Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death


Coinciding perfectly with this somewhat ghoulish time of year, the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum is currently displaying miniature dioramas depicting unsolved deaths.

The gruesome models were made by Frances Glessner Lee, often referred to as the ‘mother of forensic science,’ to train homicide detectives in the 1940s and 50s to “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.”

This rare public display, which is at once quaint and disturbing, explores the unexpected intersection between craft and forensic science.

Lee was the first female police captain in the U.S. and helped to found the first-of-its kind Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard University when the field of forensics was in its infancy.  Her models are still used in forensic training today.

Find out more about the exhibition and about Lee herself @

In 1937, Robert Judson, a foreman in a shoe factory, his wife, Kate Judson, and their baby, Linda Mae Judson, were discovered dead by Paul Abbott, a neighbor.
(Photographs: Collection of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, courtesy of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Baltimore, MD)


In 1941, Mrs Ruby Davis, a housewife, was discovered dead on the stairs by her husband, Reginald Davis.


In 1943, Daniel Perkins was missing and presumed dead.


The exhibition runs from October 20, 2017 to January 28, 2018 at the Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW, Washington, DC 20006)

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