Of Dolls And Murder

California Film Institute San Rafael, CA


Angela Rhoades

High school forensic science teacher

Of Dolls and Murder— The evolution of forensic science

Forensics expert Angela Rhoades discusses forensic science in the past and today.

California Film Institute San Rafael, CA

Film Synopsis

An exploration of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, murder-scene dioramas intended as training tools for detectives in the 1930s and '40s.

Before forensics, DNA, and CSI we had dollhouses—an unimaginable collection of miniature crime scenes, known as the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. Created in the 1930s and 1940s by crime-fighting grandmother Frances Glessner Lee, the Nutshells helped homicide detectives hone their investigative skills. These surreal dollhouses reveal a dystopic and disturbing slice of domestic life, with doll corpses representing actual murder victims, or perhaps something that just looks like murder. Despite advances in forensics, the Nutshells are still used today to train detectives. Of Dolls and Murder explores the dioramas, the woman who created them, and their relationship to modern-day forensics. Legendary filmmaker and true crime aficionado John Waters narrates this tiny world of big time murder.