For most of human history, sudden and unexpected deaths of a suspicious nature, when they were investigated at all, were examined by lay persons without any formal training. People often got away with murder. Modern forensic investigation originates with Frances Glessner Lee - a pivotal figure in police science.
'Disturbing dioramas created by an American millionairess revolutionised the art of modern forensics.' DAILY TELEGRAPH
Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962), born a socialite to a wealthy and influential Chicago family, was never meant to have a career, let alone one steeped in death and depravity. Yet she became the mother of modern forensics and was instrumental in elevating homicide investigation to a scientific discipline.
Frances Glessner Lee learned forensic science under the tutelage of pioneering medical examiner Magrath - he told her about his cases, gave her access to the autopsy room to observe post-mortems and taught her about poisons and patterns of injury. A voracious reader too, Lee acquired and read books on criminology and forensic science - eventually establishing the largest library of legal medicine.
Lee went on to create The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death - a series of dollhouse-sized crime scene dioramas depicting the facts of actual cases in exquisitely detailed miniature - and perhaps the thing she is most famous for. Celebrated by artists, miniaturists and scientists, the Nutshell Studies are a singularly unusual collection. They were first used as a teaching tool in homicide seminars at Harvard Medical School in the 1930s, and then in 1945 the homicide seminar for police detectives that is the longest-running and still the highest-regarded training of its kind in America. Both of which were established by the pioneering Lee.
In 18 Tiny Deaths, Bruce Goldfarb weaves Lee's remarkable story with the advances in forensics made in her lifetime to tell the tale of the birth of modern forensics.
Journalist Goldfarb takes an eye-opening look in his fascinating biography at the crucial role played by heiress Frances Glessner Lee (1878 1962) in the development of U.S. scientific crime examination. Goldfarb puts Lee's achievements in perspective by showing how, as recently as the early 20th century, there were no requirements of expertise on the part of the officials in charge of death investigations, who were often inept and sometimes corrupt. In 1929, Lee decided to use her financial resources to reform the system after reconnecting with an old friend, George Magrath, who had studied legal medicine in Europe. In addition to funding Magrath's research, Lee used her skills at making miniatures to recreate crime scenes in exquisite detail as a teaching tool. Lee became a forceful proponent of death investigations becoming the responsibility of trained medical examiners, in a sustained campaign that included a 1935 meeting with J. Edgar Hoover to educate him about legal medicine. By making use of primary sources, including Lee's own unpublished memoir, the author more than makes the case for his astonishing proposition that this "decorous grandmother with a preference for brimless Queen Mary hats... was nearly single-handedly responsible for the establishment of legal medicine" in the U.S. Goldfarb's storytelling gifts will lead readers of insightful true crime to hope he will write more in the field. Devotees of TV's CSI will have their minds blown.