In 1936 a sheltered and frustrated middle-aged divorcée from Chicago rather unexpectedly inherited the family fortune. Denied both school and university as a child by her parents (because she was a girl), she always wanted to do something with her life “of significant value to the community”, but it was not charity work she had in mind. Instead, Frances Glessner Lee, in best Miss Marple manner, became nothing less than “the mother of forensic investigation”.
Inspired by a Boston medical examiner, George Burgess Magrath, who had complained to her of how murder investigations were often botched and ruined by inadequately trained detectives and coroners alike, Lee funded a Library of Legal Medicine at Harvard and the country’s first forensic pathology programme as well as becoming an expert in the field herself. She also created a series of miniature (1:12 scale) crime scenes by hand, with obsessive attention to detail, in order to test crime scene investigators’ powers of observation. Called the “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”, the 18 models she made in the 1940s are used to this day as teaching aids in the Maryland Medical Examiners’ office in Baltimore. I (sl)
For more on the amazing Miss Lee and images of her mini crime scenes see our blog article Deathly Details and accompanying photographs from her biographer, the artist and photographer Corinne May Botz.