Murder in Miniature

A visit to the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., to view the fiendishly intriguing Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.

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‘The Barn,” or “The Hanging Farmer,”  a Nutshell Study created in about 1946.

Frances Glessner Lee (1878–1962), regarded as the “mother” of forensic science, was also the first female U.S. police captain, although the title was honorary. In 1936, Glessner Lee came by a sizable inheritance—her father was cofounder of the International Harvester Company—and she used it to help build a Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard Medical School. It was during the decade afterward that Glessner Lee crafted many of the 20 known Nutshell murder dioramas.

Corine May Botz wrote in The Nutshell Murders of Unexplained Deaths that “[Lee] took a special interest in training police officers because, as the first to arrive on the scene of a crime, they had to recognize and preserve evidence critical to solving the case. At the time, most police officers inadvertently botched cases by touching, moving, or failing to identify evidence. Lee was also extremely interested in better integrating the work of, and communication among medical experts, police officers, forensic investigators and prosecutors.”

In the Nutshell Study above, farmer Eben Wallace was found hanged in his barn. His wife told police, “When things did not suit Eben he would go out into the barn, stand on a bucket, put a noose around his neck, and threaten suicide. I always talked him out of it. On this afternoon, he made the usual threats, but this time I did not follow him to the barn right away. When I did, I found him hanging there with his feet through a wooden crate.”

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Elmer D. Marshall, Man of Business

“We used to be fascinated watching the owner, the late Elmer Marshall, sitting at his desk in the window.”—Nashua Telegraph, 1961

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An albumen cabinet card of the still-boyish grocery purveyor Elmer D. Marshall in 1897. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Due to a wonderful synchronicity, I own two cabinet card portraits of Elmer Daniel Marshall, late-Victorian and Edwardian man of business. I was contacted by a photo seller who found the image above on Elmer’s Find A Grave memorial after I had placed it there. He offered me a younger image of Marshall, below, which I purchased to keep them together.

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Elmer D. Marshall photographed in about 1882. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Elmer was born 3 July, 1862, in Nashua, New Hampshire, the son of Daniel Robinson Marshall, born 18 March, 1821, in Windham, New Hampshire, and his wife Roxanna R. Morse, of Wilton, New Hampshire, born 25 January, 1824. She was the daughter of Ephrem Morse and Lois Hackett, both of Wilton.

His paternal grandparents were Samson Marshall (3 April, 1786-28 May, 1845), a watchman, and his wife Margaret Davidson (1794-9 Feb., 1877); his great-grandfather was Nathaniel, son of Richard and Ruth Marshall, who married Hannah Marsh in 1788. She was born at Nottingham West, New Hampshire, 22 July, 1757.

Daniel Marshall, who was then a butcher, and Roxanna Morse married before 1850. It appears the couple’s firstborn was a boy named Charles, who died before the 1850 census was taken. In that year, the couple was enumerated with a five-month-old daughter, Harriet L., who died before the next census in 1860. In that year, the Marshalls lived with Daniel’s mother Margaret and a daughter, Carrie G. (b. December 1858), who died only a few months later in August. Today, in Nashua’s Woodlawn Cemetery, where several generations of Marshalls are interred, there is a row of three tiny stones—the only trace of Elmer’s lost siblings.

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