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In the event of a kidnapping or Hostage Situation where characters are held for ransom, when the kidnapper is ready to make his demands known and/or make sure he is taken seriously by his hostage's loved ones or law enforcement authorities, the kidnapper will send severed body parts from his hostage to the family/police. Fingers are very common, but ears, teeth, toes, hair, etc. are frequently fair game, as well.
In other circumstances, the situation can involve a Serial Killer mailing more gruesome body parts (typically internal organs or severed heads) from recent victims to both taunt the police or detectives tailing him and to prove to them that they are receiving correspondence from the suspect they are after. If the body part is delivered to a loved one of the victim in this circumstance, it's typically a way to convey the gruesome fate met by the victim to that character who receives the body part.
Anime & Manga
- Happens in Gunnm when Gally shows up at Desty Nova's lab looking for her foster father, Ido. When she demands that Desty tell her where he is, he casually tosses her a head-sized metal box and tells her to take a look for herself.
- Used in Heat Guy J. A Corrupt Politician kills Ian when the latter was caught spying. The guy then cuts off Ian's hand (with his Phi Beta Kappa ring on the middle finger) and sends it to Ian's boss (and friend), who then declares war on the senator.
- In Black Lagoon, Balalaika has a yakuza boss who betrayed her killed and (offscreen) cut into pieces. She then sends a box containing some of the pieces back to his organization as a reminder that she's not to be trifled with.
- Used in MPD Psycho: A killer sends one of the detectives looking for him the armless, legless torso of the detective's girlfriend in an ice chest.
- In Batman: Dark Victory, someone steals the body of previous untouchable crime lord Big Bad Carmine Falcone (who was killed by Two Face in an attempt to "do what is necessary" to take down organized crime) and, later, sends his daughter, who has taken over the crime family, his finger, which her aide recognizes as an "old style message," meaning that someone means to take everything from her, "piece by piece." At the end, the person who stole the body is revealed to be Two Face who, throughout the story, was acting leading nearly all of Batman's rogues gallery to take down the Falcone family and its associates.
- In the "Five Years Later" run of The Legion of Super Heroes, the crazed killer Roxxas blows up the rock Legionnaire Blok and mails the pieces to the other Legionnaires.
- The maniacal doctor Hush from Batman turns this around by sending Batman the entirety of Catwoman... minus her heart.
- In Sin City, Hartigan gets a severed finger in the mail instead of his usual letter from Nancy. Junior couldn't find her, so he tricks Hartigan into tracking her down.
- In the Emma Frost origin comic series, Emma and her boyfriend Troy are kidnapped by loan sharks that Troy owed money to. When they find out that Emma is the daughter of a millionaire, they ship a box full of her hair and an ear to her family, along with a ransom note. The ear, it turns out, was actually Troy's, him having been killed earlier trying to save Emma.
- In Flames and Family II: Road to Ruin, a Katekyo Hitman Reborn fanfiction, Mochida gives Tsuna a box that is supposedly a gift from Mochida's boss. However, it's revealed to be the finger of a little child who had been used in a deadly experiment that Mochida's boss was in charge of. It Got Worse especially when Mochida was revealed to actually know what was really in the gift and purposefully said the wrong information in an attempt to kill Tsuna, but Ryohei got hurt instead. Needless to say, Tsuna was not happy at all.
- The Blair Witch Project has a variation of this when Josh's tongue and lower jaw are left outside Heather's tent, packed in sticks wrapped with scraps of his bloodied shirt.
- Dirty Harry: Scorpio kidnaps a 14-year-old girl, sending the police her bra, a lock of hair, and a bloody tooth "pulled out with a pair of pliers".
- In Escape from New York, a creepy punk taunts the government troops with the kidnapped President's severed finger.
- At the end of Se7en, a package is received from the captured Serial Killer containing the head of his latest victim — Mills' wife.
- Seen in the Rutger Hauer films Split Second and The Hitcher. In Split Second, a long-vanished Serial Killer returns and taunts the protagonist by sending him a metal briefcase that turns out to contain the heart of the first new victim packed in ice with a very large bite taken out of it. In The Hitcher, the protagonist stops at a roadside diner to call the cops on the serial killer who's been pursuing him. The killer slips a human finger into a plate of fries the waitress brings him.
- In The Big Lebowski, the eponymous "Big" Jeffrey Lebowski is sent one of his wife's, Bunny, toes after a botched money exchange. Although this is actually a ruse to make Lebowski think they have his wife.
- In Clean Slate, Dana Carvey is supposed to testify against a criminal who is missing his thumb, because he was kidnapped as a child and his father refused to give in to the kidnappers' demands.
- In Under Siege, Strannix recounts a tail of how he sent his CIA superior the fingers of two assassins who were sent to kill him.
- Referenced in A Life Less Ordinary, when incompetent kidnapper Robert asks his victim what he's supposed to do next. Celine tells him about the last time she was kidnapped, when she was 12.
Robert: "So what did they do next?"
- In one Forgotten Realms novel, the crimelord who has the halfling Regis captive has one of his men give Drizzt and friends (out to save Regis) a package when they reach his city: a halfling's severed finger. Not only is it from Regis, the crimelord does it again as they're breaking into his lair.
- In Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept series, the villains kidnap Clip, one of the protagonist's unicorn allies, and send him Clip's horn as proof. Clip is rescued, and the protagonist uses his magic to reattach the horn.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- The Bloody Mummers cut off the Kingslayer's sword hand, intending to send it to his father with a ransom demand.
- Ramsay Bolton sends flayed skin from Theon Greyjoy to a number of lords. His letter mentions the inclosed "piece of prince."
- The Erast Fandorin book The Coronation includes a subversion of the ransom demand variation; the hostage was killed immediately after the finger was cut off as part of the villain's Evil Plan.
- Ramsay Bolton sometimes sends people letters with pieces of flayed skin in them.
- Used in the Firekeeper books, when kidnappers send Citrine's fingers to Lady Melinda. Her only reaction is to burn them.
- In Mercedes Lackey's Arrows Fall, a villain asks sweetly, "How will your Queen react to receiving her favorite Herald...but a small piece at a time?"
- In one of the Alex Rider books, Alex swaps rooms with a friend he made in hospital to protect him from kidnappers (the friend's father is rich). They threaten to do this to Alex once they finally show up, forcing him to admit the truth.
- In Myth-Inc Link, Skeeve receives a package containing a severed finger. Recognizing the ring it's wearing as one he'd foisted off on Queen Hemlock to force her to give up conquering the world, he concludes that she cut it off to free herself from its magic and is once again a threat. At the end of the book, however, both Skeeve and the reader learn that things aren't quite what they seem. The finger was Roderick's, and Hemlock sent it to Skeeve to tell him that she'd figured out the rings were just a bluff when Rod died of natural causes.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Rogues in the House", Murilo is given a recognizable ear as a hint.
- The Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" has a pair of ears placed in a box but delivered to the wrong person.
- In the novel Sick Puppy, the protagonist, in his efforts to force a lobbyist to shut down a proposed resort development program that existed purely to funnel pork to cronies of the governor, holds the lobbyist's dog hostage and mails the man the ear and paw of a Labrador Retriever. Subverted in that the parts had been taken off another dog who had died in an accident, not the lobbyist's dog.
- In Sammy Keyes and the Runaway Elf, the people who kidnapped the prize dog of a Rich Bitch mail her a box full of said dog's fur. This also doubles as a way to hide it in the kennel it was being kept at.
- In The Tamuli, instructions to Sparhawk from Ehlana's kidnappers include a lock of her hair as verification.
- In American Psycho, when Patrick Bateman is listing his priorities before Christmas, one of them is "saw a hardbody's head off and Federal Express it to Robin Barker – the dumb bastard – over at Salomon Brothers".
- In the fifth Pendragon book, St. Dane leaves Bobby a bag containing Gunny's severed hand.
- An eponymous example in Ghislain Taschereau's french novel Inspector Spector and the Dead Finger where the Big Bad gets the inspector involved by leaving a dead severed finger on top of a mailbox for no apparent reason. Fortunately, the inspector has a secret weapon: he sold his soul to the Devil to be the world's greatest detective.
- Used on Bones quite often.
- Especially during the Gormogon arc and with some from crime scenes involving scavenger animals, winds, or other such scattering mechanisms.
- In an episode of Cold Case, a coyote (smuggler of humans along the US-Mexico boarder) would kidnap the children of families that missed payments, cut off their ear and mail it to the family, then kill the child if there was still no payment received.
- Similarly, the season 1 finale of Criminal Minds features a variation on this trope; SSA Jason Gideon receives, at his cottage, a baseball card and a head in a box via courier, which sets the BAU's targets on this new case.
- An episode of CSI New York dealt with the heir of a wealthy family who'd been abducted at a young age with his brother. When the family was slow with the ransom money, his brother's ear was cut off and sent to the family; later, the brother was killed. The surviving man kept the ear in a jar of preservative.
- This was a recurring theme throughout the whole of season one of Dexter, but never quite so strongly as the time that the Ice Truck Killer mailed a jar of blood with a hotel room key in it to the homicide division. The hotel room key turned out to lead to a hotel room (duh) with walls covered with even much more blood.
- In Frasier, when Niles is taking care of a sack of flour as though it were a child, he tells Frasier about his nightmares where the sack of flour is kidnapped and he starts receiving muffins in the mail.
- In one episode of The Golden Girls, the girls' young neighbor Daisy holds Rose's teddy bear for ransom. At one point, Blanche receives one of his ears in the mail.
- Also parodied on the Nickelodeon show Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, where the school bully, Loomer, takes the title character's Life Science baby care project doll and sends it back to them piece by piece. The horrified Cookie exclaims, "What do we do now?" to which Ned smiles and replies, "Nothing." Backfires when the day before the babies are to be inspected the teacher suddenly moves up the deadline they still don't have the head.
- Used and subverted in a 2000 episode of Swedish soap opera Nya Tider. The series Big Bad, Carl Gripenhielm, is sent a package containing his son Philips index toe, as a taunt to make him send money to the kidnappers. Some scenes later it is revealed that the son himself cut the toe, and is faking a kidnap together with Depraved Homosexual friend Hampus.
- Parodied in Season 4 of House, when Drs. Cuddy and Wilson try to force House to hire a new team. Wilson attempts blackmail by "kidnapping" House's guitar. When House still won't give in, Wilson sends him the torn off whammy bar as a threat.
- In the Jonathan Creek episode "Angel Hair" a kidnapper sends a tuft of hair to the hostage's lover. (Kind of...the hair and the kidnapping itself was completely staged, in an attempt to make the hostage look as though she were faking her own kidnapping in order to extort money out of her married lover. The hair ends up being a major continuity problem for the person pulling the strings, as the woman is in a hair-pulling Cat Fight just before the actors grab her and cut her hair off, making it seem like she's grown a full head of hair back in a matter of seconds.).
- One CSI episode featured a man who had found the cut off index finger of his mistress in her apartment. Later, they find the body and it is revealed that it was the man himself who had killed her. To avoid suspicion of the murder, he staged it as a kidnapping gone wrong.
- In the 80s, the Canadian comedy show Bizarre parodied this, with a skit featuring a man and woman waiting anxiously for correspondence from their son's kidnapper. After revealing that they'd been sent a few pieces of him already (fingers and toes) they received a new box. When the wife asked what part of him was in it this time, the answer was, "His shit." In an alternate ending, it was instead his foot, to which the parents happily exclaimed, "Now we have enough to put him back together again!"
- Inverted/subverted in a Law & Order: Criminal Intent season finale, when Goren receives a human heart while investigating the death of his brother Frank and possible kidnapping of his nephew. Turns out it actually belongs to serial killer Nicole Wallace, who had killed Frank and was subsequently killed by Goren's unhinged mentor, who wanted to remove himself, Nicole and Frank from Goren's life in one fell swoop.
- In the Special Victims Unit episode "Weeping Willow", the de-ear-ing of WW's boyfriend happens on-camera to show that the kidnappers are serious.
- Done with an added layer of Squick on Luther where the kidnappers cut out their hostage's tongue just to prove they're serious. Later, it gets worse.
- Parodied in a Mr. Show sketch in which a kidnapper calls the wealthy father of the boy he's kidnapped and demands to know whether he received his son's toe in the mail to prove his serious intent. Except he forgot to mail the toe. And he appears to have accidentally removed his own toe, instead of one of the kid's. And he's already released the kid. And the police are able to track his call while he's dithering about all of this. The kidnapper ends up trying to sell the father his own toe for $50.00. Obviously, he's not a very effective kidnapper.
- In Black Mirror the kidnapper mails the Princess' finger to the press after it is revealed that the PM is using a body double in a sex tape. However, forensic examination shows it's NOT the Princess's finger. In an appallingly extreme bluff, it's the kidnapper's.
- Subverted in an episode of Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, where it turns out the kidnapping was staged, and the body part belonged to somebody else (the "kidnapper" was working at a job that gave him access to dead bodies).
- In an episode of Police Squad!, Frank and his co-workers tell the mother of a kidnapped young lady about a similar case they had in which the victim's ear was cut off and mailed to her parents. The story, naturally, horrifies the woman.
- The serial killer variation showed up on Millennium where a sinister figure known as "the Judge" has criminals committing vigilante killings and mailing body parts to the victims' victims.
- Played for Laughs in the Scrubs episode "My White Whale". In a Cutaway Gag after Dr. Cox denies acting like a complete lunatic, doll enthusiast Dr. Norris receives a parcel containing the hand of a doll that went missing after he refused to break his schedule to look at Dr. Cox's son. Soon after, Dr. Cox reveals that the hand belongs to another doll--not the one that Dr. Norris is missing.
- Alias: Sloane receives his wife's ring finger through the mail as proof she's still alive and being held hostage. It's actually a Plan set in motion by Sloane himself. His wife cut off her own finger and mailed it to him.
- In Oz, African-American inmate Johnny Post kills Italian inmate Dino Ortolani on the orders of Homeboys leader Jefferson Keane. In retaliation, the Italians dismember Post and send Keane his penis in a box.
- In one of the quests for the Dark Brotherhood in Oblivion, the player is tasked with killing the recently retired commander of the Imperial Legion, and for a fat bonus, chopping off a finger and planting it in the desk of his successor as a warning.
- Screw up the investigation of the first murder case in Visual Novel:Kara no Shoujo and a suspiciously large crate will be delivered to your office. Contents: the body of your good friend's wife, minus her right leg, uterus, and the unborn child she'd been carrying. Made even worse once you discover that she's still alive.
- Parodied in the printed precursor to Freefall, when Helix is kidnapped. Since he's a robot, his compatriots just reassemble him as the parts arrive in the mail. The last thing to arrive is his head.
- Similar to the above example, Amazing Super Powers makes a gag out of reassembling the kidnapped victim as they receive severed appendages, but instead of a robot, detectives plan on reassembling a child.
- In The Perry Bible Fellowship, after Colonel Sweeto discovers a chocolate spy, he sends the Chocolate Kingdom a box containing the spy's "nut".
- Parodied at Homestar Runner when Strong Bad's old computers kidnap his Lappy, they send him her "toe" (a keyboard key) through the mail.
- In The Simpsons episode "Pranksta Rap", Bart pretends to be kidnapped and makes a call to the rest of the family while posing as the kidnapper. Homer immediately demands that the kidnapper send body parts to prove that he really has Bart. Marge objects.
- In another episode, when the Simpsons find Mr. Burns's beloved teddy bear from his childhood, Bart suggests they send Burns one of its eyes.
Bart: He'll pay more money if he thinks the bear's in danger.
- In the 1970s, young heir John Paul Getty III got his ear cut off a la Electra King and sent to his grandfather as a proof of him being kidnapped. He was rescued in the end, but ended up drug-addicted and later comatose.
- Jack the Ripper sent half a human kidney to the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, George Lusk, which is alleged to have come from the body of Catherine Eddowes (the Ripper's fourth victim).
- Tsutomu Miyazaki, the infamous Otaku Killer who murdered several young girls (and blamed it on a side of his personality he called "the Rat Man") sent a box containing the ground-up bones of one of his victims to her parents, as well as several of her teeth.
- He gave her and King Roderick unremovable magic rings, claiming that if one wearer died so would the other.