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Day 25: Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

 31 Days of Halloween: On Atlas Obscura this month, every day is Halloween. Stop by the blog every day this month for true tales of the unquiet dead. Come for the severed heads, stay for the book bound in human skin. Every story is true, and each one is a real place you can visit. We dare you. 

This is what happens when you leave Barbie and Ken alone in the doll house for too long.

Almost everyone is familiar with the Jessica Fletcher, the charming, grand motherly, detective of Murder She Wrote played wonderfully by Angela Lansbury. What you may be less familiar is the woman said to have inspired the role. 

At a time when women didn’t have any place among the police or law enforcement, and forensic science barely existed a elderly Chicago socialite named Mrs. Frances Glessner Lee became famous for her crime solving analytical skills, and taught an entire generation of cops how to search for clues.... using doll houses. 

The creator of 18 perfectly proportioned dioramas based on real-life crime scenes, these painstakingly crafted dioramas include functioning locks and lights and details such as overturned cups, bullet-holes, and boxes of chocolates as well as miniature corpses in a variety of macabre positions.

They were used by Mrs. Frances Glessner Lee in week-long seminars where the young detectives would scour the scenes for 90 minutes with only the aid of a flashlight and a magnifying glass, trying to deduce the details of the murders through the details of the dioramas. If they had a keen eye, they might spot the tiny bullet lodged into the tiny rafters of the scene, and begin to unravel the clues. 

After Lee’s death in 1962, the models were acquired by the Maryland Medical Examiner’s office and underwent $50,000 in restorations in the 1990s. They are still used as training tools.

 

SEARCH FOR CLUES

 

THE NUTSHELL STUDIES OF UNEXPLAINED DEATH, Baltimore, Maryland