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The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death Hardcover – September 28, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Bizarre and utterly fascinating, The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death is a dark and disturbing photographic journey through criminal cases and the mind of Frances Glessner Lee--grandmother, dollhouse-maker, and master criminal investigator. Photographer Corinne May Botz stumbled across the "Nutshell Studies" while making a video about women who collect dollhouses. On the suggestion of a collector, she visited the Baltmore Medical Examiner's Office, where Lee's miniature reconstructions of crime scenes were on display. The macabre dioramas fascinated and repulsed her: "I was entranced by the details: the porcelain doll with a broken arm in the attic, the grains of sugar on the kitchen floor...I was also riveted by the miniature corpses. Shot in bed, collapsed in the bathtub, hung in the attic and stabbed in the closet; all were eternally frozen in miniature rooms that had become their tombs."

A remarkable woman, Frances Glessner Lee established the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard in 1936. At the time, innumerable murders went undetected because evidence was mishandled, or ignored. To train investigators of sudden and violent deaths to better assess visual evidence, Lee created the Nutshell Studies--dollhouses that students could study from every angle, with minute crime scenes details taken from actual cases. Lee created 18 dioramas, using only the most mysterious cases (cases that could have been ruled as accidents, murders, or suicides) to train detectives and challenge their ability to read evidence.

Botz reveals as much about the nature of obsession as she does about Frances Glessener Lee--each model is painstakingly photographed from multiple vantage points, allowing the reader to witness the astounding level of realism and precision in each case, as well as giving the reader unobstructed access to each eerie setting. All 18 studies include a brief synopsis of each case, as well as a key to each grisly floor plan. Perfect for amateur sleuths, aspiring medical examiners, and fans of CSI, The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death is grim and oh so bewitching. --Daphne Durham

Amazon.com Content
Inside The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death


Case: "Living Room"

Case: "Three-Room Dwelling"

Case: "Dark Bathroom"

Review

"The Nutshell dioramas are compelling, a bit disturbing, and engagingly weird—it never previously seemed possible to use the words 'forsenic' and 'cute' in the same sentence. Corinne May Botz has done a grand job both in exposing them to a nonspecialist public and in photographing them with such fanatical verisimilitude." —Luc Sante
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 225 pages
  • Publisher: The Monacelli Press (September 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580931456
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580931458
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 1 x 10.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #100,486 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The story of the Nutshell Studies is wonderful and intriguing. The Studies themselves are also intriguing... I think. The problem is that the photographs in this book are artsily blurry. I couldn't see the crime scenes clearly. An especial frustration is that there are line drawings of the crime scenes with clues marked -- but there's no corresponding photograph! It's very annoying to be told, for instance, that a doll's face is red from carbon monoxide when I can't see that face in any of the pictures.
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Format: Hardcover
Had I seen this book in a store I wouldn't have gotten it primarily because I'm into dollhousing & am used to seeing excellent photography. The majority of the photographs in this book is very poor. There is a close up shot of a table with lots of clues on it but the photo is so blurry that you can't tell what most of the items are. Its a real shame too because they make cameras just for miniatures & those of you who are familiar with the quality photos in "Miniature Collector" & "Dollhouse Miniatures" magazines would recognize just how poor they are. Also because Mrs. Lee was very talented & it would have been a great pleasure to have seen her work photographed clearly.

For the mystery minded, the book offers clues along with the bad photos but does not solve the mysteries.
I would suggest that you go & look at it in a bookstore before you decide to buy it. You just might save yourself some money.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I deal with forensic science and have had this book since around April 2011 when I paid only $15 for the hardcover. A friend asked me to get the book for her, and couldn't believe the prices ppl are paying for this.

What many do not know was that Frances's father was the founder/presidenet of International Harvester and they had a home on thousands of acres. Her brother went on the Harvard University but her father didn't believe in higher education for females. She became fascinated with Forensic Science and the prperty she inherited was covered with walnut trees. She began to buld detaled miniature crime scenes in the walnut shells - comlete to the color/print of the clothing; hair color; eye color if their eyes were open postmortem. She married late in life; had children, then divorced.

I first read about her in a quarterly issue of my Forensic Examiner journal, since I am a member of the American College of Forensic Examiners Insitute.

Book Description
Publication Date: September 28, 2004

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death offers readers an extraordinary glimpse into the mind of a master criminal investigator. Frances Glessner Lee, a wealthy grandmother, founded the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard in 1936 and was later appointed captain in the New Hampshire police. In the 1940s and 1950s she built dollhouse crime scenes based on real cases in order to train detectives to assess visual evidence. Still used in forensic training today, the eighteen Nutshell dioramas, on a scale of 1:12, display an astounding level of detail: pencils write, window shades move, whistles blow, and clues to the crimes are revealed to those who study the scenes carefully.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am an artist and find this book inspirational and creepy fabulous. The author was hit hard by the glass ceiling in the early part of the 20th century and applied her artistic, scientific and observational skills to depicting crime scenes in the finest detail.
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Format: Hardcover
I first saw Corinne May Botz’s book, The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in New York. It is a collection of art photos taken of Frances Glessner Lee’s dollhouse recreations of murder scenes.

The dioramas were not merely macabre toys put together by a fan of true crime. Lee painstakingly created the scenarios in the 1940s and 50s for a very serious purpose: training investigating police on the correct scientific methods of approaching crime scenes, observing all details which may bear on the case.

At the time, medical law was still very much a work in progress – murders often passed undetected or badly investigated. Frances Glessner Lee, a Chicago heiress, founded Harvard’s Department of Legal Medicine and built these gruesome displays of domestic murder, mishap and accidental death to train police in observation. The models are still in use today by the Baltimore Police.

An astonishing level of detail went into their creation. Lee sometimes wore clothes for a year past their effective use-by date so they’d have the correct wear for the tiny figures in their boxes. She ordered parts, she disassembled and reworked and reconstructed them. She had pieces made from scratch. There are tiny calendars and books (including The Sign of the Four), miniature tools and household implements, medically accurate colouring (bright red skin for victims of carbon monoxide poisoning) and domestic details recreated to scale. Many of the scenarios were based on real cases, altered and expanded slightly to fit their purpose as training materials.

The Studies taught generations of investigative officers how to keep their eyes open, to look for corroborating evidence and to seek out contradictory clues.
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