My book choice of the month is 18 Tiny Deaths by Bruce Goldfarb. It is about the life work of Frances Glessner Lee. She is now considered the inventor of modern forensics. She is most known for the miniature crime scene dioramas she created in the 1940’s. They look like detailed doll houses until you see a bloody pool or a doll missing its head. And, as I looked at the photos of the miniature crime scenes, I was reminded of a television episode of CSI where Gil Grissom was resolving a murder case using such a diorama.
Born in Chicago to a millionaire family in 1878, she was self-taught. Women did not attend universities. But her fascination with forensics drove her to learn all she could. Her wealth, from International Harvester, did get her some attention at Harvard University. She funded the Harvard Department of Legal Medicine. She also funded the library needed for forensic science there. But, as a woman of the early 20th century, she did not garner the true respect she deserved. (I was amused to learn that she did not leave a cent to Harvard when she passed away in 1962).
In the 1940’s she built 20 of these dioramas and used them in lectures at Harvard. They were called the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. Students were to look at these detailed crime scenes for 90 minutes and then write what they believed happened and the timeline involved. Each scene is so finely detailed. There are a few photos of the dioramas in the book, but many more photos can be found online.
She was fascinating to me because she was an heiress who could afford to buy anything or travel the world. Instead, she was driven to learn all she could about murder or suicide or accidental death.