US pays glowing tribute to ‘mother of forensic science’

Sébastien Blanc –
A homicide detective trains on the job for years, but one woman’s pioneering crime-scene replicas have been used for more than half a century after her death to teach police investigators from across the United States.
Starting in the 1940s, Frances Glessner Lee, known as the “mother of forensic science,” subverted traditionally feminine crafts to make breakthroughs in a male-dominated field of criminal investigation.
Her three-dimensional creations, inspired by true crime scenes, formed the subject of an exhibition that closed Sunday at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, the first time all 19 studies still known to exist have been shown to the public.
All but one, known as the ‘lost nutshell’ and on loan from the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, were loaned from the Harvard Medical School via the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The Glessner family donated a tree farm to the New Hampshire society in 1978.
Charming at first glance, the handmade dioramas are also macabre, featuring bodies of people who met grisly fates.
They are meticulously detailed, featuring piles of newspapers or letters in Lilliputian print, an ashtray overflowing with hand-rolled tobacco cigarettes whose ends Lee would burn for added realism, finely knit socks or working window and door locks.
Overturned chairs, blood-spattered sheets or a cake still sitting on an oven rack next to a dead housewife hint of unspeakable violence frozen in time. Lee, who died in 1962 and who was in her 60s when she began crafting her dioramas, deliberately chose to feature victims who would otherwise often be overlooked, such as women and the poor, in an effort to help trainees overcome biases.
Thanks to the studies, budding criminal investigators have learned how to approach their trade scientifically, becoming better observers and taking into account all key evidence without mishandling it or tampering with crime scenes.
Lee’s ‘Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death’ are so effective that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore still uses them today in training seminars. Lee, America’s first female police captain, helped found the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard University, the first of its kind. “Frances Glessner Lee was generous, forward-thinking, persistent, stubborn and innovative,” said author and DeSales University forensic psychology professor Katherine Ramsland.
“A fan of Sherlock Holmes and true crime stories, she focused on what mattered to her rather than on what society (and her father) thought was proper.” — AFP