The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Frances Glessner Lee, a millionaire heiress, revolutionized the study of forensics and crime scene investigation. She believed that crimes could be solved by a detailed analysis of visual and material evidence.

She used newspaper reports, and interviews with policemen and morgue workers to create miniture crime scenes(which were extremely detailed) such as suicides, accidental deaths, accidents as homicides and homicide, potentially, as suicides. Of the twenty she made, eighteen have survived and of those eighteen, eleven show violent deaths of women. Everything from the wallpaper to the presence of alcohol and drugs was added to the miniture crime scenes.

This helped investigators train to identify crimes and clues found at crime scenes and left a big mark on the field as we know it today. They were also used in Harvard Associates in Police Science (HAPS) seminars. She called them nutshell cases, a name that was inspired by a detective who told her this:

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.



Bones, cartilage, and muscles of the larynx.

The laryngeal folds are where voice is produced, and is located just below where the pharynx separates into the esophagus and the larynx. During the swallowing action, if solid matter enters the larynx, a strong coughing reflex is triggered to protect the lungs. This is also triggered at other times, if solid matter touches the glottis. Should that coughing reflex not dislodge the bolus, suffocation can occur.

During puberty, the protective laryngeal cartilage (specifically the thyroid cartilage) expands and forms the Adam’s apple - in males, the cartilage fuses at approximately a 90° angle, and in females, it fuses at approximately 120°. Everyone has an Adam’s apple! The difference in fusion means that the male vocal cords have more room to grow outward, and form a deeper voice. 

When an adult is hanged, throttled or strangled in a murder, the hyoid bone - the only bone in the body not directly connected to other bones - is almost always cracked or split apart. However, since it does not completely fuse until early adulthood, children and adolescents do not always show this distinctive sign.

Atlas d’Anatomie Descriptive du Corps Humain. C. Bonamy and Paul Broca, 1866.

For over 30 years the Forensic Anthropology Centre has used body farms for research and training. 

1.3 acres of land are used to study human decomposition under various circumstances. They study everything from the rate of bacterial decomposition to foreign organisms feeding on the body. All of this information is then used to help forensic anthropologists, pathologists, and crime scene investigators pinpoint time of death among other things.

There are about 5 ‘farms’ of this type in the country. 

You can make arrangements to have your body donated to the farm. 

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How Forensic Entomologists Use Insects to Tell If a Body Was Moved After Death:

In some suspicious death investigations, arthropod (insect) evidence may prove that the body was moved at some point after death. Crime scene insects can tell whether the body decomposed at the location where it was found, and even reveal gaps in the crime time line.

  • Crime Scene Insects Inconsistent with the Body’s Location: The entomologist first identifies all the collected arthropod evidence, cataloging the species present on or near the body. Not every insect belongs in every habitat. Some live in quite specific niches – on limited vegetation types, at certain elevations, or in particular climates. What if the body yields an insect that is not known to live in the area where it was found? Wouldn’t that suggest the body had been moved? 

In his book A Fly for the Prosecution, forensic entomologist M. Lee Goff tells of one such case. He collected evidence from a woman’s body found in an Oahu sugar cane field. He noted that some of the maggots present were a species of fly found in urban areas, not in agricultural fields. He hypothesised that the body had remained in an urban location long enough for the flies to find it, and that it was later moved to the field. Sure enough, when the murder was solved, his theory proved correct. The killers kept the victim’s body in an apartment for several days while trying to decide what to do with it.

  • Crime Scene Insects Inconsistent with the Crime Timeline: Sometimes insect evidence reveals a gap in the time line, and leads investigators to the conclusion that the body was moved. The primary focus of forensic entomology is the establishment of the postmortem interval, using insect life cycles. A good forensic entomologist will give detectives an estimate, to the day or even the hour, of when the body was first colonised by insects. Investigators compare this estimate with witness accounts of when the victim was last seen alive. Where was the victim between when he was last seen and when insects first invaded his corpse? Was he alive, or was the body hidden somewhere?

Again, Dr. Goff’s book provides a good example of a case where insect evidence established such a time gap. A body found on April 18th yielded only First Instar Maggots, some still emerging from their eggs. Based on his knowledge of this insect’s life cycle in the environmental conditions present at the crime scene, Dr. Goff concluded that the body had only been exposed to insects since the previous day, the 17th. According to witnesses, the victim was last seen alive two days prior, on the 15th. It seemed that the body must have been somewhere else, protected from exposure to any insects, in the interim. In the end, the murderer was caught and revealed he had killed the victim on the 15th, but kept the body in the trunk of a car until dumping it on the 17th.

  • Crime Scene Insects in the Soil: A dead body lying on the ground will release all its fluids into the soil below. As a result of this seepage, the soil chemistry changes substantially. Native soil organisms leave the area as the pH rises. A whole new community of arthropods inhabit this gruesome niche. A forensic entomologist will sample the soil below and near where the body was lying. The organisms found in the soil samples can determine whether the body decomposed at the location where it was found, or prior to being dumped there.

Source: Here.

Bone chemistry reveals royal lifestyle of Richard III


A recent study by the British Geological Survey, in association with researchers at the University of Leicester, has delved into the bone and tooth chemistry of King Richard III and uncovered fascinating new details about the life and diet of Britain’s last Plantagenet king. The study, published in Elsevier’s Journal of Archaeological Science indicates a change in diet and location in his early childhood, and in later life, a diet filled with expensive, high status food and drink. This forensic study, the most complete to have been conducted on a medieval monarch, will feature in a documentary, Richard III: The New Evidence, airing on Channel 4 on Sunday 17th August at 9pm.

Isotope analysis of bone and tooth material from King Richard III has revealed previously unknown details of his early life and the change in his diet when he became King two years and two months before he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth. Read more.

Ballistics (Forensic Science):

In forensic science, the study of ballistics is the study of motion, dynamics, angular movement, and effects of projectile units (bullets, missiles, and bombs). There are many applications of ballistics within a criminal investigation;

  • Bullets that are fired at the scene of a crime will be examined in the hopes of discovering several pieces of information. The actual bullets can identify what type of gun the criminal used and whether or not the firearm is connected to any other crime.
  • The amount of damage a bullet has sustained upon hitting a hard surface can help determine approximately where the shooter was standing, what angle the gun was fired from, and when the gun was fired.
  • Any residue on the bullet can be studied and compared to residue on the hand of a suspect, on the gun that was fired, or on any object that was close by when the firearm was used. This information helps researchers uncover the identity of the shooter.
  • When the bullets are missing, the type of impact they made can still lead investigators to ascertain what kind of bullet the criminal used, and therefore the type of gun as well.
  • Studying the markings found on a bullet or the impact a bullet made on any surface can establish exactly which gun the criminal used. Every firearm produces a slightly different and unique pattern on the shell-casing it fires; the bullet will therefore imprint a distinct pattern upon anything it hits. Once scientists have identified these markings they can easily match them to the appropriate firearm.

There are many experts deeply involved in this study, and they are frequently called upon to help solve crimes. Ballistics details are also commonly input into a large database that can be accessed by law enforcement agencies all across the country. When someone enters new data, the computer locates any relevant data from previous investigations. This information can lead to the discovery of the owner of a particular weapon, and assist in tracking down the guilty party who fired the gun.

Source: Here.


How Crime Scene Clean-Up Works:

Crime scene cleaners arrive at these scenes with an enormous body of equipment. Once they assess the damage, they decide which tools will help them them return the room, house or business to its pre-incident state. The gear they choose from typically includes:

  • Personal protective gear: a non-porous, one-time-use suit; gloves; filtered respirators and chemical-spill boots.
  • Biohazard waste containers: 55-gallon (208 liter) heavy duty bags and sealed, hard plastic containers.
  • Traditional cleaning supplies: mops, buckets, spray bottles, sponges, brushes.

Hard-core cleaning supplies (can include):

  • Ozone machine (to remove odours).
  • Foggers (to thicken a cleaning chemical so it can get all the way into tight places like air ducts, usually for odour removal).
  • Hospital-grade disinfectants.
  • Industrial-strength deodorizers.
  • Enzyme solvent (to kill bacteria and viruses and liquefy dried blood).
  • No-touch cleaning system (to clean blood-coated surfaces from a safe distance – includes heavy-duty sprayer, long scrubbing brush, wet vacuum).
  • Putty knives (to scrape up brain matter, which dries into a cement-like consistency).
  • Razor blades (to cut out portions of carpet).
  • Shovels (in about two hours, large amounts of blood coagulate into a jelly-like goo that can be shoveled into bags).
  • Truck-mounted steam-injection machine (to melt dried brain matter that cleaners can’t remove with putty knives).
  • Chemical treatment tank (to disinfect and store matter sucked up by vacuum systems).

Each type of clean-up scene comes with its own unique horrors. In the case of a violent death, there are bodily fluids to deal with, each tiny drop carrying the possibility of infectious disease. In something like a suicide where a person cuts his/her wrists or shoots himself in the head, there’s plenty of blood; if someone is shot in the chest, though, there’s very little blood because the lungs suck it in. But no matter how much of it there is, the cleaners have to approach it as if it were carrying bloodborne pathogens like HIV, hepatitis and hantavirus.

Source: Here.

MAY UPDATE: New Science blogs added to the Big Science Blog List (51 new blogs!)

My big list of science blogs is now updated. You can view them at the links below (two posts because the original got too big)

Part 1

Part 2

Now for the new blogs!


Please Reblog this to give the new blogs exposure. Thank you.

New Blogs added:







Astronomy + Other:






Chemistry + Other:


General Science:


















General Science + Other:



























Zoology + Other:



I want to make a movie about speech and debate but do it like a nature documentary.

NARRATOR: “The large gestures and colorful voices are part of the interper’s intricate mating routine.”

"Here we witness escalating aggressive maneuvers between debaters competing for dominance."

"The wild extemper is often seen scurrying to collect sources in preparation for a long, cold draw."


There’s a fascinating article on Slate entitled “Murder in Miniature - One woman’s ghastly dollhouse dioramas turned crime scene investigation into a science”.

It’s about Frances Glessner Lee, an American millionaire heiress born in 1878 whose intricate dioramas revolutionised crime scene investigation. She became interested in “legal medicine” as it was then but had been prevented from entering formal education by her father. Later in life she found an outlet for her interests and creative talents by designing and making miniatures of crime scenes - both real and adapted from fictional accounts. She called them “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death” and they were used as teaching aids for medical examiners and detectives learning the new scientific process of criminal forensic examination at Harvard. Though they were made in the 1940s and 50s they are still used to teach forensics today.

The dioramas are bafflingly detailed and took months to make - the locks operate with tiny matching keys, all the lights work and cupboards open, she knitted or sewed all the tiny clothing herself, calendars and letters are all intricately hand-labelled and everything is weathered and aged to match the conditions of the crime scene - the better to prompt trainee investigators to ask themselves the right questions in determining appropriate lines of enquiry from the evidence at hand. Some of the photos above are borrowed from the Death in Diorama website where you can take a closer look at several of the surviving models along with extracts from the witness statements that accompany them.  

As a bonus, Lee also reportedly inspired the creation of Murder She Wrote's Jessica Fletcher. So you know she was a definite BAMF and deserves more recognition. 

Watch on karakuri-toshokan.tumblr.com

Medieval Apocalypse - The Black Death (BBC Documentary)

Black Death, a plague epidemic that ravaged Asia and Europe in the mid 1300’s. It is believed that as many as 75 million people died from the disease. In Norway, numerous farms destroyed.

The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Although there were several competing theories as to the etiology of the Black Death, recent analysis of DNA from victims in northern and southern Europe indicates that the pathogen responsible was the Yersinia pestis bacterium, which causes the Bubonic plague, although these were different, previously unknown ancestral variants of those identified in the 20th century

The Black Death is thought to have started in China or central Asia, before spreading west. It is estimated to have killed 25 million people or 30% of the population of China. The plague then travelled along the Silk Road and reached the Crimea by 1346. From there, it was probably carried by Oriental rat fleas living on the black rats that were regular passengers on merchant ships. Spreading throughout the Mediterranean and Europe, the Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60 percent of Europe’s population. All in all, the plague reduced the world population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in the 14th century.

Trigger Warning: Contains corpses since there’s a bit of forensics. Viewer discretion is advised.

Link: Youtube

I love it when others act like speech and debate people have no social lives. Uh — I spend my weekends in a suit talking to a bunch of other people about current events, philosophy, and literature. Do you know who else does that?

Millionaires, world leaders, artists, and entrepreneurs…AND I GET BIG OL’ SHINY TROPHIES FOR DOING IT.