The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

On the third floor of the Chief Medical Examiner’s office in Baltimore, Maryland, a lady appears to have been shot dead on the bed while sleeping. A man lies sprawled on the floor next to her, his night clothes stained with blood. The room is in disarray. In another room, a body has been violently shoved down into a bathtub, with the water running. There’s blood on the floor and tiny handprints on the bathroom tiles. No, this isn’t the scene of a crime. They’re actually part of a series of dioramas known as the “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death” that are dedicated to the advancement of forensic medicine and scientific crime detection. The miniature crime scenes were created on a scale of one inch to one foot from actual police cases from the 1930s and 1940s. They were assembled from police reports and court records and depict the crimes as they happened and the scenes as they were when discovered. The dioramas were built to be used as police training tools to help crime scene investigators learn how to assess evidence and apply deductive reasoning. More than 70 years later, they’re still used by forensic investigators. In fact, in a 2014 episode of the TNT police drama Rizzoli & Isles, a nod to the dioramas was made when senior criminalist Susie Chang builds two of them to help solve a case. The dioramas in the Baltimore Medical Examiner’s office remain today, though they’re not accessible to the public. Anyone with a professional interest may, however, arrange a private viewing.