Heiress Plotted 19 Grisly Crimes. Investigation Underway.
Note: Francis Glessner Lee was a member of the Glessner family that owned The Rocks in Bethlehem, NH, which was subsequently given to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests to conserve the 1400 acres of fields and forests. The Forest Society manages the property as a Conservation Education Center and Christmas Tree Farm: http://www.therocks.org/
WASHINGTON — I would make a lousy detective. This became as clear as a bloody footprint to me last week, as I walked through “Murder Is Her Hobby” at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, an exhibition of 19 miniature crime scenes created by Frances Glessner Lee in the 1940s and ’50s as training tools for police investigators. The models, meticulously handcrafted by Lee, are known as ‘‘The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.’’ Nearly all are owned by the Harvard Medical School and on loan from the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where they live, and continue to teach, some 70 years on.
I encourage you to drop what you’re doing and go to see them, before they go back into seclusion after the show closes on Jan. 28. The Nutshells are not only ingenious devices for the instruction of crime scene examiners, they are a body of imaginative work that would have established any artist’s career and place in art history.
Ms. Lee was not a schooled artist. She was a rich, frustrated woman in her 60s when she began them, and almost belligerent in her pursuit of a place in the infant field of forensic science. Lee shared its passion about the deceptions of crime and the need for truth in investigation. Entry to this professional realm was a double-locked door: men, and in particular police, held the keys. The majority of the victims in the Nutshells are women, found in their homes.