Share your favorite "perfect murder" plans from fiction (open spoilers inevitable).

In which we discuss the most devilishly clever plans to commit the ultimate crime and get off scott free, as described in novels, short stories, theatre, television, and movies. There’s but one rule: please confine yourselves to stories set in relatively realistic settings: that is, no science fiction or fantasy.

I’ll open the bidding with Henry’s second murder in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. (The first murder was a complete fuckup that he and his compatriots got away with only by luck.) Presented with the problem of dealing with a potential whistle-blower, Henry at first devises several intricate plans involving poison, but ultimately decides that the problem with well-thought plans is that what one mind can engineer, another can deceipher. Thus he simply uses his knowledge of his intended victim’s habits to let the victim choose the method of his death himself.

I won’t say more; it’s a good read. Anyway, does anybody else want to take a whack at the topic?

I thought the murder plan in Strangers on a Train would have worked great if both parties had agreed to it. Especially at the time the movie was set in when there was no credit-card trail that proved both guys were on the same train.

I always felt the fake serial killer plan is best. Go out and kill a string of people, one of whom is your actual target, in the manner of a serial killer. The police will be looking for some anonymous killer rather than checking the people who had a motive to kill the victims.

Roald Dahl’s “Lamb to the Slaughter” is pretty good, for the small-scale end of things.

A wife kills her husband by clubbing him over the head with a frozen leg of lamb. Then, when the police come over to investigate, the distraught widow feeds them the murder weapon.

Or then there’s the “Goodbye Earl” method: Kill someone so universally despised that nobody will much care who did it.

My favorite example being John Lithgow in Blow Out.

You will also be committing multiple crimes, thus increasing the odds that someone will see you on the scene of one of the abductions/killings/body dumps, and/or that some piece of forensic evidence will connect you to the crimes, or that one of your supposedly-helpless victims will go all Abby Scuito on you and kick your ass before her rescuers arrive, or that something else I haven’t yet thought of will go wrong. Not to mention that, once you get past that single-victim mark, the odds that you’ll get sentenced to death if caught increase hugely. Maybe geometrically.

You mean like in Agatha Christie’s

The ABC Murders

There was a great little mystery short story in Ellery Queen’s 101 Years Entertainment called “The Perfect Crime” by Ben Ray Redman. I don’t think the method has ever been topped, though it was not a planned murder.

The method used in Lord Dunsany’s “The Two Bottle of Relish” is also a great one, if you have the stomach for it.

Um…details, please?

The killer in Ellery Queen’s *The Origin of Evil *got away with it even though Ellery figured it out. This novel does not have the most realistic of plots, though. In The Door Between, the killer might have gotten away with it, had he insisted Ellery prove it. That would have forced Queen to either back down or go to the authorities with doctored evidence.

Nevermind, for some reason I didn’t see the mention in Chronos’ post. >_<

In the Two Bottles of Relish, the killer eats the victim.

I still like Murder on the Orient Express. It wasn’t one of the passengers, it was all of them!

Seriously, people, please don’t just give the name of the book, tell the method!

Yeah, there’s a whole bunch of great adaptations from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. An Out For Oscar is another good one:

(I prefer to stop watching the episodes on Hulu before Hitchcock comes on at the end and says that the killer was caught, undoubtedly b/c he was forced to by the Network).

But if your chances of being caught for a single crime are fifty percent and your chances of being caught for ten other crimes are only three percent each, then the ten crimes are less risky than the single crime.

I always liked the Nero Wolfe mystery – AND BE A VILLAIN – where the killer accidentally pulls off the perfect murder.

She hosts a live radio show, invariably interrupting the interview so she and her guests and various hangers-on can talk about how they’re all pouring the sponsor’s soda pop from assorted bottles into assorted glasses that get passed around and sipped with lip-smacking enthusiasm. (To avoid embarrassing that sponsor, everyone keeps secret that she pours iced coffee for herself to prevent indigestion.)

So she gambles that no one will pay much attention if she deftly ensures a poisoned bottle only gets poured into the glass set before her victim. Heck, if you were one of the folks likewise grabbing a bottle and pouring it into a glass or two you hand off while thinking up your next on-air quip, how much would you scrutinize what everyone else was doing?

But even if Plan A gets seen, she can roll the dice with Plan B: after lots of detective work to learn that indigestion secret, folks would only know that someone poisoned her iced-coffee bottle – which, okay, she “accidentally” handed off to someone, but obviously someone was gunning for her, right? And cue all the wrong questions.

Maybe it would’ve worked – but she didn’t need Plan B, or even Plan A. She’s ready to reshuffle the glasses as soon as the guy who grabbed the poisoned bottle finishes pouring, but he happened to pour the stuff into the right glass, which to her surprised delight means she doesn’t need to lift a finger.

In The Oxford Murders, Seldom tells Martin the story of a famous 19th Century British murder: A wife killed her husband, at home, with a knife. There was a diary where he had been declaring his intention to kill her and devising all sorts of ways to do it, it was a shocking and horrible read. She claimed she had found it and, in terror for her life, struck first. The jury found self-defense. Much later, after she was dead, some historian studying the diary determined it was a forgery, by the woman’s lover, who was a noted forger. “The perfect murder,” says Seldom, “is not the murder that is never solved, but is solved with the wrong culprit.”

I remember a Hart to Hart episode with that premise. The killer was foiled when his distractionary hit on Jennifer was spoiled by a fluke and through some flavor of obsessive-compulsive disorder, came after her again and was arrested. It didn’t make sense to me at the time - he’s killed his intended target. Why go after Jennifer again? The nagging sense of a job undone?

Will someone else spoil it, then? The summary on Wikipedia only says that his friends confront him while he’s hiking, then one pushed him off a cliff - that doesn’t sound like much of a leap to come up with, but is a very sensible solution, I will admit.