The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Dollhouse enthusiasts are frequently known for their slavish devotion to detail. Countless hours will be spent in replicating a miniature world, whether idealized or dystopian, in exacting detail. The nineteen dollhouse rooms created by Frances Glessner Lee, however, take this attention to detail to startling — and brilliantly macabre — heights.

Frances Glessner Lee was a Chicago heiress with a curious obsession. During the 1940’s, Lee was a volunteer police officer with a honorary captain’s rank, and she possessed a passion for forensic science. At her New Hampshire estate, she installed a workshop to fashion crime scene dioramas, which she dubbed her “Nutshells”. These dollhouse-sized rooms were designed as classroom tools to instruct detectives in crime scene investigation. Lee founded Harvard’s department of legal medicine, the first program in the nation for forensic pathology.

According to a New York Times article on Lee, the Nutshells now reside in the office of the Maryland state examiner in Baltimore, where they are still used in seminars. Each diorama is packed with small-scale clues such as blood-splatters, a pillowcase smeared with lipstick, and a bullet embedded in a wall.

Corinne May Botz published a book of photographs entitled The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, that beautifully capture the details of Lee’s crime scene “nutshells”. Below are some images from Botz’s book.

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