What sort of technological innovations and inventions would need to be made so that I could fake a character’s death by having the protagonist find their dead body—except it’s not their dead body, it’s a fake created by a third party.

I get the feeling that biological 3D printing would be involved, but at the same time, I think that would take too long. I’m not looking to make Frankenstein—more of just a lifeless mannequin.

  • $\begingroup$ How futuristic can the solution be? $\endgroup$
    – Hyfnae
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Hyfnae The story is set 1000+ years in the future, so go crazy $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 16:11
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You might want to offer some detail about how closely inspected the fake will be. A blanket with ketchup over a pillow might fool me at a glance, but the wrong identical twin would probably be identified by a competent medical examiner. $\endgroup$
    – user25818
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ Could your murderer dissolve the corpse in a vat of lye (the hydrofluoric acid used in Breaking Bad isn't that effective)? There shouldn't be much difference between a similarly sized pig and a human after that. If you combine a woodchipper and the vat of lye, even better results! $\endgroup$
    – Nick T
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ There was a show where they achieved this not with super-science but but hacking the police dna database and relying on the fact that the protagonist hadn't seen the victim personally. So because the dna records "matched" and the corpse looked pretty similar, the main characters bought it. $\endgroup$
    – Samwise
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 22:34

3 Answers 3


A lot of work...

"more of just a lifeless mannequin" -- to fool an autopsy you need a lot more than that.

Possibly not even a clone might be enough; epigenetic factors apart (which influence things as fingerprints), things like micro-traumas or calluses or muscle development require that the body has been exercised in the appropriate ways.

3D printing at the cellular level could be enough; the cellular biochemistry would probably be off, but this is not the kind of thing that's checked in an autopsy.

Note that if you use "advanced technology that's obviously available in any one age", then it is likely that whoever performs the analysis is not fooled by the dummy. Think Photoshop: a 2017-photoshopped photo (or doctored CGI video) could seem authentic to an expert from 1960, but that's because he doesn't know what CGI can do. A contemporary expert would most probably never be fooled.

So what you want is a clever enough use of not too advanced technology; or some technology that's not yet mainstream (for example, the inventor of cellular 3D printer could fake his own death if he doesn't reveal what he has invented. If he does, his customers probably would never be able to).

...could turn out to be unnecessary

Much thought should be dedicated to organizing the demise of the character. If things are set up correctly, you might need very little apart from some blood and cellular samples, and some creative scenario in which the body is beyond all doubt destroyed utterly and reliably -- except for those samples.

You could for example clone a hand, amputate that hand and replace it with the cloned one. The amputated limb would pass every conceivable test since it is authentic, and after some rehab, the "new" hand would be as good as the old one.

Applying authentic limbs to an unrecognizable and unanalyzable corpse (destroyed by hard radiations, aggressive chemicals, fire and so on) could make a strong case for the DNA's owner being very dead; detecting that the limbs were attached to a different body might not be very high in the anatomopathologist's to-do list.

Harvesting several months' of blood donations and conserving them without chemicals (if possible, given the technology) would allow stunts like simulating a blood loss from which no one could conceivably survive, not even if immediately administered transfusions.

  • $\begingroup$ And don't forget that even if you get the biological factors right, certain biometrics (like finger prints) are not genetic. Finger prints are formed by the motion of fluid in the womb. Even identical twins aren't that identical. The only way to avoid this is to be an indvidual without fingerprints (this is possible, but rare. Its not so rare as two individuals having the same fingerprints, but rare enough that if one shows up at a crime scene, its still reliable to be one person related to a scene if a match is made. Its also very noticable.). $\endgroup$
    – hszmv
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ I hadn't forgotten the fact, but yes, I did forget to put a reference. Shameless plug: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/46241/6933 $\endgroup$
    – LSerni
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 16:38

Several approaches are potentially valid.

1) You need a fake body via advanced technology 2) You need a real body that is misidentified as the character 3) You need a combination of 1 & 2

If you do an autopsy, a fake body will have to be very advanced indeed to fool the ME. This tech will require extensive research, etc. Yet is is hard to believe that there won't be tells that reveal the tech, esp. when an ME knows he needs to check carefully for a fake -- cells are incredibly complex nano-machines, you won't be able to make this without reproducing virtually aspect of a real body. If someone invents fast cloning, you could in theory grow and age a body, but identical outcomes will not result (scars, fingerprints, etc. will all be different)

I.e., you need Star Trek transporters running in clone mode if you want reliable fakes.

Method #2 is the classic, acquire a similar cadaver by whatever method necessary, then mutilate the cadaver so as to make positive id difficult so that your impostor passes for the original -- and hope they don't have enough info to prove that the cadaver is not the intended character. Burned beyond recognition in a car accident is a popular choice.

Now, Star Trek transporter tech is likely no more than a fantasy due to basic physics (Heisenberg uncertainty being key among the problems) -- though you would occasionally hear STNG refer to Heisenberg Compensators in their technobabble.

I seem to recall that they occasionally scanned for residual transporter ionization traces in some cases, so even transported tech might not be guaranteed

  • $\begingroup$ I seem to recall that "transporter accident" or something similar was used to fake at least one death in Star Trek (Picard, if I recall correctly). They did figure it out eventually, but apparently the perpetraitors thought it likely enough to succeed that they attempted it. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ As far as #2, you can aim for the identification by meddling with the body as you mention... or by meddling with the records. A hacker swaps the test results, like DNA tests and dental records and such, and the result is they are very, very sure it is the wrong person, and not-suspicious that someone tried to hide the body's identity. $\endgroup$
    – Megha
    Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 1:20

Firstly, if they person cannot come in contact with the body, then a manniquin with a nice mask would work fine.

Otherwise, a top end prostetic mask on a dead body of similar height and build. This would espicially work if somehow the body was destroyed (i.e. Fire or sink away) just after discovery otherwise a careful choice of body is needed and some time to alter it to perfectly match your character (i.e. tattoos, scars, etc).

In terms of creating a dead body without killing someone, if they can find the body in the stages of rigur, a metal skeletal structure could work along some laboratory grown skin, hair and etc, but to make it more realistic, some human components such as eyes should be procured, not produced.


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