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Frances G. Lee and Alan R. Moritz, courtesy Countway Library of Medicine

Forensic Science Pioneer Frances Glessner Lee

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Frances G. Lee and Alan R. Moritz, courtesy Countway Library of Medicine

Frances Glessner Lee was born in 1878, the heiress to the International Harvester fortune. Although she was born in Chicago and grew up in the architecturally renowned Glessner Houseshe lived much of her later life in Littleton, New Hampshire.

Young Frances was educated at home with her brother, but despite having an interest in law and medicine, she was mostly taught the domestic arts. She wasn’t permitted to attend college when her brother continued on to Harvard, and instead, as was typical for a young woman of privilege at that time, she was officially presented to society at age 19. Just three months later, she was married off to attorney Blewett Lee, a distant relative of Robert E. Lee.

Her married life seems to have been unextraordinary. She produced three children with her husband, and seems to have basically lived the life expected of her. It wasn’t until she was middle-aged—her children grown and her husband having divorced her—that she gained the freedom to pursue her real passion: forensic science. She had first become interested in the subject through conversation with her brother’s Harvard classmate George Burgess Magrath, who eventually became a Harvard pathology professor and a medical examiner. She learned, through him, of the challenges faced by criminal investigators, of how the police and coroners were relatively untrained in death investigation and the preservation of evidence, leaving many murderers to go free.

In the 1930s, she also began spending her leisure time doing what would at first appear to be a very feminine and respectable hobby for a woman of her age and social standing—constructing dioramas of dollhouse miniatures. They were whimsical, tiny scenes, with people and furniture, in proper dollhouse scale.

A closer look, though, reveals that her little rooms depicted real crime scenes, complete with dead bodies, murder weapons, blood spatter, and every element of the aftermath of a killing. She studied the case files of real New England crimes for her constructions, and included all the clues necessary to solve each crime in her dreadful doll houses. Some of the dolls, for example, were designed to show effects of rigor mortis and lividity, from which time of death can be estimated. In one case, a tiny bullet is lodged in a rafter, for only the most eagle-eyed investigators to find.

She called her dioramas the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. She put so much intricate work, expense, and care into each one that she was only able to construct a few per year. Once, when she needed material for a pair of miniature pants on a figure, she wore an old suit around, even though it was out of fashion, so she could ensure the material was worn in to the proper, realistic degree. She even hand-knitted the socks for the figures, using knitting needles the size of pins.

As writer Laura J. Miller said of the subjects of the Nutshell Studies in a 2005 Harvard Magazine article, “Many display a tawdry, middle-class décor, or show the marginal spaces society’s disenfranchised might inhabit—seedy rooms, boarding houses—far from the surroundings of her own childhood. She disclosed the dark side of domesticity and its potentially deleterious effects: Many victims were women ‘led astray’ from the cocoon-like security of the home—by men, misfortune, or their own unchecked desires.”

It’s telling that most of the victims in her dollhouses of death are women, and that they are shown in their homes, with kitchens and babies, in the realms of domesticity that she herself may have chafed against. 

In the 1930s, once she came into her substantial International Harvester inheritance after her parents and her brother had passed away, she used some of her vast fortune to endow the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard. The purpose of the department was to help Massachusetts police use medical investigation to solve unexplained deaths, and to further the use of skilled medical investigators instead of “laymen coroners.” Glessner Lee also instituted a weeklong seminar on forensic science in partnership with Harvard University in 1945, which is still held every year. The Harvard Associates in Police Science training program also still uses the Nutshell Studies to provide instruction to cops, private investigators, medical examiners, and other professionals studying forensic investigation.

Her efforts to ensure quality training for death- and crime-scene investigators encouraged a move away from untrained coroners in many states in favor of highly trained medical examiners. In recognition of her achievements, in 1943, she was named State Police Captain of New Hampshire—the only woman in the country with the honor at the time.

Today there are 19 surviving Nutshell Studies, 18 of which are kept in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, Maryland, where they are still used to teach. While not technically open to the public, private showings can sometimes be arranged.

Glessner Lee used the privilege afforded to her, in combination with the domestic activities and crafts expected of a society matron, to transcend the gender norms of her era and station. She is sometimes referred to as the "Mother of Forensic Science."

Her New York Times obituary from January 28, 1962 was headlined “Rich Widow Who Became Criminologist.” In it, she was quoted as saying: “Luckily, I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. It gives me the time and money to follow my hobby of scientific crime detection.”

All images courtesy Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner except where noted.

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History
Civilian Researchers Discover Wreckage of the USS Indianapolis
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Wikipedia/Public Domain

On July 30, 1945, the cruiser USS Indianapolis sank in the Pacific Ocean after it was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58. More than 70 years after the historic naval tragedy— which claimed the lives of nearly 900 crew—The New York Times reports that the ship’s mysterious final resting place has been found.

The discovery came courtesy of a team of civilian researchers, led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. His state-of-the-art research vessel, Petrel, located the wreck 18,000 feet below the Pacific’s surface, the team announced on Saturday, August 19.

"To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,” Allen said in a statement. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence, and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances."

Before it sank, the USS Indianapolis had just completed a top-secret mission to a naval base on the Northern Mariana island of Tinian. After delivering enriched uranium and components for Little Boy— the atomic bomb that the U.S. would drop on the Japanese city of Hiroshima about a week later—the cruiser forged ahead to Guam, and then to the Philippines. It was supposed to meet the battleship USS Idaho at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare to attack Japan.

The USS Indianapolis never made it to Leyte Gulf. Shortly after midnight on July 30, the Japanese submarine I-58 spotted the cruiser and fired six torpedoes. The USS Indianapolis—which was hit twice—sank within 12 minutes. Around 300 to 400 sailors and Marines were killed in the attack; the rest were stranded in the Pacific Ocean for several days.

Many of these survivors would ultimately lose their lives to sharks, a grisly scene that would be famously (albeit semi-accurately) recounted in the 1975 movie Jaws. Others died from drowning, heat stroke, thirst, burns and injuries, swallowing salt water or fuel oil, and suicide. More than 300 crew members were rescued after a bomber pilot accidently sighted the imperiled men while on a routine antisubmarine patrol.

The mass tragedy—which wouldn’t be announced to the public until August 15, 1945—sparked controversy: Charles B. McVay III, captain of the USS Indianapolis, was found guilty in a court martial of failing to steer the ship on a “zigzag” course to elude Japanese submarines. A Japanese submarine captain testified that this precautionary measure wouldn’t have thwarted the enemy, but McVay was charged nonetheless. The captain died by suicide in 1968, and wouldn’t be officially exonerated by the Navy until 2001.

For decades, the remains of the USS Indianapolis were lost to the ravages of time and nature. But in 2016, naval historian Richard Hulver found a historic ship log that mentioned a sighting of the USS Indianapolis. Allen’s search team used this information to locate the ship, which was west of where experts assumed it had gone down.

Allen’s crew took pictures of the wreckage, including a piece of its hull, and will search for more of the ship. They plan to keep the exact location of the USS Indianapolis a secret, however, to honor the sunken ship as a war grave.

"While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming,” Allen said.

[h/t The New York Times]

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entertainment
The Time That Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Opened Competing Restaurants on the Sunset Strip
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From 1946 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were show business supernovas. With an act that combined singing, slapstick, and spontaneous hijinks, the duo sold out nightclubs coast to coast, then went on to conquer radio, television, and film. Long before Elvis and The Beatles came along, Dean and Jerry  were rock stars of comedy.

Offstage, there was a cordial but cool friendship between the laidback Martin and the more neurotic Lewis. But as the pressures of their success increased, so did the tensions between them. Martin grew tired of playing the bland romantic straight man to Lewis’s manic monkey boy. And when Lewis started to grab more headlines and write himself bigger parts in their movies, Martin decided to quit the act. In an angry moment, he told Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a f**king dollar sign.”

After the split, both men went on with their individual careers, though it took Martin a few years before he regained his footing. One of his ventures during that transitional period was a Hollywood eatery called Dino’s Lodge.

DINO'S LODGE

In the summer of 1958, Martin and his business partner, Maury Samuels, bought a controlling interest in a restaurant called The Alpine Lodge, at 8524 Sunset Boulevard. They hired Dean’s brother Bill to manage the place, and renamed it Dino’s Lodge.

Outside they put up a large neon sign, a likeness of Dean’s face. The sign turned into a national symbol of hip and cool, thanks to appearances on TV shows like Dragnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and most prominently, in the opening credits of 77 Sunset Strip.

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Dino’s Lodge was popular from the get-go, serving home-style Italian food and steaks in an intimate, candlelit, wood-paneled room meant to replicate Martin’s own den. In the first year, Dean himself frequented the place, signing autographs and posing for photos with starstruck diners. He also occasionally brought along famous friends like Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. To promote the idea of the swingin’ lifestyle that Martin often sang about, Dino’s served “an early morning breakfast from 1 to 5 a.m.” The restaurant also had a lounge that featured singers, though only females. Dean apparently didn’t want any male vocalists encroaching on his turf.

But as with many a celebrity venture into the food business, this one soon turned sour. And most of that was due to the jealousy of Jerry Lewis.

JERRY'S

In late 1961, Lewis wooed Martin’s business partner Maury Samuels away, ponied up some $350,000, and opened his own copycat restaurant three blocks down Sunset. It was called Jerry’s. To make it clear he was out for top billing, Lewis had his own likeness rendered in neon, then mounted it on a revolving pole 100 feet above his restaurant. In contrast to Dino’s Italian-based menu, Jerry’s would serve “American and Hebrew viands.” Lewis didn’t stop there. Within a few months, he’d hired away Dino’s top two chefs, his maître d', and half his waitstaff.

Wire Photo, eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Lewis was in Los Angeles, he made of point of table-hopping and schmoozing with his guests at his restaurant, and he occasionally brought in a few of his celebrity friends, like Peggy Lee and Steve McQueen.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

By the following year, a disgusted Dean Martin was fed up with the restaurant business and cut ties with Dino’s Lodge. Much to his aggravation, he lost a motion in court to have his likeness and name removed from the sign. So the new owners carried on as Dino’s Lodge, with the big neon head staring down on Sunset for another decade before the place finally went bust.

Jerry’s lost steam long before that, folding in the mid-1960s.

For the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Martin and Lewis avoided each other. “Jerry’s trying hard to be a director,” Dean once told a reporter. “He couldn’t even direct traffic.”

In 1976, Frank Sinatra famously engineered an onstage reunion of the pair during The Jerry Lewis Telethon. While the audience roared their approval, Sinatra said, “I think it’s about time, don’t you?” And to Sinatra, Lewis said under his breath, “You son of a bitch.”

What followed was an awkward few moments of shtick between the former partners. Reportedly, Martin was drunk and Lewis was doped up on painkillers. There was a quick embrace, Martin sang with Sinatra, then blew Lewis a kiss and disappeared from his life for good. Martin died in 1995. Lewis passed away today, at the age of 91.

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