Frances Glessner Lee was the U.S.’s first female police captain, but also a pioneer of forensic science. Through her miniature macabre dioramas, Lee helped train homicide investigators to search for clues, assess crime scenes, and use scientific techniques. Lee’s tiny handcrafted dollhouse scenes, known as the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, had been on exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in the past, and are currently used privately in forensics training classes. I wouldn’t categorize Bachor and Moorhouse’s article as one of our typical longreads; the piece compiles a number of Lee’s dioramas, with photographs and brief descriptions of the “crime scenes,” in a somewhat desensitizing way. However, it highlights the influential work of an early female forensic scientist (and talented miniaturist), and in this regard is worth a look.

Living Room

On Friday, May 22, 1941, Reginald Davis said he discovered his wife dead on the stairs. The previous evening his wife had gone upstairs to bed shortly before he had. On Friday, he awoke a little before 5 a.m. to find that his wife was not beside him in bed. After waiting a while, he got up to see where she was and found her body. He at once called the family physician who, upon his arrival, immediately notified the police.

Clues: Is it significant that there are so many cigarettes and stubs on the side table? Or that all those newspapers are scattered on the floor, in what is otherwise a very tidy house?

Notes: Lee hand-rolled the cigarettes herself using real tobacco, and she also made the covers of the magazine and newspapers, which are readable despite their minuscule size.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.