Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Top Ten List of Most Memorable quotes about Of Dolls & Murder

2011 brought so many wonderful and gratifying moments for Of Dolls & Murder. Audiences have been beyond kind, appreciative, savvy, and insightful.

But there’s one in every crowd, isn’t there? Take that “one” and add it to emails, tweets, and Facebook posts that range from fabulous to frightening, and you have the:

2011 Top Ten List of Most Memorable
quotes about Of Dolls & Murder

10. I’m pretty sure one of your dolls slipped on a banana peel and died. That’s pretty funny.

9. I left during the Body Farm scene to go to the bathroom, not because I couldn't handle it. But it was pretty gross. (Just to be clear, you are talking about the scene and not your trip to the bathroom?)

8. I saw your film on Thursday night. I had no idea that a woman directed it until the end credits. I think that's hot. Are you single? Are you looking for someone who will appreciate your dark side? (Um, no.)

7. I would buy two copies of your film but besides my daughter, I can't think of anyone else who would want it. I could take my chances with the gift exchange at work, but I think I will pass. (So…just one DVD for you then?)

6. Keep me posted on your GLOBAL DOMINATION!

5. I wish someone would have warned me that your documentary is pretty much a horror film. I just wasn't prepared. (And here I was worried that putting “Murder” in the title would scare people off.)

4. I liked the DVD extras so much better than the actual movie.

3. Your film gave me nightmares! (You and me both.)

2. (From a Q&A following a screening) What deep dark thing happened to you to make you make this film? (What deep dark thing happened to you to make you want to see it? Hmmm?)

1. I could just kill you for not revealing the answers to the Nutshells. But I won't because that would be justifiable homicide and where's the mystery in that? (I really can’t argue with this.)

Honorable mention: “I can’t wait to show your film to my students!” – At least 3 elementary school teachers. (I only wish I was kidding.)

Here’s to a 2012 full of memorable quotes for everyone!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy Holidays from Of Dolls & Murder!

Wow, what a year! We wish you peace and happiness in the new year. And may all your holidays be homicide free!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Of Dolls & Murder First Guest Blogger!

We are pleased to post an entry from our first guest blogger, writer Luke Zimmerman. Luke's connection to the Of Dolls & Murder film project goes back to a fundraising party we threw 4 years ago. Luke, who is also a musician, played to help us raising money for our very first shoot.

We asked Luke to be our first guest blogger after he shared his insights with us about the film; we knew that this is precisely the new direction we want to go with our blog - a continuation of the themes we merely touch on in the film. If you are interested in guest blogging for us, be in touch!

A big thanks to Luke Zimmerman for his entry and we hope you enjoy!

In the last five years or so, I have started running. It was not my plan growing up to be a runner but there it is. I’m not going to apologize for it. But there is a typical joke, one that I used to use, when someone says they went running the other person says, “What from?” and you are supposed to make up something witty or whatever and say crushing debt or the police or rabid bears or the like. When really the answer is most likely death. I am trying to run from death. But there I go being dramatic.

Being out in the country like I am and running on the shoulders of country roads like I do, you are liable to smell the roadkill before you see it. There is a rank smell that everybody knows and this is the smell of death. You know the smell. It is similar to the gagging stench when you don’t notice that the mousetrap in your utility room has caught a mouse and you go into the room and see a flattened rodent and reach for the gloves. Why do you reach for the gloves? Because you can’t stomach the idea of touching a dead mouse. But I shouldn’t bring you into this. It is all about me anyway.

But this mouse was flattened and caught by the head in the trap. I had nothing against the mouse. It was most likely disease-free. No buboes. No small pox. I don’t even think it had scurvy though I’m not sure that mice carry that. I don’t think mice carry diseases that can be cured by limes. A person smarter than me might mention Lyme’s Disease in a funny way here but I’m not a person smarter than me. I think urinary tract infections are cured by cranberries and they’re no joke at all.

I saw the mouse when I was going into the utility room to look for carpet cleaner so I could clean up the vomit. Vomit has a particular stench, too, that lingers like death. It is a smell that only parents and fraternity brothers get to ignore. Probably hospital workers, too. I might mention why there was vomit but I think the mystery of it makes for a better connection with the movie, “Of Dolls and Murder,” for which I am doing this blog. I suppose I should be making a bigger connection to the movie. That would be the generous thing to do. But I don’t remember seeing vomit in any of those dioramas, the “nutshell” dollhouses but there’s probably a lot to go round. I’m not sure, though. I’ve never seen CSI.

This is getting a little too much into vomit. But bear with me. It’s not gross out humor. I think it’s going somewhere.

Armed with my gloves, I gingerly lifted the mouse. I was however greeted with the sickest of all sensations, stickiness. The mouse had stuck to the floor. I peeled it off, trying to ignore the death smell billowing in the room, only to see an amorphous grey sludge dripping from the middle and the obvious wriggling white maggots feasting on the mouse’s insides. A ball gathered in my throat as I released the mouse into a plastic bag. To throw up myself would only add to the olfactory disaster and so I fought it as I went outside and released the mouse into the woods. The maggots could finish their business in peace.

This will happen to us all someday.

Now, there are people for whom these sorts of horrors are not an issue. They in fact are not horrors at all but deep fascinations, puzzles to be solved. They are the people that instead of recoiling at the sight and smell of a maggot ridden carcass, will squeal, “Ooh! Look at that!” I am not one of those people. But I hold no grudges. I choose to believe that they are not morbid fetishists or sadistic sociopaths. They most likely have great empathy for the cycles of nature. I do not have great empathy for the cycles of nature and think it’s a damn shame that I have to be maggot ridden someday. I feel it’s a bit of a rip off.

I had a survivalist friend who was driving in northern Minnesota in the wintertime. He had an errand to run and was returning to his campsite when he noticed that there was a roadkill raccoon that was not there when he passed only an hour or so previously. He stopped his truck and got out. He threw the raccoon in the bed and returned to the camp. He skinned it and roasted the raccoon over an open fire. When it was cooked, he ate it. I’m not sure how much he ate, because at this point in the story I was too bowled over that he was eating roadkill. That his reaction to seeing the raccoon was, “Good eating!” when my reaction would have been, “Veer left!”

“What’s the big deal?” he said. “It’s all meat.” Don’t I know it.

These are the sorts of people that inhabit the movie, “Of Dolls and Murder.” They are curious and dedicated. Even more so, they are able to separate the idea of the body as a human with the idea of the body as a physical object. This is most evident with the workers at the Body Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee. I should say that “Body Farm” is a bit of a cheeky name for the Anthropological Research Facility (incidentally, it was originally the Bass Anthropological Research Facility, but the title was abandoned because the acronym was BARF. So I am not the only one with vomit on the brain.). The facility was started by Dr. Bass to study forensics, and in particular decomposition in a variety of settings. There are over 100 bodies donated to the facility each year. And there they are, out in the open, slowly rotting, some recreating the various ways a body can be stored—garbage bags, piles of leaves, water, trunks of cars, that sort of thing. The skin turns colors as the blood pools, the resilient maggots crawl, the forces of nature return the body to the earth. The researchers tend to the bodies and record the progress in order to chart what happens to the physical body when the life goes out of it. This is the point when I have a metaphysical breakdown, and the scientists begin observing.

I have to admit that I felt flushed during this scene. Perhaps even a bit faint. Sick. It is one thing to think about death in a little box. It is another to think about it in the open. Plush lined caskets with silver pall bearing rails put a regal spin on the most degrading element of human existence. We take so much pride and care in how we look trying to forget that the eventual decay will catch up to us. And here it is, all spelled out for us. One day after you die, you will look like this. After a week, like this. A year later, this is what is left of you. Your perfectly cut hair, your finely trimmed toenails. Those extra five pounds that you wanted to lose.

But these people in “Of Dolls and Murder” are able to block that out. They are made of stuff that can withstand existential crises. There are problems to be solved. There are crimes to be solved. I don’t think these people, the detectives, the morticians, the scientists, are oblivious to the terror of death, but I think they are trying to understand physical death. They are seeing what it looks like firsthand. They are gathering secret reconnaissance about the world’s only common enemy. And by trying to understand physical death, to understand the enemy, we maybe can conquer a small part of the mystery. At least we know what we are facing. And more to the point, the “nutshell” dollhouses along with the Body Farm help to solve crimes. While a solved crime can never bring back that person, it can bring relief or closure to the loved ones left behind. To solve the mystery of a death can make life just a hair better.

I’ve been thinking about these things a lot lately. I know this is not the proper place to put this. I know it might seem exploitative. But it is on my mind. Last week they found a man I went to high school with dead with no explanation from anyone. He had massive head injuries. The newspaper said that he was found in his driveway still alive with blunt force trauma. He died the next day. The police say that it is a “suspicious incident”. I saw pictures of the evidence tags and the “Do not cross” ribbon in the newspaper. The police have not released any information on suspects, have not said anything about what could have happened. I don’t know if they know. This was a brilliant person. I knew him when we were both very young and I still picture him just like that and try not to imagine anything else. I sometimes think I am still young too. I don’t know what to do with any of it.

So I run and I try to escape death. It’s not working, I know. Every once in a while I see a raccoon carcass at the edge of the road. Sometimes I even have to step over it and smell it. I try to stay upwind. I see the flies buzzing around its exposed mandible. The teeth are crushed and the pelt looks like a crappy carpet in an abandoned icehouse. It has become a thing to be avoided and no longer a life. Turtles are bad, too, with their smashed shells. It is shocking and sad and reminds me how ugly and unfair death is. Whenever I see a youngish person in the obituaries, I look to see if someone mentions what caused the death, as if this might help. In the end, we end up feeding the worms possibly at a crime scene or possibly slowly decomposing in a field behind a university building in Tennessee. It does bring me small comfort to know how it was the raccoon met his end. Hopefully he never saw it coming.

Luke Zimmerman has an MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Of Dolls & Murder November Newsletter

In our Of Dolls & Murder November Newsletter:

Our London Premiere
Dr. John Troyer
Of Dolls & Murder necklaces
DVDs on sale
And More!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mid November Update

We've been a tad too busy to post lately, but there is good news! We are working with several guest blog writers to revamp and expand our blog. Look for new blog entries coming soon.

Also, we are trying to get Of Dolls & Murder to more people in the criminal justice field. And you can help! Click here to learn more about Give MN.

Also, we are thrilled to announce that Of Dolls & Murder will be screening at the Horse Hospital in London on the Nov 30, 2011! One of the stars of Of Dolls & Murder, Dr. John Troyer will be on hand to field questions.

More updates coming soon!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Buy the DVD/Back sequel

A sneak peak at a doll from our sequel, created by Cynthia von Buhler

The big news for the next couple weeks is all about Kickstarter - an online crowd sourcing site to help artists raise funds. It's an all or nothing deal. We are trying to raise funds to launch a sequel to Of Dolls & Murder and one of the rewards for backing the sequel project is the DVD of Of Dolls & Murder. Win/Win!

So if you want more and more dead dolls, watch this video and hopefully donate!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

October is Of Dolls & Murder month!

The Regional Premiere of Of Dolls & Murder at the Heights Theater in Minneapolis 9-28-11

October is here and we declare it Of Dolls & Murder month!

(We did the same thing last year and no one objected, so we're just going to run with it.)

Thanks for signing up for the Of Dolls & Murder newsletter. Periodically, we will send you updates on the film, such as news about screenings, DVDs, new content on our website, interviews and new projects.

The Of Dolls & Murder DVD is available for purchase! Go to or click here. The DVD includes the extended version of the film as well as extra features. Of Dolls & Murder merchandise (necklaces and posters) are also available and we will be adding more soon.

Kickstarter & DVD

If you're looking for more bang for your buck, you can receive a DVD of the film as a reward when you donate to our new kickstarter campaign for Of Dolls & Murder - the Sequel. We just launch a campaign today based on the work of artist Cynthia von Buhler, who is creating her own dollhouse crime scenes based on a murder mystery in her own family. We're hoping to feature her story in a new documentary film.

Read more about it and watch the video here.


We started screening Of Dolls & Murder this summer and now we seem to be adding new screenings each week. We hope to make it to your favorite independent theater.

October Screenings

Of Dolls & Murder in the News

We received some great reviews and press recently:
  • Euan Kerr of Minneapolis Public Radio produced a wonderful segment. You can read or listen here. He interviewed us as well as John Waters for the segment.
  • For the life of us we can't understand why this reviewer called our film a "puppet show" but it is a truly well-done and insightful article.
  • Great and thoughtful article by Max Sparber.
We also won Best Documentary Feature Film at the Arizona Underground Film Festival!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Dolls & Murder Sequel!

Because one documentary film on dead dolls, just isn't enough. Want to be apart of the sequel?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

October is Of Dolls & Murder month!

We declare that October is Of Dolls & Murder month. (And really, who's going to argue?) Officially the DVD goes on sale on October 1, 2011. However, we just happen to have DVDs all ready for the buying. Click here to get your copy. Wondering if we ship overseas? Why, yes! We want new fans all over the world.

New screening dates coming soon!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Of Dolls & Murder screening updates - September

This may be the best website on the Internet and they let us curate a capsule! How lucky are we? And how lucky are you now that you know about How to be a Retronaut!

Screenings! Get your screenings here!


Arizona! (AZ Underground Film Festival)


Lowell, MA!

Oct 18 -20 Of Dolls & Murder screens in Copenhagen at the Huset i Magstræde!

Scottsdale AZ Museum of Contemporary Art!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Of Dolls & Murder Minneapois Screening

We are pleased to announce that Of Dolls & Murder will have a regional premiere in Minneapolis on Sept 28, 2011 at 7:30p. Q & A will follow and then a premiere party at 331 Club with the band Bernie King & the Guilty Pleasure.

You don't want to miss it. This screening will likely sell out, so get your tix ASAP!

Get your tickets here!

The screening will benefit IFP MN!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Of Dolls & Murder screening updates

We surely love the Revelation Perth International Film Festival. Of Dolls & Murder had two screenings at the 2011 fest in July and this included a closing night screening. Our film was called "the quirky surprise hit of the film festival." Have we mentioned how much we love the good people of Perth?

We will soon have news about other screenings!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Of Dolls & Murder screening updates

Let us know if you saw our film at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival. Curious to hear what you think. Also, did you hear that John Waters will be making his way to Perth soon with his Filthy World show?

Just a few reminders: Save the date for a screening of Of Dolls and Murder in Minneapolis on September 28, 2011. 7:30pm. Q & A to follow and party at 331 Club afterwards featuring Bernie King and the Guilty Pleasures.

You can find us on twitter
You can like us on facebook
Join our facebook group
Watch and share our trailer on youtube
Request a screening through our website.

We're setting up screenings right and left, so check in with us for the latest.

Also, Susan did a guest blog for Defrosting Cold Cases. You can check that out right here.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Of Dolls and Murder at Revelation Perth International Film Festival

We're very excited to announce the Australian premiere of Of Dolls and Murder! Can you make it? Revelation Perth International Film Festival has a great line up for 2011!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

John Waters at the Walker Art Center

Of Dolls and Murder narrator and icon, John Waters at the Walker Art Center talking to Of Dolls and Murder director, Susan Marks and her husband.

What a night! John Waters entertained the hell out of a packed house at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. To read more go here.

John and Susan (pictured above) were talking about the screening of Of Dolls and Murder on June 16, 2011 at Moviate Harrisburg! We hope you can make it!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Happy Memorial Day from Of Dolls and Murder

Mrs. Frances Glessner Lee
(pictured here at age 16)

In what has become a tradition each Memorial Day since we started the Of Dolls and Murder film project, we've posted about Frances Glessner Lee, the Patron Saint of Forensics, who spoke so eloquently for the dead. The world of criminal justice would be very different if it weren't for the pioneering work of FGL. And without her, we wouldn't have this wonderful story to tell.

At her funeral, hundreds of law enforcement officers from all over the East Coast and Canada came to honor her in a fitting tribute.

We hope she realized how many lives (and deaths) she impacted. RIP Mrs. Frances Glessner Lee.

Update: The Of Dolls and Murder DVD will be available in July 2011. We also have several screenings lined up too. More information on that soon.

Questions? Be in touch with the filmmakers at doll.documentary [at symbol]

Friday, March 18, 2011

Of Dolls and Murder Necklaces

Give the gift of doll murder or keep the mystery for yourself. Collect all 4! Be the first kid on your block to have them! Shop here! It's safe and secure!

All proceeds go to offset the cost of making Of Dolls and Murder!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Of Dolls and Murder - Filmmaking Notes

If you want to know a bit more about Of Dolls and Murder, read on.

Filmmaker Notes

Director Susan Marks

From the moment I first saw the Nutshells of Unexplained Death I was hooked, for life. These intricate, and dare I say beautiful, dollhouse crime scenes were like nothing I’d ever seen. I wanted to chase down the brilliance behind these miniature crime scenes, tell that story and share it with audiences that would fully appreciate the Nutshells for their art, creepy quotient, and deeper connection to the pursuit of justice.

Making a motion picture film about dollhouses that are anything but in motion was problematic. But through the immense talent and skill of cinematographer Matt Ehling, co-producer John Kurtis Dehn, who also serves as sound recordist, editor and composer, and finally, post-sound engineer Carly Zuckweiler, I knew I had the perfect filmmaking team to put a little bit of life back in these dioramas of death.

Early on we realized that the Nutshells, small as they are, reflect real-life scenarios that play out again and again, every day. So, we took our cues from the miniatures and expanded the scope of the film to include true crime.

Our three-year filmmaking journey was fascinating. Every encounter at the morgue, medical examiners office, police station, museum, college, crime lab, crime scene, and yes, the Body Farm, left us in awe. The people we met along the way showed such generous and fierce devoted to the pursuit of justice that it was an honor to be in their presence and to learn from them. In particular, we are deeply indebted to Jerry Dziecichowicz, Dr. David Fowler and Eleanor Thomas of the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, as well as Detectives Rob Ross, Bob Dohony and Sean Jones from the Baltimore Police Department.

One of the things that impressed us the most was the deep respect everyone has for Frances Glessner Lee, the creator of the Nutshells. We, in turn, were captivated by her story and chased it down to the best of our ability, yet she remains somewhat of an enigma to us. We have more questions about her than answers. But this hasn’t deterred us; we are still chasing her genius.

I’m often asked how we got John Waters as our narrator, and I can’t help but think luck had a little something to do with it. Both John and the Nutshells reside in Baltimore where he was introduced to them a number of years ago by Judge Elsbeth Bothe. John became an instant fan and this eventually led him to answering our call, so to speak. Needless to say, we were thrilled that he agreed to be in our film. He is simply perfect for the part. Again, lucky for us because we never considered anyone else.

Throughout this whole process of making Of Dolls and Murder, John has been so supportive and wonderful. And at the risk of sounding like a schoolgirl with a crush, I think he may be the most brilliant person I’ve ever met. Imagine if he and Frances could have met. It would have been nothing short of extraordinary.

While we were in the early phases of production on Of Dolls and Murder many fans of the television show CSI asked me if I was aware that the seventh season of CSI had a story arc about a miniature serial killer. Indeed I was aware and I knew the inspiration came from the Nutshells Studies of Unexplained Death.

The producer and showrunner of CSI, Naren Shankar happily sat down with us to talk about the 7th season, the CSI effect, Nutshells, Frances Glessner Lee, and forensics. Besides being eloquent and charming, we were so impressed with Naren’s background. While he played it down, we were aware that he is a true scientist with several degrees in science including a Ph. D. in applied physics from Cornell. After our interview with him, my co-producer and I joked that Naren was some sort of science superhero and then we realized that the crime scene investigators portrayed on CSI are precisely that.

Deep in the edit process we found that we were missing something, some voice to help us link together various organic topics within the film, and that’s when we looked to Dr. Katherine Ramsland. Not only is she a Frances Glessner Lee and Nutshell scholar, but she’s also written numerous books on forensics and crime scene investigation, including The CSI Effect. She teaches criminal justice classes at DeSales University and was gracious enough to invite us to film her student processing a mock crime scene. But this wasn’t any ordinary mock crime scene! It was a life-sized replica of one of the Nutshell Studies cases, “Attic.” The similarities were uncanny and Katherine’s interview proved invaluable to us.

And finally, I have to say a few words about the music in our film. The soundtrack was far from an afterthought; my co-producer, John Kurtis Dehn and I talked about it constantly. We are both inspired by Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack for Twin Peaks, and we hoped that our soundtrack could resonate in a similar way.

Fortunately, John is also a talented musician and songwriter, creating much of the Of Dolls and Murder soundtrack.

We also worked with other musicians and singers such as Grant Dawson and Joseph Carl to create haunting melodies for the score. When we happened upon a haunting song by Jefferson Rabb from the website for the book, Strange Piece of Paradise (Terri Jentz, author) we thought it was perfect for our film. Both Jefferson and Terri graciously granted us permission to use song. Once again, we considered ourselves lucky and awed by the generosity of the individuals we’ve met encountered while working on this film.

If it sounds like working on Of Dolls and Murder was too good to be true, it might be. Maybe I’ll wake up and find out it was all just a wonderfully creepy dream. And yes, there is an Of Dolls and Murder II in the works!

Filmmaker Notes

Producer John Kurtis Dehn

When Susan Marks first approached me to co-produce a documentary about antique dollhouses and bloody doll corpses, I have to admit I had some reservations. Part of my hesitancy may have been that as a boy, I was never really raised to appreciate dolls and dollhouses. When I would play with dolls (or action figures as I called them) it usually involved some kind of warfare, but I never went so far as to decorate them in fake blood. Also, I was concerned that these miniature dioramas and the woman who created them might not be strong enough to sustain an entire film. I eventually agreed to be part of the project, mostly on faith in Susan’s instincts, and it wasn’t until I saw the dollhouses for myself, that I came to appreciate their power. I also had no idea where these miniatures would lead us.

I can’t imagine beginning a documentary project and knowing how it’s going to end. The things you learn along the way are bound to determine where your film goes, and that was certainly the case with Of Dolls and Murder. Seeing the Nutshells for the first time, I was taken in by their sublime beauty and intricacy. The detail and construction inspires awe and the dolls themselves, curiosity. We knew right away, that we had to try to make a beautiful looking film. Susan brought Matt Ehling into the project as Director of Photography and he did an amazing job, capturing some truly beautiful images. Matt’s experience as a documentary filmmaker was also a huge help to us and he chimed in as cheerleader whenever Susan and I showed any hint of doubt about what we were doing.

Susan’s beautiful photography of the Nutshells played a crucial role in our film as well. Because of the tiny scale of the dioramas, and the cramped quarters where they were displayed, we were limited as to the angles we could get at with our large video camera. Many of the detail shots that are used in the film are actually still photos that Susan was able capture.

The 2nd big discovery that ultimately shaped Of Dolls and Murder, was the men and women who work at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore and homicide detectives, Rob Ross, Bob Dohony and Sean Jones. We were profoundly moved by their dedication to their work, their respect for Frances Glessner Lee, and their generosity towards us.

The time we spend with these people, taught us that our film needed to be empathetic as opposed to sensationalistic, and that instead of going for gore or shock value, it needed to be a human film. Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. David Fowler says in the film that, “behind every single person that comes in here there is usually a group of friends, family, who have now suffered a significant loss. And so it’s not just one victim, the victim is in fact a group of people.”

The doctors, the autopsy technicians, the lab techs and the detectives that we came to know, have that sense of purpose of giving voice to all of the victims–all of them. As filmmakers we started to feel a responsibility as well, that we couldn’t be careless, and that we had an obligation to treat our film with the same seriousness and sense of purpose.

Lastly, having the chance to shape the soundtrack of the film was a big thrill. Susan had a strong sense of what she was looking for, which also matched my sensibilities. Again, empathy for the victims and the haunting beauty of the Nutshells were guideposts.

I’m very proud of our film. I feel extremely fortunate to have made many friends along the way and to have worked with such wonderful and talented people in the process.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Are you curious to know a bit more about the inspiration of our film? In a nutshell, here's a little background on the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death:

(By the way, keep those comments and questions coming! We love it.)

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Created in the 1930s and 1940s, The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death are a series of eighteen intricately designed dollhouse-style dioramas. The creator, Frances Glessner Lee, was a millionaire heiress who is affectionately known as the “Patron Saint of Forensic Science.”

Lee designed these detailed scenarios, based on composites of actual cases, to help train detectives sharpen their investigative skills. Each Nutshell contains a doll corpse (or several) in a death scene that could be easily misinterpreted.

The dioramas first were used in the 1940s for a law enforcement lecture series known as the Harvard Associates of Police Science (HAPS) through the Harvard Legal Medicine department. In 1966, when the department dissolved, the Nutshells went to the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), where they are on permanent loan. The Nutshells are still used today as teaching tools in the HAPS seminar series that Lee founded.

Originally, Lee and her carpenters created 20 Nutshells. One was destroyed in transit to the Maryland OCME and another is missing. The Nutshells are not open to the general public, nor are the solutions available in order to preserve their integrity as a teaching tool.

The scale of the Nutshells is 1:12 inches.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Of Dolls and Murder's Frances Glessner Lee

I get a lot of questions about the heroine of our film, Frances Glessner Lee, so here's a quick overview of her life. Keep checking back for more Frances Glessner Lee posts. We have a lot more to share about this woman of mystery.

Frances Glessner Lee

(1878 – 1962)

By all accounts Captain Frances Glessner Lee was a genius, an artist, a scientist, and light years ahead of her time. As the heiress to the International Harvester fortune, Lee spent much of her life stymied by societal pressures and family expectations. Yet she was able to contribute greatly to the scientific and criminal justice realms in an extremely captivating and eloquent way.

Born in Chicago in 1878, Lee grew up on 1800 South Prairie Avenue. Her house is now a historic house museum. Lee’s parents, John and Frances Glessner, forbade their only daughter from attending college. Lee’s brother, George, however, attended Harvard. This injustice didn’t waylay Lee’s ambitions, it just postponed them.

George introduced Lee to his Harvard classmate, George MaGrath, who became close with the Glessner family. MaGrath, in turn, introduced Lee to the concept that police detectives weren’t properly trained to process crime scenes for medical evidence. At the time, in the 1890s, forensics was called Legal Medicine and it was a very new concept. Lee and MaGrath would eventually join forces to popularize forensics in the United States.

At age 20, Lee married Blewett Lee – an attorney. The marriage was an unhappy one. While three children resulted from their union, the couple separated for many years and ultimately divorced.

While raising her children, Lee also nurtured an interest in creating miniatures, which was considered an acceptable pastime for socialites. By the time Lee was a grandmother, she had combined her pastime with her passion for murder mystery into creating the Nutshells Studies of Unexplained Death. She also donated $250,000 to establish a Legal Medicine program at Harvard in 1932. She literally paid for her friend George MaGrath’s salary as department chair. Her continued interest led to a donation of over 1,000 books and manuscripts, which became the MaGrath Library of Legal Medicine.

The Nutshells were used in a popular seminar series Lee founded, the Harvard Associates of Police Science (HAPS), to help train detectives to sharpen their investigative skills.

For her contributions to forensics, Lee was appointed State Police Captain in New Hampshire in 1943. She was an honorary captain at first, but then she went on to get all the rights and privileges of a police captain. Lee was the first female member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, which is the leading forensic science organization in the world. She was also the first woman invited into the International Chiefs of Police Association.

Throughout the 1940 and 1950s, Lee continued with her well-attended HAPS seminars where she earned the respect of the attendees for her dedication to the pursuit of justice. Author Erle Stanley Gardner attended Lee’s HAPS seminars for research with his Perry Mason novels. To show his appreciation, he dedicated his novel The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom, to Lee.

When Lee died in 1962, hundreds of mourners, including several hundred police officers and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, attended her funeral.

The film Of Dolls and Murder is dedicated to her memory.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Keeping it Creepy in 2011

2011 has been busy for Of Dolls and Murder. So far we've recorded filmmakers' commentary for the DVD extra or "Bonus Feature." It was a blast! John Kurtis Dehn, Matt Ehling, myself, and Carly Zuckweiler poured some drinks and recorded our commentary at HDMG.

We have one more dvd extra to edit and that should be it!

We're also working on our new website and press kit.

Spring of 2011 should be exciting for Of Dolls and Murder!

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