Nutshell Studies of murder scenes give a whole new meaning to doll houses. They are lovely, little dollhouses that, upon further investigation, reveal tiny horror scenes with macabre miniature cadavers scattered about little rooms. Each of the rooms in the Nutshell dollhouses depict various murder scenes with victims arranged in all manner of unfortunate poses: a little lady is upside down in a bathtub yet her legs and arms are locked in a curious pose suggesting she sat upright for some time after her murder. Another gruesome miniature shows a housewife lying face-up in her tiny kitchen, a little oven door opened suggesting a suicide, or an accidental gas poisoning. Of course the team of rookie police officers undergoing training with an academy in Baltimore, are expected to search for subtle clues suggesting otherwise. watch of dolls and murder explores macabre in miniature
The totally cool concept of creating miniature mayhem for training police officers is the brainchild of Frances Glessner Lee who created the macabre miniatures during the 1940s. Lee designed all of the murder scenes and the little dolls herself, deciding beforehand how each miniature met its demise before sewing and posing it. Currently many of the original Nutshell miniatures are kept in the Baltimore City Morgue. Corinne May Botz authored a book about the miniature macabre museum entitled, The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. A new exhibition of forensic science, mounted by the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, includes Lee as a key contributor to its history. Her obsession with crime and her determination to provide instruction for investigators made her a unique, and helpful, individual.
Lee had noticed that police officers often made mistakes when trying to determine whether a death was the result of an accident, a natural event, a suicide, or a homicide. Too often they simply missed clue. She thought that something practical should be done to mitigate this, and she created a series of crime tableaux as teaching devices. They are made to scale, and include all the items found in actual crime scenes. It’s understandable why concluding the manner of death can be difficult. Here is an example of a bizarre scene that could befuddle even an experienced cop:
A man in his 20’s was found hanging by a noose underground inside a pipeline, Except for the corpse and the rope, a minute timer was the only item at the scene. There were three possibilities: (1) murder, (2) suicide, (3) accidental death.
Murder – highly unlikely due to the elaborate scene. Not only would the crime have been committed out in the open near a neighbourhood residence, it was estimated that the time of death took place during the daylight hours.
Suicide – Same idea. Why would someone go to the length (pun) of hanging themselves with rope inside of a pipeline? Why not just hang oneself inside a closet at home?
The conclusion: accidental death. The victim was into a kinky form of sex called autoerotic asphyxia syndrome. Autoerotic is the sole domain of young males from mid-teens to mid-twenties. During this process, the cessation of breath somehow intensifies sexual pleasure. These people are also called gaspers. In this case the young man’s kinky habit began in the privacy of his home, but after a time he wasn’t satisfied with the closet routine and he devised a plan that would prove far riskier. He was right about that. Either his minute timer didn’t go off or he couldn’t regain his footing on the slippery steel ladder inside the pipeline. Either way, he died. Accidentally. Imagine explaining that one to St Peter? Imagine making that one in miniature? Robin Williams starred in a disturbing movie about autoerotic (no, not him … his son). watch world’s greatest dad – suicide note scene
Lee’s motto was “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.” She set aside the second floor of her four-story mansion for a workshop, filling one room entirely with miniature furniture. She blended several true cime stories (much like Hollywood when it states “based on a true story” at the beginning of a film…..no, truthfully), going with police officers to the morgue, reading reports, interviewing witnesses, and sometimes utilizing fiction. Lee even attended autopsies. Ick. watch atrax morgue – basic autopsy procedure
If you’re into dollhouses, murder and mayhem with tiny, emaciated corpses, might make a welcome change of venue. Or, consider it for Halloween. Then again, you might be thinking to yourself “no thanks.”