She sits quietly, a soft fuzzy ball of pale colored yarn in her lap, working her busily clicking knitting needles. Her eyes aren’t on her handiwork. She doesn’t need them to be, she’s an experienced knitter. Her ears aren’t listening to a softly whispered counting of stitches. Miss Jane Marple is watching and listening to the people in the room around her, and they don’t even notice. After all, so few people do notice little old ladies as they sit and knit.
Rather than sit around and mope after the murder of Dr. Archibald Finlay Dawson in “The Devil’s Music,” Emory Crawford asks herself, “What would Jane Marple do?” She grabs her knitting tote and heads off to have breakfast with the attendees of the anthropology conference that Archie was keynote speaker for. She knows she can sit and eat and chat and knit and they’ll talk to her. After all, she’s just the wife of a college professor, and professor’s wives don’t solve murders.
One of the hallmarks of the cozy mystery is the amateur sleuth.
The “unconventional detective.”
And many mystery fans like them that way. It increases our connection to the main character and the story. If a caterer in Colorado, a White House chef, or a chemistry professor’s wife like Emory can solve a crime, then maybe we could too.
But do amateurs ever really become effective crime solvers?
Enter Frances Glessner Lee, often referred to as “The Mother of Forensic Science.”
Frances, born in Chicago in 1878, was heiress to the International Harvester Company fortune. She was schooled at home, as were many wealthy children, but when she expressed an interest in attending law or medical school she was informed that ladies didn’t go to school. She learned the things rich young ladies were supposed to learn: domestic crafts of knitting, crocheting, interior design, and a popular craft of the day – creating miniature figurines and dollhouse-like rooms in amazing detail.
She married, had three children, and in 1914 she divorced her husband. She continued to pursue making miniatures and showed great adeptness at it.
Frances was forty-four when she became friends with a man who had attended Harvard with her brother, George Burgess Magrath, who had become a medical examiner in Boston. Frances loved mystery books and now Magrath told her all about cases he worked on in Boston. She even accompanied him to some crime scenes. George explained to Frances that a big problem in solving homicides was officers were not adequately trained in gathering medical evidence at the scene of the death.
When she came into her inheritance in the 1930s, Frances knew she could do something about that.
She endowed a department of legal medicine at Harvard and she founded the George Burgess Magrath Library of Legal Medicine. Later, Frances began the Harvard Seminars in Homicide Investigation. Known today as the Harvard Associates in Police Sciences these weeklong seminars are still offered twice a year to help train and improve the ways police officers across the country investigate crime scenes.
One of the features of the seminars is when participants are issued a flashlight, magnifying glass and a page of “witness statements” before closely examining a tiny crime scene, one of a set of eighteen, each 1:12 scale miniature carefully crafted by Frances in the 1940s. She combined her skill at making miniature rooms and figurines with her love of mysteries and desire to help officers solve real crimes. Frances called them “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.”
Frances became the first female captain in the New Hampshire State Police, and she was the first woman to be in the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Although she herself never solved a crime, Frances Glessner Lee was truly an unconventional detective who is still helping police solve murders.
Read more about Frances here: Death in Diorama
Pearl R Meaker
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About the Author:
Pearl R. Meaker is an upper-middle-aged, short, pudgy homemaker, mother, and grandmother who in 2002 became a writer. Initially writing fanfiction she soon tried original fiction at the encouragement of her regular readers. She has been a life-long lover of mystery stories and automatically went to that genre for her first book, The Devil’s Music. She and her husband of nearly 40 years live in central Illinois. They both love bluegrass music, playing fiddle and banjo and singing. Pearl also does many crafts – when she’s not reading or writing – knitting, crochet, origami, needlepoint, and cross-stitch among them. She also enjoys birding and photography and is a former fencer.
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Twitter link: https://twitter.com/PearlRMeaker
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Emory Crawford doesn’t do martial arts nor is she an athletic, leggy woman who is built like a model. She’s a wife, grandmother, and empty nest lover of crafts, reading, birding and bluegrass music.
When an acclaimed scholar, best-selling author and fellow bluegrass musician is found murdered on the Twombly College campus where her husband teaches chemistry and forensics, Emory takes up her knitting caddy, to help her channel the spirit of Miss Marple, and heads off to help solve the crime.
“Here you go, Dr. Dawson. I loved your book and I’m looking forward to hearing you speak about it.”
“Of course you are, I’m the best speaker in the Midwest Anthropological Studies Society.”
Archie puffed himself up.
Myra shoved a map at him, pointed out Oglethorpe Hall where his room was, and after a few more self-promotional comments from Archie, he and Naomi, his teaching assistant, left.
I heard Myra’s mutter and stifled my own giggle. It was exactly what I was thinking.
“He really is the most arrogant man I know.”
The voice made Myra and I both jump.
I looked at the woman. Straight, shoulder length brown hair framed a pleasant face that showed genuine concern. I glanced at her feet. Birkenstocks peeked from beneath her long moss-green shift dress. No wonder she’d snuck up on us.
“No problem. Welcome to Twombly College.” I smiled. “We hope you enjoy your visit to our campus.”
She smiled in return before turning to Ms. Fordyce at the registration table. I sat down and watched them over the top of another brochure.
“Arrogant barely scratches the surface of Archibald Finlay Dawson, Cameron.” Myra lowered her voice just a bit. “He’s arrogant to the point that he never notices how many people hate him.”
“People don’t hate him.” The younger lady tucked a wisp of hair behind her ear. “They envy him.”
“I’m not so sure there’s a difference between the two, Cam.”