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The Killer Becomes the Killed

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"But beware, for once you quench your bloodthirst,
Others will seek vengeance on you,
And they won't rest
Until you're dead."
Dethklok, "Murmaider"

In a law enforcement procedural show, when the criminal gets away with murder or similarly heinous crime, like serial rape (either through skill on his part or mistakes on those of the cops or the lawyers) but gets killed before the end credits roll, usually in a Vigilante Execution.


A subtrope of Karmic Death. Often goes with Serial-Killer Killer. Often similar to Deus ex Machina. See also Off on a Technicality for how they get out, and Vigilante Man for the sort of guys who kill this sort of guys. If the cause of death was a method that the killer/victim employed, it becomes a Hoist by His Own Petard. For professional killers, this may overlap with Assassin Outclassin'.

In Revenge or Roaring Rampage of Revenge stories, making the killer the killed is the main goal of the protagonist, though he or she should be careful that he or she doesn't fall on the wrong side of the trope as well.

Not to be confused with The Hunter Becomes the Hunted.


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


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Light Yagami of Death Note has murdered hundreds, if not thousands, over the course of the series with the titular Artifact of Doom, only to be killed by the very deity that gave him the Death Note by making good on his promise to write Light's name in it.
    • Heck, none of the Kiras meet very pleasant fates. Two heart attacks, two suicides, and one burning to death, and that's before you consider the general misfortune they met with up until then.
  • This is the backstory behind some of the victims of the week in Detective Conan, with the motive of the culprit who murdered them being to avenge a death of a loved one which the victim was responsible for.
  • Luciano Bradley in Code Geass makes a career out of killing his opponents. Imagine his surprise as he gets incinerated by Kallen.
  • A jerkass cyborg in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex who got off a murder charge after turning the court case onto Togusa using excessive force for being 'prejudiced towards cyborgs'. The episode ends with a secretary on night shift watching a news report of both the man and his attorney had died in a hit-and-run car crash, while Boma enters from the car deck, informing her she needs to arrange the disposal of a damaged car.
  • In The Garden of Sinners, this is subverted with Fujino who gets spared (and lost her eyesight as a consequence of overusing her powers), but played straight with Shirazumi.
  • Happens every time an unlucky criminal gets in Revy's way in Black Lagoon. Most notable is her battle with Ginji Manslayer who is about the only character (other than Roberta) who stands a chance against her. In their final fight, his focus slips for a fraction of a second and she seizes that instant to kill him. Another good example is Hansel and Gretel, although they're offed by the Russian mob.
  • Happens commonly in Hell Girl if being dragged to Hell counts as being killed.
  • In Bleach, Shrieker was a serial killer in life and spent his time as a Hollow using the kid who killed him the first time to kill more people by using him as bait. Bad news for him, he mentioned he killed the kid's mother in front of Ichigo and ended up being sent to Hell for a fate even worse.

    Comic Books 
  • Sin City:
    • Kevin is a Psycho for Hire / Serial Killer who murders and eats a number of women, before meeting his own gruesome end at the hands of Sociopathic Hero Marv.
    • Roark Jr. aka "That Yellow Bastard", who was a serial killer and rapist of little girls, is castrated AND beaten to death by John Hartigan.
  • There are not many killers who survive meeting The Punisher.
  • Likewise, there's a reason why the Ghost Rider has supernatural villains in his Rogues Gallery, the human ones don't tend to escape his punishment...

    Films — Animated 
  • Corpse Bride: No one bothers to interrupt Barkis' gloating over getting away with killing Emily to warn him that the goblet he uses to toast her is actually filled with poison, not wine.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In New Jack City, Nino Brown, a drug kingpin, almost gets away scot-free, when he's shot down by an old man who lived in the projects Nino took over to sell crack out of. Very dramatic, when the old man cries out "Idolater... your soul is required... in HELL!" and pulls out his gun and shoots Nino to death. As for the fact that Nino was on the escalator heading down, while the old man was on his way up the escalator next to him... What Do You Mean It's Not Symbolic?
  • This is also how L.A. Confidential ends. Ironically enough, the victim asks his executioner at the start of the film if he's prepared to shoot a hardened criminal in the back to prevent him from being acquitted. Guess how the Vic dies?
  • Subverted in M, in which the serial child killer barely manages to be arrested, rather than killed.
  • In Suspect Zero, Ben O'Ryan is a serial killer who hunts down and murders other serial killers through telepathic "remote viewing".
  • In Diamonds Are Forever, a diamond smuggler tries to dispose of an MI6 agent on his tail. The MI6 agent kills him in a fight that mostly takes place inside an elevator, puts the diamonds in his body, and takes him to Slumber, Inc. in Los Angeles to be burned.
  • At the end of Gang Related, Divinci manages to get away with his crimes, including murdering an undercover police officer, trying to pin it on a random homeless person, and trying to kill one of his fellow conspirators who turned on him, by buying himself a transport out of town. He is then killed off by a vengeful drug dealer he tried (and failed, due to his own bumbling) to charge previously.
  • American Psycho 2: All American Girl starts with Patrick Bateman, the killer of the first movie, being killed by the new killer Rachel Newman.
  • In the Scream quadrilogy, every killer gets killed by the heroes at the end. Even when they are already defenseless and could have been taken to the police instead. Justified, as the protagonists may feel safer knowing that they are dead with no chances of coming back.

    Folk Music 
  • The plot of the folk ballad "The Outlandish Knight" and its variations: "For six pretty maidens hath thou drown'd here/the seventh hath drownéd thee"

  • Agatha Christie:
    • In Murder on the Orient Express, this was the killer's motivation. Or, rather, the killers'.
    • And Then There Were None has this as the killer's motivation. Notable in that killer, though innocent before the events of the novel, recognizes that he is now a killer himself, and takes the only appropriate (for the trope) action.
    • In Hercule Poirot's final story, Curtain. Zig-zagged slightly in that the "killer" is not actually a murderer, but he has a knack for talking other people into committing murder. He is killed to prevent him from doing so again; his killer then elects not to take life-sustaining medicine, inviting God to play the trope straight. (He does.)
    • Elephants Can Remember has a complicated example where a seemingly loving couple are found dead under mysterious circumstances. It turns out that the wife had actually been killed by her crazy twin sister a few weeks earlier and, at the dying request of the wife, they pretend that the sister died. Eventually, the husband couldn't keep up the charade anymore and killed both the sister and himself.
  • Sherlock Holmes:
    • In the story "Wisteria Lodge", the killer escapes but is later murdered in Madrid. A couple of other stories close with hints that this trope may have occurred.
    • The Case of the Speckled Band crosses this with Karmic Death.
    • And Charles Augustus Milverton (although he was a blackmailer)
  • Regina's Song is about a girl who hunts down and kills the man who raped and murdered her twin sister (Along with a dozen or so other sexual predators who cross her path).
  • In the novel and Film of the Book, The Postman Always Rings Twice Cora and her lover and her lover Frank get away with murdering her husband via a staged car accident. In the end, Cora and Frank get in an actual car accident that kills her, and Frank is convicted and on death row for her "murder". The DA tells him that even if he wasn't charged for Cora's "murder", new evidence showed that he took part in Nick's murder, so there would be no point in trying to fight it.
  • Rudyard Kipling: In "The King's Ankus" Mowgli deduces that the second thief of the ankus, after killing the first, surreptitiously poisoned the third through sixth thieves' meal before being killed by one of them, and so they all ended up dead. (Kipling apparently stole this idea from one of The Canterbury Tales).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dexter is full of killers that were never brought to justice. And Dexter is the guy making sure that they die anyway.
  • In a moment of Gut Punch Tone Shift in The End of the F***ing World, James has to kill a serial killer before the killer rapes and murders Alyssa.
  • Every Law & Order has a bunch of these. Some of them even well set up.
  • Inverted: In an episode of CSI, a criminal who the police have found clear evidence shot a teenager as he fled a shootout with the police in order to use his bike as a getaway vehicle is shot by a member of a rival gang as the police lead him away. The trope is otherwise played straight.
  • At the end of the second season of Veronica Mars, Aaron Echolls manages to get acquitted of the murder of Lilly Kane, mostly by virtue of the fact that he's, well, a famous movie star. He proceeds to spend the rest of the episode being smug at both Veronica and his son Logan, implying to both that he'll be around to antagonize them for a long, long time. Finally, he stumbles across one of his old movies on TV in his hotel room and seconds later is promptly shot in the back of the head by Clarence Wiedman, on orders of Lilly's brother Duncan (who Eccholls had accused of being the real killer, no less).
  • In the Season 3 finale of The Killing, Linden discovers the serial killer of young girls she's been chasing all along is her own ex-partner (and lover). Following a lengthy conversation where he attempts to explain himself, she shoots him dead, in cold blood.
  • A variation of this trope is one of the ways a Columbo TV movie mixed up the formula a little. The killer the viewer follows from the beginning attempts to kill his rich uncle, but the uncle dies before his death trap is sprung... which kills the gardener instead. He eventually figures out who actually killed his uncle (his aunt), and attempts to blackmail her. Like most people who try to blackmail a murderer, he fails to realize that if she already killed one man, she's not going to have much of a problem with killing another...
  • Gibbs once invoked this on NCIS. Evidence pointed to a gang leader having been killed by his second-in-command (also the killer of the week), who was still claiming to receive orders from him. They don't even have a body, and Director Shepard says that there's not enough evidence to convince a jury. Gibbs answered "That depends on what jury" and presented the information (about the gang leader, not the other murders they were investigating) to the other members of the gang. The killer is dead within hours.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): The episode "Judgment Day" was about an Immoral Reality Show in which convicted murderers are released so that the family members of their victims can hunt them down and kill them on national television. This is subverted in the case of the protagonist, both because he's been framed and manages to convince the person who's hunting him that he didn't kill her sister, but played straight in the case of the T.V. show's producer, who is responsible for the Frame-Up and then kills the other sister as well to cover it up. The protagonist later hunts the producer down as after he's been exposed and become a target on his own show.
  • Bones: The Gravedigger, Heather Taffet, who killed several people including two children, and kidnapped first Brennan and Hodgins, then Booth. The father of the boys she killed hired sniper Jacob Broadsky to kill her and the result was a Your Head Asplode as Taffet left court during her appeal.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • From Classical Mythology, the hero Theseus on the road of Athens rid it of six murderers by killing them the same way they had murdered their victims.

    Video Games 
  • The principal antagonist in the video game Condemned: Criminal Origins, is an embodiment of this trope. A serial killer who only targets other serial killers, killing each using their own quirky M.O. He goes through Motive Decay and kills two cops, frames the player character for it (and later plans to brutally kill the hero), then kills his own uncle and the mayor in the sequel.
  • Ragou and Cumore from Tales of Vesperia. Ragou abducted people's children when they failed to pay his cripplingly high taxes and fed said children and many others to monsters. Cumore fooled people into working to death in slave labor camps and sent people on suicide missions hunting for a giant monster. Both got away with it due to being high ranking nobility... until Yuri slashed Ragou across the chest and pushed his body into the river. Later on, Yuri led Cumore by sword point into a quicksand bog where he was buried alive.
  • Hermes from The Suffering is a very interesting take on this. As a prison executioner, he made an entire career murdering people in different ways, but he stated that he was the only one focused enough to get the job. In fact, he was so focused that he gassed himself in the chamber, just to have knowledge of both sides of the "experience".
  • Every single boss fight in the No More Heroes series, what with being a series about assassins killing each other. Exceptions to Shinobu, Henry, and Destroyman the first time. Kimmy also lives, assuming Travis even fights her, and Holly Summers as well, but she kills herself.
  • William Afton of Five Nights at Freddy's fame lured 5 children into the back dressed up as one of the restaurant mascots. He meets his demise in the third game by being crushed inside that same suit when he hid in it to escape from the ghosts of his victims. This unfortunately didn't last.
  • Defied in Anarchy Reigns. Max killed Jack's daughter and he's plenty mad about it. Leo talks him out of it.
  • Averted and subverted in Persona 4. The real killer Adachi lives but willingly agrees to spend the rest of their life in prison, completely defeated. However, you never reach this point if you choose to kill Namatame, who your team thinks is the killer, thus the subversion.
  • In the Dark Brotherhood quest line from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, The members of the brotherhood are systematically killed off by the player. The person you work for, Lucien Lachance, ends up getting framed and killed by his fellow assassins
  • In the Thieves Guild quest line in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the leader of the Thieves Guild, Mercer Frey, is out to avenge the death of the former guild master Gallus by killing Karliah, the one he blames for betraying and killing him. But in truth, Mercer was the one who not only killed Gallus but is at the heart of the Guild's hard times, having stolen the Skeleton Key of Nocturnal and used it to make a tidy profit at the Guild's expense. Once the true traitor is revealed, the final quest involves not only killing said traitor but making amends for his crime by returning the Skeleton Key to Nocturnal.
  • Dark Souls: Invoked by the Blade of the Darkmoon covenant, whose members invade and kill players who have invaded and killed others. If you decide to be an invader in Dark Souls, be prepared to have these guys on your tail.
  • The Hitman series features some cases where the client hired Agent 47 to exact vigilante justice on a criminal who managed to beat the courts. Two examples being Joseph "Swing King" Clarencecrimes  from Blood Money and Jordan Crosscrimes  from the 2016 game.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • In the fifth case of Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, the victim is Manny Coachen, ironically killed by the man who ordered him to murder Cece Yew ten years ago.
    • In the second case of Ace Attorney Investigations 2, the victim was found guilty of the murder in Case 1 and was killed in jail.
    • Happens in the fifth case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, though in a special case, as he is shot at the end of his breakdown by an unknown assailant. Subverted, though, as he survives.
    • In the third case of The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, the killer is murdered by the son of the victim.
    • The first killer in The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures becomes the first victim of the sequel, The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve.
  • Case 3 of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is discovered to have happened this way, where Hifumi murders Kiyotaka on Celeste's orders but is then killed by Celeste herself later on.


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