Dollhouse Murders


I saw this image during a forensic science seminar and couldn't get it out of my head. Who would build such a thing...and why? So I looked it up, and wow, what a story.

Turns out this is just one of 19 miniature crime scenes created in the 1940s by Frances Glessner Lee, a millionaire heiress and pioneer in the field of forensic medicine. Lee called them "Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death," and used them to help train police investigators to spot clues and identify the nature of a crime.

The level of craftsmanship and detail in these models is astonishing. Lee employed a full time live-in carpenter to build the structures at a scale of 1 inch = 1 foot. She scoured the world for high-quality miniature furniture, and made the human figures herself, including the tiny clothes. Lee completed 2-3 models a year at a cost approaching that of a typical full scale house.

Frances Lee's models were inspired by a variety of real life cases, and they are still used today for training seminars. But the time and expense required to build such models makes them impractical for an actual investigation. Recent advances in digital modeling and laser scanning technology, however, have made it possible to use computer software for crime scene reconstruction. Fat Pencil Studio has done a few such projects, and it's been my experience that the 3d model becomes a valuable tool when conducting an investigation.

The Nutshell crime scene image above is by photographer Corinne May Botz, who has published a book that extensively documents Frances Lee's work. Here's a link to that book, and some other good articles about the Nutshell Studies:


Joshua Cohen is a Principal at Fat Pencil Studio