Today we step into the Archie McPhee Library to explore a macabre and fascinating book entitled The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death [Buy on Amazon] by Corinne May Botz, whose outstanding photos reveal one of the strangest and most significant tools in the development of modern forensic analysis: eighteen miniature, exhaustively detailed crime scene models built in the 1940s and 50s by pioneering criminologist Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962). She called her models “Nutshell Studies” because, “the purpose of a forensic investigation is said to be to ‘convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.’”
Glessner Lee was a grandmother in her 60s when she painstakingly created these dollhouse models, each of which is based on an actual homicide, suicide or accidental death. To help ensure accuracy she attended autopsies and made sure that even the smallest details of her models were correct. Clothing is appropriately worn out, pencils write, locks, windows, and lights all function, whistles blow, and mice inhabit the walls. These astonishing models were (and still are!) used to train detectives on how to asses visual evidence.
Corinne May Botz’s lush color photographs lure viewers into every crevice of Frances Lee’s models and breathe life into these deadly miniatures, which present the dark side of domestic life, unveiling tales of prostitution, alcoholism, and adultery. The accompanying line drawings, specially prepared for this volume, highlight the noteworthy forensic evidence in each case. Botz’s introductory essay, which draws on archival research and interviews with Lee’s family and police colleagues, presents a captivating portrait of Lee.
Frances Glessner Lee was also an heiress who used her considerable fortune to found Harvard’s department of legal medicine, the first forensic pathology program in the nation. In 1943 she was appointed an honorary Captain in the New Hampshire State Police. She was the first woman in the United States to hold that rank.
It’s a dark topic, to be sure, but this beautiful book is an intimate and utterly captivating look at the work of a truly remarkable woman and one of the most important figures in the development of modern forensic analysis.
[Images via the New York Times and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death]
This is your semi-regular reminder that a really smart and skilled lady made dollhouse version of crime scenes to train police detectives on how to asses and interpret visual evidence. In the 1940s and 50s. They are currently kept in Baltimore at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and can only be viewed by appointment (they also loan them out to other police agencies).
There is also a documentary about the Nutshell Studies that is available to stream on netflix called “Of Dolls and Murder” which is super good and narrated by John Waters (who else?) and you should watch it if you want to know more. Although I have to warn you, no one tells you the solutions to these crimes.