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Following a death, either accidental or deliberate, no matter how skilfully the responsible party covers it up, there remains the problem of disposing of the most obvious and most damning piece of evidence for the crime: the body itself. (There have been jurisdictions where no corpse means no murder.)
There are numerous popular methods for doing this:
- Burial At Sea/Cement Shoes, if they dump the body in a body of water;
- Eat the Evidence, if they eat it/feed it to others;
- Cleanup Crew, if they call a professional to get rid of it for them;
- Hollywood Acid, if they dissolve the body or parts thereof in some kind of corrosive chemical;
- Dead Man's Chest, if they hide it in a handy crate (or freezer, or boot of their car);
- Viking Funeral if they burn it on a pyre
A common way to indicate that a bad guy is not to be messed with is if they have an original and well-thought-through method in place to entirely obliterate a human body if needed.
Pretty much any action movie with a significant body count won't ever bother with this trope.
- A Doritos ad has a man see his dog burying something, which he quickly recognizes as the family cat's collar. Then the dog is up in his face, growling, and pushes a bag of Doritos with a note reading "You didn't see nuthin" towards him. At the end of the ad, we hear the man's wife asking "Have you seen the cat?"; the man looks up and sees the dog, outside the door, another bag of Doritos in his mouth.
Anime & Manga
- Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: In Curse-Killing Chapter, Miyo Takano nonchalantly lectures Keiichi about the proper technique for disposing of the body after committing murder.
- "Friends help you move. Real friends help you move bodies."
- The EC Comics story "Cold Cuts."
- Likewise in "...And All Through the House" wherein the matter is somewhat more pressing, due to the presence of a Serial Killer outside the house who our matricidal "heroine" can't simply call the police about.
- In the Sin City story "The Big Fat Kill," (and in the movie version), after Dwight and the girls of Old Town learn that the abusive scumbag that they just killed was a hero cop, they set about disposing of him and his buddies by having Dwight dump them into the Santa Yolanda Tar Pits. Things... don't go to plan.
- One Punisher story has an old guy who used to be the best at this. For example, he points out the importance of covering the entire work area with trash bags prior to cutting.
- Transmetropolitan: When Spider Jerusalem realizes that he's inspired The Smiler to murderous rage, he acquires Nanomachines designed to break human tissues and clothing down to monoatomic vapor, knowing he'll have to kill more than a few CIA assassins.
- Casino gives a very insightful lecture on the subject (straight hole/ground burial)
Sam It's in the desert where lots of the town`s problems are solved.
- In the end, Nicky provides a graphical self-demonstration too
- Weekend at Bernies demonstrates an alternative approach to body disposal.
- In the post-apocalyptic black comedy Delicatessen, tenants of Clapet's apartment building can buy cheap meat if they lay off the questions.
- Subverted in the film Shattered where the killers dumped a body in a chemical vat but Did Not Do the Research - if they'd not been in such a hurry they might have seen the sign saying Formaldehyde.
- In Pulp Fiction, Jules and Vincent dispose of the body of Marvin, who Vincent shot in the face, in a car compactor.
- Ditto in Goldfinger, courtesy of Oddjob.
- In the Spanish film Volver, a woman hides her husband's corpse in the freezer of a restaurant while the owner is away, after her daughter kills him in self defense when he tried to molest her.
- In every version of Sweeney Todd, Todd disposes of his victims by delivering them to his butcher neighbour to grind into meat pies.
- Me Myself and Irene has the hero and Love Interest steal a car in which they find a shovel and quicklime (highly corrosive), implying the former owner was planning to do this to someone.
- Indeed, the owner was planning to do it to them.
- Le Pere Noel Est Une Ordure ("Santa Claus is Trash"), a cult French film adapted from a stage play, has the dead body cut into small chunks, individually wrapped in festive Christmas wrapping, and the chunks are then launched into the enclosures of various carnivores at the zoo.
- Psycho has the in-a-trunk-in-a-car-in-a-lake variant.
- In Fargo, the villain is caught in the act of disposing of his double-crossed partner's body via wood-chipper.
- At least partially inspired by the Real Life case of Richard Crafts, who chose to kill his wife Helle rather than let her go through with divorcing him.
- Eating Raoul uses the Eat the Evidence variety.
- As does The Green Butchers.
- Fried Green Tomatoes. Another Eat the Evidence example.
- Shallow Grave presented the issue to a group of friends when their recently-acquired renter keels over in his room. They end up chopping him to pieces and burying him in a shallow grave. Then things start getting worse...
- The remake of The Lady Killers had them dumping the ever-accumulating bodies on a landfill barge that regularly goes past the boarding house. In the original, it's a freight train.
- The German Black Comedy Drei Chinesen mit dem Kontrabass has the protagonist and his friends with the body of his fiancee which he isn't sure whether he killed her or not. He didn't. So they cut the body up and borrow a grain mill from the Granola Girl next door to shred the bones.
- In noir film Rider on the Storm, the heroine kills a rapist in her house, and then calmly proceeds to dump his corpse in the ocean. The lack of a body drives most of the plot. It's never discussed why she doesn't, say, call the police.
- The Trouble with Harry is that he's dead, several people think that they did it, and none of them want his body found anywhere that might incriminate them.
- In Lethal Weapon 2 the South African baddie invites one of his hapless henchmen into his office which is covered in plastic. His other, not-so-hapless henchman shoots him in the head and he conveniently drops onto the plastic.
- In Goodfellas, the boys bury a dead body in a relatively shallow grave and have to go back and dig him up six months later when they find out that that area is going to be developed and they'd certainly find the body — this is very bad for them because said body was a made man, and if their boss finds out, their lives are forfeit.
- Nicolas Winding Refn's Pusher 3 includes a particularly long and gruesome example when Milo and his old comrade Radovan dispose of two bodies by butchering them in his restaurant.
- In American Gods, the junker on the frozen lake has a sacrificed girl in the boot, as has every one for the last several winters.
- In Weather Wardens, an amnesiac Jo has to help Eamon bury the body of a guy she doesn't know. But a couple of other bodies vanish without a trace due to weather related issues.
- In Heinlein's novel Friday, the escape tunnel from a house the title character visits has a lime cavern attached to dissolve the bodies of those caught in that tunnel's deathtraps.
- In Two Bottles of Relish by Lord Dunsany The killer eats the body...with relish for taste..
- Thieves' World short story Blood Brothers.
- Eight Skilled Gentlemen.
- The Dream of Eugene Aram (1831)
- Robert Louis Stevenson's The Wrong Box (and the Film based thereon, of course)
- There's a short story out there somewhere about a guy who killed an old man and tried to get rid of his body in the ocean. However, he's carrying the body over his shoulders, and rigor mortis sets in, locking the corpse's arms around his neck. He ends up drowning when the tide comes up and he can't outrun it.
- Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart": The Unreliable Narrator hides the body of his victim under the floorboards.
- In R Austin Freeman's Dr Thorndyke mystery The Stoneware Monkey, the victim's body is incinerated in a potter's kiln.
- Ethan of Athos: Elli Quinn spends an entire chapter disposing of a body. "Have you ever given thought to the difficulty of getting rid of a body on a space station?"
- In the Warrior Cats series, Hollyleaf attempts to dispose of Ashfur's body by tossing it in a stream, hoping he'll be swept into the lake, the Clan would think he just mysteriously vanished, and that would be the end of it. Things don't exactly go as planned.
Live Action TV
- Frequently on CSI; one notable example being a man who gets stuck in concrete trying to dispose of one at a construction site. Which Catherine thinks is a CMoF.
- On Misfits, the main characters often end up having to covertly dispose of the many corpses that result from their adventures; being young offenders on probation, they firmly believe that they'd be blamed for the deaths even in cases when it honestly wasn't their fault- and given the state of the police in the neighbourhood, they're probably right.
- In the first episode, they bury the bodies of Gary and Tony under a flyover. A few episodes later, it turns out that an environmental monitoring station is due to be built there, so they have to hide the bodies in their local community centre; eventually, the corpses are returned to the flyover and dumped in the wet concrete foundations of the building site.
- Next season, after learning that the body of Sally the probation worker has been hidden upstairs in a freezer for the last couple of weeks, they wrap up the corpse in garbage bags, weigh it down with cinderblocks and dump it in the nearby lake.
- After Superhoodie (AKA: Future Simon) is fatally wounded, he requests a Viking Funeral from Alisha to ensure that nobody ever learns his Secret Identity. She tearfully obliges.
- The third season kicks off with the Misfits having to dispose of yet more bodies: this time, it's the villain of the week and her victim, both of whom are buried in some decently forested territory.
- A mind-controlling villain of the week is given a Viking Funeral by Simon. Exactly as the villain intended.
- Not long after Shaun dies from being stabbed by Jen in Kelly's body, the team bury him as well; we don't see the burial actually happen, but Rudy does ask to borrow Seth's car so the body can be safely transported.
- Episode seven has arguably the highest disposal count of the entire series: in this case, the team have to bury the bodies of Shannon Speers, all six zombified cheerleaders, and their new probation worker. For good measure, Seth has to do all the work because it was his fault that Shannon was resurrected as a zombie in the first place.
- In the series three finale, Alisha is murdered by a ghost; with no evidence that her killer even existed, the Misfits are forced to bury the corpse in the same forest as the last few victims.
- In Breaking Bad, the first attempt to get rid of a drug dealer's corpse goes badly wrong when the hydrofluoric acid eats through the bottom of the bathtub and then the floor, dumping a vile pile of half-digested body bits and acid onto the floor below. If you don't vomit, you'll crack up.
- In Dollhouse, Boyd makes Topher do this (hacking the body up and dissolving it) with a death that he technically allowed to learn that "actions have consequences".
- In Wire in The Blood, a hospital nurse has access to the perfect way of disposing of her victims: they go into the hospital's cremation furnace.
- In Heroes:
- Jessica buried bodies in the desert.
- Sylar didn't bother with disposal.
- The Company had cleanup crews.
- Angela burned the body of the original Nathan Petrelli.
- Played for laughs in Fawlty Towers. John Cleese, on Parkinson:
Well, we used to ask people. I had a friend called Andrew Lehmann, who'd worked in the restaurant business, and I knew he'd worked at the Savoy, and I said, "Andrew, what was the worst problem you had at the Savoy?" and he said, "Getting rid of the stiffs." And... your heart leaps with joy, because he's just given you a thirty-minute episode in one comment.
- Apparently, the Savoy Hotel in London has some sort of special allure for gentlemen who would check in, order the finest room service, then down an entire bottle of sleeping pills.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Dead Things".
- Mostly averted throughout the series, as vampires tend to ash upon destruction due to the fact that the writers didn't want a good chunk of the episode to involve teenagers trying to dispose of bodies. The episode "The Wish" lampshaded it when Buffy kills a demon in the opening act and has to figure out how to get rid of the body.
- In The Wire, Marlo's hit squad Chris and Snoop have a genius system that allows them to off a huge number of rival dealers before the police start to notice (22 bodies are eventually recovered, but their actual hit count is unknown). They take them at gunpoint into one of hundreds of derelict row-houses, kill them and cover the body in lime, then wrap them in a plastic sheet and board the house back up.
- On one episode in NCIS, a drug agent in South America is embalmed alive. That of course is Hollywood Tactics: the most sensible thing would have been to dump the body in the jungle for scavengers to render it unrecognizable. If anyone by a miracle found that it was a murder they would assume it had been done by the drug cartels long ago (which was of course not the case in this episode).
- In another, a body is found buried 18" underground prompting a discussion between Gibbs and Ducky as to why humans are buried six feet down. According to the writers, that's how deep they have to be so animals don't smell them and dig them up.
Gibbs: I said I know.
- In the Bottom episode "Gas", Richie and Eddie believe they've managed to kill the Gas inspector when they knocked him out with a frying pan (and hit him a few more times after he hit the floor for good measure). They decide to add an extra entry to his diary ("Left in high spirits, to indulge in my hobby of Bus surfing.") and post his body out of the window onto the roof of a double decker bus.
- Dexter can't really be excluded from this trope considering his thoughtfully planned and executed methods of disposing of bodies. Not only does he completely cover a small room in plastic sheeting and prepare the scene, has everything he needs to both torture his victim (a villainous criminal implied to have no chance for redemption) with pictures of his victims, collect blood for his blood slide collection, then stab the victim in the chest, chop up the body, wrap it up in garbage bags, and deposit them at sea with his boat in the dead of night. All the while posing as the upbeat forensic blood spatter analyst for the police. Trope mastered.
- One episode of Diagnosis Murder (that was kind of a ghost story) had one corpse turned into an exhibit skeleton.
- In the first season of Downton Abbey, Mary has to get rid of the body of a Turkish diplomat who dies in her bedroom, where he's emphatically not supposed to have been in the first place. The trope is Downplayed, as she doesn't mind the body being found; it's just necessary that it be found somewhere that won't lead to a massive life-ruining scandal for her.
- "Dead Body Disposal" by rapper Necro, gives various advice on how to dispose of a body and make it harder to find.
- In the Suspense episode "The Pasteboard Box," a man murders his twin brother and dismembers the body to dispose of it more easily, but just can't get rid of the pasteboard box containing the head.
- In Grand Theft Auto IV, you deliver two bodies to an organ harvester, and later help a murderous husband dispose of his wife's body.
- This is a recurring theme in Grand Theft Auto. Car compactor in III and the dog food factory in Vice City.
- In Liberal Crime Squad you need to dispose of the bodies of your fallen comrades before you can use their equipment.
- After Vito comes back from prison in Mafia II, he, Joe, and Eddie Scarpa celebrate with lots of drinks at the Cathouse, but Eddie forgets until after he and Joe are plastered that he has a body in the trunk of his car that needs burying.
- In The Other Grey Meat, John must dispose of Ole Corpsey™ after he discovers his remains in the bunker.
- In one Eight Bit Theater comic, Black Mage tried to cut up a corpse and deposit it in numerous garbage disposals. What he didn't count on was that his knife, usually used to stab his 'friends', couldn't handle the bones. Not that he's a first time murderer or anything.
- Niels once asked the manager of his recycling plant how he gets rid of bodies. He holds up a bag of fertilizer that he explains is 10% recycled ash.
- In The Order of the Stick, Redcloak disposes of Tsukiko's body by having mind-controlled ghouls eat it. Then having the ghouls eat each other. And the last ghoul to put itself into fire. He's thorough like that.
- SpongeBob SquarePants, "The Nasty Patty": Spongebob and Mr. Krabs think they killed the health inspector (he's just unconscious) and try to dispose of the "body". Burying doesn't work because of the rain (underwater, I know, just go with it), and two cops arrive on the scene to give them a ride back to the Krusty Krab, so they hide it in the trunk of the squad car and then hide it in the freezer (but not before Spongebob has to bring him through the front door, hidden under his hat, because the back door was locked). And then the cops ask for ice...
- One episode of Family Guy had Lois attempting to dump a body in the river in order to protect her son Chris (who she thought killed the man, but in reality he didn't). Things got complicated when a policeman came by, but Stewie handled the situation by sliding himself into the collar of the man's shirt and acting like it was his body.
- This has happened enough times on Archer that "I shall fetch a rug" has become a Running Joke. "Training Day" had Archer and Cyril planning to bury a dead hooker ( who was just paralyzed) after smuggling her body out in a rug, and "Killing Utne" had Malory taking care of a dead UN official and his high-class call girl companion by breaking into her hated neighbor's apartment, staging the scene to look like a murder-suicide, then burning the bodies. Probably reached its peak with the episode "Lo Scandalo", in which Mallory roping in Archer, Lana and Dr Krieger to help her dispose of the body of the Italian Prime Minister who's been assassinated in her apartment. Krieger's solution is to hack the body up in a bathtub and use the rest of the agents to dispose of the pieces in separate trashcans spread out across the city. At the end, we're left wondering whether it was actually Mallory who killed him.
- Numerous instances, but the most famous incident would be Jimmy Hoffa. He was last seen 36 years ago, and his body has yet to be found.