Can You Solve the Mystery of the Tiny Dead Man in the Tiny Crime Scene?

Jul 8, 2015

The victim in nutshell #20.
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

NHPR's Chris Jensen recently profiled the North Country's Frances Glessner Lee, whom many refer to as "The Mother of CSI."

Lee recreated tiny crime scenes that resembled meticulous, macabre dollhouses. She called them "nutshells," as in finding truth "in a nutshell."

Of Lee's twenty original nutshells, eighteen are in still in use as teaching tools and aren't available to the public. One was destroyed. But the final one is on display in Bethlehem, N.H.

All the nutshells include evidence and interviews, and it's up to the observer to solve the depicted crime. The solution for nutshell number twenty, however, has been lost to time.

We posted photos and clues about the mystery on Chris's story - and will post listeners' theories below. 

Do you want to take a stab at solving the murder depicted in nutshell number twenty? Click here to see a gallery of photos and read the evidence, and then click here to email us with your solution. 

From Bryan W. in Londonderry:

It is hard to solve by looking at the pictures. There are many missing pieces, like the shelf in the bookcase and the arm of the couch. However, this could simply be pieces that were broken off due to the age of the nutshell. I don't think it was suicide, as suicide is killing yourself intentionally. Nothing here suggests that to me. Unless I missed something, I did not read anything about a gunshot wound. Here is my basic theory and assessment:

1. He was the town drunk, had no job, and was very poor. This could suggest why the house is in such disarray.

2. The rifle on the floor next to him could be anything. Maybe he kept it close because he feared something or someone. Maybe he had been cleaning the weapon earlier. Or, he may simply have had a habit of keeping it with him at all times. Alcoholism could make someone paranoid and having a rifle about the home at that time was not uncommon. The boarder said that he knew Black was dangerous when drunk, which is why he put the rifle back. Maybe this wasn't the first time the boarder had encountered a similar situation with Black.

3. The western movie with a lot of shooting is a distraction placed by Lee to make you focus on it. She wanted to confuse you and think that the gunshots from the movie and the rifle on the floor are somehow connected. They are not.

4. The doctor's quick exam is the result of Black's alcoholism. The doctor, who was their family doctor, may have known Black quite well and through previous examinations, knew he was going to die soon. Again, the "hasty examination" is in place to make you think there could be a cover up. There isn't.

My verdict is that Black died of acute alcoholism, as the doctor stated

From Dave Anderson in South Sutton:

David Jackson the boarder came home and found Eugene Black drunk and passed out on the couch from the whiskey.  He pulled off his shoe and shot him upwards from his heel. The small 0.22 caliber bullet pierced the femoral artery and Eugene died slowly from internal bleeding.  Jackson then replaced the shoe and retied it and put the 0.22 rifle on the spikes in the woodshed and went upstairs to bed.

Winifred Black did not hear the shot as there was a Western with lots of shooting on the radio upstairs.  The Dr. James Monroe didn’t remove the victim’s shoes to see the wound when he did a hasty examination.  The shipped him to funeral parlor with the body clothed and booted.

Not sure why the phone remained sideways on the cradle – off the hook to prevent any other caller? But that may have been how Winifred left the receiver when she called Doc Monroe.

David Jackson was romantically involved with Winifred Black and they needed to be rid of Gene and his drinking.

From Pericat, of Gabriola in B.C.:

Black is overdressed for indoors in a room with a working heatstove. The only askew picture is on the wall shared with the woodshed - did something hit the wall? (If they were expecting to burn wood through the winter, they were leaving it late in the year to fill the shed; why? Also, where's the axe?)

I think whatever happened to Black, happened outside, and he was helped or carried inside to the bench he died on. If he was accustomed to drinking to the point of notoriety, one partial bottle wouldn't kill him, but there don't seem to be any other bottles around, so perhaps that one bottle was also set there by someone else.

Jackson's account of his evening does not mention being disturbed by the comings and goings of the doctor, etc. Either he was very tired or naturally shy or expected the fuss and so had no curiosity about it. Also, there is a pile of wood haphazardly dumped directly at the foot of the stairs he would need to use, and those stairs have an abnormally high rise. I am surprised he didn't, after replacing the rifle so neatly, bother to clear the clutter, if only to save himself a broken leg in the morning. It's not as if there wasn't room in the rest of the shed. But maybe he did clear it to an extent, maybe it was even more scattered around, perhaps following a lively argument between himself and Black. 

So, fight in the shed, maybe Black is knocked up against the wall pretty hard, maybe sticks thrown about. Black knocked unconscious, is carried/helped into the house, a bottle set on the floor to divert attention or even in apology. Jackson returns to shed, cleans up most of the mess and to bed. 

In the morning, he finds that his landlord has died, and the cause is already fixed; why say anything?

From Madden, in Lafayette IN:

The daughter.  She's angry at her father for being a worthless drunk.  So she gets him liquored up at dinner till he's very drunk and hits him in the back if the head with the broken off couch arm and he falls into the picture. Then puts him on the couch with a  bottle and a gun. She takes the wooden evidence out to the barn to hide and drags dirt back in when she comes back in. Then goes upstairs to tell her mother that they had dinner and he left. Shed never know as Shes stuck upstairs.  The guest comes home, thinks he's sleeping and takes the gun to the only place he feels is safe.  Outside the house.   

From Chuck Hemp, Ramrod Key, FL

Someone’s lying. The deceased appears to be in rigor with the arms up in the air indicating dying in another location or certainly in another position. Winifred’s lying and most likely Jackson as well. The time lines of the doctor’s arrival are vague but if it was near the time of the call then he’s incompetent or possible involved as well.