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18 Tiny Deaths

by Bruce Goldfarb

GENRE: Biography

A fascinating account of the life of Frances Glessner Lee, a pioneer of modern forensic science. Famous for her intricately detailed dioramas of real crime scenes, this book follows Lee from her childhood as a wealthy heiress to a leader in forensics, whose methods are still relevant today.

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Author Biography

Bruce Goldfarb is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, USA Today, Baltimore magazine, American Archaeology, American Health and many other publications. Since 2012 Bruce has served as executive assistant to the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Maryland. He is public information officer for the OCME and curator of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. His first book of popular nonfiction, 18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics, was released by Sourcebooks in February, 2020.  - Author's website

More titles by this author.


Publisher's Weekly

 /* Starred Review */ Journalist Goldfarb takes an eye-opening look in his fascinating biography at the crucial role played by heiress Frances Glessner Lee (1878–1962) in the development of U.S. scientific crime examination. Goldfarb puts Lee’s achievements in perspective by showing how, as recently as the early 20th century, there were no requirements of expertise on the part of the officials in charge of death investigations, who were often inept and sometimes corrupt. In 1929, Lee decided to use her financial resources to reform the system after reconnecting with an old friend, George Magrath, who had studied legal medicine in Europe. In addition to funding Magrath’s research, Lee used her skills at making miniatures to recreate crime scenes in exquisite detail as a teaching tool. Lee became a forceful proponent of death investigations becoming the responsibility of trained medical examiners, in a sustained campaign that included a 1935 meeting with J. Edgar Hoover to educate him about legal medicine. By making use of primary sources, including Lee’s own unpublished memoir, the author more than makes the case for his astonishing proposition that this “decorous grandmother with a preference for brimless Queen Mary hats... was nearly single-handedly responsible for the establishment of legal medicine” in the U.S. Goldfarb’s storytelling gifts will lead readers of insightful true crime to hope he will write more in the field. Devotees of TV’s CSI will have their minds blown. Agent: Tamar Rydzinski, Context Literary. (Feb.) --Staff (Reviewed 12/23/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 52, p).

Library Journal

Goldfarb (Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Maryland Dept. of Health) pays tribute to Frances Glessner Lee (1878–1962), the patron of medical examiners. In 1929, Lee, a wealthy Chicago native, became reacquainted at age 51 with the Suffolk County, MA, medical examiner when both were hospitalized in Boston. At that time, legal medicine, while established in Europe, was still in its infancy in the United States. Goldfarb covers Lee's life chronologically, showing her devotion to forensic science. At the same time, the author addresses the national development of death investigation science. As Goldfarb points out, there are continuing problems with nonmedical death investigations in the United States. Lee's funded Harvard's Department of Legal Medicine, became the first female police captain in the United States, and built meticulous miniature models of death scenes for investigators to study. VERDICT Goldfarb's clearly written and well-researched book is recommended for history and legal studies audiences. For further reading, suggest Corinne May Botz's The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. --Harry Charles (Reviewed 12/01/2019) (Library Journal, vol 144, issue 11, p96).


American Sherlock
by Kate Winkler Dawson
Berkeley, California, 1933. In a lab filled with curiosities sat an investigator who would go on to crack at least two thousand cases in his forty-year career. Known as the "American Sherlock Holmes," Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of America's greatest--and first--forensic scientists, with an uncanny knack for finding clues, establishing evidence, and deducing answers with a skill that seemed almost supernatural. Based on years of research and thousands of never-before-published primary source materials, American Sherlock captures the life of the man who pioneered the science our legal system now relies upon--as well as the limits of those techniques and the very human experts who wield them.

by Val McDermid
Explores the history of forensic science, drawing on interviews with top professionals, cutting-edge research, and the author's firsthand experience at crime scenes with forensic scientists.

The Murder Room
by Michael Capuzzo
Documents the efforts of the Vidocq Society, an elite trio of gifted investigators, to solve such notorious cold cases as those of JonBenet Ramsey, the Butcher of Cleveland, and Jack the Ripper, and details their work with the world's top forensic specialists.