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Ya better watch how you talk/or where you walk/or you and your homies might be lined in chalk!
Coolio, "Gangsta's Paradise"

Ah, the chalk (or more rarely, tape) outline to indicate where the murder victim once was.

The real life history of the practice is not as clear cut as most would think. The practice was originally never part of actual police procedure; after all, the standard explanation of needing to know where the body was after it is removed is laughable when taking photographs of crime scenes is standard practice. It seems to have come to be as a way of allowing the media in the inter-war years to film/photograph crime scenes without having to show the actual bodies. This practice died out as forensic evidence became more important and the media became less concerned about showing bodies.

This is not to say that the police never draw around a body in Real Life. In reality, police procedure almost never requires a chalk outline -- chalk is impractical, prone to weather-related erosion, and contaminates the crime scene with a foreign substance, which seriously hampers an investigations or criminal proceedings at a later date. Not to mention that an outline wouldn't show anything useful about the body that a cursory visual examination wouldn't reveal. Therefore it is usually reserved for victims who are not dead and require immediate medical attention in places where contamination is less of a concern, most often road traffic incidents. Even if contamination is a concern, the police might note the location of the head with a cross or dot of chalk if they have to move the victims immediately.

Subversions and parodies are now the mainstay of this trope with all manner of strange visual gags involving confusingly shaped outlines, outlines in strange or impossible places or, quite popular, a corpse that has been shattered or dismembered having every part outlined individually. Nevertheless it does still turn up played straight whenever there is a desire not to show bodies, either for plot reasons or because of the intended air time of the program.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Chalk Outline include:

Anime and Manga

  • Played with in Yotsuba&!: when Yotsuba is playing with chalk, she decides to do a life-sized drawing of her dad's friend Jumbo. The result is a gigantic chalk outline that gives her friends pause on seeing it.
  • Played For Laughs (sort of) in Neon Genesis Evangelion where this method is used on Humongous Mecha. Or to be more exact, the skeletal remains of failed Eva prototypes are arranged into their original form and outlined in chalk, even though many are deformed and/or missing several limbs. And it only appears in the original version of episode 23; all other versions have a skeleton pit.
    • NOT played for laughs in the same series with Naoko Akagi's death. We don't see how she died or who (if anyone) murdered her- just her outline and the splatter of her brains on the MAGI computer. It's implied that she jumped off herself after killing Rei-I, though.
    • Played for laughs again in the first Rebuild movie with a giant white outline on a hill clearly where some humungous humanoid landed with enough force to either flatten or move all the buildings out of the way.
  • Tape outline used on Detective Conan a few times such as the episode titled Which One's Reasoning Show.
  • Played with in Hidamari Sketch. Miyako drew a chalk outline of Hiro at where she passed out, despite Sae's objection over taste. Sae ended up envying Miyako though, as Miyako drew the outline in the style of Amedeo Modigliani...
  • Spotted in the anime version of Phantom of Inferno.
  • The anime of Psychic Detective Yakumo plays it straight.
  • Also played straight in Black Lagoon.
  • At one point in XxxHolic Yuuko has drooped from the heat, and her two assistants Maru and Moro have drawn an outline around her.
  • In the Black Rose Arc of Revolutionary Girl Utena, the dueling arena is covered with desks and scattered red outlines of bodies. The losers of these duels fall onto these outlines and pose to fit them. This is probably related to the origin of the Black Rose Seals: a hundred students burned to death in a building.

Comics

  • Played straight in Astro City after the Mock Turtle is killed, one issue after being introduced

Fan Works

Film

  • The Naked Gun films love to do strange things like this, like an outline in the water where a man drowned. Made even funnier when you realize that the tape outline is for a character who isn't actually dead, and who doesn't die at any point.
  • Loaded Weapon 1 features a chalk outline for a death which hasn't even occurred yet. Moreover, it's a Railing Kill and the shot villain misses the outline. And then scoots over onto it before dying.
  • In the first Scary Movie, the Too Dumb to Live first victim trips into one of those and holds the pose for a few seconds before running away.
  • Parodied in Mr. Mom, where Jack Butler has a dream where he gets shot, then falls onto a chalk outline on the floor of his house. He opens his eyes again for a moment to notice that he's a little off-center from the chalk outline, scoots himself over, then passes out.
  • From Beyond. Wonderfully parodied after a scientist meddling in things he shouldn't accidentally summons a creature that bites off his head. Later, some characters return to the murder scene, where police have drawn a chalk outline with only a little nub (suggesting a bit of spine sticking out) where the neck and head should be.
  • Played straight, save for the dirty great big safe on top of the head of the outline, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.
  • Played for laughs in the new Pink Panther movie. "Isn't it strange that the dead man landed exactly in this chalk outline?"
  • Used for grim humor in the 1991 film "Frankie and Johnnie," where a group of teenagers are using a chalk outline on the sidewalk for a game of coin-toss.

Literature

  • Discworld has fun with this: first, they can and do draw outlines on the river Ankh; second, never let Nobby be the one to draw the outline as tobacco pipes, flowers and backgrounds detract from the gravity of the crime scene.
    • Going Postal: there is a mail-sorting machine made by Bloody Stupid Johnson that contains a wheel with a circumference exactly three times the diameter. There are chalk outlines of the pieces of someone who walked too close to it. Some of the outlines are very small indeed.
    • It's also parodied in Making Money by Vimes speculating that Lipwig will be "found lyin' in chalk", as if the chalk outline appears around murder victims on its own.
      • If Vimes were my boss, I would make quite sure the body was properly outlined by the time he reached the scene.
  • You Only Live Twice. James Bond is somewhat shocked over an incident where Japanese police insisted in drawing outlines around the victims of a road accident, and complaining when the victims moved.
  • Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason, in an early novel in his Cool & Lam series about a pair of private detectives, may have been the first to mention this in fiction. (The Wikipedia entry for Cool and Lam gives the full citation.)
  • Justified in The Case Of The Toxic Spell Dump, a Magitek novel set on a parallel Earth, because the chalk is a mystical substance that's intended to preserve the integrity of psychic evidence. Likewise, crime-scene tape is enchanted to ward off tamperers or the curious from the site of an investigation.

Live Action TV

  • 1000WaysToDie has chalk outlines in the opening sequence.
  • Jess draws one up with matching police tape in front of Taylor's market as a prank on Gilmore Girls. It puts the whole town (mostly Taylor) in a tizzy. Lorelai later comments that the town is so dull, they have a phony murder instead of a real one.
  • The X-Files. Played for dark laughs when a victim has their head shoved into liquid nitrogen and is then thrown to the ground. The chalk outline of the body is perfectly normal until it gets to the head ... which is a bunch of little dots.
  • It was used in teeny-bopper Nickelodeon series ICarly, where a tape outline is seen on the floor of a rundown motel implied to be in a very Bad Neighborhood.
  • In the "Cola Myths" segment of Myth Busters, this is referenced when they're testing cola's ability to clean up blood (OK, but not that spectacular), including mention that chalk outlines are not used in the real world as they are in fiction.
  • Parodied by Channel 5 (in the UK) sponsorship adverts for the Kia Sportage which are shown during crime dramas. In them generic Police Procedural scenes are played out. This includes one where a car stops next to an outline and two people get out to look at it...which then gets up and steals the car.
  • The Colbert Report has a chalk outline on the floor of the studio where Stephen Colbert fell and broke his wrist.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer once inadvertently sat down in a victim outline (taped to the seat of a railway coach where a vampire massacre had happened).
  • Spoofed in the miniseries The Tenth Kingdom: after Sally Peep is murdered, the location of her body is outlined in chalk, including her shepherd's crook. The Novelization lampshades this by having Tony reflect in his thoughts: "They were nothing if not thorough."
  • Family Matters - Carl "Cheapskate" Winslow didn't want to shell out $3000 for new living room furniture, so he bought a bunch of stuff from the police impound for about $300. Not only did it included a carpet with a tape outline of a body, it also included a lamp with bullet holes in the lampshade. Everything was uniformly garish - think "pimp" crossed with a velvet Elvis.
  • In an episode of Friends as Chandler is preparing to move in with Monica, she shows with a square outline on the floor to mark where she intends to put his special chair.

 Chandler: Oh my God, someone's killed Squareman.

  • Police Squad! played it straight, then spoofed it by drawing an Egyptian-style outline.
  • Played straight in an episode of Adam-12.
  • Kamen Rider Double: [[[The Rival]] Ryu]] is seen looking over a crime seen filled with these in the opening sequence -- though, they seem to be using lengths of rope instead of chalk.
  • On The Mary Tyler Moore Show, egotistical newscaster Ted Baxter couldn't decide on a new promotional photo, so he asked Murray, the acerbic newswriter:

 Ted: What kind of picture would you like to see of me?

Murray: How about a chalk outline on the floor?

  • Doctor Who used this from time to time, most hilariously in The Deadly Assassin, which takes place on Gallifrey!
  • In Not the Nine O'Clock News, one sketch shows a detective arriving on a crime scene exclaiming something like 'Bloody Hell!'. A uniformed officer informs him 'we think the motive was jealousy, sir...' Cue a shot of a chalk outline of a man with a huge penis.
  • The Avengers parodies this by having a man get shot and then fall precisely into a pre-drawn chalk outline.
  • Played straight on Heroes when Claire's roommate apparently commits suicide by jumping out of her window. Claire suspects a murder and tests it by jumping out the window. When she lands on the chalk outline, she concludes that she was wrong.

Music

  • A lyric from Coolio's "Gangster's Paradise" goes "You betta watch how ya talking/And where ya walking/Or you and your homies might be lined in chalk."
  • The Mars Volta song "Televators" has a lyric "Mark these words/One day this chalk outline will circle this city."

Newspaper Comics

  • The Far Side
    • Spoofed where a huge crew in New York is painting a line around King Kong.
    • There's another one like this, showing the outline of Kong, with a bunch of smaller outlines of people inside it.
  • Played in Garfield when Jon draws the chalk line around sleeping Garfield to make it look like Garfield's dead.

Stand Up Comedy

  • Jeff Foxworthy had a bit in his act where he described a wild party where a drunk trying to act like he's not drunk antagonizes Officer Mitchell by saying "If I lay down, will you draw my picture with that chalk you carry?"
  • Jerry Seinfeld talks about chalk outlines in a routine: "I think the lowest position in the police force you can get is chalk outline guy. The guy who wanted to be a sketch artist but couldn't draw too well."

Tabletop Games

  • An old Dragon article about realistic falling damage referenced the outlines of wizard and familiar, chalked on the cobblestones by the Greyhawk police, to illustrate how smaller creatures will strike the ground with less force (same speed[1], less kinetic energy).

Video Games

  • Some Grand Theft Auto games have dead people fade into this so the game does not have to have mountains of dead bodies on screen.
  • The Ace Attorney games, being Murder Simulators crime-and-punishment adventure games, use this occasionally.
    • Parodied several times. For example, one body falls out of a safe, and an outline is drawn across the safe boundary. Your companion is convinced that he died when the safe door crushed him.
  • The first part of the TV World in Persona 4 is littered with these outlines.
  • In City of Heroes, although it's never actually shown, one NPC in Pocket D does remark, "Oh, the chalk lines? Yeah, Back Alley Brawler had a few too many one night."
    • It should also be noted that Back Alley Brawler is a hero and that the entire zone is supposed to be a non-combat area, even watched over by an, in universe, virtual god of the realm. Take that for what you will.
    • There are some chalk outlines at the bottom of the ski slope, although they're all in rather odd positions, so these probably represent certain supers who came in a little too fast.
  • Gangsters Whenever you kill somebody, their bodies become chalk outline.
  • You are expected to do this in Police Quest. Or at least part IV.
  • Guitar Hero II has one painted on the stage in the Harmonix Arena directly below your character - fittingly, you can only see it when you fail the current song.
  • Batman: Arkham City has a pair - Hugo Strange draws them in Crime Alley to mark the place where Bruce Wayne's parents fell on the night they were murdered. He also leaves flowers and a mocking tape recording for Bruce to find, since he knows that he's Batman. Classy.

Webcomics

  • Order of the Stick used the "every body part given its own outline version, in this comic.
  • In Homestuck, Terezi draws "a pointless chalk outline around the body, as is standard protocol" when investigating Tavros' murder. She misses the left arm.

Western Animation

  • In Robots a lamp dies outside Aunt Fanny's house and the next morning there is a chalk outline of the lamp's body. The main characters walk by as if nothing had happened.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Monty Burns chalk outline plays in integral part in solving The Simpsons mystery of Who Shot Mr. Burns.
    • Also, Homer walks into one of these on the screen in an homage to Alfred Hitchcock at the beginning of a Halloween Episode
  • Beavis and Butthead: One episode revolved around the title duo walking into a recently vacated crime scene that had one of these. Butthead had been pressing Beavis's Berserk Button during the whole episode and after a fight, ends up lying exactly inside the outline as Beavis stands over him with the murder weapon.
  • In the Halloween episode of King of the Hill, Hank is setting up his horror house with Dale playing the body -- complete with his trademark cigarette. After he gets up, Bill remarks that it looked like he died with his tongue sticking out.
  • Repomies' office in Pasila has one of them, but nobody points it out or questions it in any way.

Notes

  1. less speed. Smaller creatures have a lower terminal velocity because they have a higher surface area/weight ratio, while the density is presumably the same; this is why a mouse can survive being dropped off the Empire State Building according to legend
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