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How dollhouse crime scenes schooled 1940s cops

Frances Glessner Lee’s dioramas helped bring a scientific approach to forensic science

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10:53am, August 30, 2015
Diorama of a crime scene

DOLLHOUSE CSI This miniature portrayal of Maggie Wilson’s death in 1896 is the handiwork of self-taught criminologist Frances Glessner Lee. Lee’s dioramas trained investigators to look at crime scenes through a scientific lens. 

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In November 1896, Lizzie Miller stumbled upon a shocking sight: The discolored body of her neighbor Maggie Wilson half-submerged in a bathtub, legs precariously dangling over the side. How did she die and who killed her?

Wilson’s murder is fiction, though inspired by the work of an early 20th century British serial killer. The scene comes from the mind of self-taught criminologist and Chicago heiress Frances Glessner Lee. In the 1940s, Lee created this and 17 other macabre murder scenes using dolls and miniature furniture, designed to teach investigators how to approach a crime scene. While future forensic scientists may draw clues from microbes and odors (SN: 9/5/15, p. 22), Lee

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