One of the most familiar clichés of Mystery Fiction.
The stereotypical example is that a bunch of people are invited to a dinner in a wealthy man's house, and the wealthy man is poisoned while they are all eating dinner. All the guests debate who among them is the killer, only to discover during the climactic summation gathering that the guilty party is none other than... the butler, who nobody bothered to think twice about; he's just part of the furniture, as if the table was the culprit.
The butler is the avatar of the most unlikely suspect that turns out to be guilty because the author wasn't creative enough to come up with a better way to surprise the reader. It's the mystery writer equivalent of the Ass Pull, except that you can see it coming a mile away, making it, for modern readers, The Un-Twist. Ironically, because this trope is so well known, when an actual butler is involved he rarely "did it", or, when he did, it's often a parody and Played for Laughs.
The expression "The butler did it" is commonly believed to have been coined by mystery author Mary Roberts Rinehart in her 1930 novel The Door, although this is actually a real-world example of Beam Me Up, Scotty!. The actual plot device goes back still further, and was already regarded as hackneyed even then; the earliest verified explicit statement of disapproval regarding its use dates to S.S. Van Dine's 1928 essay "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories". (It might be noted that these rules would disqualify the authors who defined the genre, including Wilkie Collins, Edgar Allan Poe, and Arthur Conan Doyle — indeed, rule 20 says that a good mystery should not include certain types of clues that Doyle introduced into the mystery genre on the grounds that they were now overused and Van Dine's essay could more accurately be titled "Twenty Rules for Writing a Fair Play Mystery".) This article explores in detail the origin of this strange semi-existent trope. It's possibly related to the Real Life stereotype that, if something goes missing in a home, the hired help likely stole it.
This is a Dead Unicorn Trope in murder mysteries, essentially a form of The Dog Was the Mastermind that's too well-known to use. It is okay, however, for a butler to be a suspect, primarily to mislead the reader.
Not to be confused with A Wizard Did It, which is a form of Hand Wave (and doesn't have much to do with actual wizards). It is the case that this is an English-language trope: crime novels popular in Germany in the same period were notorious for the cliche that "the gardener did it," this transplanting the blame out of the house.
Obviously, ending spoilers follow.
- In the Black Butler anime, in almost every other arc this is the case, in the cases Ciel has to solve, it was the butler other than Sebastian that "did it". First it's Grell in the Jack the Ripper arc, then there's no butler, then it's Agni, then it's Angela/Ash at the end of the first season.
- And in the second season, Ciel's tricked into thinking that Sebastian himself "did it". The one who did the tricking? Another butler.
- In the murder mystery arc of the manga, not only was much of the misleading investigation orchestrated by Sebastian, but the true murderer was the Queen's butler, Charles Grey.
- In the anime Prétear the butler Tanaka seems to be a kind man who is both The Woobie and Butt-Monkey of the show. He is. The maid Mikage, however, is actually the Dark Magical Girl and Big Bad in disguise.
- Case Closed, as a mystery series, sometimes plays the trope straight:
- In a filler case, the father of a pianist Driven to Suicide by a rich Jerkass invokes the trope when he gets a work as the butler of the old man and uses this to murder him in his birthday party. He also was planning to kill the old man's daughter who was the son's girlfriend, but due to a miscalculation he fails... and it was a good thing, as the girl still loved the son and had become a Broken Bird after his death.
- Another episode involved a butler kidnapping a little girl named Akiko. However, it turns out that he was doing it for noble reasons and with Akiko's permission, since her father was a Workaholic and she wanted his attention. Unfortunately, Akiko was kidnapped again, this time by a genuine criminal. After she's rescued, the dad forgives both butler and daughter and grants Akiko her wish, as they go into a vacation together.
- In Juuni Senshi Bakuretsu Eto Ranger, Bakumaru says this trope by name. Fractured Little Red Riding Hood's butler is the Monster of the Week for that world. Even before he's blasted with the Revealing Mirror, he reveals himself to be evil by trying to kill Urii when his teammates and Red are away.
- In One Piece, Merry the butler survived an assassination attempt on his life. The OTHER butler did it- Klahadore. Real name, the infamous CAPTAIN KURO. Also, Kaya's parents died shortly after he enrolled as a butler... However, Kuro states to his partner-in-crime/right-hand-man Jango - which he would have no reason to lie to - that Kaya's parents died naturally, so they probably did. Though he probably would have killed them himself if they had lived on for much longer...
- 308 chapters in, Hayate the Combat Butler uses this one...extremely literally. Although it's not murder in this case, and if he'd left things alone it would have left everyone in-character.
- In Hellsing, if Sir Islands' suspicions are anything to go by, Walter Dornez - the Hellsing family's butler - had been working for Millennium way before he officially turned, and was responsible for the security breaches that enabled the Valentine brothers to get into the mansion and massacre most of Hellsing's staff; in fact, he may even have been complicit in what happened to Integra's father long ago. It's also just a tad convenient that he gives Alucard a gun which is later destroyed by the Doktor via remote control.
- In Honoo no Alpen Rose, the Durant family has bot a butler and a maid. The butler is a good guy. The maid is a spy from a local Manipulative Bastard.
- Sakura Gari:
- The stinking rich Saiki clan has a butler named Katou and a housekeeper/cook named Ohatsu. Katou didn't do many things but was responsible for driving someone else to do them. Until the end, where he snaps and stabs one of the main characters. And Ohatsu did not do anything... But can't forgive herself for not doing what she should have done.
- Additionally, the Saikis are known in Tokyo for employing highschool and college-aged young men as a mix of boarding students and servants, sponsoring their education in exchange for their housework. Two of them are vital to the story: the protagonist Masataka (who gets pretty screwed up but isn't a criminal) and the Yandere/Mad Doctor Katsuragi (who is a Domestic Abuser, rapist and murderer, and commited some of his worst crimes when he still was a butler)
- In Danganronpa 3, the (most important) traitor turns out to be that housekeeper who was going around serving tea to everyone in the first episode. To be fair the housekeeper did start out as a genuinely good person, but later was brutally tortured and ended up Brainwashed and Crazy.
- During the class trip arc of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, it's revealed that Kaguya's valet Hayasaka has been spying on her under orders of her eldest brother Oko since the day they met. Unlike most examples, the drama comes from her guilt over the act and Kaguya learning to forgive her rather than the reveal that she did it in the first place.
- In Rick Veitch's Brat Pack, Big Bad Doctor Blasphemy, responsible for the deaths of... the entire cast, is revealed to be King Rad's butler Fredo in the final pages.
- Played with by Diabolik: the actual butler is always innocent, but Diabolik tend to take his place (or the place of another house servant) to take a look of the place he's about to steal from and/or drug/kidnap his victim.
The Outsider: All this time you were looking for who was behind this... as you say on your world... the butler did it.
- In Jannah Station, this is one of the possible outcomes, depending on the reader's point of view.
- Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?. In "The Gentleman's Gentleman's Tale", Alfred claims to be the Joker, having created the Rogues Gallery with the help of actors he knew from his stage days before he became a butler, in order to keep Bruce Wayne diverted from his personal demons. The story opens with this trope being given in a murder mystery play.
- In Frank Tieri's run of Batman and the Outsiders, The Riddler, investigating a rich man's murder, declares the butler the killer by directly quoting this trope, calling it "the greatest cliché of all".
- Quizzical: Quizzical Greystone And The Basements Of Doom: In "Villain's Monologue", the titular Evil Gloating mentions this:
Oh, give me this moment, will you? How often do you get a captive audience like this? Now I know why villains do these monologues. This is good fun. Oh, and since were discussing cliches you should like this one. The butler did it. My first job was as a gentlecolts gentlecolt to an art professor who dabbled in crime on the side. I soon took his place and surpassed him in every way.
- This is what sets the plot of The Aristocats in motion, pretty much. Butler Edgar is second in line for the fortune his wealthy mistress wants to leave to her cats, and so knocks them out with sleeping pills and tries to get rid of them. This being Disney, the kitties live, and then have wacky adventures before Edgar's comeuppance is delivered. Also played within that the audience knows it's Edgar right off the bat. The characters, on the other hand, seem to have no idea - except for Toulouse, who figures it out not long after they wake up.
- Funnily enough, one of the characters even lampshades the trope, when Edgar's intentions are revealed:
[panting] Duchess—kittens—in trouble! Butler did it....
- Funnily enough, one of the characters even lampshades the trope, when Edgar's intentions are revealed:
- Lawrence from The Princess and the Frog is a lesser villain, but still needs mentioning; He was Prince Naveen's valet on his visit to New Orleans before he became an accessory to Dr. Facilier's plot to feed all the souls in New Orleans to his friends on the Other Side by being magically disguised as the Prince (the real thing being transformed into a frog). It's a Long Story.
- The Buster Keaton film Sherlock, Jr. plays it straight, with a butler acting as the accomplice of the main villain.
- Reportedly, the old film The Mandarin Mystery.
- Clue only plays this straight in a fourth ending that was filmed but never used. Two endings are aversions and the third is a subversion: the "butler" was actually Mr. Boddy himself in disguise, but he only personally murdered the singing telegram girl.
- No murders involved, but Fitzwilly takes this trope Up to Eleven by starring a butler who's a Con Man criminal mastermind. Subverted in that all the other domestic servants in the household also Did It.
- In Where the Truth Lies, Lanny believes Vince killed Maureen and Vince thinks Lanny is the murderer. It turns out that Reuben, Lanny and Vince's valet and "fix-it man", strangled her to keep her from blackmailing Lanny and Vince with the audio she had recorded during their sexual encounter. The reveal hurt the movie; as one critic noted the ending was "straight out of the big book of mystery clichés".
- Gosford Park where a valet/butler tries to kill a wealthy aristocrat, but the housekeeper beats him to it!
- The Three Stooges episode "If a Body Meets a Body".
- Moe even lampshades it in the short "Who Done It", where the stooges are detectives. As soon as they get into the house they search the butler, Moe saying "The butler is always a suspect!" As it turns out, the butler was one of the four people behind the crime.
- Becomes one of the theories/rotating contradictory solutions in Murder by Death, a parody pastiche of classic murder mystery tropes, and is appropriately lampshaded.
Bensonmum: Tell me, as the only survivor, how did you deduce it was me?
Sidney Wang: Went back to theory seldom used today: Butler did it.
- Double subverted in Ninotchka. The butler seemed suspicious from the beginning. Then the jewelry is gone and the male lead becomes the prime suspect, but it turns out it was indeed the butler.
- Played totally straight in Bradley's Summer, where the leader of the terrorist plot is the butler in the house where Bradley is staying for the summer.
- In the 1949 Batman and Robin (Serial), the valet of the crotchety inventor was the Big Bad.
- Lampshaded by Jim in The Haunted Mansion "The butler did it? You've got to be kidding me."
- In the Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston Netflix film Murder Mystery, the killer is someone who'd changed their surname, which was originally "Butler". Sandler's character basically says "I told you so."
- In Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, the perpetrator of the murders (although not all of the other skullduggery that is going on) turns out to be Crippins, the Lofthouse's extremely competent butler. He is also the real father of the younger Lofthouse brother Jonathan.
- Played with in Knives Out. Marta Cabrera, Mr. Thrombey's nurse, is the protagonist, and as such the audience is experiencing the film through the eyes of the 'butler'. It's soon revealed that Marta was responsible for Mr. Thrombey's death, in that she gave him medication from the morphine vial by mistake, and he committed suicide in an attempt to protect her. (Then subverted when it turns out another malefactor had maliciously mislabelled her medicines. Subverted yet again when it turns out she only thought she'd given him the wrong meds (due to the mislabeled bottles) she had in fact dosed him correctly and his suicide hadn't been necessary.) The film is very interested in the political nature of the relationship between the Thrombeys and their hired help.
- The Sound of Music: While it's never stated outright, it's implied that the Von Trapp's butler is the one who alerted the Nazis to the family attempting to escape the Third Reich. He's seen watching them sneaking out of the house and was previously seen discussing "developments" with Rolf (a confirmed Nazi), making him the most likely culprit.
- Possibly the first work to depict a butler who "did it" appeared in 1915 - when E. Phillips Oppenheim, at the time a well-known writer, authored a thriller called "The Black Box." Successful as both a book and a film serial, it features an American gangster who goes to England and manages to gain the impeccable mannerisms of a perfect British butler. He gets the complete confidence of Lord Ashleigh, a rather gullible aristocrat of ancient lineage. Eventually, when Lord Ashleigh decides to send his daughter to study music in New York and gives her as a parting gift the Ashleigh Diamonds (a priceless family heirloom), he sends along his trusted butler "to keep an eye on her". The tragic result is that once across the Atlantic, the butler proceeds to murder the girl and abscond with the diamonds. However, the nasty butler is no match to the dashing star detective Sanford Quest, who lays him by the heels after just a few pages. The true challenge comes from a lesser servant (not a butler), who is implicated in various other murders and villianies, who is endlessly resourceful and slippery, and who leads the book's merry band of band of detectives on a wild chase all around the globe - which takes the bulk up the bulk of the plot.
- While they were never so common as popular belief holds them to be, they're not entirely nonexistent. In Herbert Jenkins' The Strange Case of Mr. Challoner (1921) and in Mary Roberts Rinehart's own The Door (1930), the butler indeed does it.
- The Brothers Karamazov, while it is a bit more complicated, ultimately plays this one straight.
- The butler did it in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Musgrave Ritual", although in that case it's only theft, not murder, and not the mystery; the question is why he did it, and what happened to him afterwards. It eventually transpires that he's dead, possibly at the hands of his accomplice. The maid did it (or at least let it happen).
- In The Hound of the Baskervilles, suspicion initially settles on the butler John Barrymore and his wife Elisa, but both are later shown to be innocent. What they are guilty of, however, is giving shelter and supplies to a fugitive — who turns out to be Elisa's younger brother Selden, a local Serial Killer.
- A very prototypical version of this arguably happens in Holmes' debut in A Study in Scarlet, where the killer is the similarly-overlooked cabbie who drove both victims around. The following novel The Sign Of Four plays it a little straighter - the butler wasn't the mastermind or anything, but he was the inside man crucial to enabling the central murder.
- Agatha Christie used variants of this a couple of times; in Sparkling Cyanide, the waiter did it, while in Death in the Clouds, the air steward did it. However, in both cases, this was one of the regular suspects disguised as a server.
- In Three Act Tragedy, the butler is the prime suspect, having disappeared soon after the murder. Turns out he did it, but he was one of the other suspects in disguise.
- Black Coffee, originally written as a play, has this ending. In the book adaptation, not by Christie, it's spoiled the moment it happens by outright stating, before the detectives even arrive, that the character placed the poison into the victim's coffee cup before giving it to him.
- One of Christie's short stories, The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman also employs this trope, except that in this case the "Butler" is actually a valet.
- In Murder on the Orient Express, the Butler is one of the many people who did it.
- Subverted in And Then There Were None. The butler, Mr. Rogers, and his wife Ethel are two of the suspects, but are two of the first victims. They're guilty of something else, though (killing their former boss, a rich and sickly spinster whose meds they tampered with so they could inherit her estate), and that is why they got killed. (Ethel dies first and in her sleep since her husband pressured her into helping kill their old employer; Rogers is killed in a far more bloody manner awhile later.)
- Raymond Chandler, in his short story "Trouble Is My Business", has the butler do it. An interesting spin on this trope, as Chandler has John Dalmas (changed to Philip Marlowe in some reprintings) and the butler share drinks and a laugh over being the only "average joes" involved in the case. Of course, that's over when Dalmas figures everything out.
- In The Dresden Files, it's not exactly the Butler, but has the Beneath Suspicion slot down pat: the traitor on the White Council isn't the Jerkass leader, the mysterious Asian, the noble Native American shaman, the Captain of the Wardens, OR Harry's Jerkass parole officer Morgan - it's Samuel Peabody, the secretary.
- Invoked and lampshaded in The Beekeeper's Apprentice:
Russell: [affronted] Are you telling me the butler did it?
Holmes: I'm afraid it does happen.
- A subtle version of this in the Fighting Fantasy gamebook House of Hell. The butler, Franklins, was the demon the cult was worshipping right under his master, the cult leader's, nose, and the Final Boss of the story.
- In a rare nonfiction book example, Richard Dawkins uses this trope for a series of thought experiments in his popular science book The Greatest Show on Earth.
- Isaac Asimov's Black Widowers:
- Six men meet once a month at a restaurant for dinner and conversation. Somehow, they always end up solving a mystery — or, rather, their waiter Henry points out the solution after the others try to solve it and fail. In the first story of the series, Henry turns out to be the one who "did it," although the mystery is not so much "who done it" as "what, exactly, did he do?" Henry is happy to provide the answer, since what he did was not in any way illegal.
- In "Out of Sight", the men are trying to figure out who could have copied some classified documents. A scientist had them, and had blurted out he left them lying around in his room while sitting behind a table in a restaurant with a few other people, but all had their backgrounds thoroughly checked. Henry points out that no one is supposed to notice a good waiter.
- In Mary Robinette Kowal's Hugo- and Nebula-nominated SF novella Kiss Me Twice, the killer is the Artificial Intelligence butler, acting through a robotic tea tray.
- The original book version of Roots has a horrible deconstruction of this trope: the white plantocracy needed black house slaves, and therefore surrounded themselves with black butlers, maids and cooks, many of whom had excellent motives for murder. The book recounts how some black nursemaids would stab a pin into the brain of a white baby through the soft spot before the skull bones knitted, leaving the baby in a coma with no visible mark.
- Damon Runyon's short story "What, No Butler?" has the narrator trying to pin the blame for a murder on the butler because that's always how murder stories go. His associate tells him he's being ridiculous and it turns out the victim didn't even have a butler of any kind. However, the perpetrator does coincidentally turn out to be an unemployed high-class butler.
- In Rebecca Lickiss's Eccentric Circles, Malraux says it's the butler or husband; Aelverim counters that Grandma was a widow and had no butler — and Piper adds anyways, it's the boyfriend nowadays, which display of Genre Savvy makes them conclude she'll do.
- In The Grand Multiverse Hotel, the culprit turns out to have been the Queen's waiter (although he was a disguised impostor).
- Wax and Wayne has an attempted example. The butler of Waxillium tries to kill his master, but fails because Wax's friend Wayne tasted the poisoned tea first, and had a healing factor. Wax eventually figures out that the butler did this on the order of one of the bad guys, specifically his true employer, Wax's uncle Edwarn.
- Murder at Colefax Manor plays this amazingly straight and quite literally, although the butler was acting on the behest of his master.
- Played straight (but played with on a meta level) at the end of the story "The Horror Writers Halloween Ball" in Armageddon Outta Here. In an aside, it is mentioned that Gordon Edgley, together with Skulduggery, solved the case of the phantom killer of Darkenholme House."But that's...another story. ... (paragraph) ... Which is rather uninteresting. The butler did it."
- The Cat in the Stacks Mysteries: Literally in book 2, where James Delacorte's butler Truesdale became his boss's primary heir and then killed him to speed up the process after finding out by means of a gossipy paralegal and her aunt, the latter of whom was having an affair with one of the other heirs and shared this information with Truesdale after learning of his status. Both Sean Harris and Kanesha Berry are rather incredulous when Charlie Harris figures it out, especially since two other major suspects have just been arrested, but that doesn't stop it from being true. (The two suspects already in custody at this point, it turns out, were guilty of something else - they stole part of Delacorte's rare book collection, which was being left to Athena College rather than Truesdale or any of Delacorte's family.)
- In one Garrett, P.I. novel, a side plot is that various minor knickknacks vanishing from the client's house. It eventually turns out that the butler was stealing and selling them because his employer hadn't revised the household budget to allow for inflation in years, and he needed the extra money to keep the estate going.
- Played with in Philip MacDonald's 1924 novel The Rasp. John Hoode, a cabinet secretary, is murdered, and suspicion immediately falls on his own personal secretary, Archibald Deacon. Deacon fits the trope, although is diction is noticeably more lower-class than an actual British butler's would be. Fortunately for him, series detective Anthony Gethryn immediately suspects a Frame-Up.
- In All That, Detective Dan skit has a butler stealing in the background while the detective tries to find the culprit.
- Boardwalk Empire: Parlor maid/servant Louanne is the one poisoning the Commodore.
- This is used in the Bones episode "Yanks in the UK", possibly just to use the line. On the other hand, it's arguably a subversion or deconstruction: The butler's confession conveniently stops the investigation into his employer's family and spares them the public scrutiny of a trial; he says he did it to protect the family's reputation, the family promises to provide him with the "finest legal representation", none of the cops present look convinced, and it's unclear if he in fact "did it".
- The Flemish series Buiten De Zone had a Hercule Poirot parody where the detective went on a long recap of the facts of the murder to a room of suspects, and ended up accusing the butler even though with each thing he said one of the people in the room started acting increasingly nervous, going as far as pulling out the murder weapon and miserably failing at discreetly disposing it.
- Castle, after teasing a couple of times, finally gives us a straight example in "Secret's Safe With Me", finally allowing Castle to say the phrase and have it be true.
- In the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode "Random Acts of Violence," Nick is called to investigate who murdered the supervisor of a high tech company in the sealed computer room, with only three other employees on the floor outside. After thoroughly investigating them, he realizes that the real "murderer" is an AC repairman working in the room directly above the computer room, whom nobody had noticed. He dropped his hammer accidentally, it fell through an air-vent, hit the victim fatally on the head, and was then retrieved by the repairman, who said nothing to keep himself out of trouble.
- CSI: NY: Conversed by Stella and Flack in "Trapped." He lists the wealthy victim's hired help as potential suspects and the following exchange ensues:
Stella: That's it? No butler?Flack: No.Stella: Too bad. I though we could wrap up this one up quick.Flack: What?Stella: In a mansion like this, it's always the butler.
- Death in Paradise: One episode has a new bride shot with a speargun on a balcony of a high-class hotel. The killer turns out to be the butler for the floor, who mistook her for his intended target, one of the maids.
- Doctor Who: In "The Robots of Death" with its plot structure and art-deco set design implying 1930s murder mysteries the crew refuse to believe a service robot could possibly be behind the murders, as they are blinded by their lifestyle from noticing how ubiquitous robots are. Since they're robots, the fact that they're Three Laws-Compliant is a justification.
- The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries episode "Dangerous Waters" plays with this: the kidnap victim doesn't recognize her mother's butler when he greets the Hardys at the door. Naturally, he turns out to be part of the plot, and the non-recognition turns into a vital clue for Joe & Frank to crack the case.
- One Jonathan Creek Christmas special actually used this, though, as usual for the series, half of the mystery was realising that it had been a murder in the first place, and then how and why it had been done. The victim was a magician who had apparently killed herself, but it ultimately — and appropriately — turned out that The Butler Did It. How? It was all done with mirrors.
- Late season episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent has detective Zackery tell his partner about how he solved the murder of a rich, elderly man who was his friend, mentor, and ex-girlfriend's father. There are many Redherrings, including the man's self rightous son, his daughter and Zackery's ex who supposedly suffered a mental break down, but could be faking it, and his long time lawyer because of greed. But it turns out that it was indeed the bulter who did it for his own selfish reasons.
- Happens in Lewis and its predecessor Inspector Morse occasionally, like in "Wild Justice". Never trust a college servant.
- The Mentalist: In season 3's "The Red Mile", Jane gleefully exclaims this, while running around nearly beside himself with excitement. Though the butler was driving the car to Jane's pre-arranged trap, it was actually the rich mother-in-law that did it.
- In the "100 Clues" episode of Psych, a rock star who Shawn and Gus had gotten busted for manslaughter once invited them to his mansion, where some of the other guests get killed. In one of several possible endings, it was his butler, who had written his boss's songs and was mad at not being credited for them, and had also killed the woman who got the rocker sent to prison.
- Played with in the Ripping Yarns episode "Murder at Moorstones Manor". The butler claims he did it, but so do four other people. The resulting gunfight leaves them all dead, so we don't know if he did it or not.
- In Soap, after Peter Campbell is murdered, one of the reasons Benson is a suspect (besides being black) is because he's the butler. "In cases like this, it's the butler who did it. In fact, that's how we got the phrase 'the butler did it'."
- Square One TV features this in a Mathnet series when George Frankly invites Pat Tuesday to join him at a mystery weekend in a mansion. Unfortunately, due to a road sign pointing the wrong direction due to a storm, they end up at a different mansion where six criminals have been invited to another party - they only show up because the invitations were to their real names instead of their assumed names they'd been living as for years. Over the week's episodes, they start disappearing one by one. When they all disappear, George finds a series of hidden passageways leading to a holding cell where they're being held by the butler. It turns out the butler was a court stenographer upset that these 'criminals' never went to jail, despite the fact that they've all proven their innocence with math. (For example, one man was exonerated from stealing gold when he pointed out that to commit the crime, he would have had to carry hundreds of pounds of gold by himself.) When he was exposed and went to jail, he learned to like math, taught it to others, and became an advisor to Square One TV.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Butler, Valet, Gardener...Garak has held many perfectly legitimate jobs where his employer happened to suffer a tragic end.
- On one episode of The Twilight Zone (1959), a group of people get off a bus and gather at a cafe where they are served food and drinks by the local counter jerk and dine. It is later revealed by the police that one of the people on the bus seems to have been an alien. Ten Little Murder Victims ensues, the resolution of which is only a half-subversion of The Butler Did It: one of the people from the bus was The Mole, but the cafe worker who served them all and remained very much in the background throughout the story was also an enemy alien from a different planet, and was two steps ahead of The Mole the whole time.
- Used in the tool song "Sober". "Waiting like a stalking butler / who upon the finger rests"
- In Reinhard Mey's song "Der Mörder ist immer der Gärtner"note , which is the German Trope Codifier, it was supposedly the gardener who did it (the killer is never actually described, only his deeds, but in full keeping with the trope the refrain insists it must've been him) ...until the last verse in which the gardener is himself killed - in some versions, ironically enough, by the butler.
- Since the killer for each case in WHO dunnit (1995) is randomly selected, it is possible for the game to play this straight when Butler is the culprit.
- It's possible for this to be the case in the game Clue, if Mrs. White (the maid) is the randomly selected murderer.
- In the VCR Mystery Game, the butler's name is "Didit". But he's not actually a suspect.
- In the Mystery Puzzle series, the trope is averted, as the butler is usually the one who figures out who the real killer is.
- In the setting of the role-playing game Over the Edge there is a Milkman Conspiracy of butlers and personal retainers around the world. They usually don't murder their patrons, but if there was a good reason...
- In the card game Gloom, the description for Butterfield ("the lurking butler") is "Whatever it is, he did it." Another card is "..Was Betrayed by the Butler", with the flavor text "Like you're surprised."
- Carltron, Professor Ruffleberg's robotic butler from Secret of Evermore, is revealed to have been the one behind his disappearance, and also those of several of his contacts.
- Early hints in the first episode of Covert Front hint at the butler, Manfred, having done something to his master. At the bequest of his superiors in the Imperial hierarchy, as it turns out.
- In a non-mystery example, in Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, both Mao and the player are lead to believe that Mao's Dad is the game's Big Bad. However, it turns out that Super Hero Aurum in the guise of Mao's butler Geoffrey is the game's actual Big Bad.
- Grabbed by the Ghoulies features a kindly old butler named Crivens who helps you out for the majority of the game. When the final boss battle comes about, Crivens rushes in and seems to have things well under control after beating the boss for you. It is then revealed that Crivens staged the entire fight and is in fact was the final boss the entire time.
Foolish boy! Did you like my little disguise? Bet you never guessed that the butler did it?!
- One sub-scenario in Bravely Default plays out like a typical murder mystery. It ultimately turns out that the culprit is the Black Blades' Ninja Konoe Kikyo, who had disguised herself as a servant; however, in a variation, the reason that she was Beneath Suspicion is that she posed as the very first victim. Once the "Groundhog Day" Loop comes about, the party use their foreknowledge of the plot to expose her immediately, before anyone can actually be killed.
- Not a murder, but at one point in Memoria, one of the protagonists is in a tavern trying to find the last remaining unaccounted-for member of a mob from the previous night. He's told that everyone currently in the room was also there last night (and is therefore a potential candidate). After he interrogates the three suspicious men in the bar, it turns out that the fifth member of the mob was the barmaid.
- The Sexy Brutale: Just about the only deaths that aren't directly or indirectly caused by the staff are Willow and Lucas.
- Hitman 3: In Dartmoor, if you pick up the poison pills in the Butler's office then Diana cheekily asks if 47 is thinking of framing him. With all the evidence in the room, 47 can use this in the murder mystery Mission Story to make his target believe this really is the case!
- In Hercule Poirot: The First Cases, Poirot spends most of the game trying to figure out who among the guests in the manor had killed one of the other guests while he was there searching for a blackmailer, first by trying to figure out who had a motive (everybody), who had an opportunity (nobody), and then who could have worked as a team to provide a fake alibi so one of them could do the killing (still nobody). It eventually turned out that one of the maids did it (albeit in self-defense), with the butler and cook covering for her after the fact. The other maid had nothing to do with the killing, but was an agent of the blackmailer.
- Ace Attorney:
- Justice for All mostly plays this straight in the final case, where the killer is revealed to be a butler who later is revealed to be a hitman, disguised as a butler, who was hired by the defendant.
- Played straight in Spirit of Justice's DLC case where the culprit turns out to be the family butler, who committed the murder to avenge the death of his fiancée; by framing the fiancée of her brother, who caused the car accident she died in. The murder victim also happens to be a butler, who was trying to kill Ellen(the defendant) t the time.
- In Umineko: When They Cry, although the "butlers" are more like servants, this is what Eva suspects during the first arc. During the second arc, Kanon goes missing after he and Jessica are killed in another 'closed room murder', and as he has a master key, Rosa comes to the conclusion that either Kanon (who had disappeared), Gohda or Kumasawa (neither of whom had an alibi) killed Jessica, as they were the only ones who could have locked the door to Jessica's room. Rosa goes even further after locking all the servants out with apologies and excuses about their possible suspicion. After they're thrown out, she openly confides to Battler that she doesn't have any doubt that they're all responsible. As it turns out, she's right.
- And as it turns out she was right...kind of. To make a VERY long story short, from the Anti-Fantasy perspective, there was a servant named Sayo Yasuda (known better by the blessed name...Shannon) who as it was turned out was secretly the bastard child of Kinzo Ushiromiya and his other secret bastard daughter Beatrice. Sayo would actually become the true head of the family, but maintain the personas of Shannon and Kanon to preserve the illusion as they enact their murder-suicide plot on the Ushiromiyas.
- In the second case of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, the Ultimate Maid Kirumi Tojo kills Ryoma Hoshi by drowning him. After he's dead, Kirumi then engineers an elaborate scheme to get rid of the body: maneuvering it into Himiko's tank of piranhas using a ropeway, where it's quickly Stripped to the Bone.
- The DuckTales (2017) episode "McMystery at McDuck McManor" has Scrooge vanish for real during a magic act performed at his (unwanted) birthday party, with Huey determined to solve the case. Three of Scrooge's Rogues Gallery, Ma Beagle, Flintheart Glomgold, and Mark Beaks, are in attendance, and seem like natural suspects, but all were innocent (of that particular crime, at least). The magician who performed the trick is himself revealed to be "Black Arts Beagle", a legitimate magic user who tried to summon a real demon... but he too did not do anything to Scrooge. It turns out that the "demon" he called was actually the ghost of Scrooge's loyal butler Duckworth, who helped Scrooge sneak out because he wasn't enjoying the party. As an added bit of Foreshadowing, a Scrooge-themed Word Search can be glimpsed earlier in the episode, and "thebutlerdidit" can be spotted on it.
- Fred Flintstone has to deal with a murderous butler when he inherits a property in one episode of The Flintstones.
- Hurricanes episode "The Curse of the Gorgon" had the Hispanola Hurricanes seemingly turned into stone by the legendary Medusa. It turns out they had just been replaced by statues and a butler working for the Hurricanes' host had been bribed into helping.
- Steven Universe: In the Gems' Hive Caste System, Pearls are created to be personal attendants to other gems. Pink Diamond's Pearl (otherwise known as Our Pearl) was the one to "shatter" her, although she was actually helping her mistress fake her death.
- Episode "The Balooest of the Bluebloods" of TaleSpin has Baloo inheriting the title of Baron and the fortune that comes with it, only to learn later that there's a curse killing his relatives. It turns out there's no curse, the butler and the maid are the ones killing the barons in order to enjoy the mansion themselves.
- Snerdly in Top Cat's movie Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats is the main villain of the story. He is unable to kill someone (it is a kid's movie) but certainly tries.
- In a sweet example of Life Imitates Art, this very nearly happened to the Trope Maker Mary Rinehart herself. In the late 1940s, she hired a new butler for her summer home. This heavily upset her longtime servant, a chef, who had wanted the position for many years. One day, while she was reading in a library, he walked in without proper uniform. When asked by her where the rest of his uniform was, he pulled out his gun and delivered a line that could have only come out of a murder mystery novel: "Here is my coat!" Fortunately for Rinehart, his gun jammed. A Chase Scene ensued and, after escaping from the grip of Rinehart's chauffeur who had come to help, he grabbed two knives and ran after her again. The chauffeur, now with the help of the gardener, eventually managed to pin him down again for good. Rinehart survived.
- Not a butler but a valet. The legendary spy Cicero at the British embassy in World War II.
- William Marsh Rice was poisoned by his butler in a conspiracy involving one of his attorneys and a fake will. The mystery was solved by another of his attorneys, and his university endowment was restored.
- A recent case involving leaked letters from Pope Benedict XVI.
- The whole trope came into being because, in Victorian England, serving staff were typically underpaid, overworked, and disgruntled. Thus, occasional murders of employers weren't unheard of. There is a record of a valet who had memorised his master's schedule to the last detail and once brought him his pillow just before he had intended to ask for it. The master, angry at his presumptuous servant, sent him away and called him immediately back to bring him the pillow. The valet shot him.
- Archibald Hall, the serial killer butler.
- According to tradition, ninja performed assassinations under the guise of household servants. But if actual common household servants had murdered their lords, reporting such a thing would expose a glaring vulnerability in house security — much safer to blame someone expertly trained in such a stealth and infiltration. Makes you wonder how many ninja assassinations there really were.
- On a meta-level too; the modern-day depiction of the archetypal ninja as a shadowy figure is thought to be based on the use of Kuroko, stage-hands in Kabuki theatre who are dressed all in black (or whatever the predominant background is), and although perfectly easy to see on stage, they're thought to be "invisible" by cultural consensus. Some plays supposedly even had the Kuroko "coming to life" and killing one of the cast.
- During the very early Meiji era (around 1865-1868), a butler from Yokohama named Shokichi led a gang that violently robbed his employer's house and killed the master's son. While the other robbers were "simply" beheaded, Shokichi himself was crucified and speared; this is because he was the servant of his victims, so he was considered the lowest of the low.
- Two of the main suspects in the murder of film director William Desmond Taylor in 1922 (which has been nicknamed "Hollywood's First Murder") were his butler Henry Peavey and a former butler who had been fired a few months earlier, Edward Sands. However, the murder has never been solved.
- At the Congress of Vienna, the British delegation took the trouble to bring its own service staff along. Quite properly because, as it happened, a large number of pages, waiters, cooks, and of course butlers were reporting to Austrian intelligence.
Parodies, subversions, Lampshade Hangings, etc:
- The third episode of Devil May Cry: The Animated Series, where the butler is the one who uses his master's blood as part of a demon summoning ritual. Partially subverted, in that this doesn't occur until late in the episode, we actually see the butler telling the master, and the master is eventually healed after the demon and the butler are vanquished.
- In a Soul Eater Breather Episode, Excalibur tells a tale of how he helped Sherlock Holmes solve a murder in which the butler can clearly be seen twirling around a butcher's knife in the background.
- But it was Watson. Excalibur said it.
- In Kaori Yuki's Count Cain, a flashback chapter has the lead solving a mystery about a maid's murder. It turns out the butler didn't kill her, she died of her own greed and foolishness. He did, however, tamper the evidence to frame someone else.
- Despite being mentioned above, one can call Case Closed a "Zig-Zag" of this trope. There are a couple cases where The Butler Did It, yeah, but there about as many if not more cases where the butler clearly did not do it. Butlers, servants, nannies and housekeepers appear as characters in a lot of cases, but they are usually dismissed pretty quickly. Most commonly, a servant character appears in a case involving family drama, and is the Exposition Fairy, disclosing details about family drama that other family members don't want or can't reveal to outsiders and pesky detectives.
- And even on a couple cases where it looks like the butler or the housekeeper/groundskeeper could have done it because s/he had motive, it turns out it's not the case. One of the best examples is in Billionaire Birthday Blues wherein the two victims had caused the death of the housekeeper's granddaughter, which would give the "Butler" character the most visible motive out of anyone. But, it's shown that she's not only beyond any desire of revenge, but she even delivers a Shut Up, Hannibal! to her granddaughter's suitor who had just invoked Love Makes You Evil as his Freudian Excuse. She even closed the victim's eyes to give her the final peace, while saying that even when she doesn't really forgive her deeds, nobody deserves to be murdered since there will always be someone else in pain.
- Additionally, the Murder before the Wedding case features a butler and a young servant... The butler is the murder victim while the servant, the victim's adoptive son, is at first found guilty despite his claims of innocence... but he was NOT the killer and blaming him was a Batman Gambit from Heiji and Conan in order to flush the real culprit out.
- There's a case where a butler is one of the suspects in a murder case... but since he was disguised as another person, nobody knew he was a butler to start with. He was under a disguise as a request of his mistress Momiji, Heiji Hattori's Self-Proclaimed Love Interest, since she wanted him to keep an eye on Heiji's cases.
- In the backstory of the Detectives Koshien arc, a maid and a butler are suspects of having robbed and killed a rich young woman. Neither did it, but what the butler did do was not revealing that his boss was mentally unstable and actually committed suicide, because he greatly cared for her and knew that the very conservative Japanese society would cruelly judge her for her mental illness. The maid, now the sole suspect, threw herself into the sea in despair; her best friend, an Amateur Sleuth, would later create the whole Detective Koshien deal to find and punish all the people who drove the girl to her death, the butler included.
- In Ojojojo, Gramps claims he took the missing picture from Haru's photo album, when in reality Akane took it.
- The panelists on a talk show joke during Bruce Wayne: Fugitive that Alfred might have killed Vesper Fairchild rather than Bruce, who has been arrested for the crime.
- Later in the same arc, Bruce Wayne escapes custody. The detectives in charge of the inquiry, after piecing various hints together, finally reach the conclusion that "The butler did it", after spending much of the inquiry snarking that it cannot be the butler, because the butler ''always'' does it.
- Then there's "Last Rites," a two-part Batman story set during Final Crisis, with one chapter called "The Butler Did It" and the other "What the Butler Saw." It turns out that Alfred the butler is actually the Lump, a telepathic parasite hiding inside Batman's memories as he is used for clone fodder by the gods of Apokolips. It's Grant Morrison, what can we say.
- In one of the first issues, when Spider-Man defeated Electro for the first time and unmasked him, he thought "If this was a movie, I would be saying 'Good Heavens! The butler!'" but admitted that he had never seen him before.
- Some decades later, during JMS's "Spidey's a New Avenger" arc, he pauses while searching the closet of a HYDRA agent to deliver this line to an empty room, on the grounds that he's waited his whole life to say it.
- In Desolation Jones, the Colonel's butler is briefly suspected of being the mastermind behind the crime. Jones remarks "wouldn't it be funny if the butler did it." Nobody gets why he's amused.
- Lampshaded in the early MAD private-eye spoof "Kane Keen," in which the detective explains that the butler is as likely a suspect as everyone else is since "the butler is always the murderer." Based on the expert deductive method of tossing a coin, he then points to the butler and unmasks him as the true culprit: the talking dog. The Inspector Lestrade then bursts in, breathlessly informing Kane that he's figured out that the butler did it.
- Made fun of in Archie Comics once. Archie's dad stays up to watch a movie called "Burglar of Barcelona" and is then called to answer a trivia question on who the burglar of Barcelona is, Kate or Harold. Since Archie's dad fell asleep during the movie and missed the conclusion, he can't answer and it turns out...the Butler did it.
- In one number of Zipi y Zape the twins volunteer to solve a robbery. The first thing they do is asking if the victim has a butler. She doesn't.
Well, if you had a butler, solving this would be a lot easier.
- The stereotype is mocked viciously in an Italian Disney comic starring Donald Duck's cousin Fethry and his incompetent Humphrey Bogart-esque detective friend Umperio Bogarto. When investigating a series of sabotages in a movie studio, Fethry randomly suggests without any evidence that the butler must be the culprit. Umperio points out to him that there are no butlers in the studio, causing Fethry to instead theorize that whoever the culprit is must have been a butler at some point in his past. Continuing his brilliant deduction, Fethry ends up concluding that the culprit must be ''Santa Claus's butler'', based on a single instance of Santa Claus being referred to earlier in the story. When the culprit, who is very much not a butler nor affiliated with Santa Claus in any way, is caught at the end of the story, Fethry still clings onto his nonsensical deduction and tries to convince him to get him into Santa's good graces.
- Batman '66: There's a story titled "The Butler Did It!" but the butler's cousin is the true villain.
- In Trinity War, the Outsider's true identity is Earth-3 Alfred Pennyworth who has been working for years to bring his master Owlman and the rest of Earth 3's Crime Syndicate to Prime Earth. This is given a prompt Lampshade Hanging.
- Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! #6, ("The Ghost of Redbeard," an adaptation of the TV episode "Go Away Ghost Ship") has the gang approaching the penthouse of shipping magnate C.L. Magnus to ask about the titular ghost trying to put his business under when Magnus' butler summarily slams the door on them:
Shaggy: The butler did it! The butler did it!
Velma: The butler did what, Shaggy?
Shaggy: Ummm... he slammed the door on us! That's what he did! [Velma rolls her eyes in frustration]
- The Far Side:
- In one cartoon, two detectives are summoned to solve a murder — at a butler's convention. Punchline: "I hate to start a Monday with a case like this."
- In another Far Side cartoon, a detective points to the Butler as the culprit when a victim is gored to death and trampled into the floor. Just ignore the elephant in the trench coat sitting next to him...
- The Aesop Brothers, a National Lampoon cartoon strip by Charles Rodrigues about (non-identical) Siamese twins, once played this as an extended fart joke. The brothers as a Holmes-and-Watson pair are retained to find out who let go a wicked one in the presence of an elderly British nobleman. You can guess the ending.
- It Was Your Blood, Part Spoof. Data is called on to solve a mystery in his Sherlock Holmes persona, and starts with the usual suspects. On asking if the butler did it, he's informed that the transporter chief has an alibi.
- Cat Tales: Referenced in Trick or Treat, when the Gotham Museum of Mythology and Folklore is opening a new wing, sponsored by the Wayne Foundation, dedicated to murder mysteries. They're holding a Mystery Whodunit party for Halloween to celebrate, and Bruce and Selina attend; Alfred also agrees to attend as "Pennyworth the Butler". Selina, on hearing this, snarks that he'll be hearing "the butler did it" all night. This being Alfred, he's naturally completely innocent. It's Scarecrow who's responsible for hitting Bruce with fear toxin, making him hallucinate for a while that there's been a murder.
- In the Metalocalypse fanfic "Deth by Murder" this was Skiwsgaar's go to theory on who was behind the murders in the murder mystery, pointing at Offdensen (Dethklok's manager and CFO, whom Dethklok insists is their 'butler') the first time. Offdensen really was behind the murders, in order to 'clean house' and get rid of those who wronged Dethklok-he personally murdered Damien, and ordered the murders of Twinkletits and Seth, and promptly framed easy target Dr. Rockso for it. Skwisgaar goes to bed still thinking the butler did it, even after the murderer was caught.
- Clue (1985): In one of the endings, "Wadsworth" murdered the singing telegram girl, but then it turns out he's really Mr. Boddy; and the "it" that started the whole thing was Professor Plum murdering "Mr. Boddy" (really Mr. Boddy's butler, much to Plum's disappointment). In the lost fourth ending, he actually is the butler and murdered everyone out of a sick need for perfection, and reveals he poisoned everyone and locked the doors, then tries to escape in a police car, only to be mauled by a doberman.
- In Murder by Death, when the detectives are offering their solutions, one of them claims that it was the butler who did it and then faked his own death. In the end they leave without suspecting the real killer the deaf mute cook.
- A variation appeared in the film Short Circuit 2. Johnny Five notices the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. He begins speed reading through it, pauses halfway and says, "I think the chauffeur did it." He speeds through the rest of he book and, on finishing, says, "He did". Of course, as everybody knows, the murderer was the nephew of Sir Charles, and he had trained a vicious dog to murder the rest of the family in order to claim the Baskerville fortune for himself.
- Gosford Park is an exploration of this trope and other murder-mystery-related tropes:
- Lampshaded when one character, an American movie maker working on a new murder mystery set in England, calls his studio:
Mr. Weissman: Right, but I think it's clear it's the valet who did it. No, because the valet has access to everybody. No, the valet isn't the butler. No, there's one butler, and there's lots of valets running all over the place. He takes care of people. He's in their rooms at night. He could do it. I mean, the valet easily could have done it.
- The cast is separated between "above stairs" characters (the upper-class guests of a shooting party) and "below stairs" ones (their servants). During the first part of the movie, it's revealed that every single above-stairs character has a reason to murder the future victim, but he's murdered by a below-stairs character, whose motivations are revealed in the second part of the movie. Basically, it's not "the butler did it" but "a servant did it"..
- The butler acts strangely after the murder because other characters suspect he's the murderer and since he went to prison for desertion, he fears he'll be arrested even though he's innocent.
- Following the trope, the lead detective who investigates the murder questions the servants, but only on their masters. Later, knowing nothing of the servants, he explains that all of them are free to leave as there's no reason to suspect them. His less classist underling does suspect the servants, but still comes up with nothing.
- Lampshaded when one character, an American movie maker working on a new murder mystery set in England, calls his studio:
- The 1966 comedy film The Wrong Box had a convoluted series of events centering around a dead body and cloudy circumstances of his identity and death. At film's end the entire cast is being questioned by a police detective - the butler of one household gallantly takes the fall for his master and claims to have killed him. The detective says - everyone now - "The butler did it?!"
- The Haunted Mansion lampshades and plays it straight. While the butler did indeed do it heavily implied that the butler was racist, the main character immediately after invokes this trope.
- Home Alone 4 subverts and averts this trope. The main character believes that the butler of his dad's rich girlfriend helped two burglars (his old enemies) get into her high tech Mansion. He made quite a mess driving them away so everybody believes its just an excuse (he was about 9 years old). It turns out it was the , erm, nice housekeeper who is revealed as one of the burglar's mum.
- The loyal butler Cadbury in Richie Rich was framed by the villains for the bombing of the Rich's plane to kill Richie's parents. Since Cadbury also happened to be Richie's guardian in light of Richie's parents being missing, by removing Cadbury from the picture, the villain placed himself as Richie's new guardian so he could effectively isolate Richie from the outside world.
- In Dark And Stormy Knight the butler, Jeens, didn't do it, but he was obviously involved in some messy business. But "Those bodies were never found."
- Parodied in the German crime spoof Der Wixxer. The butler Alfons Hatler looks, sounds, and behaves exactly as one might expect from a character with such a name, but turns out to be guilty of nothing more than calling a few people nasty names.
- In Scary Movie 2, the creepy, depraved butler turns out to be in league with the evil ghost inhabiting the haunted house.
- A hilarious play on this trope appears in the Czech movie Adele Hasn't Had Her Dinner Yet. In Czech, this trope is known by the phrase "The gardener is the murderer!" a clichéd solution to pulp detective stories. What a surprise when the actual culprit of the original curious disappearance is a man who is known as "The Gardener", the most mysterious criminal mastermind of the century. And his most loyal minion is his butler/chamberlain.
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show has Frank-N-Furter being done in by his "faithful handyman" Riff Raff.
- In Vicki, Jill meets up with Steve at the all-night movie house. Steve tells her that he has sat through the movie three times and "the butler did it". He is being being jocular because the movie showing is Laura.
- Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer (1933)
- "What, No Butler?" by Damon Runyon (1933)
- The Butler Did It by P. G. Wodehouse (1957)
- To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis plays with this trope. First it's discussed, when time-traveling main character Ned muses that the mystery they're solving is nothing like old-school detective stories, where the butler always does it. It actually becomes a Running Gag in the book, as when he travels to a Genteel Interbellum Setting, people are complaining that it's becoming cliche in stories for the butler to do it. And then in the end, it turns out the running gag is a Chekhov's Gun, and butler really did do it... but the "it" that he does is "elope with the beautiful daughter", not "murder the victim".
- In the Agatha Christie novel Three-Act Tragedy, the murderer posed as his friend's butler solely in order to murder him and then fled afterwards in a deliberately suspicious manner, returning in his usual guise as the victim's good friend.
- In Murder on the OrientExpress, depending on which solution you believe, the butler did indeed do it along with everyone else in the Calais Coach, including the coach attendant.
- In Black Coffee, the butler really did do it. However, since this was already a dead horse trope, you never see it coming because the butler never actually does it.
- In Arthur Conan Doyle's Regency-era novel Rodney Stone, the butler was going to do it when the victim cut his own throat first.
- "Author, Author" by Avram Davidson presents a (fictional) crime writer who first used the phrase "the butler did it," and subsequently made a great deal of money off of murderous butler stories. When he stumbles into Butler Afterlife, its inhabitants are inclined to kill him for defaming their profession.
- This is specifically forbidden under No.11 of Dine's Rules for writing mysteries.
- A spy story written by Eric Ambler in the 1930s has an author as the main character. He gets into a conversation with a senior member of a foreign police force, who turns out to have literary ambitions of his own, but no talent: the cop's idea of a stunning resolution to the cliche-ridden murder mystery he dreams of writing is, in fact, this trope.
- In Hell To Pay, John Taylor admits that he was reluctant to suspect the Griffins' butler because it's such a cliche. The butler did do it, but charging him with the crime becomes a bit beside the point when his true identity as an archdemon is exposed.
- In Bruce Coville's The Ghost Wore Gray, Chris tells Nina: "I'd say that the butler did it...except this place doesn't have one."
- In Death: At one point in Divided In Death, Eve talks to Baxter about his partner Trueheart. Baxter is letting Trueheart handle a case in which a woman was found manually strangled in Upper East Side, New York City. She had a lot of money, a miserable disposition, a huge mean streak, and a dozen heirs who are all glad to see her dead. Baxter then says, "I told him I thought the butler did it, and he just nodded, all serious, and said he'd do a probability. Christ, he's a sweet kid." Clearly, Baxter was just being funny.
- In The Night Mayor, the protagonists are trying to catch a criminal who's hiding out in a virtual reality realm based on film noir. While they're trying to figure out which of the realm's denizens is their quarry in disguise, Tunney jokingly mentions this trope before admitting that film noir is the wrong genre for it.
- There's a short story where the members of the Retired Butler's Club are boasting about how they were each suspected of murder and then cleared by clever detectives even though they were all actually guilty. Then, the club's butler murders all the members.
- Discussed in a Sweet Valley Twins book when the twins try to figure out who murdered a young heiress fifty years ago. Their older brother jokes that the butler must have done it because it's always like that in the movies. He was surprisingly close. It was the chauffeur.
- Mocked by the Skulduggery Pleasant short story, The Horror Writers' Halloween Ball in reference to a case solved offscreen
It's also not very interesting. The butler did it.
- In Thud!, Death is reading a mystery novel to pass the time while Sam Vimes has a near-death experience, and remarks It appears that the butler did it.
- In The Berenstain Bears in Maniac Mansion, it LOOKS like the butler was The Mole working with the thieves, and a character who is an actress points out that in plays "The butler always does it" but it turns out to have been his Evil Twin brother impersonating him. The actual butler is totally innocent.
- Quoted and inverted: "The Murderer Seldom is The Butler", a book on social criticism in "high" German crime literature (like Hoffmann, Fontane, Noll).
- Played with in The Shapla Case, where the Nuzu brothers's first course of action after the King's death is to arrest the royal butler just in case, because statistically he's the most likely suspect. It wasn't him.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore shows Harry a Pensieve Flashback of a meeting between Tom Riddle (the boy who would be Voldemort) and a witch named Hepzibah Smith, in which Riddle is clearly covetous of Hepzibah's magical artefacts. Two days later, Hepzibah was found dead, and her house-elf Hokey (the wizarding equivalent of a butler) confessed to accidentally spiking her cocoa with a poison that resembled sugar. Harry and Dumbledore, however, know the truth: Riddle killed Hepzibah, stole the artefacts, and altered Hokey's memories to make her think that she did it.
- Played with in the Lord Peter Wimsey murder mystery The Nine Tailors. A key part of the backstory involves a butler who stole a valuable emerald necklace from his employer's house and was sent to prison for it. The butler is a murderer (he killed a guard during a prison break), but not the murderer (he didn't do the murder that the plot revolves around, and is never even a suspect). In fact, as it turns out when the corpse is identified, he was the victim.
- In a 3rd Rock from the Sun episode, the aliens attended a murder mystery dinner (thinking it was real, of course) and Tommy suggests this at one point. Harry replies "You think the butler did it? Well, that's a little far-fetched."
- The Avengers (1960s) episode "What the Butler Saw" involved an entire school for butlers, which turned out to be a criminal enterprise. At the end, there's an exchange along the following lines:
Emma: Go ahead, say it. You know you've been dying to.
Steed: The butler did it!
- In one episode of Bones the butler to a British noble family confesses to the Murder of the Week. Bones and Brennan suspect the butler is taking the rap for his employers, but don't have any evidence to prove otherwise. Still, Booth can't resist saying the trope name as a Quip to Black.
- In an episode of Castle where Castle and Beckett are having trouble figuring out a suspect for the Murder of the Week:
Beckett: Okay Mr. Mystery Writer Man, what's your bestselling theory?
Castle: I'm gonna go with... the butler.
Beckett: The butler?
Castle: That's who we always go with when we run out of ideas.
- Played with in a later episode, where it looks like the butler may actually have done it, leading to significant lampshading on the part of Castle. (It's averted at the end - he was merely stealing from his employer.)
- Much later, however, in an episode in season 5, a butler actually did do it. Castle was positively gleeful as they arrested the guy. He even begged Beckett to let him announce it, and of course said the trope name verbatim.
- Used in another episode where the killer turned out to be a guy who had turned up in exactly one scene beforehand. Namely, the apparent personal assistant to a near-senile political matriarch.
- The Closer had a parody, Lampshade Hanging, and subversion all in one in the episode "The Butler Did It". The butler had confessed to a previous murder and was working on a plea bargain when he apparently committed suicide, and the detectives in charge were looking forward to actually being able to say "the butler did it". Turns out, he didn't; he was likely to expose the true killer, who killed him instead and made it look like a suicide.
- Doctor Who: In "The Unicorn and the Wasp", a murder mystery featuring Dame Agatha Christie as a character, the butler at one point quips that "Well, at least we know the butler didn't do it."
- In Gilligan's Island, they discover from the radio that one of their group murdered a man. Gilligan naturally thinks that the butler did it, even as the Skipper points out they don't have a butler. Turns out, no one did it.
- In an episode of The Golden Girls, they're participating in a murder mystery weekend. The accusations start flying for the first mystery, Rose stands up, points to the waiter and the following exchange occurs:
Rose: The butler did it!
Waiter: I'm a maitre'd.
Rose: Thank you. The maitre'd did it!
- In another episode, they're following a murder case on the news.
Dorothy: So the butler did it?
Blanche: No, the butler thought it up. He made the maid do it.
- In another episode, they're following a murder case on the news.
- In a televised version of one of the Hercule Poirot mysteries, Poirot and Hastings attend a murder-mystery play. The two agree to a game: Poirot will try to figure out which character is the murderer, and write it on a slip of paper which Hastings will read during the third act. Poirot's paper reads: "The butler did it." The play's butler turns out not to be the culprit, much to Poirot's annoyance, and the Belgian detective spends several minutes complaining to Hastings about bad scripting.
- Lizzie McGuire brings it up during a murder mystery party.
Sam: I bet it was the butler.
Lizzie: We dont have a butler.
Sam: I thought there was always a butler.
- No, but there was the guilty maid.
- Subverted in one Magnum, P.I.. Magnum is following the "killer" of a rich and annoying person. It turns out the rich man faked his own death. When he comes out of hiding the valet holds him at gunpoint until he is well scared. And them shoots him with a stream of water out of a squirt gun.
- In one episode of Monk, the introduction implies that the butler dislikes his new employer, the son of his former, now dead employer, while delivering a drink. Instead of drinking the Manhattan, the employer pulls out a pistol and shoots the butler.
- In a sketch on The Muppet Show, with Rowlf as Sherlock Holmes, the butler did it. However, because the butler is a Muppet monster, he then eats all the evidence, including the body and the only witness. Holmes therefore concludes that, in the absence of evidence, there was no crime at all (having briefly "deduced" that, in the absence of evidence pointing towards the butler, Watson did it).
- In an episode of Murdoch Mysteries the butler did not kill the original victim. However, he figured out who did it and, agreeing with the killer's motive, he then killed the witness who could have implicated the original killer.
- Initially played with in New Tricks - near the end of case where a stage actor was apparently killed onstage, a character jokes that they at least knew that the butler didn't do it, since that was the victim's acting role... which leads to Brian Lane realising the "murder" was actually a suicide, thus playing it straight.
- Every episode of Police Squad! has two titles, one of which is misleading and one of which is completely accurate. The episode about a kidnapping case is named, "The Butler Did It (A Bird in the Hand)". The butler is, in fact, the one responsible for the kidnapping. He needed the money.
Drebin: Is there a ransom note?
Hocken: Yes. The butler found it. It was tied to this window and thrown into the rock garden.
- In an episode of Power Rangers Zeo, this trope is invoked in a murder mystery game set up by Detective Stone. Rocky, who is playing the butler role, is understandably annoyed.
- Used for a pun in an episode of Quincy, M.E.. "Butler" was the surname of the Killers of the Week.
Quincy: You've known [who did it] for years! The Butlers did it. (gets goofy grin on his face)
- Ripping Yarns. Manners the butler confesses in "Murder at Moorstones Manor", citing resentment over years of servitude, but everyone else in the Big Fancy House confesses to the same murder, so they all end up killing each other. At the end the phone rings (with someone else calling in a confession) and the dying butler can't resist trying to fetch his mistress the phone as he's always done.
- In an episode of Saved by the Bell, the show's characters go to a hotel in which a murder mystery is staged for the guests to try to solve. In the end, after exhausting several red herrings, it turns out that, indeed, The Butler Did It — and the episode ends with a character saying those exact words.
- When the Police Chief is investigating Peter's murder in Soap one of the main reasons he suspects Benson is because he's the butler (the other being because he's black).
- Veronica Mars, solving the case in "An Echolls Family Christmas", muses that she's ticked because she was "this close" to being able to say The Butler Did It.
Veronica: But no. It was the butler's son.
- Plumbing the Death Star did an episode about The Force Awakens fan theories, and how they mostly involve some minor character, generally one none of the main characters' have a relationship with, secretly being the Big Bad, Snoke. The theory they find, if not the worst, the most boring is the one where the Supreme Leader of evil is actually a grown-up version of Darth Vader's butler from Rogue One who appeared for five seconds to get Vader out of his evil bubble bath once guests arrived.
"How does, like, the most evil, cunning man in the universenow that we now know he was a butler, how does that make it better?"
- In one of the Murder Mystery episodes of Rocher Hotel, the culprit is revealed not to be co-host Frobman... but rather his robot double: Mecha-Frobman!
Mecha-Frob: "''I will eliminate you all!''"
- In The Adventure Zone Arc "Murder on The Rockport Limited", Jenkins, The Wizard Assistant, is beheaded by a Serial Killer called the Rockport Slayer. However, it is Later Revealed that Jenkins, is actually the Rockport Slayer, and he Murdered and switched his clothes with the Rockport Limited's Engineer to act as a decoy.
- Subverted twice over in the Cabin Pressure episode Paris. It's Birling Day, when once a year the airline flies the extremely rich and obnoxious Mr. Birling to a rugby match. Every year Carolyn (the airline's owner) provides him with a bottle of very expensive whisky, and every year Douglas (the first officer) steals it. This time Carolyn charges Martin (the captain) with stopping Douglas, and Martin enlists the help of Arthur (Carolyn's son, the steward; he's an idiot, but there's no one else). When the whisky disappears, Douglas insists that he hasn't stolen it (yet). Martin and Douglas come up with a theory as to the guilt of each of the four regular characters (Martin, Douglas, Carolyn and Arthur), in some cases more than one theory per suspect, and one for Mr. Birling himself - and one for the 'butler' figure of Philip from the airport fire crew, whom Carolyn had frisk Douglas before he got on the plane. But it wasn't Philip. The one person whom nobody suspects is Mrs. Birling (who appeared briefly near the start of the episode to see off her husband, whom she hates and who hates her)); because of this, Genre Savvy listeners will realise that she must have done it. Except that, as the writer explains here, he carefully put her in and had nobody suspect her to trick such listeners into thinking just that - but she didn't steal it either. (Douglas stole it. Douglas always steals the whisky on Birling Day.)
- I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue: Spoofed in a round where the players had to improvise a detective story with the title "Murder by Moonlight": almost immediately, Barry Cryer established that "Moonlight" was the name of the butler. He was innocent, though.
- John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme: A Storyteller sketch manages to both parody this and ultimately play it straight. The parody comes at the start, when the inspector whose job it is to make a patently false deduction states that in keeping with the genre it obviously can't be the butler, especially since the butler points out he was the one who showed the storyteller and inspector the body. Then the butler turns out to in fact be the actual inspector in disguise, and the inspector is actually the duchess. The real butler turns out to have been disguised as a dog, and actually is the killer of the duke, having been trying to kill the duchess for making him disguise himself as a dog (the duke having been dressed as the duchess for reasons she feels it's best not to go into).
- Seen in Anthony Shaffer's play Whodunnit which begins as a parody of the Genteel Interbellum Setting but is revealed to be a play within a play where a real murder occurs among the actors who were the performers. The actor playing the butler turns out to be the murderer, and the Genre Savvy detective notes how he was at first misled into not suspecting that individual because the Butler is supposed to be a Red Herring, but then realized that the actor expected him to think that.
- In Something's Afoot, a musical parody of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians and similar plots, the butler is killed before the first act, leading to the title song's opening line, "Something's afoot, and the butler didn't do it!"
- There is a murder-mystery Affectionate Parody play out there called The Butler Did It. The show jokingly doesn't even have a butler in the cast and at the very end it is revealed that the maid is the murderer. The show also has a sequel entitled The Butler Did It Again.
- There is another play called "The Butler Did It," different from above, which features a Show Within a Show expy Agatha Christie play. In said play within the play, the entire cast are a family surnamed "Butler" and their household butler, making the title true, but also useless.
- In Hot Mikado, a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, the Mikado's song contains the lyrics, "the colossal bores who read the Who-done-its and blab that the butler's the crook; I'll give them a mystery by Agatha Christie with no final page to the book!
- In Rare's commercially unsuccessful Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Ghoulhaven's looney master Baron Von Ghoul has a few servants, but all of them aside from the also-mad Dr. Krackpot seem like generally good folk displeased with his actions. It's revealed near the end that Crivens, the butler who seemed genuinely very helpful from the start, was actually Baron Von Ghoul himself in a Latex Perfection mask. Lampshaded when the Baron himself states that he didn't think Cooper expected the butler to have done it.
- Definitely played with in MySims Agents. In one part of the story, a fortunite crystal, which is able to let people see the future, is the most-sought part of Cyrus [LeBodreaux]'s estate. However, when Madame Zoe goes into the crystal room for a pre-dinner reading, you find that the crystal there has been smashed! You follow the evidence which leads you to the conclusion that Carl, the zombie butler, was the one who smashed it. However, it turns out that Zoe, a skilled hypnotist, was whispering hypnotic suggestions to him as he slept. Not only that, but it turns out that the crystal in the crystal room wasn't even the real fortunite crystal! Zoe, having foreseen that she wasn't the named inheritor of her uncle's estate, had intended to make people believe the fortunite had been destroyed so that the other potential inheritors would leave, allowing her to keep the estate anyway.
- Subverted in Professor Layton and the Last Specter. The butler did it. But this time it is not the butler, the real one had been kidnapped and locked in a cellar while the mastermind took his place.
- Subverted in Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney with Jean Greyearl. She is a witch who unintentionally framed Maya Fey for two murders, despite not having killed anyone herself. She believed that she killed her master Newton Belduke, who had really committed suicide moments before her attack. When accusing Greyearl, Phoenix mentions this trope by name.
- Phoenix: I wasn't sure of it until now, but now I'm certain... The butler did it!
- Lampshaded in the MMORPG Runescape. During the quest "Murder Mystery" you can talk to gossips about the murder of Lord Sinclair. One of the options you can say is "I think the butler did it" in which case the gossip will say something along the lines of "you've been reading too many murder mystery novels my friend". This does not affect the quest's plot in any way.
- Sigma Harmonics - Played With. The butler is the culprit in Chapter Three and a victim in Chapters Four and Five, and the maid, who is a victim in every other chapter, is the culprit in Chapter Four.
- Ace Attorney:
- Straight with a twist in Justice For All. The butler technically did it—but he's not actually Matt Engarde's butler, he's assassin Shelly de Killer posing as a butler. The player knows this before Phoenix does, so it's a bit of Fridge Horror when you realize Phoenix is in the same house as the kidnapped Maya, but has no idea she's only two doors away.
- A Double Subversion in the DLC case of Spirit of Justice: The victim is a butler that tried to kill the defendant, but ended up being killed by another butler, who was his partner in crime.
- Inverted in Max's Big Bust: A Captain Nekorai Tale in the murder-mystery chapter: the butler is the victim.
- Race To The Mansion Of Tomorrow: Zig-Zagged in Chicken Tech Inc. Oliver manages to blow up a whole building, Sochiebot asks who the culprit is and Peanut shows a photo of a shadow at the crime scene that looks like one of Sochiebot's butlers, Tropica, thus leaving everyone else to believe he is the culprit.
- Played with in PvP by having the butler secretly playing the role of "hero". Creator Scott Kurtz's explanation of the idea was essentially "if anyone ever discovered the secret lair beneath the mansion, they would obviously suspect the millionaire playboy as the hero's secret identity. Meanwhile, the butler would have skipped town and hired his services out to the next rich employer far away, where he would start his hero gig anew."
- Bob and George lampshaded it.
- In Freefall, Helix watches a Godzilla movie and is disappointed to learn that the wrecker of Tokyo was not a giant butler.
- Joe from Statless and Tactless assumes this is the case. Poor Archibald...
- Studio C's aptly named, "Blame It On The Butler" has the guy who obviously is the killer repeatedly try do just that, though nobody seems to believe him.
- The Weather: Implied in a "Spooky Fog" skit; A group of four, snooty, rich characters get invited to a mysterious mansion. One by one, they get murdered, until only the Butler is left.
- Who Killed Markiplier? has Benjamin Butler, who takes the main character down into a dark basement, making it seem as if he's going to kill them. The camera then pans down to reveal a broken wine bottle on the ground, and Benjamin begins wining about how awful the mess is. The broken bottle being there actually does have story significance, but in the moment it just acts as a way to establish that Benjamin most definitely isn't the killer, and simply brought the protagonist into the basement to complain to them about the mess he had to clean up.
- Animalia: Averted and discussed in Tunnel King. The Creeper steals things from almost everyone unknowingly, Iggy says the thief is the butler but G'bubu points out to him they do not even have a butler.
- One of the few examples that admits that it doesn't really happen is a Daffy Duck cartoon where, after badgering the butler, Daffy notes that it's never really the butler. (It wasn't the Femme Fatale either; as it turned out, he was in the wrong house the whole time.)
Daffy: A likely story. I see it all now. You and the upstairs maid. 'Do the old boy in,' you said. 'Elderberry wine and old lace,' you said. And then, 'the quick getaway,' you said! Rio di Janeiro, tropical nights, romance and a heavy bank account!Butler: No, NO!Daffy: Yes! YES! But you weren't smart enough, John. Alias Johnny. Alias Jack! Alias Jackie! (to us) Whew! What's Humphrey Bogart got that I haven't got?
- In a classic Chuck Jones cartoon, "Daffy Dilly", Daffy attempts to enter the mansion of an ailing millionaire who has offered a million dollars for anyone who can give him a good laugh before he passes on. After repeated attempts to get past an implacable butler, Daffy invokes this trope to get rid of the butler, and manages to convince the butler that he did do it and flee...
- Subverted and lampshaded in a couple of Scooby-Doo cartoons:
Shaggy: And I thought the butler always did it!
- In the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! episode "Go Away, Ghost Ship", the Scooby gang has to chase a ghost pirate. Their employer, Mr. Magnus, has a big, creepy-looking butler who is an obstacle into going to see him. At the end of the episode, when the pirate is unmasked, Shaggy is surprised:
- In Where Are You!'s "Nowhere to Hyde", all clues initially point to the housemaid Helga, but in the end it turns out that all those clues were planted by the real villain, who reveals himself when Shaggy and Scooby accidentally find a true clue.
- In The Scooby-Doo Show episode "The Headless Horseman of Halloween", there is also a creepy butler, who turns out to have pale hands like someone who tried to steal a jewel from a Woman. This turns out to be flour and the Horseman turns out to be a relative of the Woman attempting to steal the Jewel.
- At the end of the Video Game Night of a Hundred Frights, Shaggy (incorrectly) blames the spooky groundskeeper, who then appears and starts a long rant about how everyone always blames the spooky groundskeeper, including the line "Why don't you just say the butler did it?"
- The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh turned this into a Running Gag in the episode Tigger, Private Ear. At the climax of the episode, Tigger cross-examines himself at a trial to get Piglet off the hook:
Tigger: Framed? But by who? It wasn't the butler, was it?
- An episode of Mega Man (Ruby-Spears) involved Dr. Wily programming one of Dr. Light's new housekeeping robots to kill Megaman. After one attempt fails, Megaman utters, "I have a sneaking suspicion the butler did it". Actually it was the maid.
- Parodied in the Cow and Chicken episode "Red Butler", where the Red Guy presents a mystery story not entirely unlike Murder on the Orient Express, to the two title characters. Interestingly while the butler clearly had a motivation to injure his employer with his own dentures, Red's reasoning as to why he did it is because it's always the butler who's responsible. Made weirder by the fact that in the very same episode, he's employed as the family's butler.
- Subverted in the Hurricanes episode "Lord Napper of Stepney". Napper inherited his Uncle's fortune on the condition he never plays soccer ever again. It's never been stated who would be the next one to get the inheritance until Napper lost it. Until then, the only people who ever hoped to get the money were a relative and the deceased one's business partner and the two of them ever tried to rid themselves of Napper. In the end, the money went to the valet.
- In Spongebob Square Pants' "The Great Patty Caper", Spongebob, searching for the key that was stolen, says, "We know you did it! The butler always commits the crime!" to the fish who works on the train that is not a butler.
- The Backyardigans plays with this trope in the genre spoof episode, "Whodunnit?". It was the butler (ie. Tyrone with his hair combed) who took the jewels, but only because the lady of the house (Tasha) gave them to him. Turns out it was all a put-up job in order to liven up a dull afternoon.
- In an episode of The Looney Tunes Show, Bugs Bunny is reading a mystery novel. And by the time he finishes it, this is how he said it went:
Bugs: So the butler's butler did it!
- One episode of the Richie Rich cartoon sees an old friend of Cadbury, who is also a butler, convicted of theft. Richie and friends have to prove he's innocent.
- During the shooting rampage in the Rick and Morty episode "Total Rickall", Rick blasts Mr. Beauregard, the supposed butler of the Smith family, because he is an alien parasite. Rick finds that funny because of the inversion of the usual trope.
Rick: I guess I did the butler!
- An episode of The Batman in which Spellbinder brainwashes several rich people's butlers (Alfred included) to steal for him is actually titled "The Butler Did It".
- In the Bob's Burgers episode "Broadcast Wagstaff School News", Tina investigates a case regarding an anonymous student who was defecating in various places in the school. Tina herself refers to them as the "Mad Pooper" but in an attempt to invoke this trope, Linda suggests naming them the "Butt-ler."
- Discussed in Around the World with Willy Fog. At one point, Dix and Bully are talking about finding a way to arrest Fog for (supposedly) robbing the Bank of England when Bully brings up the possibility that Fog may be innocent. When Dix challenges him on this, Bully says it is like when everyone thinks "the butler did it", but the real culprit turns out to be someone else, prompting Dix to try and enlist the help of Fog's butler and travelling companion, Rigodon.