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The ploy of taking over a dead person's identity.

This can be for any number of reasons. Perhaps the character was a drifter, with no identity of their own worth speaking of and enticed by the possibility of assuming the role of their recently deceased acquaintance. They may have promised to protect the person's loved ones, want to escape their old life, or less heroically intend to con their new "family" out of money. If anyone questions their changed appearance, accent, or other details, there's often a Conveniently Unverifiable Cover Story they can use to explain it away.

Usually the impostor will end up Becoming the Mask, falling in love with the life that isn't his, and be exposed. Happily, though, he will regain the trust he lost by some act of heroism, and remain among his new loved ones. Whether it's with his own or the new name varies.

More maliciously, a villain will do this after they kill the other person. A common occurrence in murder mysteries is for the killer to do this in order to throw off the time of death and give themselves an alibi. Having such an impersonation can create Dramatic Irony if the audience is aware of the ploy, or a plot twist if they are not.

Occasionally the impostor will be played sympathetically, in which case they may be forced to assume the dead person's identity to escape death themselves. Or, in a subversion, they could have been misidentified after a mass-casualty incident, and refrained from pointing out the mistake due to fear of prosecution, sympathy for the dead person's loved ones (who believe the deceased "miraculously survived!"), or even amnesia.

Compare My Sibling Will Live Through Me. Contrast The Mole, Rags to Royalty, The Real Remington Steele, Prince and Pauper. Contrast Lost in Character, where a professional actor takes on a role and forgets their original self. If you don't just take the other person's identity, but also their appearance, it's Replicant Snatching. If it's a temporary thing, a sort of masquerade where characters pretend the dead one is alive, it's an Of Corpse He's Alive situation, or the El Cid Ploy. If you're a time traveler, and are doing this so history stays on track, its You Will Be Beethoven.

Examples of Dead Person Impersonation include:


Anime and Manga

  • Basilisk's Kisaragi Saemon is the reigning champion of this trope, due to being a Master of Disguise and a skilled Ninja. Of course the show being what it is, it eventually comes back to bite him in the ass.
  • Monster's Johan likes to steal the identity of parents' dead sons.
  • Char Aznable from Mobile Suit Gundam is apparently one of these, but only in the Alternate Continuity manga Gundam: The Origin. In it, we find out that the Char we know - "Casval Daikun", in hiding as "Edward Mass" - befriended a real Char Aznable, a young man physically identical except for their eye colors. Due to a Twin Switch and an assassination attempt by the Zabis, the "late" Edward assumed the identity of the late Char, using Cool Shades and an equally Cool Mask to help avoid suspicion. He's found out quite later by his boss, Lady of War Kycilia, but she doesn't kill him on the spot and attempts to rope him in her own plans.
    • Which backfires massively when he blows her head off at the end of the series.
  • Something somewhat like this happens in Pretty Face. Masashi Rando survives a bus crash and awakens from a year-long coma to find that a talented but insane plastic surgeon reconstructed his face... based on the picture of his crush in his wallet. On fleeing the doctor's office, Rando learns that his family is gone with no forwarding info and that pretty much everyone hated him. Then he runs into his crush... who assumes he's her long-lost twin sister. He keeps up the charade because the girl really missed her sister. Said sister comes back near the end...
  • Used with quite a twist in G Gundam. One of the Gundam Fighters who faces the recently mutated Devil Gundam is the Neo German Schwarz Bruder, who loses and dies. The brainwashed pilot of the Devil Gundam, Kyouji Kasshu, uses his last bits of sanity to gather DG cells, merge them with Schwarz's corpse and create a clone of himself with them, who takes up Schwarz's identity while keeping Kyouji's memories and purposes as well as his looks (the true Schwarz is much older, but his Mask Power helps keep the masquerade).
  • Also used with a twist in Gundam Wing. The Movie shows that when the engineers working on the Gundam Heavyarms learned that Operation Meteor entailed a Colony Drop, they refused to go along with it. Trowa Barton, the Jerkass son of the operation's founder, threatened to turn them all in, and was shot dead. At that point, a teenage engineer stepped up and volunteered to take on the dead man's identity to maintain the cover-up and thwart the original genocidal Operation Meteor - that young man being the person known as Trowa Barton throughout the television series.
  • Shima-kun in Clannad After Story, who took the identity of the person he was close to so he can complete his last wish after he died.
  • Yuno Gasai in Mirai Nikki; The original Yuno is the third corpse in her house, which was revealed by Akise after he DNA-tested it with her umbilical cord that her orphanage held onto No reason why or who it really is for now.
    • It actually turns out that she is Yuno, though. There are more than one Yuno in the story, apparently from Alternate Universes. So Yuno has been, in a sense, impersonating herself. It's... complicated.
  • Used in The Kindachi Case Files. A girl who became a drug addict and murdered the man who got her hooked (in self defense) nearly commits suicide off of a cliff, only to discover that another girl jumped not long before her and left her purse behind which contained the deceased girl's identification. The former-drug addict girl used the identification and plastic surgery to start a new life as a police officer.
  • Nuriko from Fushigi Yuugi taking up his Dead Little Sister's identity is a classic example.
  • A variation occurs early in Shakugan no Shana. Yukari Hirai, the girl who Shana assumes the identity of, isn't just dead; rather, Yukari faded away from existence. And we get to see how this happens.
  • In Vagabond, a highly fictional telling of the life of Miyamoto Musashi, Musashi's childhood friend Matahachi finds a certificate of swordsmanship on the body of a samurai who had been kind to him earlier. He decides at first to deliver the certificate to the samurai's family, but soon finds it easier to pass himself off as the samurai instead and live off the dead samurai's reputation. Later it turns out that the samurai was only delivering said certificate to Sasaki Kojiro, the arch-rival of Musashi. Since the real Kojiro is still out there, (and is becoming more famous by the day) and Matahachi is using his name, this eventually causes Matahachi some problems.
  • Code Geass has a very confusing example thanks to the Zero Requiem plan devised by Lelouch and Suzaku. Short version: Suzaku fakes his death, takes on the identity of Zero, and kills Lelouch (the original Zero) to get rid of the source of the world's anger and suffering. Of course, most people didn't know Lelouch was Zero, and for those who did the implication of the final episode is that they catch on but go along with it.
  • Used in a Detective Conan case. In The Seventies, a Japanese man named Yoshifusa Yabuchi went to live in Brazil, had a Brazilian family and became both friends and associates with Dickson Tanaka, a half-Japanese/half-Brazilian man. When Yoshifusa and his Brazilian wife died, leaving a young son named Carlos behind, Dickson found out that the Yoshifusa's rich older brother Yoshichika had also perished in Japan just a little later, and decided to make sure that Carlos wouldn't be cheated out of his dad's share of the inheritance. Knowing that Yoshichika's relatives wouldn't remember how Yoshifusa looked like since they were extremely young when they left, Dickson took up Yoshifusa's identity and made Carlos pass as his bodyguard so he could observe the family closer and keep Carlos safe. It worked, but at a high price: Yoshichika's widow Machiko tried to kill Dickson in the bath and he, as a skilled martial artist, killed her in self-defense.
  • In Revolutionary Girl Utena, Anthy impersonates the deceased Chida Mamiya to fool Mikage, who is implied to have mentally blocked out Mamiya's death (it's also suggested that Akio is using More Than Mind Control on Mamiya too).
  • In Naruto, Uchiha Madara is revealed to have been Dead All Along, and the identity of the person who was thus far assumed to be him must be someone else remained a mystery for a while. The impostor's identity was revealed some time later: he is Obito Uchiha (one of Madara's descendants, Minato/the Fourth Hokage's disciple and Kakashi's best friend), believed to have died years ago.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh 5 Ds: Following Yusei's death in an alternate future, Z-ONE underwent surgery to become Yusei all but literally, including learning Accel Synchro. He then travels back in time and duels the real Yusei.
  • Michio of MW impersonates Miho and Mika, the daughters of his targets.
  • In the Read or Die manga, Paper Master Ridley Wan disguises himself as Yomiko's deceased lover Donny. He does such a good job that Yomiko doesn't realize the deception until he voluntarily unmasks himself - after she slept with him. Quite impressive, when you consider that not only had Yomiko been present when Donny died, she was the one who killed him.


Comic Books

  • In Excalibur, evil other-dimensional dictator Sat-Yr-9 vaporized Courtney Ross, her counterpart in this reality (and incidentally a love interest of Captain Britain), and then calmly stepped into her shoes. The deception wasn't exposed for quite some time.
  • Quality Comics character the Black Condor adopted the identity of murdered Senator Thomas Wright. Who just happened to look exactly like him.
  • If memory serves, Batman's "Matches Malone" persona was swiped from a real guy who got himself killed in Bats's presence.
    • Also from Batman is Jane Doe, a definitely villainous example. She doesn't just kill her new identity; she studies them down to the last detail, perfectly recreating his or her voice, body language, and thought patterns. It would be less creepy if she was actually a shape shifter, especially since this lack of superhuman ability makes her finishing touch of skinning her victims and wearing them as suits a necessary part of her modus operandi.
  • In the Firefly comics, it's revealed that Shepherd Book did this some time before joining Serenity's crew.
  • In her first appearance, the Golden Age Wonder Woman, fresh from Themiscyra Paradise Island, has a chance encounter with an Army nurse named Diana Prince, who's distraught because she lacks the funds to join her fiancee in South America. They look exactly alike, and thus Princess Diana pretty much buys Lt. Prince's identity from her so that she can afford to, well, desert and follow the man she loves.
  • A slight variation appears in the back story for Cybersix, who poses as a man by day because her Secret Identity as Adrian was lifted from a young boy who died with the rest of his family in a car crash. She didn't know the boy beforehand; she just found the body and realized he looked a lot like her.
  • Strangers in Paradise's David Qin was born Yousaka Takahasi, the son of a prominent Yakuza family and a member of one of the numerous violent teenage gangs. He accidentally killed the Chinese-American David Qin after administering a brutal, and completely pointless, beating in the street. His influential father and his lawyers got him off on all criminal charges, but a confrontation with David's sister, combined with his already considerable guilt, led to his taking David's name and abandoning the criminal ways of his youth and family.
  • Isn't this technically what Martian Manhunter does? By happy coincidence, his name even sounds like the dead man's (Jonn Jon'zz / John Jones).
  • At the end of the V for Vendetta graphic novel series, Evey assumes V's identity after V dies.
  • False Face attempts to do this to Lady Blackhawk in order to infiltrate the Birds of Prey, but ends up having her ass kicked by her would-be victim by the end of the issue.
  • In the Postboot Legion of Super-Heroes continuity, the Corrupt Corporate Executive Leland McCauley is murdered by the immortal Batman villain Ra's al-Ghul, who steals his identity and considerable fortune to further his plans.
    • Before the reboot, it was broadly hinted in one Annual that Lightning Lad had actually been dead for years and that Proty had assumed his identity. After that annual it was never mentioned and the title was retconned the following year anyway.
  • The modern version of the Spider-Man villain the Chameleon uses this. He studies, kidnaps and murders his victims before spending a day living that person's life. Quite a violent upgrade for a guy who used to simply leave his victims tied up and gagged in their undies so that he could steal their clothes.


Film

  • A major plot point in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.
  • Taking Lives
  • Sommersby tells the Martin Guerre story in the setting of America right after the Civil War.
  • Mrs. Winterbourne is a Lighter and Softer version of the Cornell Woolrich novel mentioned in the Literature section.
  • In There Will Be Blood a man comes up to Daniel Plainview claiming to be his half-brother, with a letter as proof. Daniel believes the man until he notices some inconsistencies in his story. The man eventually confesses at gunpoint that he knew Daniel's real brother, who died of tuberculosis and assumed his identity. Daniel shoots the man shortly afterward.
  • Ace Ventura: Pet Detective: Disgraced kicker Ray Finkle literally becomes Detective Lois Einhorn when s/he goes insane after missing a potential game-winning field goal kick in a Super Bowl. The real Lois Einhorn was a missing hiker, whose article about her search being called off, gave Finkle the idea to become a woman to kill Dan Marino.
  • This is the premise of Houseguest. Sinbad is on the run from the mob and finds Phil Hartman and his family waiting to pick up his childhood friend, so Sinbad impersonates the friend and goes with them. When he's caught, it fortunately turns out that the friend grew up to be a jerk.
  • In X-Men I & II this is standard operating procedure for Mystique. She impersonates Senator Kelly's aide who Magneto casually mentions "has been dead for some time" then effectively becomes Senator Kelly after his artificial mutation apparently kills him.
  • Used by the murderers in Double Indemnity to make it appear that the victim was killed by falling from a train -- a vital component of their Insurance Fraud scheme.
  • The main character in Detour hitches a ride with a man who dies soon afterward. He takes the dead man's car and identity. Of course, this being film noir, he soon encounters a dodgy dame and things go from bad to worse.
  • Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha (Shadow Warrior). A thief is hired to impersonate a dying daimyo, and given stringent training by both the daimyo's brother and his retainers, in order to prevent the province from being destroyed by ongoing power struggles after the daimyo's death. Originally supposed to be merely a figurehead, with all power wielded by the deceased mans's retainers and family; he gradually takes on more power and responsibility, along with his personality coming to increasingly resemble that of the dead man.
  • Die, Mommie, Die!: The mother's confession. They were twin sisters who formed a singing duo - unfortunately only one of them could actually sing. The singer went on to be very famous but also an abusive jerkass while the non-singer became homeless and eventually wound up in jail. The singer took pity on her and brought her to her Big Fancy House as a maid/nanny. Nonsinger was horrified at her sister's treatment of her children, killed her, and took her identity. Unfortunately guilt and access to drugs and alcohol made her just as bad as her sister was, hence the title.
  • The Majestic where the character played by Jim Carrey has amnesia following an automobile accident and is found in rural California, where he is mistaken for a local war hero thought dead. For most of the middle of the movie, he tries to fit into the mistaken identity role without really knowing who he is.
  • A variation of this forms the basic premise of Dave. Everyman Dave Kovic bears an uncanny resemblance to the sitting US President, whose handlers hire him as a body double for "security reasons" (read: to cover up the President's extramarital affairs). The President has a massive stroke which leaves him comatose, and his handlers coerce Dave into assuming the President's identity.
  • Fantomas does this often, especially in Marais/de Funes movie adaptations. Usually, he's also the cause of death.
  • Nicely subverted and played straight in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood (2010 film). Played straight in that when Robert Loxsley dies, Robin takes on his identity as the messenger to avoid being killed as a deserter from the army, and also to return the crown to the royal family. Subverted in when Robin takes the sword back to the late Loxley's father and doesn't pretend to be anything other than who he is. Then played straight again when Robin pretends to be Robert Loxsley so Marion can inherit the estate after Walter Loxley's death. And, of course, to help rally the people in battle.
  • After escaping the prison, Dr. Niemann in House of Frankenstein orders his new hunchback assistant to kill a travelling showman and takes his place and uses to get near those who got him to prison.
  • Friday the 13 th Part 2 has the Final Girl attacking Jason while pretending to be his mother.
    • This scene was straight ripped off in Death Valley: The Revenge of Bloody Bill.
    • The final girl in Humongous uses a similar method to avoid the killer.
  • In the film Sommersby, (a remake of The Return of Martin Guerre) a man returns from the Civil War. Previously a Jerkass, he now makes the town a better place by getting bank loans for farmers and former slaves. Then the police arrest him for murder. In prison, the man confesses to his "wife" that he is actually a friend of her husband's from the army. Though the wife tries to get him confess his fraud to save himself, he responses, "And ruin this? All the loans are through me. If I tell the court I'm not your husband, the bank can recall the loans as a fraud and this town will lose everything." So he is hung for the crimes of the man he impersonated.
  • The Stepfather had a sequel where the titular stepfather escapes from a mental institution and assumes the identity of a random guy he saw in the obituary section of a newspaper.
  • In "Imitation General" an army general visiting an area under German siege is killed and his aide realizes that only the sight and authority of a high ranking officer can hold the trapped soldiers together. He takes the general's place even though he knows his action could save or cost lives and make or break the general's reputation. It's a comedy though so...
  • In Barbarosa, fugitive Karl Westover is befriended in the desert by the title outlaw, who introduces him to a Mexican clan with whom he has a tangled relationship. When one member of that family ambushes and kills Barbarosa, Westover takes over his identity to honor his legend.
  • In The Bridge on the River Kwai, it's revealed that "Commander Shears" was actually an enlisted man serving under Shears aboard the USS Houston. After the ship was sunk and Shears killed, the seaman (whose real name we never learn) switched uniforms with him and took his name and rank in the hope of getting better POW treatment from the Japanese.


Literature

  • A major plot twist in John Dickson Carr's book The Three Coffins/The Hollow Man involves this.
  • Agatha Christie did it at least twice, both in A Murder Is Announced and A Holiday For Murder.
    • In a plot twist not used for the book version of And Then There Were None, the Hollywood versions reveal that "Philip Lombard" is in fact Charles Morley, who came in Lombard's place after the real Lombard committed suicide upon receiving UN Owen's letter. This is also used for the game, where you not only get Charles Morley, you also get Gabrielle Steel, who has been impersonating Emily Brent in the "villain kills another person and takes over their identity" variety.
    • And a related plot twist was used in The Body in the Library. There were actually two murders: the main victim, Ruby, and another girl of about the same age, Pamela. The murderers killed Pamela, dressed up to resemble Ruby, at a time when Ruby was known to be alive, and then identified Pamela's body as Ruby's, giving themselves an alibi for the time of death.
    • Agatha Christie does it twice in Hercule Poirot's Christmas, when Pilar and Stephen Farr are both impostors, who opportunistically decided to take the identities of Simeon Lee's grand-daughter, and his best friend's son. They end up together!
  • H.P. Lovecraft's The Whisperer In Darkness, in a way. The whisperer impersonates a man using parts of his corpse, but said man is still alive as a Brain In a Jar.
  • Dorothy L. Sayers used the short-term "throw off the time of death" variant at least twice, in Whose Body? and The Five Red Herrings.
  • For the malicious version, in The Talented Mr. Ripley, he kills his friend and takes his identity for a while.
  • Doom of the Hills in Deltora Quest.
  • Happened in one Poirot novel.
  • Josephine Tey's mystery novel Brat Farrar has an interesting use of this trope, as it's about a young man who starts off as the malicious version, passing himself off as a member of a wealthy family who disappeared as a child, but then turns detective when he realizes that the boy he's pretending to be died and anyone not believing his charade is likely to be the murderer.
  • Used in Cornell Woolrich's novel I Married A Dead Man, where a poor young woman who is pregnant and has been abandoned by her lover meets a wealthy pregnant woman on a train who looks similar to her along with her husband. When the train crashes and the couple is killed, the poor woman passes herself off to the husband's family as his wife.
  • Benoit Notre-Dame turns out to have done this in A Very Long Engagement, although he's only really taken the dead man's name, and still lives with his own wife. He also turns out to have set Manech up with a dead man's identity as well; although the amnesiac Manech doesn't realize the deception, he's taken in anyway by the dead man's mother, who does.
  • Father's Arcane Daughter by E.L. Konigsberg.
  • The short story Improbable Impostor Tom Castro by Jorge Luis Borges revolves around the eponymous character's success as an impostor by virtue of being entirely dissimilar from the person he's impersonating.
  • One The Witcher short story involves a doppelgänger assuming the identity of a dead inquisitor. Nobody catches on, despite a rather radical shift in personality (they assume the man has changed due to a near-death experience and generally being old).
  • In Animorphs, David uses this after acquiring the DNA of Jake and Rachel's cousin, Saddler who was in critical care. As morphing constructs the form anew from DNA, he has no injuries and is perfectly healthy. The family was overjoyed, thinking that a miracle occurred, but Jake knew better ... Whether or not David actually killed Saddler isn't addressed, but he's definitely dead, and Rachel indicates they eventually find the body.
  • In Star of the Sea, one of the principal characters kills a man and takes his identity because he believes he'll die otherwise (he's a cripple with no way to support himself). However, none of the people he convinces had ever met the real man before, and he eventually gives up the pretense and disappears when the real man's mother starts wondering why he's not answering her letters.
  • An odd version of this happens in the novel Over the Edge. Gina is on a plane that gets hijacked, and the hijackers specifically call out for one passenger, the daughter of a senator. Gina is the only one on the plane who knows the girl didn't make the flight due to lost paperwork, and she bears a resemblance to her anyway, so she claims to be Karen.
  • Iain M. Banks
    • Use of Weapons. Book-spoiling spoiler: Cheradenine Zakalwe is actually Elethiomel, the Chairmaker. He kills Cheradenine's sister and makes a chair out of her bones. Cheradenine then commits suicide and Elethiomel assumes his life.
    • In Consider Phlebas, another novel set in The Culture, the shape shifting Anti-Hero does this a couple of times.
  • In a twist, Giles Denison, the main character of Desmond Bagley's spy thriller The Tightrope Men, has been press-ganged (with plastic surgery and partial brainwashing) into playing the role of scientist Harry Meyrick. Meyrick is a brilliant jerk who "uses sarcasm as a weapon, but if you put him in a real fight he'd collapse. Denison is a quiet-spoken, civil man" who handles himself quite well in a tight situation. And neither he nor the British agents he's helping know who turned him into Meyrick's double or why.
  • Done in the X Wing Series in a way that straddles this trope and Of Corpse He's Alive. The Wraiths captured a small ship and killed its captain before anyone could send a message back to the enemy fleet; hence the enemy was unaware of this. They decided to continue the ship's mission, masquerading as the original crew of the Night Caller, including her wildly egotistical captain - if he'd stopped commanding, the enemy would've noticed.
  • In Double Vision, by Mary Higgins Clark, it's five years after Caroline's twin Lisa was murdered, and the killer's now after the survivor. It turned out that the killer actually intended to kill Caroline, unaware that she was a twin. When he returns to do the job properly, she manages to talk him out of it by convincingly lying to him that she really is Lisa. She explains that she had been The Unfavourite of their parents, so when he killed Caroline, she assumed the identity of her twin sister so their grief wouldn't be as profound.
  • The Expendable Spy, by Jack D. Hunter, is an American agent parachuted into Bavaria in World War II. When his contact is killed by an air raid, he assumes the man's identity, but then finds the contact was a Gestapo agent sent from Berlin to help organize the "Werwolf" underground. Worse, his new "boss" gets suspicious and sends his description off to Gestapo HQ asking for confirmation that this is the hotshot they sent. Unnervingly, the response to the description is not only, "Yes, that's him," but includes a photo. Of the American agent. So he's left wondering who in Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin is on his side.
  • In Miyuki Miyabe's All She Was Worth, detective Shunsuke Honma investigates the disappearance of his nephew's fiance Shoko Sekine, only to find that the fiance had killed and assumed the identity of the real Shoko in order to avoid loan sharks. She'd also tried once before to kill another woman and steal her identity, and after disappearing was planning on doing it again.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Double Star starts as Emergency Impersonation and turns into this at the end.
  • In Michael Slade's Ghoul, a woman kills another, then dresses in her clothes and a concealing scarf to move the body, tucked inside a large suitcase also belonging to the victim. As she destroys the body with a bath in Hollywood Acid, the investigators wouldn't even realize the victim had died at all, had the acid-bath not left a couple of undissolvable gallstones behind. Even then, the killer's ruse is only foiled because a witness mentions that she had large breasts, and the victim she impersonated was poorly endowed.
  • In Addie Pray, the basis for the movie Paper Moon, young Addie impersonates the granddaughter of a New Orleans aristocrat, in order to help her nephew bilk her out of her fortune---and when the fortune turns out to be imaginary, Addie switches sides and helps the aristo bilk her nephew.
  • One of the characters in Dread Empires Fall, Lady Caroline Sula took over the identity of the real person whose name she's using, and does a lot better with it than the original would have ever done.
  • Ten Soon from Mistborn
    • Brilliantly played with in that the person he was impersonating was another shapeshifter.
  • At least twice in the NUMA Series: Inca Gold and Atlantis Found.
  • In the Flashman novel Flash for Freedom, Flashman finds himself working on a slave ship and at one point, one of his fellow sailors, Beauchamp Comber, is killed, and as he dies, reveals he's actually a fervent abolitionist and part of a campaign to stop the slave trade. Since Comber has connections in America and had papers that Flashman could use to blackmail his father-in-law (who financed the slave ship), Flashman ends up taking on his identity in America. Flashman being what he is, ultimately ends up as a wanted criminal under the Comber identity (although this means that later on, he can return to America as Flashman, British war hero, without most people connecting him with Comber).
  • In Vanishing Acts, Andrew does this when he runs away with his child Delia. Their real names are Charles and Bethany, however they manage to acquire birth certificates and identification under the names Andrew and Cordelia Hopkins, who were a father and daughter that died in a car crash. However, this happens in the late 70s and early 80s.
  • The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim features an identical English gentleman and German spy. The mystery is whether the German killed the Englishman and is impersonating him, the Englishman is impersonating the German impersonating himself.
  • In the first (chronologically speaking) Drizzt Do'Urden novel, Alton DeVir disfigures himself to assume the identity of the very recently deceased (And horrifically maimed) master wizard known as the Faceless One after his family is murdered. After twenty years under this alias, he starts to wonder if at some point some student of his will kill him and take his place, leaving an endless succession of Faceless Ones at the academy, with nobody noticing (Or, given drow tendencies, caring).
  • The Sweet Valley books used this several times. One example is the Sweet Valley University book Very Bad Things. A young stalker's victim takes out a restraining order against her and transfers to Sweet Valley to escape her, so she has surgery to look like a girl from their old school (who died), assumes the dead girl's identity, and follows the guy to Sweet Valley.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire Jeyne Poole is forced to impersonate Arya Stark, who isn't really dead, but the people who want to marry her off can't find the real one, and think she's most likely dead by this point.
  • In The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor, Brian takes on his brother Philip's name and persona after he dies.
  • In BioShock: Rapture it's revealed that the character that players of the game know as "Frank Fontaine" actually murdered the real Frank Fontaine in order to take over his fishing business and gain access to Rapture. Though "Fontaine's" real first name is indeed "Frank" (which he lampshades), his full name is never revealed.


Live Action TV

  • Columbo
  • At least three episode of Monk: "Mr. Monk and the Airplane", "Mr. Monk Goes to a Rock Concert", and "Mr. Monk Goes to Vegas".
    • Also the one with the assassin.
  • Jonathan Creek has had this happen a couple of times.
  • Sylar from Heroes did this after killing Zane Taylor, and a couple of other times.
    • This common tactic is turned against him at the end of season three when after killing Nathan Petrelli and taking his form, Sylar is brainwashed by Matt Parkman into thinking he actually is Nathan Petrelli.
  • Happens twice in the Pushing Daisies episode "Pigeon". First a criminal impersonates the man whose apartment he's just crashed a hijacked crop duster into. Then later, we discover that the same criminal has been part of a two-way impersonation: he promised to keep up his cellmate's letters to his sweetheart after the cellmate died, while in the meantime the sweetheart had also died, but made her daughter promise to keep up the letters.
  • Rex Buckland and Hannah Webster, the recurring villains from the first series of Charmed, were found to have killed and taken over the identities of the original Rex and Hannah in an attempt to get the Charmed Ones powers.
  • From The Office (USA)

  Creed Bratton: "Nobody steals from Creed Bratton. The last person that tried disappeared. His name? Creed Bratton."

  • The Last Detective has an episode called Lofty concerning the death of a deranged beggar who is found to keep all of his World War II documentation in a cigar box, leading the police to at first think he is a particular soldier. It turns out that the soldier (who was tall and thus the original Lofty) was killed in battle and his friend, a Classy Cat Burglar and Loveable Rogue before the war, had such serious PTSD that his mind was broken and he ended up as that beggar who everyone knew as Lofty. Just to note, the episode references the Ironic Nickname idea, in that someone nicknamed Lofty would actually be assumed to be short rather than otherwise.
  • On episode of M* A* S* H concerned a soldier who picked up the dog tags of his Jewish friend who was killed in battle and was going to be sent home, and he reveals his deception when wanting to confess to a priest. Ultimately, he is persuaded to give up his charade by being reminded of his friend's family who would never know the fate of their son.
  • The most famous example in Soap Opera is La Usurpadora (with its several versions and remakes), who combines this trope with Twin Switch, Separated at Birth, and Magical Nanny.
  • An episode of Law & Order: SVU involved a woman whose twin sister had been found murdered. It turned out that both girls had been mail-order brides, and the one they thought had been murdered had divorced her husband. The living woman then turned out to have assumed her sister's identity after the murder because she was trying to buy freedom for another sister, who had also been put aside by her husband and then forced into prostitution.
  • This is the defining characteristic of Don Draper, the main character in Mad Men. Born Dick Whitman, his mother was a prostitute who died early on and left his upbringing to his father and stepmother. He ran away to join the army, and was with a Lt. Donald Draper in the Korean War when the latter died. Immediately upon Draper's death, Whitman switched their dog tags, and assumed Donald Draper's identity (15 years as of the series' latest season).
  • Before he first appeared on Doctor Who, Captain Jack Harkness, a 51st-century ex-Time Agent, took his name and identity from a World War Two RAF American volunteer captain who was shot down when he was caught off guard in a training exercise in 1941. We don't find this out until the Torchwood series 1 episode "Captain Jack Harkness," in which Jack and Tosh travel back to 1941 Cardiff and meet the actual Captain Jack, whom Jack falls for, the night before the real Jack's death.
  • On Lost, in late season 1 Kate planned to take the identity of a survivor who drowned on day 6. She never got to do it, though.
    • And the Smoke Monster does this with various people, most notably Locke in a very Long Con and probably Christian Shepherd.
  • Back in the 60's, this was the whole plot of The Double Life of Henry Phyfe, a short-lived sitcom starring Red Buttons as the title character. I remember it chiefly for its theme song: "A foreign spy, A Red spy, The Number U-31, On his first day out, He's done in by a hit-and-run. 'Gotta find a man who looks just like U-31'--'WHO? ME?? Henry Phyfe'...If Henry Phyfe can keep his disguise a big mystery, This could be the greatest deception in history, With a little luck, he might even fool the enemy..."
  • Used in Medium where the impersonator has been using the dead man's secret, unpublished memoir to convince the dead man's wife that he's the dead man's spirit in a new body. It backfires when the impersonator doesn't "remember" "his" affair with his sister-in-law, which he obviously couldn't put into writing.
    • This might be a Take That to Ghost Whisperer's Jim/Sam arc, where the ghost of Melinda's husband Jim takes over the body of a guy named Sam and gets a nasty case of double-amnesia, with his body's medical history saying he's this person while his heart says he's another He (Jim) gets better.
  • Word of God says Jim Profit would have been revealed to be this, had the show been renewed another season.
  • In the last season of Deep Space Nine, series villain Gul Dukat assumes the identity of the dead Bajoran Anjohl Tennan in order to exploit a past connection with Kai Winn.
    • Much earlier, in the episode "Duet" a minor Cardassian clerk pretends to be the head of the creulest work camp in a bid to get the Cardassians to admit to their war crimes against Bajor.
  • Happened in an episode of White Collar. Neal accidentally goes undercover as a hit man, and in the end it turns out that the guy who hired the hit in the first place did it to prevent people finding out that the man he's pretending to be is really the man he killed over twenty years ago.
  • Farscape: John impersonates a dead Peacekeeper officer in a bid to infiltrate a Peacekeeper base and save Aeryn's life. It... didn't go so well.
  • In an episode of Lewis, a rock'n'roll star who was thought to have committed suicide, but whose body was never found appears to have come Back From the Dead. Her old bandmates (and Lewis, who used to be a big fan) are overjoyed. As it turns out, however, the star in question really was dead all along, and the woman who showed up was actually her sister.
  • Happened in The Closer episode "Living Proof", where what seems at first to be an unsuccessful attempt at Offing the Offspring turns out to have been a result of the sisters and father of a man killed in a massacre during The Balkan Wars finding out that the man's identity is being used by one of the apparent killers.
  • The basic premise Ringer, in which a woman takes the place of her dead twin. Except her twin isn't dead...
  • One episode of the remake of Randall and Hopkirk Deceased took the murder mystery variant to ridiculous extremes. The detectives never actually met any of the victims, because the killer pulled off three simultaneous Dead Person Impersonations.
    • The original series had a man show up claiming to be Marty's spirit in another man's body... except since the real Marty's spirit is still hanging around haunting Jeff, Jeff knows right away he's a fake.
  • In The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Cameron assumed the identity of resistance fighter Allison Young after killing her, in an attempt to infiltrate John Connor's resistance. It is all but outright said that she failed, was captured, and reprogrammed by John. Several other terminators in the series have done the same thing, most notably the machines impersonating Greenway and Vick.
    • Not to mention Weaver.
  • A Coronation Street plot had John Stape impersonate his friend Colin Fishwick, who he'd murdered.
  • An episode of Red Cap had an army officer revealed as taking the identity of a dead childhood friend. The friend had committed suicide after being bullied by a teacher; he'd murdered the teacher in retaliation and been sentenced to juvenile court. On his release the father of the deceased helped him use his son's identity to join the British army, which as a convicted criminal he would normally be unable to join.
  • An interesting variation shows up in the Castle episode, "A Dance With Death": Odette, Upperclass Twit, hires a Body Double to do all her dirty work. Nobody knows they're actually two people. Odette dies in a freak train accident. Her Body Double takes over her life and all her cash, cause why the heck not?
  • This was the subject of an episode of The Incredible Hulk, of all things; David went to work for a young woman called Renee who was apparently being "Haunted" (the name of the episode) by the ghost of her twin sister who drowned when they were little girls. It turned out that Renee was the sister who'd drowned, and she had pretended to be "Renee" all these years because everyone had preferred her - but years of having to repress who she really was started to get to her...
  • The entire premise of the '60s TV show The Man Who Never Was - an American spy in Germany on the run from the enemy meets his exact double, a wealthy man. When the double is killed, the spy assumes his identity.


Real Life

  • During the Cold War, a Chinese American woman died in a shipwreck off China. The Chinese equivalent of the CIA had an agent who resembled her. They made her up to look like the dead woman and sent her into the US with the dead woman's passport. (Then she took a new identity in San Francisco.) Or So I Read.
  • Reino Hayhanen, the incompetent fellow-spy of Rudolf Abel, was an ethnic Finn from the Soviet Union. A certain man had been born in the US but grown up in Finland, eventually dying. Hayhanen was smuggled into Finland (truck with a false bottom), where he lived for two years as the dead man. He applied for and got the dead man's passport--since the dead man had been born in the US, this allowed Hayhanen to enter and live in the US as a citizen.
  • A slight twist: in WWII, a counterintelligence plot was conceived by the British, to feed the Germans false information regarding the invasion of Southern Europe. It revolved on making it appear that a plane, en route from Britain to their North African Army HQ, had crashed off the coast of Spain, and a messenger carrying a bag with some highly confidential papers floated ashore, drowned. To turn the corpse they obtained to that end into a "real" person that could stand scrutiny by enemy investigators (both in Spain, and possibly agents in Britain too), the person behind the plot, Captain Montagu, took on the identity of the messenger on several occasions.
  • A man named Jeffrey Howe was murdered and his body cut into pieces so his killers could take his identity and home (after he decided to stop them being The Thing That Would Not Leave).
  • On May 15, 1591, Tsarevich Dmitri Ivanovich, son of Ivan IV and half-brother of then-Tsar Fedor, died of a mysterious knife wound. Rumor initially had it that he was killed by Boris Godunov, father-in-law of Fedor and basically the ruler of Russia (Fedor had...problems), who wanted to become tsar after the childless tsar died. Anyway, the rumors go away, Fedor dies, and Boris becomes tsar. This goes well for him until around 1600, when in the midst of famine and a lot of social tension, a man in Poland claims to be Tsarevich Dmitri, gathers an army, and invades to kill the "usurper". Civil war ensues. Eventually, "Dmitri" takes the throne, but within a year he is killed by a conspiracy of boyars under Prince Vasili Shuiskii. Yet, rumors come out that "Tsar Dmitri" survived, the civil war restarts, and then another man claims to be "Tsar Dmitri." He is killed. Then ANOTHER man claims to be the now-thrice-murdered tsar. Then he is killed, Mikhail Romanov is made tsar, and the rest is history.
  • A common past technique for creating a fake identity in the U.S. was to learn the name and birth date of a child who died in infancy fifteen years earlier, then apply for a Social Security number under that name, as if the kid were getting his or her first summer job. Not used so much nowadays, as federal and local demographic databases can more easily synch up and spot the discrepancy.
  • One of the most famous real life cases is the story of Martin Guerre, which has inspired a number of fictional works. The real Guerre abandoned his family, and several years later, a man returned claiming to be him. Things went well for a while, but then that man was accused by his in-laws of being an impostor. In this case, things went wrong because the real Guerre was still alive and returned, and the fake one, actually named Arnaud du Thil, was sentenced to death.
  • The Borges Tom Castro story described under the Literature heading is a retelling of the Tichborne claimant incident. A man (real name Arthur Orton, AKA Tom Castro) claimed to be Sir Roger Tichborne, the disappeared heir to a wealthy and aristocratic English family.
  • Many people have been disqualified from military service over the years due to medical conditions, most of which aren't all that serious. One (quite illegal) way around this is to enlist under a false identity. The person you're trying to impersonate need not actually be dead, though if not, it certainly helps to get his assistance before attempting a stunt like that.
  • After the Russian Revolution and murder of the Romanov family, it was rumored that Grand Duchess Anastasia had somehow survived and/or escaped. For years, many people disputed this, and several claimed to be her, the most notorious impostor being Anna Anderson. After several DNA tests, the remains of all four Grand Duchesses had been accounted for, thereby proving that none escaped.
  • One major avenue of Medicare fraud in the US (and no doubt having variants in other countries) is to steal many beneficiary identities and run them through fake procedures in scam mills. Sometimes, the identities used are of dead people.
  • A man in Brooklyn put on a ruse as his own dead mother which looks like Black Comedy material. He fared pretty well too, until he decided to take out a lawsuit under her name.


Theater

  • The plot of Sizwe Banzi Is Dead is based on the eponymous character, living under apartheid in South Africa, switching places with a murdered man in order to be allowed to stay in Port Elizabeth.
  • And of course, the musical Martin Guerre. This version makes the real Martin and his imposter friends, and the imposter truly believes Martin is dead when he unknowingly assumes his identity, inlcuding falling in love with his wife. Of course, the trouble is, Martin's Not Quite Dead...


Videogames

  • A common strategy in the Ace Attorney series. In the second game, there was a witness who got into a car crash with her sister. Her sister died and her face was mangled by the accident, so she assumed her sister's role by having re-constructive surgery to look like her.
    • Adrian Andrews never changes her identity, but models her hard-boiled, no-nonsense personality after her "mentor" Celeste Inpax as a coping mechanism after the latter commits suicide. When she reappears in the third game, she's reverted to what seems to be her genuine personality--upbeat and slightly bumbling.
    • Besides the above examples however, Furio Tigre takes the cake. He not only took over the identity of the person he had just killed, he did so to stage a different crime scene in order to throw off the time of death and frame the waitres in the restaurant where the murder took place. Not to mention that he THEN impersonates (badly, but the less-than-perceptive cast don't realize) the title character himself, to make sure said waitress is successfully tried due to his bad representation.
      • This is inverted in the final case of Trials and Tribulations, where the ghost of Dahlia Hawthorne, being channeled by a spiritual technique where the channeler takes on the appearence of the one being channeled, pretends to be her still-living twin sister Iris in order to frame Phoenix's sidekick Maya for murder.
      • The biggest case takes place in Dual Destinies, where this is the modus operandi of none other than 'the Big Bad The Phantom, a super spy who completely assumes the identity of many of his victims to carry on his crimes. And it's revealed rather spectacularly at the end: he's been masquerading from before the start as one of Phoenix's companions, Detective Bobby Fulbright.
  • Happens with Weiss in Agarest Senki 2. Basically, the real Weiss tried to kill Chaos, but have a doubt in the end when Chaos told him that killing him would ends bad for the world. Unfortunately, Faz who is actually Mobius in disguise have another plan, so he stabbed the two and transferred Chaos's soul inside the dead Weiss's body, and this is the Weiss you're controlling all this time.
  • This is the modus operandi of a Snatcher.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, Cloud, rendered mentally unstable by experimentation and trauma, and with little self-esteem before that point, takes on the life story of his best friend, Zack. In the original, it was portrayed as Cloud finally snapping for good - in the remade scene in Crisis Core, it was portrayed as a conscious decision to live in Zack's honour. Either way, Cloud ends up genuinely believing that he was Zack, and the illusion comes apart in the most painful way possible later on.
    • Even if it did seem to be portrayed as a conscious decision in Crisis Core, you can still tell that Cloud was... unraveling.
    • Similarly, Setzer of Final Fantasy VI takes on the personality and reputation of his mentor, Daryl, after she dies. There's also Cyan, who writes letters claiming to be a woman's long-distance boyfriend after her real boyfriend dies.
  • At the beginning of The Last Express, the main character finds his murdered friend's body in a train carriage, and assumes his identity in order to track down the killer.
  • In Rondo of Swords, a prince is killed in the first chapter, and he requests that his Body Double (the main character) assume his identity, protect his sister, and save the kingdom. Depending on the path you take, the protagonist is either exposed and gains a new identity of his own or assumes the prince's life permanently.
  • The original Metal Gear Solid has more than one example:
    • The most obvious being Decoy Octopus, who took on the identity of the DARPA Chief Donald Anderson after the real Anderson was murdered by Revolver Ocelot.
    • Throughout the entire mission Liquid Snake comes into contact with his brother Solid Snake under the guise of Snake's former drill instructor Master Miller. It isn't until near the end of the mission that Snake finds out that the real Miller died in his home three days prior.
    • Dr. Naomi Hunter bought the identity of another "Naomi Hunter" who disappeared in the middle east a few years prior to the events of the story.
  • Probably the ultimate example of this is in The Legend of Zelda Majoras Mask, in which Link is taught a magical song that allows him to extract evil curses from the living and worldly sorrows from the dead to create magical masks. These masks allow him to shape shift into whoever they're from, so he ends up impersonating individuals of different species - the Goron hero Darmani, Zora guitarist Mikau, and a Deku Scrub boy who is heavily implied to be the murdered son of the Deku Palace butler.
  • One of the victims in the Sierra game, Laura Bow: The Dagger of Amon Ra is actually impersonating a dead professor. Whom you also find as a skeleton.
  • Occurs at one point in Siren. The catch is that the game never shows you the scene where the character is murdered and replaced, so for a while you continue to play believing that the character in question is the original.
  • Countess Crey from City of Heroes is the "assume the identity of the murder victim" variation.
  • Occurs in Resident Evil: Code Veronica, though it's not intended as a ploy and the dead person in question turns out to be alive.
  • "THE POLITO FORM IS DEAD, INSECT."
  • The background story for "Fall From Heaven" features the Buggane, a type of demon who's preferred hunting style is to find a married couple when one of the people is away from home. It first impersonates the missing person all day, until it's in bed with the other spouse to kill them. When the distant spouse returns it does the same thing in reverse.
  • In Mass Effect 2, if you kill Samara at the end of her loyalty mission, her daughter Morinth will take her place, pretending to be Samara to hide what you and she did. All but Kelly Chambers and Kasumi Goto don't ask any questions.
    • In the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, Liara takes the place of the Shadow Broker after you kill him.
      • Liara figures out easily the current Broker did the same to the previous... possibly he did the same as well. There's a distinct Dread Pirate Roberts retirement style going on there.
  • In Tales of Symphonia Dawn of the New World a single character impersonates two entirely different dead people at the same time, but the second case is unintentional. It's convoluted like that.
    • The original game gives us Kilia, who killed the General-Governor's daughter and took her form to keep tabs on Palmacosta.
  • Can happen in Team Fortress 2 occasionally, if a Spy backstabs the player in question then disguises as the same class as the person they just stabbed. By doing this they'll sometimes appear with their last victim's name, completing the ruse.
  • A quest from House Hlaalu in Morrowind requires you to dress up as a dead person (depending on your gender) and retrieve some secret orders from House Redoran while wearing a helmet that the dead person always wore.
  • Prototype does it so thoroughly that even the impersonator is convinced. Learning who the original really was subverts Becoming the Mask.
  • Persona 2 has Nyarlathotep use this as a continued effort in Kick the Dog. It helps cement his status as an irredeemable Complete Monster of the highest caliber.
  • Seven Days A Sceptic: The protagonist hijacks an early victim's identity.
  • Used in Dragon Age: Inquisition, with Warden-Constable Blackwall. It's eventually revealed that he's an ex-criminal named Thom Rainier, who was taken in by the real Blackwall and was about to join the Grey Wardens. Then, Blackwall died before Rainier formally joined, so he took on his identity.


Web Comics

  • Torg from Sluggy Freelance employs this in a 2010 arc in which a group of supervillains assemble on an island to buy some kind of superweapon. Crushestro kills another villain called the Time Czar in front of all of them, and later on Torg disguises himself as him. Leading to this statement:

 Torg: "I er.. Timetravelled from before you killed me! And I'm not looking forward to it!"

Everybody else: "..Time travel's confusing."


Web Original

  • In The Gamers Alliance, Geraden takes the identity of Oswald Flynn who died in an earlier battle. He discards the false identity after he has gathered enough followers to take over Port Dunross from the Proninist Party.
  • Variation: In Survival of the Fittest version three, a character named Ken Lawson appears. It is revealed in his profile that he was Burton Harris from v2, except he was the real Burton Harris, and the one that died in the previous game was the real Ken Lawson, his best friend. Burton hadn't wanted to go on the school trip, and convinced Ken to go in his place. Due to the fact that they looked almost identical to each other, Ken was able to successfully pass himself off as Burton, only to be abducted and die in the game. Burton then took Ken's identity and moved across the country, trying to start up anti-SOTF movements in Ken's name. He never forgave himself for the identity-swap, not even when he died by accidentally burying himself alive.


Western Animation

  • Happens with Principal Skinner in The Simpsons, who is actually Armin Tamzarian. There is an episode where "Skinner" is revealed to be an old war buddy of the real Sergeant Seymour Skinner (voiced by Martin Sheen, which is funny because he was in Apocalypse Now), and assumed the sergeant's identity to keep Skinner's mother from being alone after her real son was thought to have died in the war. When the real Skinner moves in, people start missing the "old" Skinner (even his mother, who preferred the easily domineered Armin over the naturally independent Seymour), culminating in Seymour being driven out of town and a judge giving Armin Skinner's identity. And it never comes up again.
  • In the fifth season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003), it is revealed that Oroku Saki, the Shredder, had taken both identities from a man-turned-demon in ancient Japan.
  • On King of the Hill, Dale often uses the name Rusty Shackleford as an alias, claiming it was the name of a dead kid. Turns out the real Rusty Shackleford is very much alive, and wants Dale to stop using his name.
  • Gorillaz's Phase 3 guitarist Cyborg Noodle is a replacement for original-flavour Noodle, who vanished and was presumed dead at the end of Phase 2. Real Noodle is back. The two haven't met onscreen yet, except for the "Family Portrait" poster design which depicts them posing with Murdoc and 2D.
  • Zeta the robot from Batman Beyond and later The Zeta Project was programmed to be this way, but his A.I. eventually evolved into an actual personality and he decided he no longer wanted to continue killing and imitating his victims.
  • Also in The Simpsons when Krusty opens a Klown Kollege and Homer becomes a Krusty. Homer nearly kills a costume character at Krusty Burger and the mob starts trying to kill Homer for Krusty's debt.
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