Unexplained Death Dioramas

These 1:12 models of grisly murder scenes were handcrafted with exquisite detail. Each one was made to reflect real crime scenes from the 1940s.


The Mother of Forensic Science

The architect of all of these dioramas was Frances Glessner Lee, a wealthy heiress from Chicago. She was born into the family that owned International Harvester, but her true interests lie in solving mysteries.

She built the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death to aid in training police officers and crime scene investigators.

“To clear the innocent as well as expose the guilty. Seek only the facts—find the truth in a Nutshell.”

frances glessner lee

Frances Glessner Lee building a diorama.

Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Forensics students were given 90 minutes to carefully study the details of the crime scene. The only things they could use were a small flashlight, magnifying glass, and their own deductive skills to solve the mystery.

Locked doors, working lights, object placement, and body orientation are all set with precise detail. To model these precise crime scenes, Lee even went to such great lengths as attending autopsies to properly reproduce the fabrics victims wore.

Despite being constructed in the 1940s, the dioramas have been so useful in teaching students to pay attention to detail, that they are still used today. For her work in the forensics field, Lee is known as the mother of forensic science and is even rumored to have been the inspiration behind Murder, She Wrote‘s Jessica Fletcher.

Images CC Lorie Shaull