Robin Barnes is lying on the floor next to
the refrigerator. The door is open and the
ice cube tray is lying on the floor next to
her. The important evidence is as follows:
•1. The Body - The medical examiner
should check for signs of blunt trauma to
the head to determine homicide or suicide.
The ice cube tray and temperature of the
contents of the refrigerator will help
determine time of death.
•2. The Stove - There is a pie just out of
the oven. Additionally, all the gas jets are
on. Her face showed the tell-tale reddish
color of death by asphyxiation.
•3. The Sink - There is a stainless steel pot
in the sink and partially peeled potatoes
littering the surface. Mrs. Barnes is clearly
in the middle of preparing for something.
Is it likely a person will stop in the middle
of peeling potatoes to kill herself?
Date: April 11, 1944
Deceased: Robin Barnes, housewife
Witness: Fred Barnes, her husband
“I went downtown at four o'clock to run an errand for my wife. After about an hour
and a half, I came back and found the outside door to the kitchen locked. It was
propped open when I left. I knocked and called but got no answer. I tried the front
door but it was also locked. I went to the kitchen window which was closed and
locked. I looked in and saw her lying on the floor. I called the police, who forced open
the kitchen door.”
In the 1940s, Frances Glessner Lee, a Chicago
heiress to the International Harvester fortune,
built the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained
Death, composite crime scene models
recreated on a one-inch-to-one-foot scale.
These macabre dioramas were purpose-built to
be used as police training tools to help crime
scene investigators learn the art and science of
detailed forensics-based detection.
As the investigator, you must bear in mind that
there is a two-fold responsibility—to clear the
innocent as well as expose the guilty. Seek
only the facts—find the truth in a Nutshell.
The Nutshell Studies were used exclusively as
training tools for law enforcement agents
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|Quiz #371 - October 14, 2012
|1. Who created this and why?
2. What organization did this person found?
3. Name three significant items in the scene.
Just for fun: What do you think happened?
|Submitted by Christopher Tennant
1. Francis Glessner Lee as a teaching tool in forensic science.
2. The Harvard University Dept of Legal Medicine
3. There are many, including the open refrigerator, the newspaper stuffed in the
door, the open gas jets, the ice cube tray, the pie just out of the oven...
See below for our Readers' renditions of "Whodunnit".
|Our Readers' Spin on What Really Happened
|My guess on this is an accidental death.
I became so intrigued with this I made myself take the time to track down what it could
possibly be. I had never heard of these training dioramas and found the whole story
utterly fascinating. This is a story I will be researching further as it really has a way of
pulling you in. Thanks for a truly challenging quiz. :-) Sharon Mufferi
I don't know if you watch much TV, but there were several episodes of the original
CSI series where the murderer left an accurately detailed doll-size replica of his
murders ... really, really creepy!!! But that was the first thing I thought of when I saw
these educational dioramas, so maybe TV is more educational than originall realized -
ha, ha!!! Elaine Hebert
Just for fun: What do you think happened? It was a dark and stormy night. When she
opened the frig, there was a lightening bolt that went through the fridge and killed her
when she removed the metal tray of ice cubes. The shock killed her. Judy Pfaff
I recognized this almost immediately as from The Nutshell Series, created in the 1940s
as a series of miniature crime scence dioramas created by Frances Glessner Lee to train
police officers at the Baltimore, MD City Morgue ME's Office. They are featured in a
book Nutshell Series of Uneplained Death by Corrine May Botz. Larry Adams
N.B. See www.facebook.com/larry.adams.315428 Larry is a a licensed private
investigator/ Examiner of Questioned Documents, and forensic consultant. So he
ought to know! - Q. Gen.
To me, it didn't look like a photo of a real death. It looked like a dollhouse room. But it
made no sense to have such a scene in a dollhouse, so I thought it might be a diorama.
Maybe a forensic tool to help figure out what caused a death? Or maybe to demonstrate
a scene for a play? I didn't find anything that helped me figure this out playing with
search terms in google. For some reason, I decided to try yahoo. My search terms
were - diorama death scene - and the very first thing that showed up in the search list
was Death in Diorama: The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. Clicking on
"Explore, kitchen" took me to a page with this picture!!! Whoo Hoo, wish I
solved all of them that fast! LOL Skip Murray
My search took from mummified elderly woman's body in kitchen to Amityville
dollhouse to CSI and then to crime scene reconstruction and then to answer. Contest
photo not on tin eye.
Three significant items in the scene: open oven door, open refrigerator door, stuff on
table and sink on the rear. Decor suggests 40a to 50s.
Old woman living alone fixing a meal for herself, got something out of the oven, put it
on the table and then went to refrigerator to get something (looks a pineapple in her
hand). She may have had a stroke, collapsed and expired on the spot.
Comment: not unusual for an elderly person,living alone to be found dead in their own
home, collapsed on the spot,from a stroke from all appearances going about their daily
routine. The local coroner would need to sign off after determining cause of death. In
searching I found Mortuary Management magazine hosted by abbottandhast.com
with some interesting stories. Mike Dalton
We are led to believe that this woman committed suicide - but would go through the
trouble of baking a pie and start a meal (potatoes) if they were contemplating killing
themself. I believe someone else was in the room and somehow subdued the victim,
then turned on the gas jets of the stove and then climbed out the window using the
table! Elaine C. Hebert
This is a crime diorama built by my new hero, Frances Glessner Lee.
[The answers are] all from the deathindiorama website. But they didn't mention the
open refrigerator door. I am not sure but I don't think you would turn on the gas jets to
die and then keep working. She had her back turned, was getting something from the
fridge, someone hit her, didn't kill her and then turned on the gas to finish her off.
I believe it must have been a man as the murderer was clearly not in tune with female
psychology and work habits if he wanted to fake the cause of death. And he was tall,
as the top of the door was stuffed with paper and there is no ladder, (although there is a
chair). And it must have been someone who was familiar to the woman as there was
clearly not a struggle. My thought, it was the husband. Christine Walker
N.B. Christine, as I have been discussing with the readers this week, just to make
sure, check on whether the husband took out a life insurance policy right before the
murder.... Q. Gen.
Or a girlfriend on the side. I have a friend whose brother in law had an entire second
family. He didn't kill anyone though. He would have made an interesting diorama just in
trying to figure out how he found the time. You'd probably need pie charts.
It only took me a couple of minutes to solve this one, so now, of course, I think I'm
hot stuff. Look forward to next week's puzzle.
Three significant items are the open oven with escaping gas, the iron which is heavy
enough to cause death and should be checked and the locked windows and doors.
There is, of course, also a body on the floor, which would raise the curiosity of even
the most calm of investigators. Mary Osmar
I think Fred did it!!!! Someone who forgot to sign his name
Later determined to be Dennis Brann
Mr. Barnes knocked his wife out with either the iron or the rolling pin, stuffed paper in
the locked doors with the knife, turned on the gas, and exited the room via the table and
window. Robin's face is red, indicating probable asphyxiation. John Thatcher
I found this one in about 1 minute, by googling "miniature murder scene" and the first
result included your model (from a different angle).
Open oven (murderer claimed she tried to commit suicide by asphyxiation); calendar
(December, but murder was in April); dish on floor next to body and open fridge door
don't fit with story that she "lay down and waited for death". Collier Smith
She was probably hit on the head from behind - iron or rolling pin are likely weapons.
Without knowing what wounds the body had it is hard to make an assumption. Clearly
there was more than one person in the room and that person went out the
The husband did it and tried to pass it off as a suicide (gas). Escaped through the
window. Unless, of course, there is blood on the iron or rolling pin, in which case it
would be pretty difficult to rule it a suicide! Marcelle Comeau
For fun: possibly knocked out with the iron, doors sealed, gas on to kill her, killer out
through window (but what's the motive?) These are cool! Janice M. Sellers
Just for fun: At first glance, it would seem that the woman committed suicide by
closing up the kitchen and turning on the gas. However, the furniture is moved out of
place, there is that red stain and shouldn't her body be nearer the stove? It seems
to me that she was murdered and her killer staged the scene to make it look like suicide.
I almost missed this one. There was a word I was missing in my searches. I knew it
but I couldn't think of the word. When the light bulb finally went on and I threw
'tableau' into the search, the Kitchen Crime Scene popped up immediately.
If she were going to commit suicide, why would she bother with a cake, the laundry,
the potatoes and getting ice cubes? If she was saying 'to heck with the world', I'm
pretty sure she'd also say, 'to heck with the cake'. Carol Farrant
Barbie murdered! Ken wanted for questioning!
My first impression was that this was some twisted child's sick joke. Then I noticed
the exceptional detail in the scene. I did a Google search for 'diorama', 'kitchen' and
'floor'. The website, 'Death in Diorama' was eighth on the list of returns.
I wish I could say, 'Colonel Mustard did it in the kitchen with a lead pipe'. What would
it be like to see the actual room as it was instead of a diorama? I think the most
damning evidence would be the stove. If Mrs. Barnes did indeed kill herself, her
fingerprints would be on every gas jet handle. If the prints belonged to a stranger, or
the handles had been wiped clean, it would be murder. Most likely, they held the prints
of whoever shut the gas off when discovering the scene --likely Mr. Barnes. How
convenient! John Roberts
It was very interesting. I might need to head up to Baltimore to see them.
|Congratulations to Our Winners!
Larry Adams Skip Murray
Judy Pfaff Mike Dalton
Elaine C. Hebert Mary Osmar
Christine Walker John Thatcher
Collier Smith Carol Jolley
Lynden Cline Marilyn Hamill
Marcelle Comeau Gary Rice Dennis Brann
Daniel Jolley Angel Esparza
Janice M. Sellers Margaret Paxton
Sharon Mufferi Carol Farrant
John Roberts Tish Olshefski
Gary Rice Harold Atchison
Frances Glessner Lee was a millionaire
heiress who revolutionized the study of
crime scene investigation. She founded
Harvard's department of legal medicine,
the first program in the nation for forensic
Lee was born in Chicago. Her father, John
Jacob Glessner, was an industrialist who
became wealthy from International
Harvester. She and her brother were
educated at home; her brother went to
Harvard, but she was not permitted to
|In the October 2012 issue of Mortuary
Just Conservation by Ron Hast
August 5 this summer marked 50 years
since the passing of actress Marilyn
Monroe. Newspaper and TV coverage then
— and now, on the anniversary of her
death — was phenomenal. And Abbott and
Hast were there in 1962, as their firm’s
services were engaged as part of the
events when she was interred. Ron recalls
the events on that unforgettable day.
|Frances Lee Glessner
(March 25, 1878 – 1962)
attend college and instead married a lawyer, Blewett Lee, who later divorced her. When
she expressed interest in forensic pathology years later, she was emphatically
discouraged. She had to wait until a year after her brother's death in 1930, when, aged
52, she took her first steps towards her own career.
The seeds of her interest began when her brother's college classmate, George Burgess
Magrath (1870–1938), vacationed with the Glessner family at their summer home in the
White Mountains of New Hampshire. Magrath, then a medical student, was just getting
his MD from Harvard Medical School and was particularly interested in death
investigation. They remained close friends until his death in 1938. Magrath went on to
teach legal medicine at Harvard and to become the chief medical examiner of Suffolk
County (Boston). Together they lobbied to have coroners replaced by medical
In 1931 Mrs. Lee helped to establish the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard, the
only such program then in existence in North America. From that time on, she became
a tireless advocate for forensic science. In 1934 she presented the department with a
collection of books and manuscripts, which became the Magrath Library of Legal
Medicine, and in 1936 endowed the department with a gift of $250,000 (adjusted for
inflation, the equivalent of $3,367,000 in 2005 dollars). She also founded the Harvard
Associates in Police Science, a national organization for the furtherance of forensic
science, one division of which is the Frances Glessner Lee Homicide School. The
Harvard program influenced other states to change over from the coroner system.
Magrath became the department's first Chair.
In 1943, Mrs. Lee was appointed captain in the New Hampshire State Police, the first
woman in the United States to hold such a position. Around the same time, she began
work on the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death—a series of eighteen miniature
crime-scene dioramas recreated on a one-inch-to-one-foot scale. These macabre
dioramas were purpose-built to be used as police training
tools to help crime scene investigators learn the art and
science of detailed forensics-based detection.
The Nutshells allowed Mrs. Lee to combine her lifelong
love of dolls, dollhouses, and models with her passion
for forensic medicine. She originally presented them to
the Harvard Department of Legal Medicine; later they
came into the possession of the Maryland Chief Medical
Examiner's Office. Erle Stanley Gardner, the writer best
known for creating the Perry Mason mysteries, and
Mrs. Lee's close friend, wrote that "A person studying
these models can learn more about circumstantial
evidence in an hour than he could learn in months of
•4. The Butcher Block - There is a glass and a
rolling pin on the butcher block. She had just
finished making a pie, flour covers the surface. Did
the glass on the butcher block belong to the
deceased or did she get a drink for someone else? If
she was hit in the head before she expired, the
police should check the rollin pin for evidence.
•5. The Window & the Table - The pin in the
window is out; who opened it? The table cloth is
askew. In a kitchen where everything else is in
place, this disturbed table cloth tells us something.
Someone could've left the room through the
•6. The Iron - the iron is on the ironing board. It could've been used to knock her out.
The killer could've then turned on all the gas jets and staged the room to look like a
homicide. Police should check the iron for evidence.
•7. The Knife - The knife was very likely used to stuff the newspaper in the door; either
by the deceased or her killer.
•8. The Door - The two doors in the room have their edges stuffed with paper. They
are also locked from the inside.
|The Case of the Hanging Farmer
seeking education on the proper identification and collection of evidence in violent
Students of the Harvard Associates in Police Science (HAPS) seminars were given
ninety minutes, a sheet of initial witness statements, a flashlight, and a magnifying
glass. They were then asked to present their analysis of the case, including whether the
witness statements were true, any medical evidence to gather, and whether the case
was a probable homicide, suicide or accident.
“The information supplied concerning each model is that which the officer would
normally have when sent to investigate, together with the first statements obtained from
one or more of the most immediate accessible witnesses. It must not be overlooked that
these statements may be true, mistaken, or intentionally false, or a combination of any
two or all three of these. The observer must therefore view each case with an entirely
open mid. The Nutshell Studies are not presented as crimes to be solved—they are,
rather, designed as exercises in observing and evaluating indirect evidence, especially
that which may have medical importance.”
|For more Nutshell dioramas,