Frances Glessner Lee grew up in the Gilded Age as the heiress to a fortune made in industrial farm equipment. Her childhood was “sheltered and indulged.” She would marry at age 20, have three children, and then, in a turn against convention, divorce her husband.
It was in her 40s—free of a husband and then free of a brother and father who both died, leaving her a vast fortune—that Lee embarked on the project that would consume the rest of her life. She had become enthralled by the grisly crime stories of George Burgess Magrath, her brother’s friend and a medical examiner in Boston. And so Lee began pouring her family fortune into a project that combined the very unladylike world of crime with the domestic arts: the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.