Perfect murder (fiction)

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"The perfect murder", is a death that appears to be either by natural causes or has been caused by another unrelated action, apart from the actions of the murderer - thereby rendering the murderer as a 'none' suspect in a crime that didn't happen. This of course, leads to the conclusion that - any perfect murder, although there must be thousands of examples of this that we are unaware of, can never be identified as such.

In short, 'perfection' requires that no-one other than the perpetrator knows the truth, and that as such - the truth is unknowable.

The perfect murder is a murder which benefits the murderer, but also has no negative consequences for him or her; usually, this simply means that the murderer is never caught. Several factors might contribute to the perfect murder:

  • The murderer has an impeccably trustworthy witness who provides an alibi, which no other witness contradicts.
  • The murderer had no apparent motive to commit the crime, and thus is not suspected by investigators.
  • The murderer does not retain incriminating items or leave physical evidence of his presence at the crime scene.
  • The murderer cannot be convicted for the crime owing to a legal loophole that the murderer knew would make a conviction unattainable.
  • At no stage in planning, committing or covering up the crime does the murderer take another person into confidence on any suspicious or illegal matter.

The concept of the perfect murder is closely connected with detective fiction and often crops up in the whodunit and the locked room mystery. In the latter case, the murderer usually tries to make their crime 'perfect' by creating the illusion that there is no physically possible way they could commit the crime. For example, the victim is found dead in an empty room with its only door locked from the inside. The murderer, of course, has used some clever method to lock the door after departure, and a verdict of suicide means that foul play is not suspected.

The idea of a "motiveless" perfect murder is explored in the novel Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith, famously adapted into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock. The scheme is for two strangers who both want someone dead to meet randomly and "trade murders," each doing the other's dirty work so they each have no discernible motive for their respective crimes.

A perfect murder could involve making it appear that the person one kills is oneself. The film The Whole Nine Yards features a perfect murder in which a hitman kills someone and blows up his body, making facial identification impossible. Knowing the police would check the body's dental records, the killer has a dentist insert dental implants to modify the victim's teeth to match his own.

A perfect murder could also be made to appear as an accidental or natural death or not a death at all (say by making the victim leave a note saying they were running away, then disposing of the body in such a way that it can never be found). In some jurisdictions a body is necessary for a charge of murder, so merely destroying the body completely is sufficient.

A less common alternative of a perfect murder is a murder that cannot be punished because of a loophole in applicable law. An example of this is Gardner's The Bigger They Come (1939) in which the hero confesses to a murder (which he did not commit), while presenting case law (then valid also in reality) that disallows his punishment.[1]

The Crow Road by Iain Banks, contains a modern perfect murder using a car.

In the 2007 thriller Mr. Brooks, the titular character is a serial killer who goes to exhaustive lengths to leave no evidence linking himself to any of his crimes.


  1. ^ Francis M. Nevins: Samurai at Law: The World of Erle Stanley Gardner, Legal Studies Forum, Volume 24, Number 1 (2000)

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