Murder in miniature

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The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death re-present murder scenes in miniature dioramas to doll’s house scale. Created in the 1940s by Frances Glessner Lee to help to improve crime scene investigation in the US, they establish a curious but compelling connection between forensic investigation and craft. These miniature crime laboratories were made by hand by Lee and her carpenter to exacting levels of mimetic realism, with doors that can be locked using tiny keys and windows that can open. Based on real life crimes but embellished by Lee to stage more complex pedagogic scenes, they are still used today to train police officers in crime scene investigation. They are scientific models that replicate doll’s houses in their scale and form, seemingly offering total visibility of the crime scene to the trainee detective but, in fact, withholding the possibility of a definitive solution in a counter-forensic approach (Lee wanted officers to consider the importance of medical and laboratory techniques in their work).

Susan Stewart suggests that there is an ‘essential theatricality of all miniatures’, an idea that is explored in this essay in relation to the Nutshell Studies (Stewart, 1993: 54). Offering murder in miniature and crochet, the dioramas put violence at the centre of the domestic space and the child’s toy. The ‘murder doll’s house’ is the fantastical creation of the tiny home that is exposed to view as though through naturalism’s fourth wall, and predominantly stages the female body as the victim and subject of violence. Drawing on notions of ‘forensic architecture’, Bouchard examines these performative re-stagings of death, of domestic and bodily wreckage, to consider how they function performatively as forensic tools.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-100
Number of pages8
JournalPerformance Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2019


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