff - "You know, thingummy, got a funny name...". Of course, on the Discworld, this is no help at all.
    • In The Truth, William de Worde takes a statement from a robbery victim that includes "I shall recognize him if I see him again as not many people wear a stocking on their head."
  • Michael Moore points out in his book Stupid White Men that every crime he ever hears about seems to be committed by an unidentified black man. This leads to Moore theorising that every reported crime in America is actually being committed by the same man.
  • Cammie in The Gallagher Girls often describes herself as such.
  • Jack Ryan:
    • A variation in Clear and Present Danger. The FBI actually have a detailed description of Felix Cortez. The problem is that his appearance is so generic (Latino male in his mid-30s to early 40s, average height and build, no Visual Distinguishing Marks) that a description is totally useless.
    • Without Remorse, also by Tom Clancy, made use of this trope as a plot point. Retired Navy SEAL turned Vigilante Man John Kelly hit on a nearly perfect disguise early on; on the rare occasions when the presence of an innocent bystander meant he couldn't simply Leave No Witnesses, the best description the police ever got was "a homeless guy". He did have one near-miss towards the end of the book, but even a trained police officer has trouble providing a detailed description of the suspect when a) it's the middle of the night on a poorly-lit street and b) he's being held at gunpoint.
  • Several of the crime novels of PD James describe female characters as "hatless", which sounds an odd thing to remark on in a novel with a modern setting. However, James was born in 1920 and has been writing since the days when it was more remarkable for a woman's outfit not to include a hat.
  • Sherlock Holmes:
    • In The Valley of Fear, the court system in the eponymous Wretched Hive browbeats the witnesses into reducing their testimony to "the perpetrator had a beard". (This was 1875.) It's standard enough practice that members of the local crime network regard getting arrested for felonies the way urban hooligans regard a night's lock-up for disorderly conduct - an inconvenience at worst and a rite of passage at best.
    • The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, after Holmes and Watson burglarize the titular blackmailer's house, witness his murder and barely get away. Then there's the meeting with Lestrade:
      "We have their footmarks, we have their description; it's ten to one that we trace them. [...] He was a middle-sized, strongly-built man- square jaw, thick neck, moustache, a mask over his eyes."
      "That's rather vague," said Sherlock Holmes. "Why, it might be a description of Watson!"
      "It's true," said the inspector, with much amusement. "It might be a description of Watson."
    • Invoked in The Hound of the Baskervilles, when Watson supposes Holmes knew he was hiding in the hut by his footprint. Holmes corrects him by showing it was with Watson's particular brand of cigarette (which are made by a London tobacconist, and can't be bought locally around Baskerville Hall).
  • In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a Scotland Yard sketcher tries to make a drawing of Mr. Hyde after he becomes a suspect in a murder, though they can't quite get one due to inconsistent descriptions, which finally agree on him saying he was deformed, but nothing was quite wrong with him. This became something of a Subverted Trope over time, as modern audiences became more familiar with the Uncanny Valley.
  • In The Shadow of the Lion, a policeman is looking for "a boy...with dark, curly hair". In Venice. The amount of detail in the description is commented on by the person being asked.
  • Relativity:
    • In "Highway Robbery", a suspect is described as "he had a mustache." This ends up subverting this trope because it actually turns out to be a vital clue.
    • The trope is played straight in "Master Blankard's Pawn", when one witness describes a thief as being "ugly", and a second witness gives the slightly more helpful description, "He was dressed in winter colors but he was definitely an autumn."
  • In The Dead Zone, Sheriff Bannerman mentions that all the description they have about the serial killer they are looking for is this: a boy "thinks he might have seen "some guy" at the scene of the crime.
    Bannerman: "Some guy." We ought to put it out on the wire, what do you think? Be on the lookout for "some guy".
  • 87th Precinct: In Lady, Lady I Did It, a gunman opens fire in a crowded bookstore; killing several people. Despite there being multiple eyewitnesses, the police are unable to get an accurate description as most of them were focused on the gun. And, even then, the description of the gun varies greatly from person to person. It turns out, the gunman was using two quite different guns; one in each hand.
  • In The Voyage of Alice, one of the first books in Alice, Girl from the Future series, many characters describe the suspected Big Bad as "a human wearing a hat". At best – "wearing a hat, elderly and thin". And even that turns out to be a disguise.
  • In Around the World in 80 Days, whatever description Inspector Fix was given about the robber, it's made obvious that it was not detailed enough, considering that he spent seventy-eight days chasing the wrong guy and in the meanwhile the rest of the London Police easily found the real thief.
  • During the first two-thirds of the second Bill Bergson book by Astrid Lindgren, the main thing known about the murderer is that he had green trousers. Lampshaded by the police inspector who says that the only result of their investigation was that no one wore green trousers anymore.
  • In Naples '44 by Norman Lewis the author (a Field Security officer in WW2 Italy) often complains of the vague descriptions sent for (mandatory) inclusion in their Black Book of dangerous subversives. One suspect was even described as having "the face of a hypocrite"!
  • In The Survivalist series by Jerry Ahern, a military officer offers to use La Résistance network to help John Rourke find his wife and children. Rourke starts to write out a description, only to rewrite it when he realises that words like "beautiful" or "cute" are too vague and subjective to be helpful.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Kojak, "Knockover". The suspect is a tall short man, somewhere between 110-250 lbs. One eye brown, one blue, and a third one green.
    Kojak: That's good work, Gallagher. I'll make sure there's something a little extra in your paycheck at the end of the week.
  • Criminal Minds:
    • Occasionally lampshaded when the profilers give an especially vague description.
      Local Cop: A white male, between twenty and forty living somewhere in Virginia?
    • At one point, when a profile turned up something like "middle-aged white man who hates his job," Morgan sarcastically offered to go arrest half of D.C. Fortunately for D.C, they can usually narrow it down eventually.
    • In "Snake Eyes", the profile indicated that they were looking for a gambler . . . in Atlantic City.
    • In "Middle Man," the team had a case in an Indiana farming community and their profile suggested that the UnSub was local and worked in agriculture. A local police officer then points out that half of Indiana is farmland.
  • Monk:
    • In "Mr. Monk and the 12th Man," a serial killer has struck and killed ten random people in random gruesome ways. Disher informs Stottlemeyer that the FBI has sent a psych profile down. Stottlemeyer promptly puts the file to his head and makes a blind guess:
      Leland Stottlemeyer: Let me guess: the killer is between 30 and 45 years old, white male, does not work in an office, probably spent time in the military, and definitely hates his mother. [hands the file back to Randy]
      Randy Disher: Yeah. How did you know that?
      Leland Stottlemeyer: 'Cause that's what they always say. That's scrap paper.
    • In "Mr. Monk and the Red-Headed Stranger," Randy is chasing down a streaker who's been disrupting police press conferences.
      Randy Disher: [on radio] We’re on foot, heading south towards Prospect!
      Dispatcher: Is there a description?
      Randy Disher: He’s wearing... gray sneakers.
      Dispatcher: Is there anything else?
      Randy Disher: He’s not Jewish!
    • The novel Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu has a hit-and-run where the witnesses can't seem to agree on what model of car was being driven, only that it's a sedan. Monk figures out that this is because the killer smeared mud all over the car to make it hard to identify.
    • The episode "Mr. Monk Takes Manhattan" sees Monk provide a detailed description of the suspect's left earlobe.
  • Columbo: In "The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case", when Columbo asks witnesses about the killer's build, one says he was heavy, another claims he seemed average, and a third claims he was light and possibly even a woman.
  • Elementary: Subverted when Sherlock is on the trail of a prolific hitman and is frustrated by a witness's useless description. It turns out the description was useless by design, he wasn't a witness, he was the killer.
  • In an episode of Wire in the Blood, the resident profiler helps the police unit he is attached to by deducing that the suspect is able to drive a car. That's all he's got.
  • In The X-Files episode "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose", a police force has The Stupendous Yappi, a psychic detective on the payroll:
    Cop: Look, all I know is that so far, Yappi has provided more solid, concrete leads on this case than you have. Now, if you don't mind, I have to get an A.P.B. out on a white male, age seventeen to thirty-four, with or without a beard, maybe a tattoo... who's impotent. Let's go.
    Scully: Might as well go home, Mulder, this case is as good as solved.
  • This applies to direction giving. In Cheers, Carla complains that Woody's directions to his house are useless because he told her he's in an apartment over a shop with dead ducks in the window. Because he lives in Chinatown, all of the shops have dead ducks in the windows, mutters Carla.
    • Similarly, an episode begins with Rebecca offering to take a drunk patron home. He can only identify his house as "blue" (also "You'll know if when you see it.")
    • Sam once tries to describe one of his past sexual conquests, who works for Robin Colcord as a secretary. The only description Sam can give is "blond and wears boots". Robin deadpans that she sounds like one of his employees.
  • In the Psych episode "Psy vs. Psy", Shawn tries to get a look at a suspect on a security camera, but can't see him very well. Later, when trying to "psychically" see the suspect, the best he can come up with is "did not wear corrective lenses".
  • Happens to Richard Castle when, owing to a chain of circumstances, he ends up outside while the police are storming a suspect's headquarters only for the suspect to (rather slowly) drive right past him. He misses the license plate, can't see anyone clearly through the tinted windows and ends up only able to vaguely describe the car to the cops, who — given that he's based a very lucrative mystery-writing career on describing things in detail — are less-than-impressed.
    Castle: I... it is hard work being a witness. I'm surprised you catch anyone.
  • Law & Order:
    • An early episode features an entire street full of people who have been dragged down to the precinct after a murder who can only offer vague, contradictory and nearly-useless descriptions of the victim, the suspect, and exactly what happened between them. Some of the witnesses were standing right next to one or both of these parties. The cops, not surprisingly, are a little exasperated. This episode was a comment on homelessness in New York at the time. Many of the witnesses were mentally ill people who had been dumped on the streets. The one moderately functional one says she didn't see anything because she doesn't have the glasses social services has been promising to get for her, and asks the cops if they can help her with that. Finally, one of the people, who is quite elderly, and was initially dismissed, actually turns out to be the healthiest, sanest person there, with some useful information.
    • In the episode "License to Kill," the detectives try to get a description of a vehicle that was involved in a serious accident and most of the descriptions contradict each other. The only thing all the witnesses agree on is that the vehicle had a yellow ribbon bumper sticker, which is not useful at all because these bumper stickers are very common (and, usually being magnetic, very easily removed). In a subversion, there turns out to be a good reason for the differing descriptions: there were two vehicles.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • In one episode, three people witness a child abduction, and none of the statements they give to police are consistent with each other. For instance, they can't agree on what color the kidnapper's van was, or even what race the kidnapper might have been. In this case, the viewer actually has the whole story, as they saw the abduction as well.
    • An earlier episode also involving a kidnapping has three witnesses give different descriptions of the car that was used to abduct the victim. One of them ends up being right.
    • Another episode has a suspect in a rape case be described as a young black man "wearing a hoodie."
      John Munch: Well, that narrows it down.
    • In "Raw", Stabler tries to interview a group of children who were present at a playground shooting. Given that they're all young kids (and traumatized at that), the statements end up being...less than helpful; not only do they contradict each other at every turn, none of them turn out to be accurate.
      Cragen: Kids give you anything?
      Elliot: Yeah, about 40 different versions about what happened.
      Cragen: Well, eyewitness accounts are bad enough with adults, what'd you expect from kids?
      Huang: Wild imaginations, high suggestibility, and difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality.
      Elliot: That's pretty much what I got.
  • In the series finale of NUMB3RS Don's gun is knocked from its holster when he's knocked down while making an arrest, and someone else picks it up before he can. The next scene begins with Colby relaying a report.
    Colby: So, LAPD has a couple bystanders who say they can describe the guy. [pauses, his expression implying it's unhelpful] He was Caucasian, medium build, brown hair.
    • Surprise, surprise, they don't get the guy (though they do eventually track down the gun).
  • In Babylon 5, "There All the Honor Lies", witness is Minbari — he is bald and has bone on his head, which describes the entire race (Apart from Delenn). The tone in his voice makes it clear that Sheridan is in Sarcasm Mode when he says it, knowing full well how useless the information is. Garibaldi echoes this sentiment when he mutters "We're going to need a big line-up room."
  • The rather unhelpful description of Sayid that Shannon gives the security officer in a season 1 episode of Lost.
    Shannon: Some Arab guy left his bag here.
    Officer: Can you describe him?
    Shannon: Arab?
  • The recurring MADtv character Miss Swan started out this way, driving cops insane by repeatedly describing a suspect.
    Miss Swan: He look-a like a man.
  • Warehouse 13:
    • In "Implosion", Artie asks Pete to describe a thief he saw walk past immediately after having been basically knocked out by an implosion grenade. All Pete can up with is, "not... female?"
    • A rare non-person-related from the pilot, in which Artie's description of the artifact Pete and Myka are looking for as "bigger than a bread box... or smaller".
  • The Wire:
    • A murder victim is asked who shot him shortly before dying was said to have only told a police officer it was "a guy with a gun".
    • Omar Little and Brother Mouzone kill Stringer Bell and his bodyguard, which is witnessed by developer Andy Krawczyk. During the crime scene investigation, Krawczyk's description of the shooters is, "I told you I saw only the one. I know he was black. Big, I thought. With a large weapon." Or, as Bunk puts it when debriefing Rawls, a classic "BNBG" - "Big Negro Big Gun." This is especially ironic because Omar not only has a distinctive outfit (duster, do-rag and flak jacket) but also a huge facial scar. Not that it means much to Bunk, who immediately knows Omar was behind it due to his past run-ins with him.
    • Invoked by De'londa Brice, who wants her son Namond to be a drug dealer and makes him cut off his ponytail, claiming that it lets even white police officers easily identify him.
  • Done to heartbreaking effect in The West Wing. A Secret Service agent knows that a suspicious man in a ball cap has been seen around. After the president is shot, she's in shock and can't remember anything else —not even what logo was on the cap.
  • Breaking Bad: Hank interrogates a methhead named Russell who was caught with a packet of blue meth:
    Hank Schrader: So let me see if I'm following you here, Russell: You got this stuff from some guy at Gasparza's who was wearing tan pants, and who you're 80% sure had a mustache. That's it, right? That's your brain working at maximum capacity?
  • Double Subversion in Everybody Hates Chris where a cookie truck is held up by a man leading a group of scouts. The driver gives a thorough description of the man in question right down to having a limp, however since he started off by saying that the guy was black the police didn't hear anything else.
  • In The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret , Todd suspects that his subordinate Dave has stolen his entire inventory. When he gives a description to the police, he's completely unable to give any helpful information about him. The cop issues a sarcastic APB to lampshade Todd's useless description.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Spike escapes from being held as an experimental subject by the Initiative, but is unable to recall any faces. Considering the kinds of things Buffy regularly goes up against, this following bit of information is relevant. Not particularly helpful, but relevant.
      Buffy: So you saw their faces but you can't describe them?
      Spike: Well, they were human. Two eyes each, Kind of in the middle.
    • After first encountering Glory, the Season 5 Big Bad, all Buffy can tells Giles is that she looks human, acts like Cordelia and recently dyed her hair blond.
    • Faith unhelpfully describes a demon as looking "demonic". Even though she'd knocked off his hat to expose his distinctive demon features, making him literally hatless.
    • Justified in the spin-off series Angel when witnesses on a subway train give vague descriptions because they don't want to admit a demon attacked them.
    • Cordelia has trouble describing the demons in her visions as they're accompanied by convulsions and searing pain (she gets better with practice).
      Cordy: A nasty looking demon. Didn't recognize it.
      [Wesley writes 'N. D. U. O.' "Nasty Demon, Unknown Origin." on The Big Board]
      Angel: There's an awful lot of that in this town. I'm sure he'll feel right at home here.
  • Justified:
    • Subverted when Boyd is trying to find out who killed two drug dealers under his protection but the only witness is a big dog person and describes people by comparing them to dog breeds. The fact that the man she saw looked like a husky does not help Boyd much. However, when she mentions that like a husky the man had blue eyes, he realizes that it was Robert Quarles.
    • In season 4, the Marshals need to locate Drew Thompson who 30 years ago faked his own death. They have no official records of what he looked like and Drew made sure to destroy all photos of himself before he disappeared. They locate his ex-wife but all they get from her is a description of what he looked like 30 years ago and she might be lying about that. In desperation they have her look at DMV photos of local men who are the right age and she points out twenty four men who might be Drew. Boyd Crowder and the Detroit Mob are also searching for Drew but they don't fare much better. They end up resorting to taking photos of the men they think might be Drew and sending them to Theo Tonin who knew Drew in the 80s. It turns out that Drew is the local sheriff who was known to both sides and has been helping the Marshals in their search.
  • In one episode of NCIS, the victim's co-worker says that the victim called in sick, but that she saw her just an hour later walking down a street with a man that wasn't her husband, and that she didn't look sick at all. When Ziva asks her to describe the man, she answers that "he was a male." A subversion, though, since it turns out she was Obfuscating Stupidity. In another episode, a man witnesses a close friend being murdered right in front of him and he's so shocked by what he witnesses that the only thing he can remember about the killer is that he was wearing a blue hat.
    • Palmer's been the witness twice, and boy is he bad at it. In one episode, Ducky is stabbed, and Palmer's description of the woman is "She's wearing a green headscarf." They find the discarded scarf around the corner, so now they're looking for a woman without a headscarf. In the other episode, he sees both the suspect and his passport, but even under hypnosis, he can only describe the suspect as angry and the passport as blue (which, as McGee is quick to point out, is the most common color for passports, so they can't even begin to narrow down a country).
    • Subverted once, when Ziva gets a witness statement from two teen boys stating that the suspect was driving a Kuruma. Tony snarks that "kuruma" is Japanese for "car," so she just told them to look for a car. McGee steps in and tells them that "Kuruma" is also the title given to a specific make and model in Grand Theft Auto, which would be a familiar point of reference to the witnesses, so Ziva actually got a very good description of the vehicle.
  • One episode of NCIS: New Orleans had Nick Torres (in a guest cameo from the main series) report that he's in pursuit of a suspect in a harlequin suit. The series takes place in New Orleans, and it was the Mardi Gras episode. There was a party with at least a hundred people in harlequin costumes present less than a block away from the scene of the crime. It doesn't help that when the local cops try to ask people in the area if they'd seen anyone acting suspiciously, the only person who comes to mind turns out to be Nick.
  • El Chavo del ocho: Professor Girafales once gave Quico a cat as a birthday gift. When the cat vanished and Quico went looking for him, the only description he offered what that he had four paws. Don Ramon asked, in Sarcasm Mode, if he had two eyes. Comically Missing the Point, Quico confirmed it in excitement.
  • In Person of Interest, Reese is known as "The Man in the Suit" because the official police description of him is "Tall, dark hair, nice suit," a description that probably matches at least 10,000 people in New York City. The police actually have some photos of him taken when he was questioned in the pilot but at the time he was homeless, had a bushy beard and shabby clothes. The photos are not useful in identifying how he looks once he cleans up.
  • Inverted in an episode of Blue Heelers:
    Kelly: Most armed hold-up victims are so freaked out that all they see is the gun. But George has got these guys down to their "blue on white high-cut joggers."
    Joss: Who wears high-cut joggers these days?
    Mark: Funnily enough, Joss, that wasn't the point Kelly was making.
    • It turns out she faked the robbery herself.
  • Deliberately invoked in an episode of Rookie Blue when a bank robber has a (fake) baby strapped to his chest specifically so all the witnesses focus on the baby and fail to notice any identifying details. Even Andy, a trained police officer, is not able to give a decent description because her primary concern was that the baby did not get hurt.
  • Community:
    • Parodied in one episode when the notorious "Ass Crack Bandit" terrorizes Greendale. Duncan (a psychology professor) and Britta (a psych major) are brought in to profile the Bandit, but the best that they can come up with is that "He's angry...OR just fell in love", and that he "Hates money, or loves it, or doesn't care about money, and hates butts or loves them."
    • The majority of "Contemporary American Poultry" has Abed explaining how the study group took over the chicken fingers market at the college. At the end, it's revealed that the story was in response to Dean Pelton asking if he knows who stole the hairnets from the cafeteria. Abed suggests that it's "Someone with hair" note .
  • Adam-12 had a woman who could only get out that the guy who shot at her was a Latin male with a yellow shirt. A guy like that is found hiding in the yard and runs, causing Wells to insist he's the one when they catch him. Reed isn't sure and Wells says he trusts too easily. However, Reed was right; the real shooter is found a minute later-the woman's drunk husband.
  • In an episode of Quantum Leap the only thing the witness to a murder (a young boy who was hiding under a bed) can remember is that the perp "kept money in his shoes," which makes no sense to anyone. Sam eventually realizes that a character who wears penny loafers - complete with pennies - is the killer.
  • When it comes to multi-race incidents, it's true to life according to David Simon, as portrayed in Homicide: Life on the Street. Whites and Hispanics are bad at generally telling Black and Asian people apart, and vice-versa. In Baltimore, about which Simon writes, the police joke that the most useless witness they can get is an Asian Store-Owner:
    "All rook arike" is about as much as the detectives expect.
  • The pilot episode of Gotham had a variant. The young Bruce Wayne gives a detailed description of his parent's killer, but since the killer was completely covered up, the description was entirely of the man's wardrobe, which isn't that helpful in identifying someone in an era where most people own more than one change of clothes. But it does provide one useful clue - Bruce pointed out that the killer wore 'shiny shoes', and none of the shoes owned by the original suspect had had a passing relationship with 'shiny' in months, thus proving to Gordon that the man was framed.
  • On Forever Abe thinks that someone stole a statue from his store so he has Henry do a Sherlock Scan to figure out who the thief was. Henry reluctantly takes a look but all he has to go on is a dust void on the table where the statue stood. From this he mockingly concludes that the suspect is someone tall enough and strong enough to pick up the statue without sliding it and thus disturbing the rest of the dust on the table (ie most adults and teenagers in the world).
  • One episode of Taggart has a suspect described as being thirtyish, slightly balding, with greasy brown hair and wearing some old and "saggy arse" blue jeans. Taggart immediately counts four guys who meet that description just standing outside in the street.
  • From Full House, when Joey attempts to describe the woman who sold him a stolen car:
    Joey: And those eyes, I'll never forget those eyes. [beat] There were two of them.
  • Murdoch Mysteries: In "Rich Boy, Poor Boy", Inspector' Brackenreid's son is kidnapped. The other boy who was present provides the police sketch artist with a detailed description... of the man's hat.
  • Played for Drama on ER. A rape victim is brought in and Sam tries to keep her conscious long enough to give a description to the police. She can only get out "White guy, dark hair" before succumbing to her injuries, exacerbated by Sam's attempts to keep her awake.
  • Little Lunch: In "The Relationship", the boys try to identify which of the grade 6 girls sent Rory the note. They are told she is the one with the ponytail. Needless to say, all of the grade 6 girls have ponytails.
  • In Liquidation, the first that is learned about one of the gang leaders is that he is usually disguised as a Red Army captain. Since the plot is set in 1946 Odessa, it's not much help to the investigation.
  • In the British 1997 Black Comedy Underworld, a gangster ambushes the protagonists right outside a police station. When they point this out, he says that by the time the witness statements have been correlated, they'll probably end up being described as a bunch of Rastafarians.
  • Dragnet episode "The Big Dog" has the cops investigating a purse-snatching dog. The victims give conflicting descriptions about the dog's size, color, etc. Justified of course: the actual crook had multiple trained dogs.
  • The Good Place: Chidi was so averse to deadlines that he never named his dog. When it ran away, he posted signs saying "responds to long pauses".
  • The Punisher (2017): When Frank realizes that the man who just set off bombs across New York City is Lewis Wilson, a member of Curtis's support group, he tells David that the bomber is "Lewis and he drives a cab", asking him if he can find him in a database. David points out that this is not a lot to go on. Frank then gives additional details, such as his age range, ethnicity, and his status as an Army veteran, which David admits narrows it down.
  • In the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode where Will and Philip's mother sneak off to a rap concert has this exchange in the venue's backstage:
    Stage Hand: Where do you think you're going?
    Philip: Pardon me. Have you seen a kid in wild, colorful clothing with an earring in his ear and the sides of his head shaved?
    [three young men around Will's age and fitting Philip's description walk right in front of them]
    Stage Hand: Nope.
    • This was also used in the second Christmas Episode when the Banks were held up and had all their Christmas presents stolen and the children gave a description of the suspect:
    Town sheriff: So let me get this right: the suspect was a short or kinda-tall White man, with dirty-blonde to dark-brown hair, standing about five-feet-five to six-foot tall and weighing somewhere between 125 and 200 pounds.
    Will: Right. Oh, and dude'll be carrying my boombox!
    Town sheriff: Huh, right...(leaning over to whisper in the ear of their White Uncle, Frank)...what in the hell is a boombox?
    Frank: (makes a "I don't know" gesture to the sheriff)
  • Hill Street Blues: Inverted during a story arc involving a lengthy murder investigation, where a supposed witness was giving a description that was so detailed and such a perfect match for their suspect that Captain Furillo was a little suspicious, especially since reward money was involved. He was right; turns out the guy's girlfriend worked for the police department, and coached him with details that they deliberately hadn't released to the media.
  • CSI: NY: In the B case of 'Buzzkill,' Det. Angell presents Mac with quite an incomplete composite sketch of the perp, which looks like it's from a very cheap coloring book. His snarky reply:
    Mac: So all we have to do is find everybody with two eyes, a nose and a mouth.
  • The InBESTigators: In "The Case of the Robot Robbery," the victim, Patrick, saw a mad professor steal his robot costume. Only problem was, half the school had come dressed as a mad professor, a character from a popular movie.
  • 9-1-1 had an episode involving a bank robbery where the suspect was described as "wearing a mask". This is unhelpful enough on its own, but this episode aired during the COVID-19 Pandemic when literally everyone was wearing masks.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The Dog's attempt to describe Cousin Cathy in Footrot Flats includes that she only has hair on the top of her head and she walks on her hind legs, because all humans look alike to him. Fortunately, Wal can't understand him anyway.
  • One Herman strip featured a man who had been tied up and left lying face-flat on the floor by a burglar. The only thing he can give the police is a very detailed description of the crook's shoes and shoelaces.

    Parody Newspapers 
  • The Hustler, Vanderbilt University's parody newspaper, mocked the description of a criminal as the totally unhelpful "six foot tall black man" by writing an article about the six foot tall black man's long reign of terror, ascribing every crime committed in Nashville since the 1970s to the same six foot tall black man described in police reports.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Dave Chappelle:
    • Played with in an early routine. Chapelle pretends to be the witness to a crime ostensibly committed by a black person, and the cop taking the description.
      Witness: He was tall. And his hat was on backwards!
      Cop: Good! That's good. Hat... was on... backwards... anything else?
      Witness: ...he was black.
      Cop: Ah! Say no more! Big nose, big lips, dick hangin' out? Give me a minute, I'll draw him from memory. Actually, get the stencils...
    • In another bit, he talks about the cops sending an APB for a black man between 6'3" and 5'4" tall, and weighing between 120 and 300 pounds. Find this man!

    Tabletop Games 
  • Guess Who is the embodiment of this trope. Players start with a bunch of similar looking people and have to whittle down this list by getting additional information from the other player by asking identifying questions - such as, "Is your person bald?" "Does your person wear glasses?" "Does your person have freckles?"...and, of course: "Is your person wearing a hat?"
  • In Mage: The Ascension, the Arcane ability weaponizes this trope. It messes with the victim's recollections so they cannot provide an accurate description (they'll forget some of these: age, hair color, clothing, items carried, even sex). While more costly, it can be more powerful when used on multiple targets, since their descriptions will conflict with each other. Even if someone remembers you well, everyone else will insist that their memories are also accurate. Higher ranks of Arcane will also cause photographs of you to beceome blurry, and database entries about you to disappear.
    • The lesser-known science fictio game Alternity copies this in its psionic power Obscure.
  • Some editions of Shadowrun have "Nondescript" as a purchasable quality - you look so generic that any attempt to describe you falls into this trope. Even a facial recognition AI has trouble distinguishing you from the millions of other people in its databanks - at best, it comes up with "a human/elf/dwarf/troll/ork" and gives up.

  • Parodied in the opening scenes of Agatha Christie's play The Mousetrap. A radio broadcast gives what seems to be a fairly detailed description of the serial killer on the loose, but that description basically boils down to coat, hat, and scarf, plus they are 'medium build'. As almost every single character happens to be wearing that outerwear when they show up, and is supposed to be cast as 'medium build', this is completely unhelpful.
  • In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Oberon tells Puck to smear the love potion on the eyes of a youth dressed in Athenian garb. Given the play is set in a forest just outside of Athens, it is perhaps not surprising that Puck smears the potion on the eyes of the wrong youth dressed in Athenian garb. Hilarity Ensues.

    Video Games 
  • Need for Speed - Hot Pursuit:
    • There is a race where everyone drives a red McLaren, but police will still say "suspect is driving a red McLaren" (which is admittedly accurate enough, given how few of those exist; just pull over any red McLaren you see!) Also, in other races if you go fast enough, they'll sometimes only get the colour of your vehicle.
    • Averted in the very first Hot Pursuit, where cops would give out more detail, for example, "Half-mile from Summit Tunnel".
    • Hot Pursuit 2010 provides us with this example:
      Police Dispatcher: Suspect is in the sand, heading toward the rocks!
    • In the original Hot Pursuit, as well as High Stakes, cops refer to any add-on car as a "Sports Car", regardless of whatever the car actually is. This is a reuse of the chatter used when the player drives the fictional El Nino.
    • Most Wanted (and Carbon, by extension, since it reuses a lot of scanner chatter) has varying levels of this when the dispatcher reports she doesn't have the make or model of your car. Sometimes it's reasonable but frustrating ("Hold on for the description, we're having a bit of trouble with our translator) sometimes it falls squarely into this trope ("Caller says it's a sports car." You can practically hear the dispatcher rolling her eyes).
  • There's a non-criminal variant in Fallout 3, in which the best description the Lone Wanderer can come up with for his/her own father is "middle-aged." Also, when the player has a bounty placed on them, it gives only their name, sex and race.
  • Trying to describe spies in Team Fortress 2 to teammates can fall into this trope. Shouting the spy's disguise might work if he's in the heart of battle, but if he's just changed (which good players do often) or has the knife "Your Eternal Reward", it's likely he's someone completely different or invisible.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky - Second Chapter: While investigating the circumstances affecting a town's water supply, the team learns some information that a suspicious man wearing dark glasses was seen going around the area.
  • Happens in L.A. Noire. One witness can only describe a suspected criminal as 'sorta average'.
  • The Grand Theft Auto series in general has the police giving highly generic descriptions over the radio, likely to cut down on voice work. A stolen police car is a "police car", a sports car of any make is simply designated by "[color] sports car", the same likewise applies to any generalization of vehicle type, and a military attack chopper is bizarrely a "red helicopter" (this is due to it having red as its default color code, despite the military paint job; red paint chips even flake off if you hit something). Not that this stops any police officer from knowing it's you from this generic description. Later games subvert this by having the radio controller initially give vague descriptions of the player's vehicle, but start giving more specific ones as the chase goes on, including the car's make and model. These details can still be vague/incorrect in the case of add-on cars including Rockstar's own creations, double subverting this trope.
  • Grand Theft Auto IV
    • Niko is hired by Playboy X to kill someone. Unfortunately his description is unhelpful, to say the least:
      Playboy X: Son ain't too diesel or nuthin', but he a regular lookin' dude, knowwhatimean? And he don't flash his guac too much, but you can see it in his eye, he a hustler.
      Niko: Eh?
      Playboy X: Homie ain't too brollic, but he ain't scrawny neither, and he beats down on him a little, you dig? I mean, he ain't too bummy, but he grimy, too.
      Niko: he's the average one?
      Playboy X: Look, he brown skinned, B! Motherfucker be rockin' baggy clothes, all that, jewels - and he stay fresh with the clean sneakers, knowwhatimean? But sometimes a bandanna.
      Niko: Look, I need more than that to go on.
      • At this point X gives up and gives Niko a camera phone so he can go to the place the guy hangs out and send him pictures so he can point out who the target is.
    • Played with in the case of the U.L. Paper contact. When Niko asks him if he's afraid Niko will rat him out, one of the several reasons he says he is not is the fact that they are sitting in a building with at least a hundred people matching his description (paunchy, middle aged, glasses).
  • The infamous torture mission in Grand Theft Auto V works on this. Michael is charged with shooting a target wanted by the FIB. Trevor is supposed to get a description of the target from a witness by torturing him. The witness gives only generic descriptors (has a beard, smokes a lot) while Michael is facing down a house party full of people who match the description. This results in either a very long torture session gathering enough "hatless" hints to narrow it down to one guy, or Michael getting fed up and shooting someone at random, depending on the player's choices.
  • Happens a few times in Ace Attorney, although there's most always an actual reason for it. One such time is in the third case of Investigations, where a witness can't recall any details apart from "they were two men". This was because she was sitting way too far away to be able to tell even the fact that the "two men" were wearing mascot costumes. In fact, it so happens she had even guessed at the two people being men (which turns out to be incorrect, as one of them was a woman), so in the end all her testimony boiled down to was that they were "two people". For the most part, descriptions of witnesses tend to fall onto one point, justified by the fact that these points are very unusual and eye-catching. For example, one case involves a witness claiming that the killer wore a "Nickel Samurai" outfit. A lot of testimonies also tend to have the witness' identification simply be some variation of: "That person was the defendant who's sitting over there."
  • We know next to nothing about the child murderer from Five Nights at Freddy's. All we know is that he's male. The second game gives us some possible hints…but they still might not tell us the whole story. For one, he's somewhat taller than Freddy is. Second, he drives a purple car. Third, he has a badge. And finally, he seems to be holding a phone-like object.
  • When trying to find a card thief in Yu-Gi-Oh! Nightmare Troubadour, the only useful thing witnesses say was that the suspect has blond hair—which leads Joey to deny the theft and mistakenly accuse Mai. The thief turns out to be Bandit Keith, whose hair is very short and tied back with an American flag bandanna.
  • In Papers, Please, you can get some...odd physical descriptions of entrants on their documents. You can literally get a description that says nothing more than "no glasses". Said entrant will invariably be wearing glasses.
  • In Mafia II, the police dispatch's description of the protagonist is laughably vague; usually something along the lines of "White male, dark hair, medium build." Although this never seems to prevent policemen from recognizing Vito on sight.
  • Kingdom Hearts is prone to this; the writers seem strangely averse to having any character give out another's physical description, so when they absolutely have to, they keep it incredibly vague.
    • Kingdom Hearts II: In Hollow Bastion, Tifa Lockhart is looking for "a guy with spiky hair".
      Sora: [pulls at his own spikes]
      Tifa: Spikier.
    • Also in II, Cloud's description of Sephiroth is "Silver hair, carries a big sword," narrowing it down to two traits that are incredibly common in their home franchise.
    • Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days: Hercules scouts someone for Phil's hero training, and apparently never describes him beyond 'a kid with potential'. Thus, when Roxas shows up at Olympus Coliseum on reconnaissance and completely fails to keep hidden, Phil thinks he's the new rookie. Phil himself falls into this trope by never checking the description with Herc, and so puts Roxas through the wringer until the Games end with a Heartless gatecrash, Roxas wraps up his mission before Phil gets back, and Phil asks where Roxas went.
    • Several times in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Ventus describes Terra as a tall guy with clothing somewhat similar to his own, which proves sufficient the one time he gives that description to someone who has seen Terra. When searching for Ventus, Aqua describes him to Scrooge McDuck as simply "a boy who's not from around here". Again, this is enough for Scrooge to point her in the right direction.
  • Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning is described over the Yusnaan PA as a woman who "has rose-coloured hair and is carrying an enormous weapon." This, in a game with enough 'women with rose coloured-hair' to be a serial killing's target group.
  • The World Ends with You: One of the random mind-reads you can pick up is a cop on a stakeout.
    The suspect's a blonde with dark skin and gaudy makeup. But there's so many kids like that around here, I can't tel 'em apart!
  • Subverted in Fallout 4 when you're describing the man who kidnapped your child and murdered your spouse to Nick Valentine. The only worthwhile descriptions you're able to give him is that he's a bald guy with a scar, which while seemingly a somewhat common description automatically leads him to him figuring out that you must be talking about Conrad Kellogg.
  • Geralt from The Witcher often has to deal with peasants for information when tracking down a monster. Unfortunately the testimony mostly boils down to 'it was big and scary' or 'I didn't get a good look because I were runnin' the other way.' It's all Geralt can do not to Face Palm.
  • Heavy Rain has a meta example. After Ethan's son, Shaun, disappears, he reports to the police. There, they'll ask for a description of the boy, and it's up to the player to answer. If you're like most people, chances are you won't remember what exactly Shaun was wearing and will give the wrong answer.
  • RuneScape's "Player-Owned Ports" minigame has a minigame where the Black Marketeer is forced to help assassins locate their targets in a crowd. The assassins provide only one clue to start, which may be what color top/trousers their mark is wearing, the target's gender, or indeed whether or not they are wearing a hat (note: males with head kerchiefs are considered hatless). As you spot false targets, they will gradually give you further hints that help narrow it down.
  • The Extermibots from Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando are guilty of this. They have been deployed to Allgon City on Planet Damosel to deal with the Protopet threat... but they've been ordered to eliminate anything that is "small and fuzzy", which puts Ratchet on their kill list as well.
  • In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, you can at one point see a Belltower goon talking to a civilian in the street, describing the person they're looking for as "a heavily augmented white male, wearing a long coat and dark glasses". Not a very helpful set of clues in a world that faithfully employs many of the Cyberpunk Tropes.

    Web Comics 
  • Bobwhite:
    Cleo: You have a rabbi? What's he like?
    Marlene: Eastern European male, aged 50-70, bearded. Why, you've seen him around?
    [Cleo is not amused]
    Marlene: Hee hee. Because... because that's what a stereotypical rabbi looks like. I'm on fire today!
  • This exchange from The Order of the Stick, strip 602:
    Cleric: Does he have any distinguishing features?
    Haley: Well... he's short.
    Celia: He has a beard.
    Haley: He wears heavy armor.
    Cleric: Ummm, OK... how about any unusual personality traits?
    Celia: He has an accent.
    Haley: He likes beer.
    Celia: And hates trees!
    Haley: He worships Thor.
    Cleric: Can you tell me anything about him that differentiates him from every other dwarf?

    Web Original 
  • Welcome to Night Vale:
    • The Man In The Tan Jacket, who is unremarkable and indescribable to anyone who sees him, outside of noting that he wears a tan jacket and carries a briefcase full of flies. He is "about five or six-foot something, probably with hair and normal human features." Admittedly, this is Night Vale, where "[probably has] normal human features" excludes a fair chunk of residents and visitors.
    • Cecil and Kevin's descriptions of each other are basically "this is a guy who looks like me only creepier". Without telling the audience what "looks like me" actually means. The only concrete things we get is that they are neither tall nor short, fat nor thin, and have at least two eyes; Kevin's being completely black.
  • Jenny Nicholson criticizes the show Paranormal Home Inspectors for its psychic invariably describing having trouble breathing on the basis it's a generic manifestation (linked to her overall vague and muddled readings), and listing the myriad deaths that could result in this phenomenon all the way up to "being dead and therefore no longer able to breathe, as in, all ghosts".

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • The Trope Namer is in "Homer's Triple Bypass", seen above when Chief Wiggum was pursuing the criminal Snake.
      Homer: I can't wait 'till they throw his hatless butt in jail.
    • In "Separate Vocations" Lou and Eddie are perusing Snake's car after he robbed the Kwik-E-Mart, this scene and the page quote above seems to show that the Springfield police officers are bad at identifying cars.
      Eddie: Suspect is driving a red... car!
    • Another episode, "Marge on the Lam", had him trying to give his current position to another officer over the radio.
      Chief Wiggum: Oh, um... I'm, uh, I'm on a road. Uh, looks to be asphalt. Um, ah geez. Trees. Shrubs. I'm directly under the Earth's Sun... now!
    • In "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bangalore", Homer tries to find Apu's cousin Kavi, who is "medium height, dark complexion, brown eyes and black hair". The trouble is, he's in India. Luckily he only has to ask two passersby if they're Kavi.
    • In "The Saga of Carl", Homer and friends look for Carl in Iceland.
      Moe: Say, have you seen our friend? He's about this tall, wears a jacket, has no visible tattoos...
      Homer: Just say he's black.
      Moe: You say he's black!
    • There was the episode where Milhouse needs help finding his girlfriend at her school, and describes her blue plaid jumper. Since that's the school uniform, every girl is wearing it.
  • In Johnny Bravo, Johnny is accused of stealing cookies stolen by another man he saw. When asked about him, Johnny says that he has two arms. In Johnny's defense, this was a great shout-out to The Fugitive.
  • On Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, the gang tries to find a friend's missing owner, but the description they get from him is that the boy has two eyes, two ears and one nose, and is wearing clothes. He adds that he is wearing a pointy hat, but that's no help since he's at a birthday party and everyone's wearing a pointy hat.
  • On My Life as a Teenage Robot, episode "See No Evil", Jenny gets descriptions from several people in the crowd, that are all things like "he had a coat and a hat" before someone finally goes, "I remember — he was invisible!"
  • In Snowball's introductory episode in Pinky and the Brain, the Brain asks Pinky to describe Snowball. While Pinky does note a defining detail (he had a tattoo on his leg underneath his fur), his description beforehand was delivered in an... interesting manner:
    Pinky: Ooh. Well, he had two eyes and—and... oh, a mouth right below his nose.
    Brain: [disappointed] How very descriptive.
  • South Park: When Butters' mom tries to drown him, she blames his disappearance on "some Puerto Rican guy" of average Puerto Rican height.
  • Archer, when Archer helps a group of illegal immigrants in "Coyote Lovely", using the 1973 Chevy Bel Air station wagon ISIS supplied him, Lana and Cyril for the mission, Malory has Bilbo look search for it via satellite, but only tells him it's a station wagon and it's in Texas. Bilbo pulls up images of random wagons and snarkily asks if each is the right car.note 
  • In Sym-Bionic Titan, after Octus crashes into a store while trying to rescue Lance and Ilana from G3, he tries to investigate the area where they vanished at, while the store-owner describes Octus' human-disguise to the cops. Octus quickly alters his appearance as the police take notes to not draw attention.
  • In the Hey Arnold! episode "Harold's Bar Mitzvah," Arnold and Harold find a crying child who's lost his mother. When asked to describe her, he replies that she's "tall and has hair." Fortunately they had already seen the mother frantically looking for her son and didn't need a more detailed description.
  • The 1934 Mickey Mouse short The Dognapper has the police chief give officers Mickey and Donald a description of dognapper Pete's car: "Four wheels, two headlights, driver in front seat."
  • In The Venture Bros. one episode sees Dr Orpheus get a promotional video from the Guild soliciting him to hire an Arch-Nemesis. He asks his daughter who delivered it, and she replies: "I dunno, some guy in a winter coat, and techno-goggles. Oh, and he had, like, pipes coming out of him."
  • In the King of the Hill episode where Hank's father runs of to Las Vegas to not deal with the responsibility of supporting his pregnant wife and incoming son. While looking for him, Hank asks a card dealer:
    Hank: Excuse me, have you seen an old man, about "yay-high" [holds hand up to chest height], possibly yelling obscenities.
    Dealer: Ugh! welcome to my world...
    [Camera pans to reveal a bunch of grumbling old men arguing with their exasperated wives and the hapless table dealers]
  • An early episode of The Cleveland Show has this cutaway gag:
    Cleveland: Oh, I don't know what to do. This is harder than trying to identify a rapist at a Star Trek convention.
    Cop 1: Could you describe the assailant?
    Victim: Yes. He was a white male, glasses, bad skin, about 50 pounds overweight smelled like Cheetos, and was carrying a poster with a Sharpie Pen.
    Cop 2:I know what to do. (They turn to face a large crowd of Trekkies) Who here is not a virgin? (A single hand goes up in the back of the crowd) You're under arrest.
  • Bob's Burgers: In "Tweentrepreneurs", Bob's Burgers is the victim of a dine-and-dash. Teddy tries to draw a facial composite of the dine-and-dasher based on what he and Linda can remember about his looks. All they can remember is that he had two eyes and a nose.
  • Rick and Morty: In "The Ricklantis Mixup", which takes place on the Citadel of Ricks, a Morty police officer and his rookie partner (a Rick) are investigating a robbery at a Mortytown convenience store and ask the owner to describe the robbers.
    Shopkeeper Morty: They were—They were about my height, around 14 years old... Oh, their shirts were yellow!
    Officer Morty: (to his partner) Yeah, make sure you get that down.
    Officer Rick: Any mutations? Augmentations? Three eyes, a tail, maybe a buzzcut?
    Shopkeeper Morty: No, just four normal Mortys.
    Alien Janitor Morty: Normal?!
    Shopkeeper Morty: Put it in your blog!

    Real Life 
  • This is one of the reasons why witness testimony isn't considered very reliable in court: people just don't pay attention to these kinds of things until they become significant, at which point the criminal is halfway gone and it's too late. Fortunately, a halfway decent cop will, when taking down a report from a victim (or a witness statement later), use questions and techniques to get some crucial details down where possible: gender, age, color, height, build, hair, clothing/jewelry, distinguishing marks, any reason you'd remember him and was he carrying anything. And that's just the first set of things the cop will ask about.
  • In the USA, AMBER Alerts are always sent out when certain criteria are met after a child goes missing or is known to have been abducted, and typically when said abduction is in a vehicle. Understandably, sometimes the person they were last seen with has a description like: "Last seen with a 'white' male, 5'9 to 5'11, wearing a beige jacket and blue jeans" - something that is understandably useless, given that that nearly 70% of the USA's (male) population is of pan-European descent and largely of that height (170-). Therefore, it generally boils down to the license plate of the suspected vehicle, which is also included in the AMBER Alert.
  • A common demonstration in psych classes is to have someone come in and "steal" something (usually their own backpack or a planted empty one), or come in, fire a blank gun, then flee, and then have students write as detailed of a description as they can of the suspect and the incident, then bring the suspect back in. Many descriptions will either fail to describe the suspect adequately or actually get things wrong.
  • A police officer, in a Discovery Channel interview once pointed out that even if the information given by psychics were true, it is never the kind of information that is helpful. They usually say things such as a missing person has "left the city." That isn't useful, without some idea where the person has gone. They may say a murder victim was killed by someone who was very angry, but the anger was misdirected or they spend a lot time claiming to have connected with missing person's emotional state, and say "She is scared, but she knows you are looking for her." That may provide comfort to the family of a missing person, but also provide no end of grief to investigators who need more specific information to narrow down a search area.
  • Exaggerated when Olof Palme (a Swedish prime-minister) was assassinated in 1986 on a public street at night and the police set out to find his killer. Plenty of witnesses were found, but to translate and quote the Swedish Wikipedia article:
    By joining the different witnesses' statements, you can find the following: the murderer was a man, between 175-190 cm tall, who was wearing either a black coat or trenchcoat, and moved in a way that some described as clumsy, limping, "rolling", and others thought was smooth, and who was between 30 and 50 years old.
    • Other sources (of varying credibility) also state that the witnesses described him as wearing about 20 different kinds of hats (while still hatless, mind you), and having a clean-shaved Perma-Stubble, among other contradictions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his murder remains unsolved.
  • It is not uncommon for the best-described aspects of a suspect's appearance to be their clothing, something very easy for most suspects to have altered by the time the report is likely to go out. Some may even purposely invoke this (say, wearing a very attention-drawing, easily-discarded hat) to keep attention away from details that actually matter.
  • More than one newspaper has published a police artist's sketch of a suspect wearing a full head ski mask, a blank oval shape with two eye holes.


Video Example(s):


Suspect is Hatless

The scene from The Simpsons that became the Trope Namer.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (16 votes)

Example of:

Main / SuspectIsHatless

Media sources:

Main / SuspectIsHatless