I wrote the following about Frances Glessner Lee - aka Fanny - the creator of the dollhouse scenes of death. Without her, we wouldn't have a story to tell, a film to make. On this Memorial weekend, I am honoring Fanny - a woman who didn't want anyone to die in vain.
Nothing and everything in Lee’s background prepared her for the role of a crime-fighting granny. Born in 1878, a wealthy Chicago heiress; her parents believed that education was wasted on women, so Lee never received the formal education she craved. For most of her life she was paralyzed in the role of wife, mother, and socialite. Lee’s passions were elsewhere: in academia, science, law and medicine. In other words, a man’s world.
In the 1930s, a family friend made Lee aware of the countless murders that went undetected and unsolved because evidence was either mishandled, misinterpreted or ignored. It was as if the dead were talking to Lee, urging her to speak for them. Lee took an active interest as a pioneer in the new emerging arena, “Legal Medicine”, which would later be re-named, “Forensics.”
Lee developed a vision for training every detective to take both scientific and medical evidence into account while solving crimes. To do so, she co-opted a feminine past time – creating miniatures – into a crime-fighting tool for (male) detectives to challenge their abilities to interpret evidence. Ironically, her creation of dollhouses is exactly what catapulted her into a revered role in the masculine realm.
Lee’s legacy lives on through the Nutshells and the Harvard Associates in Police Science (HAPS), an ongoing detective training seminar she developed in the 1940s. Almost 70 years later, Lee’s dollhouses are still relevant training tools because all the latest technological advances in forensics do not change the fact that crime scenes can be misread, and then someone will literally get away with murder.
(We just finished editing the Fanny section of our film! Yay! Happy Memorial Weekend!)