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Dollhouses of death

B&W photo of a older woman int he 1930s working on a miniature scene

Lee works on another of her macabre dollhouse scenes

This kindly grandmother was  a master of creating intricate dollhouse scenes…with one small twist. Her scenes depicted detailed accounts of actual murders.

Frances Glessner Lee, born in 1878, developed a fascination with forensic pathology, something that was distinctly not ladylike for her time. In the 1940s she began to construct a fascinating series of miniature dioramas that showed details of various crime scenes. They were used to instruct investigators about finding clues and correctly viewing a site. They are still used to day.

Looking at these tiny little snapshots of murder created with toys is quite disturbing. The detail is equal to anything one would see on CSI. Each scene is clearly from an older time, showing quaint iceboxes and a day before televisions dominated the home.

Miniature dollhouse scene in an old paronage with a girls body laying in the center of the floor

Here is an example of Lee’s gruesome creations

Details of bloody walls, bruising and wounds on a body, discarded objects and murder weapons are all intricately reproduced. It is simultaneously compelling and horrifying, as though Ken finally slipped and went on a rampage.

You can see detailed views and explanations of Lee’s works on the Death in Diorama web page. While the images are compelling all on their own, the detailed analysis of what the viewer should consider from each scene is fascinating.

Of course, there is a documentary about Lee, her work and the influence it has had and continues to have on training forensics experts. This video is an NPR story about the film, Of Dolls and Murder. Narrated by John Waters, this film is an eerie glimpse into the world of murder in miniature. Frances Glessner Lee is one weird grandma!

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