Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Frances Glessner Lee, Baltimore, Maryland
Tribute by Jeffrey Sward

Nestled away on the third floor of the Maryland Medical Examiner's Office in Baltimore, are the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Frances Glessner Lee. The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death are incredibly detailed dioramas of death crime scenes meticulously constructed in 1:12 scale. The dioramas were built in the 1940s by Frances Glessner Lee using both scratch building techniques and stock doll house furniture.

Frances Glessner Lee was an extremely wealthy patron of the Harvard School of Legal Medicine. More importantly, Lee created the remarkable Seminar in Homicide Investigations, which was held twice annually for selected police detectives from around the country. A cornerstone of the seminars were working exercises where the detectives had 90 minutes to study a diorama and come to conclusions and next steps. Various technical subjects were also taught such as autopsy, interrogation of witnesses, and crime scene documentation procedures.

In 1942 Frances Glessner Lee became a captain in the New Hampshire State Police. She obtained a great deal of technical knowledge about crime scene forensics. Often Frances Glessner Lee taught some of the sections in her own seminars. Frances Glessner Lee became a patron saint of forensic science and was instrumental in professionalizing coroners into scientific medical examiners.

A fascinating photographic study of the Nutshell studies has been published by Corinne May Botz. A review of the book appears in 2wice. In addition to scintillating photographs, Corinne chronicles the life of Frances Glessner Lee and the creation of the models in some detail.

Also available is George Oswald's interesting article.

Frances Glessner Lee's father's mansion in Chicago is now open to public, refer to the Glessner House web site. Francis despised this house. Frances lived in the "small" family White Mountains estate in New England.


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