The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Through out the 1940s and 1950s, Frances Glessner Lee, who was a pioneer in forensic science, constructed a series of nineteen doll house styled crime scene models that were one inch to one foot scale. These models were inspired by other homicide, suicide, and accidental death cases. At the time, forensics was still in it early stages and investigators were given little training in this field. This caused them to sometimes miss key details and can’t identify whether or not a scene may be tampered with. Through her talents as an artist and a criminologist she crafted these models to help educate and train investigators in forensic based detection. She gave the collection of models the title “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death” because she felt that the purpose of forensic investigation was to help “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell” (Renwick Gallery, 2017).

In 2017, Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum Hosted the first public display of all nineteen studies. Although the display ended in 2018, you can visit still see videos of the gallery as well as pictures of the models at this link:

Erin N. Bush also featured these models in her graduate student project Death in Diorama. Through her website you can explore the models as well as read witness statements so you can have a try at uncovering these cases.

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Emily Jean Versoza

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