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In Brief: Murder Scenes at 1/12th Scale

By Norman Chan

Using dollhouses to train police detectives.

I finally watched the True Detective finale (no spoilers, but enjoyed it), and reading about forensic investigations brought me to this amazing story of Frances Glessner Lee's "Nutshell Studies." Lee, a wealthy heiress to an agricultural machinery company, spent her free time creating an elaborate set of 18 dollhouse dioramas, each depicting murder scenes. These gruesome miniature sets--recreations of actual police cases--were used by investigators in training to develop methods of gathering evidence and analyzing crime scenes. The sets were donated to the Department of Legal Medicine and are still used today to teach forensic investigation. They're currently on display in Baltimore at the Maryland Medical Examiner's Office, but there's also a book of photos examining these dioramas and a 2010 documentary about Lee's contributions to modern-day forensics.