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No Witnesses. No Leads. No Problem.
Forensic Files (also known as Medical Detectives, Mystery Detectives, Murder Detectives, and Cause of Death) is a crime documentary series that aired from 1996 to 2011. It was narrated for almost its entire run (channel hopping from TLC to Court TV/truTV to HLN) by Peter Thomas. As the title implies, the show focuses on forensic investigations, mostly into murders.


Forensic Files includes examples of:

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  • Always Murder: Averted. Aside from featuring a handful of non-murder cases, a few other supposed murders have genuinely turned out to be accidents, suicides, natural causes, or self-defense.
  • Ambiguous Situation: A handful of times, the police have arrested one person, but been forced to let their presumed partner-in-crime walk free as there isn't enough evidence to say they were involved, despite their strong (and likely correct) suspicions.
  • Anachronism Stew: The case of the episode "Memories" took place in 1979-1980 (although was not solved for nearly twenty years) and when the victim had her previously lost memory jogged by some pictures in a baby magazine. The pictures she were looking at, on closer inspection, were of actress Kelly Preston and her daughter Ella Blue, who was born in 2000.
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  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: One criminal is convicted of first degree attempted murder, theft, and sales tax violations.
  • Bittersweet Ending: By virtue of this being a crime show, most if not all the stories end on a bittersweet note, even if nobody actually died.
  • Bizarre and Improbable Ballistics: "The Magic Bullet" details an investigation into an incident where a teenager was shot in the head while sitting in the safety zone building at a shooting range. The episode reveals the unlikely chain of events which led to this tragic accident:
    Outside on the firing range behind the airgun building, Dan Smith, one of the last competitors of the day, steps up to the 15 yard line. This moves him in front of two sets of safety baffles. Using a modified gun, Smith takes aim and squeezes the trigger. In a fraction of a second, another shot is fired during the recoil phase of the original shot. It happens so quickly, the shooter doesn't know it left the gun. The bullet misses the target, high and to the left. Traveling upwards, it passes underneath the last set of protective baffles, and just three inches over the [protective] berm. It's speeding at 1,200 feet per second. The bullet blasts through the aluminum siding, goes through a storage room, misses a broom and some pipes by less than an inch and then breaks through a second wall, entering the airgun range. Then the bullet does something unbelievable. It strikes an ordinary ceiling tile and ... skids along the tile for seven inches before mysteriously changing direction, making a 10-degree turn, and begins a downward path. It slows to about 900 feet per second, penetrates a plaster wall, and enters Trey Cooley's head.
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  • Black Widow: Many men have been murdered by their wives for money.
  • *Bleep*-dammit!: In "Grave Danger", when Clay Daniels's mother-in-law calls him an asshole, the "hole" part is bleeped out while "ass" is left uncensored.
  • The Bluebeard: The reverse is also true too with men murdering their wives to collect insurance money.
  • Bluff the Impostor: A woman grew concerned when she couldn't reach her father, despite the fact that he kept sending cards for special occasions. So she left a message for him reminding him of her husband's birthday and the money he'd promised. When she promptly received a card with a check, she knew for certain that something was wrong—it was not her husband's birthday, nor had he promised any money. It was soon found that her father had been murdered and his killer was continuing to pay his bills and send correspondence to create the illusion that he was alive.
  • Call-Back:
    • "Dressed to Kill" contains one for the episode "Beaten by a Hair". It shows the key evidence Hadden Clark left behind that led to the conviction of the first murder that he committed.
    • "The Music Case" had a little girl in Minnesota murdered in her home and authorities initially believed that the murderer from "Tooth of Consequences" killed her as well. Turns out, someone else committed the crime.
    • In a more roundabout example, "Dinner and a Movie" has the murderer uses the real life movie Blackout as an inspiration for covering up his wife's time of death. Blackout was loosely based on the John List murders, which the show had previously covered in "The List Murders," though the show doesn't acknowledge this.
  • Cassandra Truth: Occasionally, some of the most outlandish, ridiculous, or improbable stories told by suspects turn out to be true:
    • One episode featuring a woman's murder had the cops arresting a man after his gun matched the ballistics at the scene, his shoe prints matched those found at the scene, and blood from the victim was found on the shoes in his closet. The man insisted that someone must have stolen the items and then returned them after the murder. The police laughed in his face until they discovered that his DNA wasn't a match and his alibi was verified by numerous people. It turned out that a friend of his, who was staying with him at the time, did everything as he described.
    • "Stranger in the Night" involves a man who's accused of murdering his mother. He denied it. He then told an improbable story about how he was attacked by a hitchhiker, and when he went home later that night, he saw the same hitchhiker, which caused him to leave. It ultimately turned out to be true, as the hitchhiker killed the man's mother while he was high on drugs. The hitchhiker also revealed that everything that transpired that night was one big coincidence.
  • Clear My Name: A few episodes center around someone wrongfully convicted of a crime attempting to find out the actual culprit or circumstance to prove their innocence.
  • Content Warnings: invoked When the series still aired on Court TV, several of the more gruesome/horrifying episodes ("Root of All Evil", "Where the Blood Drops", "Pure Evil", "Treads and Threads", etc.) had a warning before it aired. These have been removed from almost all of the HLN airings.
  • Conviction by Counterfactual Clue:
    • In the episode "Yes, in Deed", the prime suspect saving a movie ticket stub to establish an alibi was one of the reasons the police, and one of the prosecutors, believed that he was the culprit of a murder and arson. One of the detectives interviewed remarks that nobody ever keeps their movie stubs.note 
    • In the episode "Naughty or Nyce", a woman is found dead in a van, and detectives feel the crime scene was staged. Why? Because the woman's shoes did not match the outfit she was wearing, claiming women always wear shoes that match their dresses or suits.
    • Another episode had a man perfectly describing what his daughter had been wearing when she disappeared, right down to her purple socks. Detectives found it odd that he could be so detailed. When the child's body was eventually found, wearing the exact same clothes he had described, they realized that he had killed her as she slept, then dressed her before taking her away to bury her.note 
    • One episode has the detectives realizing that a killer disguised himself as his female victim so as to confuse them and witnesses—her body was found in the woods, but numerous neighbors reported seeing her leave for work. The "a-HA!" moment for the cops was that the "girl" had been wearing slacks, because according to one of them, the victim, having been very tall, never wore pants. "Tall girls don't wear pants!"
  • Cool Old Guy: Narrator Peter Thomas, who was 72 when the show began and who lived to be in his early 90s.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: In "Writing on the Wall", a murdered woman writes the name of her ex-boyfriend on the wall in her own blood. One reporter even comments that it's something you'd expect in a movie rather than real life. And sure enough, it turned out to be a Red Herring. Not only was the victim paralyzed from the waist down due to her wounds, but the blood seemed to be on her right finger, but she was exclusively left-handed. Not only that, the message in blood was written over the dried blood from the attack. The actual killer was her last boyfriend, who she recently broke up with, and he wrote the name in an attempt to frame her ex.
  • Crossover: "The List Murders" showed how America's Most Wanted was able to accurately provide an aged-up mold image of John List after nearly two decades that was able to lead to his identification and arrest. John Walsh even appears as one of the people being interviewed.
  • Dating Service Disaster: "Fate Date" focuses on a woman meeting her online boyfriend, who ended up murdering her, her amicable ex-husband, who she was living with until the divorce was final, and a Good Samaritan who was passing by and reported the fire the killer started to destroy evidence.
  • A Deadly Affair: Frequently. And as in the trope description, everyone—cheating spouse, cuckolded spouse, lover—plays the role of victim or killer at some point.
  • Deadly Prank: In "All the World's a Stage", the victim's husband claims she tried to fake shooting herself in the head as a prank, but didn't realize the gun still had a bullet in the chamber. It falls apart when investigators see that the entrance wound was on the left side of the head when the victim was right-handed.
  • Deadpan Snarker: "Postal Mortem" brings us this gem. When the narrator asks how often it is for bombers to get blown up by their own bombs while handling them, the explosives expert calmly and straight-facedly answers: Not common enough.
  • Death by Irony:
    • In "Scratching the Surface", a man shoots at four men inside a car, killing one and injuring two. When they arrest him, a disgruntled coworker, he laments that he injured the guys he wanted to kill, while the man he was on good terms with is the one who actually died.
    • In "Without a Trace", a man tries to kill his ex-girlfriend by placing a chemical used in animal laboratories in her lemonade. Everyone in her family but her drank the lemonade and wound up dying.
    • In "The Cheater", one of Walter Scott's hit songs had the lyrics, "Look out for the cheater". His murder case involved just that; he divorced his first wife for another woman, who in turn caused another man to kill both his own first wife and Scott.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: At least two episodes have the killer murder two people and blame the death of the first victim on the second one.
  • Destroy the Evidence: Quite a few culprits attempt this. It often leads to a Revealing Cover-Up. In the case of "Fate Date", it failed due to the fire being reported quickly by a passerby, though said passerby sadly lost his life as a result.
  • Disguised in Drag: "Beaten by a Hair" had detectives confused about the timeline of a victim's disappearance; her body was found in the woods, but multiple witnesses swore that they saw her leaving for work. They eventually learned that her killer had planned the crime so far in advance that after killing her, he dressed in her clothes and donned a wig, thus enabling him to avoid detection and dupe her neighbors into thinking that they'd seen her.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: There have been several instances where somebody was severely injured or killed for this reason. For example, in one episode, a truck driver brutally killed a woman because she refused to have sex with him. Another had a woman who hated her husband so much that she started a fire that killed two of their children.
  • Distant Finale:
    • A handful of stories go cold for a time before being revived due to new evidence or a confession. In "A Voice From Beyond", a woman's body is found stuffed in a barrel. It turns out that she had disappeared 30 years prior and hadn't even been reported missing at the time—she only had one friend in town who wasn't allowed to file a report on her behalf. Despite the length of time between her murder and the discovery of her remains, the case was solved in ten days once they tracked down her boss/lover, who promptly Ate His Gun after the cops spoke with him.
    • Many reruns of the older episodes include updates.
    • The ending of the episode "Photo Finish" (which aired in 2001) said that Kimberly Pandelios, another model found murdered a year prior to the primary victim, was still unsolved. Years later, however, her own murderer was caught and sentenced for her killing.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The 60 minute episode "Payback" had, by all accounts, an Asshole Victim; a big, tough guy who bullied almost everyone around him, including his best friend from childhood. Eight people who had enough of his abuse, including the childhood friend, teamed up and killed him.
  • Downer Ending:
    • Season 1's "The Wilson Murder", which documents the murder of one Jack Wilson. His wife, Betty, was said to have hired a hitman to murder him, and she was convicted on very trivial circumstantial evidence. The episode ends with no real resolution as it's never determined if Betty really did try to have her husband murdered, or if she was set up. Either way, she's still serving a life sentence in prison.
    • "Scout's Honor". After the suspect, who was imprisoned for several years for the murder of Edna Posey, was cleared and released, the episode ended without anyone else being charged with her murder.note 
    • "Pastoral Care": It's never fully determined if prison guard Donna Payant was in fact murdered by inmate Lemanuel Smith, or if she was killed by fellow officers for being a whistle blower. Smith proclaims his innocence on the matter, and Payant's sister too believes that she was killed by her colleagues. It's also never proven that the mark on her body was a bite mark, or a bruise left from while her body was crushed in the garbage truck.
  • Driven to Suicide: Some killers have committed suicide to avoid prison. Others are mention to have committed suicide on the show as well, including one victim whose death was blamed on her husband.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Some of the early episodes included topics like "Legionnaires' Disease" and "Fatal Fungus". Medical mysteries wouldn't be a focus of the show later on, unless a crime such as intentional poisoning was involved.
  • Everybody Lives: Very rare given the nature of the show, but it does happen in at least one episode that involves an attempted murder.
  • Faking the Dead: One episode revolves around the case of Ari Squire, who sought out someone who looked like him and murdered that person in a fire for the purposes of faking his own death.
  • The Farmer and the Viper:
    • Narrowly averted in "Reel Danger". One of the assailants went to the home of a woman, claiming that he was a diabetic whose sugar was low. She gave him orange juice and sent him on his way, unaware of his true intentions. She later caught him bragging to his friends about her generosity and their plan to come back to rob and assault her, but she was luckily able to scare them away. Two preteen boys who would encounter the teenagers later on weren't so lucky, as they were attacked instead.
    • Sadly played straight in "Palm Print Conviction", where the victim befriended one of her daughter's friends, had him over for dinner on occasion, them ran into him while running errands only for him to accost her then kill her when she rejected his advances.
  • Finally Found the Body:
    • Occasionally, the break in a missing persons case that's gone cold.
    • Many older episodes now have footnotes regarding the fate of the criminals and/or the victims' families and have included the fact that a victim's body has been located.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • The earlier episodes feature uncensored crime scene and autopsy photos.
    • In the episode "Window Watcher", the actress playing a female victim is shown changing into some night clothes, and her bare butt is shown on camera briefly without blurring.
    • "Elephant Tracks" had one on the investigators, who solved the crime of a double murder of an elderly couple and watched the killer unsuccessfully defend himself in court, call the man an "asshole" in the interview (and it being completely allowed). After a few airings of the episode, the interview was edited to remove the offensive word.
    • One of the reenactment scenes of Season 7's "The Alibi" contains an uncensored use of the word "asshole."
  • Gorn: The show had no qualms about broadcasting graphic crime scene and autopsy photos. For example, one episode concerned a killer who mailed packages containing pipe bombs. A crime scene photo shows one victim, a middle-aged woman, with her abdomen blasted open.
  • Greed: A fair number of causes are motivated by the victim's life insurance policy.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • The 1996 murder of wrestler champion Dusty Harless, which in a retrial was proven to have been caused when the drunk Harless attacked a bystander and tried to immobilize him on the ground to show off his fighting skills (something he had done to other people previously and often bragged about), only for the panicked bystander to pull a pocket knife and blindly stab Harless in the heart. The man, who had been sentenced to life for the murder, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter instead, and was released because he had served 6 years already by that time.
    • A lot of criminals attempts at making it look like an accident/suicide/self-defense/someone else did it only end strengthening the evidence that they are the guilty party.
  • Hope Spot: One episode goes to a commercial break asking if the missing person is still alive. This question is answered immediately after the show returns; the victim's remains are found in a ravine.
  • Hostile Hitchhiker: "Stranger in the Night" features a man who is attacked by a hitchhiker he picks up. He manages to escape, only to later return home to see the hitchhiker near his home. He brings the police, only to find his mother murdered. The police are skeptical of his claims that the hitchhiker must have gone after his mother for revenge, but it turns out the hitchhiker was the killer. The fact that the hitchhiker targeted his house was merely a coincidence, however.
  • If I Can't Have You...: A lot of murders are motivated by the victim either breaking up with or rejecting the advances of the killer.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: Several episodes have featured pregnant women being murdered—In "A Voice From Beyond", the police deduce that the woman was killed because she'd called her lover's wife and told her about the affair and her pregnancy, fed up with waiting for him to leave his marriage. Despite her being 8-9 months along, he had no qualms bludgeoning her to death in anger.
  • Incriminating Indifference:
    • Inverted in "Yes, in Deed." When Michael Bryant was told about the fire that destroyed Edith Ann Haynes's home, he started crying before being told that Haynes was dead, which meant he already knew.
    • Inverted in the case of Kristine Fitzugh; her husband's over-the-top histrionics, particularly over the shoes he claimed caused her to fall down the stairs, came across as fake to detectives.
    • Played straight in an episode where a man poisoned his wife with antifreeze. He wouldn't even acknowledge the paramedics who came to try to save his wife and fell asleep during her funeral.
  • Inheritance Murder: Money frequently turns out to be the reason for a murder.
  • Ironic Name: Gerardo Manso, the Cuban-born double murderer in "Scratching the Surface." Manso means "Meek" in Spanish.
  • Irony:
    • In "Missing Pearl", Bill Bruns murdered his wife, Pearl, over a dispute about money. After her body was finally found, an autopsy was conducted. The autopsy revealed that she had terminal cancer. It was pointed out that had Bill not killed Pearl, she would've died in six months.
    • It's been noted in several episodes that the attempts to cover up crimes actually created stronger forensic evidence.
  • Long-Runners: The series aired 404 episodes from 1996-2016.
  • Mail-Order Bride: "Vow of Silence" was about a man whose wife (one of these) mysteriously vanished after planning to leave him for another woman. The police dug into his background and realized that two other wives of his died under questionable circumstances when they announced their intention to divorce him.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Or suicide/natural causes/self-defense/someone else did it. Frequently attempted, and usually failed miserably.
  • Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal: Sometimes the loved ones of the accused will continue to deny that they had any involvement despite the evidence. In one case, the daughter of a murderer was so convinced that her father didn't kill her mother that she refused to speak to her sister who believed that he did.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Narrowly averted in the case of Alvin Latham from the episode "Fishing for the Truth". He is acquitted despite a false confession he gave to police after eight hours of interrogation.
  • Mistaken for Gay: In "Hear No Evil," Daphne Wright murdered Darlene Vandergiesen because she thought Vandergiesen was trying to start a relationship with her ex-girlfriend. In reality, Vandergiesen was straight and she and Wright's ex were just good friends.
  • Mistaken for Murderer:
    • A weird loner was instantly believed to have murdered his wife by everybody. However, it was later proven that she had actually died after suffering a seizure.
    • A woman had custody of her child taken from her and was later tried and convicted of poisoning him with antifreeze. After she gave birth to another child while in prison and he developed the same symptoms as his elder brother while being away from her, they realized that the supposed antifreeze poisoning was actually a rare genetic disease.
    • A local cop was charged with murdering his wife with a shotgun, but she actually shot herself in the gut while operating the shotgun with her toes.
    • A man was accused of murdering the captain of his boat when the coroner mistook propeller marks on the body for knife wounds.
    • A couple was tried and convicted of murdering their young daughter, only for further investigation to reveal that she was fatally attacked by the family's dogs. Even more heartbreaking, not only did their years in prison ruin their happy marriage, but the little girl told them as her last words, "It was the dogs who did it", only for them not to be believed.
    • Another woman was accused of setting a fire that killed her son. It turned out to be the result of a space heater that overloaded the old and frayed wiring of the house.
    • A man was thought to have killed his parents and set a fire with gasoline to cover it up. It turns out his mother's match fell onto their sofa and started the blaze, and the gasoline accelerant came from the cheap varnish on the wood floors underneath the carpet.
    • A Marine had been accused of beating his pregnant wife, nearly killing her and causing the death of their unborn daughter. Although he was out of the home getting fast food at the time of her attack, he had a history of substance abuse and domestic violence, neighbors heard them arguing that evening and she had identified him as her attacker. The true murderer, who was a Serial Killer, was eventually found, but he still spent sixteen years in prison for the serial killer's crimes.note 
  • Never Found the Body: Sadly, occasionally the fate of some of the victims. Luckily, the evidence is enough for a murder conviction.
  • Never My Fault: Occasionally, the guilty party will continue to deny having involvement in a crime even in the case of overwhelming evidence.
  • Offing the Offspring: In some episodes, the killer is the parent of a child victim.
  • Pater Familicide: John List murdered his mother, wife and three children due to regarding his life as a failure.
  • Pillow Pistol: Invoked by the killer in "Broken Promises", who claims that her husband was keeping a handgun under his bed and that she shot him by mistake when removing it. This is contradicted by the fact that the victim was trained in firearms safety and would never sleep with a pistol with the safety off under his bed, and the fact that the pistol had a trigger pull too strong to set off by mistake.
  • The Plague: The episode "Bio-Attack: Oregon Cult Poisonings" is about the first and single largest bioterrorism attack in U.S. history, when a Cult deliberately contaminated salad bars across several Oregon towns with salmonella in order to rig a county election. Over 750 people were infected with salmonella, with 45 of them being hospitalized. The plot failed, but most of the businesses that were contaminated died out, despite people recognizing that they weren't at fault.
  • Pun-Based Title: Most of the episode titles have some sort of double meaning or play on words. Some of the more groan-inducing ones include: "Sim-ilar Circumstances", "Pure Bread Murder" and "Sworded Scheme".
  • Rape as Drama: A significant number of episodes are about sexual assaults that lead to murder. Usually the culprit gets caught because of DNA found on or near the victim.
  • Red Herring:
    • Happens in a couple episodes. Most notably, this happens in the "Smiley Face" episode, where the initial prime suspect bore a striking resemblance to Kaye Robinson's attacker. He even drew a smiley face on an application, similar to the smiley face the attacker drew on Robinson with her blood. Amazingly though, through DNA and print analysis, he was found to not be her attacker. Even more peculiar is after the real rapist was found, the initial suspect disappeared without a trace.
    • Another episode had a man who described his bizarre and violent sexual fantasies of the victim; he then decided to explain how he would have murdered her, which included details similar to how the crime was committed. Despite this disturbing behavior, his DNA did not match the DNA at the scene.
    • When the co-owner of a construction company was bludgeoned to death, there's an ex-employee that seemed to be a shoo-in as the prime suspect. He still had keys, he and the boss didn't get on very well, and he left town after the murder. When the police, by sheer luck, got a bag full of evidence to check, they found out that his DNA didn't match. Furthermore, his leaving town was due to an illness. He may have disliked the boss, but he still wanted to get his last paycheck in exchange for the keys, which were found to be another clue. It turned out that the other co-owner was embezzling, and he clubbed her to death when she told him to pay up or she would have him arrested.
  • Retraux:
    • The first episode of Season 15, "Revenge", has the dramatization footage shot in black-and-white, a callback to the earlier episodes, and made to resemble the pre-Season 7 episodes.
    • Inverted with the HLN and CNN reruns of the earlier episodes, which have been edited to resemble the newer episodes.
  • Revenge by Proxy:
    • "Oily in the Morning" focuses on a man who waited nearly twenty years to get revenge on his high school crush by killing her son.
    • Another episode featured a woman getting back at her former boyfriend by killing his wife and their infant son.
  • Revisiting the Cold Case: Several episodes are re-enactments of crimes that went cold decades ago.
  • Self-Made Orphan: A few episodes feature people murdering their parents.
  • Serial Killer: Several, such as the I-5 Strangler and the Zodiac copycat.
  • Serial Killings, Specific Target: "Postal Mortem" and "Something's Fishy" both feature killers diverting attention from their main targets by killing additional people.
  • Shifting the Burden of Proof: While it may not have been intentional, the series definitely seemed to posit that accused parties not proving their innocence was equivalent to guilt. The American legal system does not work this way, and the narrator intoning that the accused "did not have an alibi" or that they "could not prove where they were at the time of the crime" simply does not fly as evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
  • Slain in Their Sleep: In the episode “Family Ties”, a court official and his wife are attacked in their sleep.
  • Something Completely Different: Most of the the episodes focus on murder cases or other crimes, such as arson. However, once in a while, there is an episode that focuses on neither, such as:
    • "Breaking the Mold" is about a family suffering from a mysterious illness.
    • "Deadly Curve" focuses on a car accident that killed three Secret Service agents in a motorcade escorting the Queen of England during a visit.
    • "Visibility Zero: Amtrak Sunset Limited Train Crash" focuses on a 1993 train crash in Alabama.
    • "Flashover: The 1987 Kings Cross Underground" focuses on a fire that killed several people at Kings Cross.
    • Not an entire episode, but there is about a minute and a half of one episode where the detectives (and victim's father) involved in the case recount trying to catch a suspect's cat to get a blood sample (the cat was white and white animal hair had been found with the victim) which is surprisingly light-hearted and even humorous for the show.
    • "Core Evidence" focuses on a batch of apple juice that was contaminated with E. coli.
  • Spoiler Title:
    • One episode has Jenna Verhaalen's murder linked to three possible suspects; her boyfriend, a fellow neighbor, and a maintenance man working in her apartment. However, the episode's title is "Low Maintenance", practically giving away which of the three suspects was actually involved in the murder.
    • One episode focuses on a man who died from poisoning, and suspicion falls on one of his coworkers because that same type of poison is found in his workplace. However, the episode in question is entitled "Til Death Do We Part", which kind of gives away that the real murderer is the man's wife.
  • Stalker with a Crush: As seen in both "Shopping Spree" and the eerily similar episode "A Woman Scorned". They each featured a mentally unhinged person stalking/becoming obsessed with the victim and killing them. However, the latter episode may also cross into Stalker Without a Crush, as the murderer had a past relationship with the victim's husband and began stalking her after she told her to stop calling their home.note 
  • Stupid Crooks: Sometimes, the killer's attempts to cover up their crime are jaw-dropping in their ineptness:
    • In "Muffled Cries", Jason Funk uses his victim's credit card to make a purchase. He then proceeds to sign his name, allowing police to trace the card to him.
    • In "Transaction Failed", the killer and his daughter don't even bother to hide their identity when they withdraw money from the victim's bank account.
    • In "Shattered Innocence", the son tells the 911 operator that his father's bedroom door is locked, then goes on to say that his father's bleeding from the mouth, something he couldn't possibly know unless he was already in there.
    • In "Frozen Assets", George Hansen tries to dispose of the evidence by tossing it into a river, only to have it hit the ice. As the victim's boyfriend noted, had he went a few steps further before throwing, the bag would've landed in open water and sunk.
    • In "Freeze Framed", Stacey Castor attempts to pin the murders of her husbands on her daughter Ashley by tricking her into overdosing on sleeping pills then writing a phony suicide note pinning the murders on her. Her plan backfires when detectives notice that "antifreeze" is misspelled as "antifree", the same pronunciation Stacey used in a police interview.
    • In "Smoke in Your Eyes", the killer apparently thought it was a good idea to light up a cigarette while pouring gasoline through his victims' apartment. Not only does he come close to killing himself, he also leaves his glasses at the scene, which later help identify him.
  • Taught by Television:
    • One episode features a woman who proved her incarcerated husband innocent of a rape and murder, using a technique she saw on a previous episode of the show. On the downside, there was another woman who poisoned both of her husbands with antifreeze, and attempted to poison her daughter while trying to make it look like she was responsible. She mentioned seeing an episode where a woman poisoned her first husband and common law husband with antifreeze.
    • It's not unusual for attorneys, detectives, or forensics experts interviewed on the show to mention previous episodes of the show as having helped them with a difficult case. In one case where a man faked his death in a fire so he could run off with his own life insurance money, the investigator figured out what was going on from watching an episode of the show where someone else did almost the exact same thing.
  • Technically Living Zombie: In "Family Ties", one of the victims briefly becomes this due the attack damaging his neocortex (which controls thought and reason) while leaving the paleocortex (which controls second-nature habits) intact. As a result, he's able to carry out his morning routine without realizing he's been gravely wounded until he collapses and dies from blood loss.
  • Theme Naming: Most of the episode titles relate to a clue that leads to the arrest of a suspect.
  • Til Murder Do Us Part: A huge chunk of episodes, starting with the very first one, have featured people who were killed by their husband or wife for a variety of reasons.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: While most cases are based in the U.S., a good chunk feature stories from Canada or Europe.
  • The Un-Reveal: For obvious reasons, some episodes do not reveal the name of a certain element that was crucial in committing the murder, such as one episode where a man killed his ex-wife after purchasing a book on how to commit a murder and get away with it or another where a young woman killed her father by poisoning him with a substance found in her high school chemistry class.
  • Urban Legends: Meta-example. There is a persistent rumor that the series was revived in 2016 for a 15th season and began airing new episodes. In actuality, the series did in fact end in 2011. HLN contributed to the confusion by advertising "all new" episodes, when in fact they were just episodes that hadn't aired on the channel.
  • Voice of the Legion: In "Sealed with a Kiss", the person reading parts of the letters aloud early in the episode has a voice like this. They also read it in a flat tone which only serves to put even more emphasis on the fact that the identity of the person threatening Joanne Chambers is a total mystery. It later turns out that the culprit was Chambers herself:
    ???: Chambers brought pot into school and than showed it in the faculty room just like it was a big joke.
    ???: I can get you in one try. No one will ever prove it. They may not think so, but I'm smarter than all of you, you stupid bitch.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In "Waste Mis-Management", police find a body they believe to be Glenda Furch, but further testing reveals it to be someone else. We never learn who this woman is or whether her death was ever solved.
  • Where Are They Now: Reruns of the older episodes includes an update that offer information on the perpetrators—if they've died in prison/been executed/been released, etc.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Kids are not immune from being murdered.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit:
    • A British farmer reported numerous instances of harassment that were supposedly carried out by a neighbor with whom he'd had a dispute. This culminated in his wife being injured by a Car Bomb. Shortly after this, the neighbor came to the house and outright tried to kill him, forcing the farmer to kill him in self-defense. The investigation revealed that the whole thing was a set up. The man had been planning to kill his wife and created the incidents of harassment himself to establish a pattern and shift suspicion off himself. When the attempt at killing his wife failed, he invited the neighbor over to set up the fake attack to still try and lay the blame on him.
    • Other episodes feature killers that deliberately harm themselves after committing the crime to make it look like they were attacked too.
  • Younger Than They Look: One episode featured a 13-year-old murder victim who looked much older and told people she was nineteen.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Infidelity is frequently the reason for a murder, with the victim/killer roles variably being filled in by all parties involved—the cuckolded spouse, the cheating spouse, the "other woman/man".

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