Frances Glessner Lee, Creator of Nutshell Crime Studies, Came from Bethlehem, N.H.


NUTSHELL STUDY WORK- Frances Glessner Lee working on one of her Nutshell crime studies.

By Carla Charter

BETHLEHEM, NH- One of the founders of modern forensic science did not come from New York City, Boston or Los Angeles. Instead, Frances Glessner Lee, resided in Bethlehem, New Hampshire.

Lee’s father, John Glessner, one of the founders of International Harvester, purchased 100 acres and buildings that were then the Orin Streeter Farm. His son had respiratory problems and at that time Bethlehem was the hay fever relief center of the United States. “The Industrial Revolution was happening in the cities. The air was polluted so people would escape here. Volunteers would pull golden rod and dirt roads would be watered down to assist those with allergies,“said Nigel Manley of the Rock’s, Lee’s former home.

When Lee was young, she read Sherlock Holmes and became interested in mysteries and solving them She met a friend of her brother who attended Harvard and had an interest in criminal investigation which spurred her interest even more.

During Lee’s time, making miniatures was a popular pastime.  Lee’s first miniature was that of a symphony, with each character having an appropriate face and musical instrument. She presented it to her mother who was a big proponent of the symphony.

Eventually this pastime evolved into miniature unsolved crime scenes, reflecting her love of mysteries. “If she was alive today I think she definitely would have been a detective or in charge of a CSI unit,” said Manley.

Lee called the miniatures she created, Nutshell studies because she said they were developed “to convict the guilty, clear the innocent and find the truth in a nutshell.” according to Francesca Peppiatt, Development Manager of the Glessner House.  The Nutshell Studies were based on actual unsolved crimes, said Francesca.

Frances Lee made the miniatures at home. She had two carpenters who worked with her, being very particular to make sure the furniture was correct and the wallpaper matched. “One of her carpenters, Alton Mosher, made an exact replica of a rocking chair for her.  She rocked the real rocking chair and counted how many rocks it made exactly. The miniature he created was one and a half rocks off. and she said I suppose it will do,“ said Manley.

Lee made an endowment of her own money to ensure death investigators were trained medically as at that time, people were not trained to look at crime scenes, instead they were voted into the office. “She felt that too many people went to jail who shouldn’t or didn’t go to jail who should.” said Manley.

Lee took her nutshell studies and trained officers herself. Her miniatures are still helping to train people at Harvard.   Recently an exhibit of Lee’s Nutshell Studies, entitled Murder in a Nutshell were on display at the Smithsonian.

Lee was the first woman included in the American Academy of Forensic Scientists as a member and became an honorary member of several police forces.  On October 27, 1943, Lee was appointed a captain of the New Hampshire State Police, the first female in the country to achieve that rank.

The Rocks is now owned by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the oldest and largest land trust in New Hampshire. The Society began in 1901, John Glessner joined the society in 1903. A Historic marker was placed at the location of the Rocks, in her honor, a month ago.

More information on the Glessner House can be found at www.glessnerhouse.org.

More information on The Rocks can be found at www.therocks.org.