Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Missing Nutshell on exhibit in London

You may remember the "missing Nutshell" from previous posts. If not, here's the scoop: Jerry D. of the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner first told me about the missing Nutshell about 8 years ago. And through my research I found a photo essay in a Popular Mechanics magazine from the 1950s featuring the not-so-missing Nutshell.

Then fast forward to a few years ago, I was looking at a website of the Bethlehem Heritage Center - prepping for our shoot there and I spotted the Nutshell. Hiding in plain sight. We went Bethlehem, NH and interviewed people on camera about the missing Nutshell and how it wound up on display. To hear the full story, you have to wait for the new documentary to be done.

Fast forward again to last year - staff from the Wellcome Trust in London lamented that the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner wouldn't answer their requests to borrow the Nutshells for their upcoming exhibit. (It's almost comical how often people ask me to get the OCME to lend them Nutshells for their exhibits.)

On one very rare occasion, the OCME lent out 4 of Frances Glessner Lee's precious Nutshells for an exhibit but honestly, they are more valuable than most normal sized houses and they are teaching tools that are in constant use.

Once I broke the news to the Wellcome Trust that they shouldn't get their hopes up for the OCME Nutshells,  I did tell them that about one other Nutshell that may be available to borrow... 

I'm happy to say that the missing Nutshell is in London right now for the Wellcome Trust exhibit. (I do hope that the Bethlehem Heritage Center was well compensated!)

 You can read all about the exhibit here. Clips of our film, Of Dolls & Murder (featuring John Waters) will also be a part of the exhibit. Hope you can make it!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Frances Glessner Lee's best friend





Frances Glessner Lee just love to read. In fact, she didn't need much sleep, so she often read a book a night. She had an impressive library of scholarly books along with mystery whodonits - like her best friend Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason books. He even dedicated his book The Dubious Bridegroom to Frances. He also have her signed (personalized) copies of all his books. Her great granddaughter, Gail is taking good care of them.

Lee meet Gardner when he attended one of her seminar series. He was the first author to do so. Once he got a taste of learning what detectives and FBI agents were learning, he became a permanent fixture at the Harvard Associates of Police Science seminar series.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Narrator for Frances Glessner Lee documentary?


I love this photo of Frances Glessner Lee from our documentary film - courtesy of the Glessner House Museum. I can only imagine she was an excellent driver.

We are starting the process of securing a female off camera narrator for our documentary. Who do you think we should have on our short list? We had John Waters as the narrator in our previous documentary - Of Dolls & Murder and we could never capture that kind of magic again - so we want to go in a new direction. Feel free to leave your thoughts.

I once asked a room full of FBI detectives and homicide detectives who they thought should be the narrator. Any guesses to what name they shouted out?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Screenwriter Susan Marks' Bio


Writer Susan Marks with one of the Nutshell Study of Unexplained Death

Susan Marks is screenwriter, author and documentary filmmaker, repped by Jon Levin at CAA.

Susan's current projects include 2015 Academy Nicholl Fellowship Semifinalist/Top 50 screenplay, Dollhouse of Death.

Susan also recently wrote a modern Southern Gothic tale TV pilot, Perfect South and a retelling of the classic All About Eve in her newest screenplay, Devil's Food.

Her screenplay, Finding Poppy Pepperdine was a quarter-finalist in the 2013 Academy Nicholl Fellowship competition.

Her recent documentary film, Of Dolls & Murder about dollhouse crime scenes, features legendary filmmaker John Waters as narrator. Currently, Susan is in post production on a followup documentary, Murder in a Nutshell.

Susan's past projects include the book Finding Betty Crocker (Simon & Schuster 2005) and documentary film, The Betty Mystique.

Susan is a two-time recipient of the Jerome Foundation filmmaking grant,  a McKnight fellow and an Upper Midwest Regional Emmy winner.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Nutshell Studies of Unexpained Death Photos

Through making two documentaries, I've had the honor and privilege to take many trips to visit Frances Glessner Lee's Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death at the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

I must have taken over 1000 photos over the past 7 years or so - in several different formats.

And yes, I know the solutions to the Nutshells and no, I'm not telling. But if you're clever - you just may figure them out.
























Sunday, January 11, 2015

The inigmatic Frances Glessner Lee




We are such big fans of Frances Glessner Lee that we made one documentary film about her and her Nutshells, we're almost done with a second doc and I wrote a screenplay about her that I'm happy to say turned out better than I could have ever imagined. 

True, you didn't read about Frances in history class and most people have no idea who she was even though she changed the course of forensic history. But give it time. This "Patron Saint of Forensic Science" has a legacy that's too astounding to ignore:

Frances and her dystopic dollhouses took the criminal justice world by storm in the 1930s. Despite strong-held gender biases of the era to leave police work to men, Frances became a pioneer in the new field of forensics - forever changing the course of history. 


Lee is affectionately revered as the Patron Saint of Forensics, but outside of the criminal justice system today, few people know she was one of the greatest crusaders for criminal justice in the United States. As a senior citizen, she ventured into the new field of forensics or legal medicine, as it was known in the 1930s. In this era women were not widely accepted in the realms of science and criminology. Yet this didn’t stop Lee from establishing the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard in order to elevate the field of law enforcement to a scientific level. Interestingly, at the time women weren’t allowed to attend Harvard.

On the surface, Lee played the part - impeccably - of the wealthy heiress from the Victorian era. She was also extremely intelligent, and had plenty of strong opinions, which terrified her proper parents. Lee’s father, one of the founders of International Harvester, forbade her from attending college, insisting that education was wasted on women. Her brother, of course, was able to attend college. Lee married young, had three children, and then divorced her husband, creating a major rift in the family. Without money of her own, Lee spent much of her adult life trapped under the thumb parents.

A bright spot in Lee’s life was her friendship with Dr. George Magrath. She was introduced to him when her brother and Magrath attended Harvard together. Lee was fascinated with his controversial career as a medical examiner in Boston, which often landed him on the front page of newspapers – embroiled in controversy. Lee and Magrath spent many late nights talking through details of crime scenes and grisly murders. Through him, Lee took on his fight to better educate police detectives in processing/investigating crime scenes from a medical perspective.

In a stroke of genius, Lee created a miniature world of murder and intrigue with her Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death – dollhouses used to help train detectives in a seminar series of her own design. She wanted to give detectives a tool to look closer at murders, accidental deaths, and suicides because they are not always what they appear. In the process of co-opting this accepted feminine pastime, making miniatures, Lee gained widespread admiration in fields dominated by men.

The death of her dear friend, Dr. Magrath, deepened her commitment to educating law enforcement and reforming the antiquated coroner system. Lee went on to become the first woman member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and an honorary police captain in the New Hampshire State Police, with full rights and privileges.
In her later years, Lee continued to surprise people and do the unexpected. 

She corresponded with J. Edgar Hoover and became ever vigilant in reporting any suspicious communist activity in the height of the “Red Scare.” Lee also became close with author Erle Stanley Gardner, famous for his Perry Mason novels, after he attended her seminar series. One of his novels, The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom is dedicated to her. Around the same time, Lee, a lifelong atheist who believed only in science, converted to Catholicism.

In 1962, at the age of 83, Lee died in Littleton, New Hampshire. Hundreds of members of law enforcement from all over the United States and Canada came to pay their respects. The organization Lee founded in 1944, the Harvard Associates of Police Science, is still in operation today, holding conferences and seminar series. And her Nutshells Studies are a still used as a much-protected teaching tool at the Maryland Office of Chief Medical Examiner. When homicide investigators and forensic experts gather, they always toast the woman that pioneered the field.

Want to know more? You will. Soon.