After watching the forensic dramatics of television’s CSI franchise for more than a decade, it’s easy to think of cops as omniscient techno-inclined super-sleuths able to unravel any mystery. Such a notion is dubbed the “CSI effect,” where the public expects detectives to ferret out the most minute of evidence from crime scenes.
Truth be told, good gumshoes have to hone their keen powers of observation to solve dastardly crimes, not just wield a bottle of Luminol. For potential homicide investigators at the Baltimore Police Department, that means spending countless hours pouring over the “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,” an exhibit of 18 intricately decorated dollhouses that depict realistic-looking scenes of murder most foul. Created in the ‘40s and ‘50s by heiress Frances Glessner Lee, the dioramas are both incredibly detailed and incredibly accurate (having been based on actual murders) and are the basis of the 2010 independent documentary Of Dolls and Murder.
Narrated by Charm City native John Waters, the film – which screens on Thursday, January 19, at the SMoCA Lounge inside the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Arts, 7374 East Second Street – explores Glessner Lee, her dioramas, and how both have influenced modern-day forensic police work.