Deacon Is The Real Killer

The Little Things Deacon is the real killer

The ending of The Little Things is ambiguous about Sparma’s guilt, leading some viewers to theorize that the killer in The Little Things is actually the corrupt police officer, Deacon. By the end of The Little Things, Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) and Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) have no answers to the murder mystery with which they are obsessed on a borderline unhealthy level, leading to events that culminate in a rather sinister manner. Instead of solving his case, Baxter ends up murdering the prime suspect Albert Sparma (played by Jared Leto). Instead of turning Baxter in, Deacon is there conveniently to help him cover it up, just as Deacon’s colleagues helped him cover up an accidental murder of his own years ago.


Deacon may be the real killer in The Little Things, but his connection to the murders is more likely due to his being a highly skilled, albeit washed-up, detective. For every clue that Deacon is the real killer, there’s a plausible counterargument for his innocence. There’s not enough evidence to reveal the identity of the real killer in The Little Things, which is what makes this mystery so frustrating, both for the detectives and (at times) the audience. The question of Deacon’s guilt is central to The Little Things‘ story. Deacon states several times in the movie that “it’s the little things that get you caught,” first referring to their suspect, and later referring to Baxter when they are covering up Sparma’s murder. It’s telling that Deacon states “it’s the little things that get you caught” instead of “them caught.” This minor difference in word choice is just one of the little things that point to Deacon being the real killer in The Little Things.

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Ronda Rathbun Disappeared During Deacon’s First Night In Town

The Little Things Ronda's red barrette

It’s extremely suspicious that Ronda Rathbun disappears on Deacon’s first night in town. While this may be a coincidence, it is the first thing that any detective would look for in a suspect: opportunity. If there was any evidence for Deacon being the real killer in The Little Things, he would have no alibi that clears him of suspicion. While the audience is offered a glimpse into several scenes that follow Deacon’s whereabouts during the night, a continuous timeline of his actions is not offered, allowing him a window of opportunity to follow Rathbun and eventually dispose of her. However, opportunity alone is not enough to saddle him with Ronda’s disappearance. Additionally, since her body is never found or heard from again in the movie, she may not be dead or even kidnapped.

Deacon Knew Exactly What Ronda’s Red Barrette Looked Like

The Little Things Deacon's barrette package

At the end of The Little Things, Deacon buys a red barrette and sends it to Baxter to relieve the latter’s guilt. Some may argue that this seems to imply that Deacon has some insider knowledge about the barrette that only the killer would have. Baxter did tell Deacon about the red barrette, but that doesn’t explain how he knew what it looked like at the ending of The Little Things. However, the only time the audience sees the real red barrette is the night that Ronda was running with her friend, and unfortunately, it’s unclear whether or not the red barrette that Deacon sent Baxter was exactly the same. Additionally, if Deacon was the real killer in The Little Things, he could’ve sent the real one — unless, of course, he wanted to save it as a trophy.

His Car Fits The Mileage And Trunk Space Profile

The Little Things Deacon's truck

In addition to having the opportunity to have kidnapped and even to have killed Ronda, Deacon also drives a truck that fits the profile of what the detectives decided the killer in The Little Things would need to commit such a murder. His truck has the trunk space and the mileage (presumably because it’s an old, worn-out model) that the investigators are looking for in The Little Things‘ murder case. However, the car that follows Ronda is clearly not a truck, but a four-door sedan, and it is clearly shown in the movie.

Deacon Is Just As Grossly Obsessed With Murder As Sparma

Deacon talking to corpse of Mary Roberts in The Little Things

Deacon is seen behaving in many bizarre ways since getting involved with Baxter’s investigation. He has strange visions of the victims in the unsolved case from his years as a detective; he keeps the files and photographs from that case on the wall of his hotel room; and, he talks to Mary Roberts’ corpse. All this behavior seems to be a part of his involvement in Baxter’s case, which he believes to be connected to his unsolved case from years ago. At times, however, his detective work seems more like a gruesome obsession with murder and death. Despite the way this seems, his strange methods are quite common when it comes to the methods investigators employ when tracking down serial killers. Will Graham from Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon is a perfect example of this. Other investigators judge Graham as borderline insane because of these strange methods.

Related: The Little Things: Joe Deacon’s No Angels Message Explained

Why Deacon’s Boots Were So Suspicious

The Little Things Deacon wearing the boots

Speaking of strange methods, Deacon is seen multiple times wearing the boots of a suspect in a murder case back in Kern County. He is originally sent to Los Angeles specifically to get these boots, which is how he gets pulled into Baxter’s case. It turns out later that the boots were no longer needed in the Kern County case, so he ultimately went to L.A. for nothing. While Deacon wearing the boots seems like something only an unhinged killer might do, he was more likely trying to empathize with the real killer by literally walking in the shoes of another killer. Empathizing with serial killers is a controversial, yet common, technique used by investigators in murder cases, and although Deacon’s wearing the boots is certainly bizarre, it’s hardly evidence he’s the real killer in The Little Things.

Deacon Is A Killer, But Was It On Purpose?


Ultimately, Deacon is a killer in The Little Things, having accidentally killed a girl who was a victim in his unsolved case from years ago. Instead of confessing to the accidental shooting, he gets his then partner and a medical examiner to cover up the killing, which is more of a crime than the accidental shooting. This cover-up and Deacon’s strange behavior in the movie might point to the fact that the accidental killing was no accident. It’s possible that he was the real killer in that unsolved case from years ago and that he shot the girl on purpose, although the exact motivations behind the same remain murky and hidden, just like many of The Little Things‘ biggest unanswered questions.

It is entirely possible that Deacon might have thought she was dead from the stab wounds, like the other girls, and when she appeared in the woods, he shot her to finish the job, not because he was startled. Regardless of his strange behavior and his real crimes in the movie, if Deacon is the real killer in The Little Things, there is simply not enough evidence to pin the murder on him or anyone else. If there was, Baxter, the star detective, would surely have figured it out, leading to the complete avoidance of Sparma’s death towards the end. Either that, or he simply wasn’t as good a detective as everyone thought, and he will one day become as washed-up and ineffective as Denzel Washington’s Deacon.

Is The Little Things Based On A True Story?

Denzel Washington rami Malek Jared Leto The little things cast

As is inevitable with crime thrillers, The Little Things raises the question of whether its story is based on true events. And as with many such films, the answer isn’t fully yes or no. John Lee Hancock, who wrote The Little Things, began working on the film back in 1993 when L.A.’s Night Stalker murders were still at the forefront of the public consciousness and films like Silence of the Lambs were winning Oscars. Hancock thus had no shortage of inspiration for The Little Things, and he even worked closely with an L.A. County homicide detective to take field notes while developing the story. The particulars of the movie’s case, however, as well as The Little Things’ cast of characters, are largely fictional. Deacon and Baxter’s story is attentively and carefully based on real detective strategies and imbued with the spirit of real-life American serial killer cases. But, ultimately, The Little Things isn’t exactly based on a true story.

Related: The Little Things: Why Sparma Knew What Exit to Sit At

What Director John Lee Hancock Says About The Little Things

What’s not widely known about HBO Max’s The Little Things is that director John Lee Hancock had written the script almost 30 years prior to making it. The writer/director bided his time for a while, but the story about cops taking matters into their own hands stuck with him over the years, finally leading the movie to come to fruition long after it had been written. Hancock changed little about the script when studios picked it up, and the HBO Max movie eventually wrapped the day before Thanksgiving in 2019. In an interview (via IndieWire), the Mr. Hannigan‘s Phone director decided to discuss why he directed the film himself when so many others were interested, and why the killer in The Little Things subverted all expectations:

“It was subverting a genre. It seemed that all psychological thrillers, serial killer movies, and crime dramas had two interesting parts followed by a third with twists and misdirections. In the third act, you identify who the bad guy is and face off with him, usually in an action sequence, and the good guy dispatches the bad guy in a grisly way. The thematic intentions are different than people thought they would be. There’s no joy in Mudville at the end of this movie.”

Apparently, John Lee Hancock wanted to highlight different aspects of a murder mystery movie like Knives Out, focusing more on the cops gradually unraveling as they faced the tough case. Different than films like Robert Downey Jr.’s Zodiac, the killer in The Little Things is never revealed. Rather, the movie focuses on how Deacon is a killer, instead of trying to do a classic cold case film. It’s an interesting take that the thriller genre hasn’t explored before, and John Lee Hancock’s willingness to explore this avenue is what made The Little Things so great.

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