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The Corpse Stops Here

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"I couldn't help it! I tried to to take it back, but it was too late!"

"Anyone else may be the murderer. The Grand Lama of Tibet, maybe, or the lady principal of a girls' seminary three thousand miles away. But not—trust the novelist!—not the man with the gun in his hand, who is leaning over the still quivering corpse."
Edmund Pearson, Murders That Baffled the Experts

Pretty much any Police Procedural will at some point note that the person who "finds" a body is usually a pretty good first suspect. However, this is simply a starting point for the investigation, and the evidence will usually lead to someone else - if it didn't, there wouldn't be much of a story.

In other genres, though, the first suspect is the prime suspect. End of discussion.

Here's the scene: Our hero, usually someone Walking the Earth, arrives in the Adventure Town late at night when some intrigue is going on. Suddenly, he hears cries of alarm, and, being a hero, rushes off to see what's happened. He finds a hapless Red Shirt, recently killed by this week's murderer/monster/freakish otherworldly phenomenon. He stoops down to check the body and see if there's anything he can do to help.

Approximately two seconds later, the authorities arrive on the scene. Often, they will be led, unknown to everyone, by the Real Killer. Since the hero was found hunched over the body, he is instantly assumed to be the murderer, and it will be damned hard for him to convince anyone otherwise.

In Speculative Fiction, it will usually turn out that on this Planet of Hats, the local justice system is sufficiently ill-conceived that being found hunched over a dead body is considered absolute legal proof of guilt, unless the suspect can produce the actual killer himself.

In some instances, this can be justified as racism: in works taking place in a racist society, a nonwhite or foreign person will automatically be considered the murderer, because these people are corrupt, white/local/superior race people are obviously righteous and no person of that kind would murder someone.

This trope is often (and cheaply) accompanied by a sub-trope: "Don't pick up the knife!" The person standing over the corpse feels inexplicably compelled to pick up the bloody knife, smoking gun, or gory fireplace poker lying next to the victim. This makes it easier for the writer to justify the police ignoring all other evidence and possible suspects, but is counter-intuitive: what instinct or rationale could cause a normal human being to touch such a horrible object, let alone pick it up? With embedded knives, this is worse, as removing a knife from a stabbing victim can actually cause more harm by unplugging the wound.

A related scenario (which sometimes but doesn't have to involve murder) is Possession Presumes Guilt, where if someone has been burgled/mugged/kidnapped/the victim of vandalism/etc, whoever is first found with the victim's belongings (or pieces thereof) in their possession is assumed to be the culprit.

Also related is The Murder After, when the character wakes up in bed next to the victim's freshly murdered corpse.

A special case of Wrongly Accused. Compare Red Herring.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the Cyborg 009's '79 series, this was G.B./007's Backstory. He regularly went hiking with his best friend; during one trip, equipment failure led to his friend's death. Since his friend had recently been chosen for a lead role over him, everyone suspected foul play was involved, and he wound up blacklisted, spiraling into depression until he was picked up in a bar by Black Ghost.
  • Played ridiculously straight in Deadman Wonderland; Ganta is the only one left after a man with superpowers murders everyone else in his class and is blamed for it. While his conviction was clearly the result of a conspiracy, the public at large seem ready to accept that a shrimpy teenager like Ganta could kill and tear apart the bodies of 29 people at once, even before the fake footage of him confessing gets out.
  • In Parasyte, Kabuto was arrested when he was found bending over a massacre perpetrated by the man-eating parasites. Though in this case, Kabuto really is a crazed serial killer responsible for many murders, just not these ones.

    Comic Books 
  • Robyn Hood: Outlaw starts with Robyn returning home to find her apartment broken into and Captain Gingrich wounded and dying in her bathroom. Robyn is cradling Gingrich and trying to summon help when the police arrive; having been sent by Gingrich's real killer to catch Robyn in a compromising position.

    Fan Works 
  • Danganronpa: Last Hurrah subverts this. When Samuru is found in the same Ferris wheel car as the victim of the fourth chapter, the cast doesn't immediately jump to the conclusion that he did it, in spite of how he'd come off as the obvious suspect, and as the Ultimate Executioner, he's killed people before. This is partly due to the fact that one of the key pieces of evidence is a bomb that releases a sleeping gas.
  • Graduate Meeting of Mutual Killing Several of the graduates, particularly Sakurai, tend to approach solving murders in this fashion, sticking with their first suspect and being extremely reluctant to change their minds, even as new evidence mounts.
  • In The Keys to Love and Hate, a Glee/NCIS crossover, Dave Karofsky stumbles over the mutilated body of his best friend and fellow Navy SEAL, Kimberly. Team Gibbs thinks he killed her because he knew her, he found her body, and she just so happened to be killed the one day Dave didn't go with her on her morning run. And no, he didn't do it, he was framed. He tells Team Gibbs he didn't go with Kim on the morning run because he'd had a bad bout of hay fever the night before, but they don't believe him because it's not allergy season. Turns out he was deliberately doused in pollen to make sure he'd stay in, thus giving the real murderer opportunity to kill Kim and pin it on Dave.
  • Sincere Deceit: The Batter, after fighting his way through the factory, finds Gaius having been assassinated by the Resistance and hears his last words. Unfortunately, Roland comes in, sees the Batter standing in front of his boss' corpse, and thinks he killed him. The next time they meet, Roland tries to kill the Batter to avenge his boss.
  • Starlight Over Detrot: When Hardy and Taxi discover an entire room filled with murdered griffins whose bodies are still warm, they're right in the middle of the corpse pile when more griffins rush in, weapons drawn. However, they believe Hardy's declaration of innocence.
  • In Where Talent Goes to Die, Miura is briefly suspected as the one who killed the first victim, because of the victim's hostility toward her, and the fact that her name was written in blood at the crime scene. Luckily, cooler heads prevail, since Miura has an alibi and the victim died instantly, so the class is able to find the culprit.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Angel Heart: Harry Angel becomes the prime suspect for several murders which he didn't commit. Turns out he actually did.
  • Beverly Hills Ninja: Haru has this happen to him twice, always because he's spying on the Big Bad and winds up with the corpse landing next to him. Once in Hong Kong, where the corpse lands in his little raft at the wharf, and once in Beverley Hills with a pair of freshly shot Yakuza landing in front of him on a pile of garbage.
  • In The Case of the Bloody Iris, Marilyn is stabbed in a crowd outside the high-rise by the killer. She manages to grab Andrea, who was waiting for a taxi nearby, before collapsing and dying. Frightened by the blood, he flees the scene and is chased by Renzi, but evades capture.
  • Major point of the setup in the Fridge Logic-prone Double Jeopardy. The wife is found on the boat her husband just purchased, the boat is covered in blood, and the Coast Guard discovers her holding the knife. No body is found. The evidence at trial includes a radio message that her husband sent, saying his wife was trying to kill him. There is no mention as to whether the blood found on the boat was tested. To convict her, the jury would have to believe that she went crazy, stabbed her husband multiple times, let him radio for help, kept stabbing him, dumped him overboard and then stood around holding the murder weapon. Well, people seldom act calmly and rationally when they commit bloody domestic murders.
  • Accompanied by a particularly bad case of "Don't pick up the knife!", Alex in Final Destination is implicated in the Rube Goldbergian death of his teacher when he comes upon her Death-induced "accidental" death and immediately yanks the fallen kitchen knife out of her chest to stare at it before running out just before the house explodes. As his hysterical premonition of the plane exploding at the beginning already has the FBI suspicious that he's behind the deaths, this is more than enough evidence for them to pursue him.
  • Partly subverted in the climax of Hitchcock's Frenzy in which an escaped convict doing hard time for the exact same crime is found bending over the body of a strangled girl. "I didn't..." he cries. But... the inspector already knows...
  • In The Fugitive, Richard Kimble comes home and grabs a bottle of wine before heading upstairs to enjoy a romantic evening with his wife, only to find her nearly beaten to death by an intruder. After struggling with the man, he tries to revive her, to no avail, and that's when the cops burst in—she'd managed to call 911 before succumbing—find him holding her, and naturally assume he's her killer.
  • In Gattaca, an official of the space program is murdered, and an eyelash is found at the scene. When genetic testing reveals it's from someone who (unlike every other employee of the agency) is not a product of the Designer Babies trope, the police and program bosses immediately conclude it must be this "In-Valid" who killed the man, never even stopping to consider that such a person would have every reason not to attract attention by committing any crime at all.
  • In The Girl in Lovers' Lane, Bix discovers the mortally wounded Carrie by the pond and is cradling her when she lets out one last scream before dying. A trysting couple hear the scream, see Bix holding the body and immediately fetch the sheriff.
  • In The Green Mile around the 1930s a huge and seemingly intellectually disabled black man is found holding the bloodied and raped bodies of two little (white) girls. The reason was that he'd found them and tried to bring them back with his healing powers. He'd most likely have gotten the death penalty even if he wasn't a black man found at the scene of a brutal crime in the 1930s South (and he got a racist attorney, to boot).
  • The Hurricane: Rubin Carter was at the Lafayette bar, when two armed criminals broke in and spread gunfire all over the place. Two white delinquents said they saw Carter running away from the scene, and because white people are obviously better than black people, Carter was declared guilty and fast-tracked into jail with three life sentences. After 19 years of legal struggle, the court finally declared Carter free on account of racism having been the driving force behind his conviction. Although, due to the circumstances of the conviction and shoddy evidence collection and storage, modern forensics isn't able shed any light on a definitive answer. It is fairly universally held among legal professionals that there certainly was never enough evidence to prove Carter's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" (the burden of proof required for a criminal conviction in the US).
  • Shortly after a card sharp swindles one of the protagonists in Life, he stumbles upon both protagonists after being brutally beaten — by the racist hick sheriff and his cronies, naturally — just in time to kick the bucket, leading to the arrest of both protagonists.
  • In Murder by Proxy, Gordon attempts to murder Casey. Casey throws his gun at Gordon's head and then ducks behind a door. He hears a shot and when he sticks his head around the door, he sees Gordon lying dead on the stairs. He goes to check the body and his landlady, who had heard the shots, sees him leaning over the body and assumes he is the killer and starts screaming bloody murder.
  • The Negotiator opens with the protagonist being framed for his partner's death after said partner uncovered evidence of corruption inside their police unit. This leaves Danny uncertain of whom he can trust, resorting to taking hostages and working with the negotiator that gets called in to deal with him.
  • In North By Northwest, a man gets stabbed and falls into the hero's arms, turning him into the prime suspect.
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. In this case, it was at least plausible that Kirk and McCoy were responsible for killing the Klingon chancellor, since Kirk was a known Klingon-hater; also, the assumption was that he had ordered the assassination, not that he had killed him directly. During their trial, the prosecution against McCoy shifts away from suggesting that he was one of the assassins, and instead focuses on the idea that he was criminally (or possibly willfully) incompetent in his attempts to save the victim.
    • Nevertheless, Kirk and McCoy were arrested under authority of "Interstellar Law," which seems to say something like, "If your ship has been attacked and boarded by unknown parties, you may arrest and prosecute the very next people who voluntarily beam aboard."
    • Not only the was the Enterprise the only vessel in transporter range, the Klingon scanners and even their own data confirmed that the torpedoes were fired by them. Adding that the assassins wore Starfleet equipment, and there appeared to be no other ships in transporter range, it is quite understandable that no-one gave "unknown party" much thought. (It turns out that there were Enterprise crew members involved.)
    • Besides, the Klingons have a habit of subjecting Starfleet captains to show trials, they did the same thing in Enterprise.
  • In Sunset, this is how Michael is framed for the murder. Michael, who is already drunk, is drugged and sent into the cabin where Candy's body is tied up with an icepick in it. A few minutes later, an arranged police raid occurs.
  • In Vicki, Jill arrives back at her apartment and finds Steve kneeling over her sister Vicki's body. This makes him the number one suspect for the police and Lt. Ed Cornell becomes obsessed with pinning the crime on him.

  • Played with to ludicrous extents in "The Tale of the Hunchback" from the Arabian Nights. Everyone in the story in turn assumes that if they're found with the hunchback's body they'll be accused of his murder, so they find some way of disposing of it in secret, only for the next person to find it. In the end, it turns out that he's not really dead.
  • A key premise of Mulisch's World War Two novel The Assault, in which the narrator's family is killed after the body of a Nazi collaborator is placed in front of their home.
  • Bibliophile Mysteries: In book 1, main character and book-restoration expert Brooklyn Wainwright discovers her mortally wounded mentor Abraham Karastovsky and is forced to watch as he dies in her arms. Because of this, she immediately becomes the chief suspect in the eyes of Derek Stone, the security officer on duty at the event they were both attending.
  • The Cat in the Stacks Mysteries: In book 4, Azalea Berry becomes the main suspect after being found over the dead woman's body. Her daughter Kanesha notes that it's also politically motivated, because the sitting sheriff is up for reelection in the coming year. He thinks Kanesha, as the chief deputy sheriff, might be wanting to run against him then and thinks having a mother as a murder suspect will make her look bad and thus weaken her chances of winning.
  • The Conan the Barbarian story "The God in the Bowl" by Robert E. Howard opens with this situation: Arus the watchman, who is the first on the scene of the murder of Kallian Publico, immediately jumps to the conclusion that Conan was the killer when he revealed himself, kicking off an investigation when his fellows come by. It doesn't really help that the Cimmerian was there in order to steal something.
  • Patricia Highsmith's psychological-suspense novel Cry of the Owl is based largely on this trope and the "don't touch the knife" subtrope. In fact, the book ends with "...don't touch it".
  • Lampooned in one Discworld novel:
    "When you find someone standing over a corpse with a smashed-in skull while holding a bent fireplace poker and saying 'He shouldn't have said that about our Neville!', it's kind of hard to make it stretch much past lunchtime."
  • Harry Potter
    • In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (although the body wasn't actually dead).
    • Bizarre subversion: In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Harry teleports into a humongous crowd along with Cedric Diggory. The crowd stops cheering and gasps when they notice that Harry is clutching his dead body. Even though no-one saw how Cedric died and the first anyone knew of his death was Harry appearing in front of everyone with his corpse, and even though the government later denied the true cause of Cedric's death and denounced both Harry and his story, no-one accuses Harry (or anyone else) of killing him. Instead, it's claimed Cedric died in an accident. Although it is mentioned that all the other students avoided Harry for the rest of the term, and that "Perhaps they were formulating their own theories about how Cedric had died." That was probably because Dumbledore later tells the entire school that Cedric was murdered by Voldemort.
      • Although the fifth book does hint at the fact that people might think that Harry did kill Cedric. As Hermione put it, nobody knows what went on during the third task and all of a sudden, Harry teleports in front of everybody, clutching Cedric's dead body. It helped that the Prophet and rest of the Wizarding World was basically calling him a liar.
      • This example is also complicated by the fact that there are ways to detect what the last spell(s) cast by a wand were, which would probably vindicate Harry since neither his nor Cedric's wands cast the Avada Kadavra that killed Cedric; Fudge also, despite his paranoia, didn't seem to jump to that conclusion (considering Harry more an Attention Whore with issues than a straight murderer), which perhaps further cleared Harry's name in an official capacity. Until Voldemort was properly exposed it would've been down to personal opinion whether he killed Cedric or not.
    • On the other hand, Harry is blamed for Dumbledore's death since he was the only one up there the entire time when it happened. By this time, however, Voldemort's people are in full control of the press and the justice system, and the accusation comes as no surprise.
  • Parker: Happens to Parker in The Seventh, when he arrives at his hideout to find his Girl of the Week murdered, and the loot from the most recent heist stolen. A few minutes later, two cops work in and Parker realized the killer had waited around until he returned and then called the police.
  • Sam Jones: The title character, sculptor turned sleuth Samantha "Sam" Jones, invokes this trope in one book to intimidate some suspects by leading them to suspect she's just really good at getting away with murder.

    Live-Action TV 
  • All My Children. Brian Bodine rushes to his ex-girlfriend Hayley's apartment after she calls him for help when her husband Will attacks her, only to find Will himself bludgeoned to death. Hayley's father Adam rushes in a minute later and declares, "You killed him!" Indeed, Brian ends up the prime suspect and is arrested, though he's innocent.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Becoming, Part 1".
  • In season 5 of Burn Notice, this is how Michael is framed for Max's murder. And he was just about to get his old job back, too...
  • Happens in Cane. Alex Vega is in the house of his hated enemy Joe Samuels, when several gunshots from outside kill Samuels. The cops arrive shortly afterwards. The twist: Alex did have every intention of killing Samuels himself; the other shooter just beat him to it. The cops find the gun he was planning to use in his pocket. He points out that if they test it, they'll find that it hasn't been fired. The well-known feud between the two men, along with other evidence, leads to him being the prime suspect anyway, even to his own family.
  • Cited on Cold Case, in which several innocent black suspects admit that they fled rather than call the cops after finding the white victim's body, knowing that as a black man, they'd be the prime suspect.
  • The CSI episode "Alter Boys", where a man in bloody clothes is found by the police trying to bury two bodies in the desert. As it turns out, the real killer is his (literal) Evil Twin, who had talked him into hiding the bodies to protect him. Unlike most examples, the main characters can't prove that he wasn't the real perp, since every little bit of evidence point to him (twins sharing the same DNA and all), so he is sentenced to life in prison, and while in there he commits suicide.
  • CSI: NY:
    • "Night, Mother" has a woman caught with her hands inside another woman's chest making stabbing motions and a bloody wooden stake is lying beside them. Turns out, the woman was a chronic sleepwalker and was trying to revive the other lady by massaging her heart, which she'd seen done to her son. Unfortunately, the technique hadn't been successful with the boy; the trauma of his death is what led to her condition.
    • "Commuted Sentences" has a woman found standing by, and stained with blood from, a man who'd been acquitted of raping her. She was a nurse who, even though the man had raped her, was actually trying to see whether he could be saved. The stabbing had been done by a vigilante.
  • In an episode of Diagnosis: Murder Dr. Mark Sloan is accused of the murder of his accountant because he is found 'hovering' over the body, in actuality he was inspecting the body as both a doctor and Amateur Sleuth. Justified in that Mark, like all his other clients, had left messages threatening death to the accountant due to his poor bookkeeping getting them in trouble with the IRS.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries:
    • In "Measure Twice", a young Jehovah's Witness is found kneeling over the Victim of the Week, covered in the victim's blood and praying.
    • In "Family Portrait", Patrick Tyneman is found standing over the body of the second Body of the Week. The weapon is not in his hand, but it is at his feet, and he had a very strong motive for wanting the victim dead.
  • A good two thirds of all Doctor Who stories. All the way back to "Keys of Marinus".
    • Justified on some occasions, though - for example, in Earthshock, the person who finds the Doctor and Adric is an agent of the Cybermen and has been ordered to use them as a scapegoat.
  • Father Brown: In "The Crimson Feather", the initial suspect is found kneeling over the body of the week with blood on his hands. He flees when discovered. It is later revealed that he had found the body and was attempting to put pressure on the wound.
  • In The Flash (2014), Barry Allen's father was accused of his wife's murder when the police arrived, with even his friend Joe West not believing his innocence for years. In this case it was more justified: firstly, Henry Allen was found with the bloody knife in hand, kneeling over her body - being a doctor, he was trying to reset her heart with it and probably wasn't thinking clearly - and secondly Barry's story about the real murderer was too fantastical to be taken seriously - everyone thought his mind conjured the story to block out the truth as a means of coping with the obvious trauma. Unusually for this trope, Dr. Allen wasn't overly focused on clearing his own name and was at peace with spending his remaining years in prison (his son is a different story); his primary concern was for Barry to move on with his life.
    • DeVoe uses this to frame Barry for his murder. DeVoe has just transferred his mind to a new body so he plants his old dead body in Barry's apartment. Right after Barry finds the body, the police arrive. Barry is the prime suspect because he had a widely known feud going on with DeVoe and DeVoe had a restraining order against Barry.
  • Frontier Circus: In "Mr. Grady Regrets", Grady enters his ex-wife's house to find her lying dead on the floor. In shock, he is sitting there talking to the body when the neighbour arrives and sees him.
  • Harrow: "Parce Sepulto" ("Forgive the Dead") opens with a courier arriving at a house and discovering a man hovering over the Body of the Week. After a moment's hesitation, the man bolts out the back door. He is later identified as someone who had sent several threatening emails to the victim. When arrested, he makes a False Confession, but Harrow soon figures the truth. He had arrived to pick up his fiancee (who was the real killer and had already fled) and found the body. Not sure if his fiancee had murdered her, he was checking the body to see if it was murder or an accident when the courier walked in.
  • Heroes: When Hiro goes to meet Isaac the painter in the first episode, Isaac is already dead and Hiro is arrested — by a police force that conveniently storms the room at just that moment.
  • The Highlander episode "The Innocent Man" was based on this trope.
    • "Prodigal Son" is also based on it, with an Immortal framing Richie for murder. The Immortal, Martin Hyde, only likes to fight seasoned veteran Immortals, and finds them by terrorizing new Immortals from a distance so they go running to their teachers for help.
    • Part of Kalas's revenge against MacLeod involved destroying the life of and then taking the head of Duncan's close friend Fitzcairn. In the episode, "Star Crossed", Kalas murders Fitz's rival both at the cooking school he's teaching in and for the affections of a female student, then lures Fitz to the school by threatening to reveal his falsified credentials. Fitz stumbles across the body, but rushes to delete his records anyway. Unfortunately the love interest then walks in (having also been summoned by Kalas, along with the police), making it look for all the world like the victim discovered the truth and Fitz murdered him before attempting to destroy the evidence.
  • Homicide Hunter Joe Kenda has a version of this:
    "I'm always suspicious of people at a crime scene. Of all the places to be, why are you here?"
  • In one episode of Inspector Morse, Morse gets into exactly this situation, and is promptly told by his boss that he's not going to be on the investigation, and Lewis has to report to a Smug Snake. When Morse points out that he was on the scene, his boss points out that whilst he was at the scene, he was also holding the murder weapon.
  • This is how the rivalry between Gills and Agito begin in Kamen Rider Agito, with Gills finding Agito holding the corpse of his girlfriend and assuming he killed her.
  • At the start of the Ryuki's World arc in Kamen Rider Decade, Natsumi is meeting with the publisher of a magazine when the woman grabs the back of her neck and keels over, dead. People rush into the room and, because Natsumi is standing there holding a fork (which she was using to eat cake), she's assumed to be the murderer. Admittedly, the murder WAS the result of a supernatural assassin, but it's still hard to mistake a cut caused by a monster throwing an energy sickle from the nearby cafe through the window and into the publisher's neck for any kind of wound a standard fork would have inflicted.
  • Lampshaded on Law & Order, when the detectives ask a teenager why he ran away instead of calling the police upon finding his mother's body. He bluntly states, "Because on TV, you guys always think the guy who found the body is the killer." To which one of the detectives points out, "Or the guy who found the body and then ran away."
  • This happens to Willie Nelson, of all people, in an episode of Monk.
  • One episode of The Musketeers started with Porthos waking up beside the body of a murdered young man with no memory of the night before. He's instantly arrested and trying to figure out the truth is a major plot ploint.
  • One episode of NCIS had Director Vance's black sheep brother-in-law being the person to report the death of a sailor, with the local police suspecting him because he has a criminal record and was covered in blood while standing next to a corpse. It ultimately turned out that he was the killer, though it wasn't murder: The in-law was working as a shill in a con job, and the sailor attacked the man who he saw as responsible for him losing all his money, resulting in an accidental killing in self-defense.
  • The New Avengers: Happens to Steed twice in "Medium Rare" as part of a Frame-Up. The first time, he sent to a Doomed Appointment and arrives just after the man he was supposed to meet has been murdered, and seconds before internal security arrives. The second time, he happens to walk in on a murder the killer was planning on framing him for. The killer knocks him out and leaves him beside the body with the murder weapon in his hand.
  • A regular recipe for getting Perry Mason or Matlock a client.
  • Ned's discovery of a corpse in the Balsam's Bittersweets taffy vat in Pushing Daisies.
    • And narrowly avoided earlier in the series, when a corpse is planted in Ned's fridge to frame him and he only just manages to dump the body before the police arrive.
  • Happened in an episode of Special Unit 2 when a detective was accused of killing a rival. The rival was actually killed by the Monster of the Week.
  • This happens in Supernatural enough that the main characters were pretty high on the FBI wanted list and considered serial killers. Of course, in their case, the problem is exacerbated by their tendency to commit crimes like credit card fraud and corpse desecration, and by many of the monsters and demons they kill leaving corpses indistinguishable from human corpses.
    • One episode has Dean get arrested because of this. One of the detectives lets him go free (and reports that he "escaped") when it's revealed that her partner/boyfriend was committing the murders.
  • In the 90s live-action Zorro, a laborer drives away the man who killed his employer with his musket shortly before the Alcalde arrives. Seeing a man killed by a gunshot wound and a man with a recently fired gun (And with the only other witness to the actual incident unconscious and unable to testify), the Alcalde decides that the laborer killed his employer and does his best to railroad him to a prompt hanging. Meanwhile, everyone else in Los Angeles does whatever they can to delay the execution until the victim's daughter can regain consciousness and testify to what actually happened.

  • In The Adventure Zone: Dust, Dylan Mathis is found hunched over the body of Jeremiah Blackwell. Dylan claims innocence.

  • The show Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar once had the PI interrupt a murder. The murderer locked him in a closet with the murder weapon and then called the police. Naturally, the police had a hard time believing the story.

    Video Games 
  • In Among Us it's expected for players to report a dead body on sight; not doing so is grounds for an Impostor accusation. However, the one who reported the body isn't safe from accusation either, since they're also in range of the crime scene, and Impostors are able to report their own kills to fake innocence.
  • This happens as part of the Deus' betrayal in the backstory of Asura's Wrath. Asura stumbles upon Emperor Strada's corpse (him having been murdered by Deus), but doesn't realize he's dead until it literally falls into his arms. It that exact moment, various sentries show up and, without giving Asura any chance to explain himself, instantly assume he was the one who murdered him and proceed to attack. The multiple battles that immediately follow, along with Asura's subsequent execution, are what fully kick off the plot of the game.
  • Taken to ludicrous extremes in Discworld Noir. Lewton finally finds the guy he's looking for when he's knocked unconscious from behind. When he comes to, the guy's dead and Vimes and Nobby are standing over him and telling him he's the prime suspect. Other characters are impressed by the way he knocked himself out to allay suspicion.
  • This is what happens to Corvo at the beginning of Dishonored; you fight off some assassins, The Dragon turns up and stabs the Empress in the chest (and kidnaps her daughter), there's a bit of cradling her as she dies and a group of dignitaries and guards turn up to point the finger at you. Justified by the fact that the (important) witnesses to the attack were in on it. The frameup was also an on-the-spot thing, as Corvo returned from a diplomatic mission earlier than they'd expected.
  • Not a murder, but if in Divinity: Original Sin II you investigate the disappearance of Arhu, you'll be caught by a dozen or so guards and the leader of the paladins... in his ransacked rooms, going through his stuff, while he's nowhere to be found. While this paints a pretty damning picture, you can actually talk your way out of it. At least, you can if your Persuasion stat is high enough. Then it's back to solving the case!
  • Happens to Paul Luther, the Franciscan monk in Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem. Unusually for this trope, he immediately screams for help; then again, since the murder "weapon" was a Body Horror forcing its way out of the victim's chest, he probably couldn't have picked it up. Unfortunately, since the whole church is in on an Ancient Conspiracy, it doesn't help him avoid the frame-up.
  • The Warrior of Light gets this treatment in Final Fantasy XIV, being immediately accused of assassinating Sultana Nanamo Ul Namo by dint of being the only person in the room when she was poisoned (and also of having a vial with traces of the poison on them, having stupidly picked it up earlier for some reason). This is Justified, however, in that the person doing the accusing was the real guilty party looking to frame them... and later Subverted during the Heavensward storyline when it's revealed that Nanamo was only drugged, a third party having intervened in the assassination plot for his own ends.
  • Happens twice in Jack Orlando to the titular private detective. At the start of the game, a drunken Orlando sees a shooting in an alley, and is then knocked out himself. When the police find him and the corpse, their assumption is that he's the killer. It then happens again when someone attacks Orlando and Bellinger in a drive-by shooting. Bellinger dies, while Orlando fires back... just in time for someone to come out of a nearby building and see him standing over Bellinger's corpse with a gun.
  • This happens several times in the Laura Bow series. Laura never gets directly accused, though, but the detective in the second game does point out how suspicious it is that she's always the first one to find the bodies. Of course, he's the actual killer.
  • Octopath Traveler has a minor sidequest of this trope in Flamesgrace. A man is in prison for having been found before a dead body, the guards feeling that he was caught red-handed. Fortunately, a woman in the same town reports saw the body for herself, and Cyrus or Alfyn can get the details: she caught sight of the corpse, ran away while trying not to be sick, and happened to glance back in time to see the man approaching. Relaying this eyewitness account to the guard who jailed the poor sap results in a more comprehensive investigation that clears the man's name.
  • The first Paper Mario, where he stumbles on a dead penguin and the penguin police arrive moments after. He wasn't really dead.
  • SaGa Frontier: Emilie comes across her fiancee's dead body right before the cops show up. Cue Ren's vengeful partner Fuse throwing her into Despair without a trial. In the remake, Fuse claims that he did this to protect her from Joker.
  • In the backstory of Soulcalibur V, Pyrrha Alexandra was falsely accused of murdering her fiancé Jurgis, though he was actually killed by Tira.
  • Happens to our Heroic Mime in Suikoden IV. His commander dies due to the Rune of Punishment, which then leaps onto the protagonist's hand. Cue the hero's best friend Snowe coming across the scene and immediately accusing him of murdering their leader, getting him exiled. Snowe goes on to try and kill his former friend at least twice, before eventually realizing his mistakes and offering to join the heroes... provided you didn't kill him before that can happen.
  • The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings opens with Geralt serving as King Foltest's bodyguard after one assassin already made a play for the king at the end of the previous game. At Foltest's bidding, Geralt leaves the king alone for a while... just long enough for another assassin to slit Foltest's throat and get away, leaving Geralt standing over the body just as the King's soldiers catch up.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney: At least a third of Phoenix Wright's clients are victims of this, but they are almost always subverted in some way. There are many borderline examples and variations of this trope in the series.
    • In case 2 of the first game Phoenix's mentor Mia Fey is murdered and her sister Maya is accused after she finds the body clutching a note with her name written in blood. However she gets cleared once the actual murderer decides to frame Phoenix.
    • In case 1 of Apollo Justice, Phoenix is accused of being the murderer, partially based on being the only person in the room with the victim, who wasn't a witness. Justified in that, this reason isn't why he's on trial for the murder, but was simply something brought up in a argument.
    • Case 2 of Ace Attorney Investigations has Edgeworth being accused of murder, literally seconds after he found the body. Subverted and justified however, in that the main accusation is based upon a witness's misinterpretation that the juice stained wallet Edgeworth was holding was a item covered in blood.
    • For the most part in Ace Attorney, whenever a defendant was the first person to find the body, or are in the room with the victim, that's usually not the actual reason why they're suspected, with other, more hard evidence also being used to prove their guilt. Thus this series as a whole subverts this trope.
    • Lampshaded in the last case of Investigations, in which if you press Lang's statement that he was the first to find DeMasque II's body, Edgeworth will point out that Kay was suspected of killing Manny Coachen based on being the first to find the body. Lang responds that Kay was cleared of suspicion, then goes on to explain why Larry is the suspect.
    • Also lampshaded in the same way in Investigations when, upon Edgeworth's accusation that Shih-na is the killer based on her being the only one in the room, Lang states that "accusing someone based on being alone in a murder room is a stupid sick way of putting the guilt onto innocent people". Edgeworth, however, points out that Shih-na had used such a argument to put the blame of the murder onto Kay, to which Lang and Shi-na both unwillingly apologize for their rashness. Of course, Shih-na was trying to frame Kay.
  • Danganronpa:
    • Poor Makoto Naegi ends up on the uncomfortable end of this in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, having been deliberately set up as a fall guy... by the victim. The victim had convinced him to swap rooms with her, in the hopes of inviting someone to his room, and placing the blame on Naegi by killing her target there. The next morning, Naegi is the first to discover her corpse, and becomes the first suspect.
    • Invoked, but immediately defied in the third case of the sequel. Once the class trial starts, Nagito Komaeda immediately accuses Hajime Hinata of being suspicious since he was the first one to discover one of the bodies and doesn't have anyone to back up his story. He also accuses Hinata of imitating the murders in Monokuma's movie despite the fact that it was Komaeda's idea for Hinata to watch the movie and even made sure Hinata watched it during the investigation. When Hinata protests that he's not the culprit, Komaeda promptly agrees with him and then explains why Hajime couldn't possibly be the killer. It can be inferred that the only the reason Komaeda (who already has a good idea who the culprit is beforehand due to watching Mikan catch the Despair Disease at the hospital) brings the subject up is to get it out of the way before the culprit tries to throw suspicion onto Hinata.
  • In Higurashi: When They Cry, Keiichi stumbles upon the disemboweled corpse of Rika while bringing Satoko to get some clothes. He realizes that crows are feeding on the body and waves his axe (brought along for an entirely separate reason) to scare them away. While waving it around, he drops it in the blood and picks it up. Predictably, Satoko comes back and freaks out. The best part? When she runs away, Keiichi chases after her, insisting he's not the killer while carrying the same blood soaked axe. Neither Keiichi nor Satoko is in their right mind at that point.
  • In the Murder Mystery Visual Novel Jisei, the protagonist is seen as the prime suspect because he was next to the murder victim when the body was discovered.
  • Process of Elimination: After getting dropped into the maze below the prison facility, Incompetent escapes through a hole in the ceiling... leading into a locked room with another detective's corpse. Cue the others finding him in there and believing he's responsible.
  • In Umineko: When They Cry Erika takes this attitude towards Natsuhi when she's found in the same room as Hideyoshi's dead body. Natsuhi didn't kill him, but Erika continues to insist that she's the culprit, and the rest of the arc ends up being one long Trauma Conga Line for her.

  • Mitadake Saga: Daichi is found by a fresh heart attack victim and is assumed to have killed her. Before he can argue his case, he finds an axe in his neck and dies. Of course, later it's found out that the Death Note manipulated the events...
  • The above Harry Potter example is lampooned in Sluggy Freelance during the Torg Potter and the Giblets with Fiber storyline when Torg returns with the horribly mutilated body of his fellow competitor and brandishing a shotgun, and eventually being sentenced to the universe-equivalent Azkaban by the horrified crowd who decide he's the murderer.

    Real Life 
  • During the early days of the Norman reign of England, the Normans instituted a policy where, if a Norman was killed in a (usually Saxon) village, the villagers would all be fined a large sum on the presumption of guilt. This almost immediately led to a Dead Man's Chest situation where, upon finding the body of anyone they didn't know, people would pack it up and proceed to dump it in the next village, making it their problem. Occasionally those villagers would find the body and Hilarity Ensues as a game of "Pass the Corpse" starts between villages until either the Norman authorities find the body or someone comes up with the bright idea of, you know, burying the body.
  • In modern times, if you call it in, you're likely to be a suspect. By all means, call it in or get ready for some heinous consequences, but protect your rights, get legal counsel, and in the US, do NOT answer questions ANY questions, EVER, to the police without legal counsel. Remember, you have the right to remain silent. If they don't have anyone else to pin it on, the police may start looking at you, and a careless but true remark may wind up being exactly the thing needed to make you a prime suspect whose fate is in the hands of a jury, prosecutors and investigators who, being only human, are very fallible.


Video Example(s):



The game Dishonored begins with Corvo Attano arriving in Dunwall from a diplomatic mission at the behest of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin, only to witness her assassination and her daughter Emily's abduction by unknown assailants. In the aftermath, Corvo is framed by Hiram Burrows for the incident and is immediately arrested.

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