Skip to Content

A Monthly Culture Matrix For the Cosmopolitan Traveler

Death in Diorama: The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Death in Diorama / Online

After divorcing her husband in 1931, the American industrial heiress Frances Glessner Lee, newly unencumbered by wifely duties, used her large fortune to explore what was, back then, a rather unusual interest for a woman: murder. She endowed Harvard with a Department of Legal Medicine, which soon hosted the Harvard Seminars in Homicide Investigation, led by Lee. But her finest and most unusual works are the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. These 20 dollhouse-sized dioramas of real crime scenes were made to train investigators—and are still used for that purpose. In Lee’s time and in her milieu, creating miniatures was a common hobby among society matrons, who were also known to donate large sums to honorable causes. Glessner thus concealed her unconventional ambitions and interests behind convention and respectability. She is credited as the godmother of forensic science. This website walks you through several of Lee’s Nutshells, which are like true-crime puzzles, with morbid yet satisfying solutions. —C.J.F.

Start a New Search
Subscribers Only

Start your free trial to access the full Arts Intel Report

Subscribe to Air Mail to access every article
and search our entire Arts Intel Report.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in here.