Anna Shubik Sweeney on Frances Glessner Lee

“She made dollhouse-scale murder scenes.”

FRANCES GLESSNER LEE made a career out of constructing beautiful dollhouses…that were actually blood-spattered murder scenes. Her fascination with true crime started young; she wanted to become a doctor but the oppressive rule of her family forced her into crafting and antiques. Thankfully, her lifelong fascination with forensic science finally coalesced at age 50, when Frances inherited her family fortune and used that, along with her connections to the police, to teach law enforcement how to understand crime scenes through her artistic dioramas. She was the first woman to join the Police Association, was named Police Captain of the New Hampshire State Police at 64 and is known today as the Godmother of Forensics Science.

Our storytellers share these astonishing women with us conversationally and unscripted; we fact-check afterwards and note any major discrepancies for accuracy.


Anna Shubik Sweeney

Sadly, Anna Shubik Sweeney passed away on September 26, 2021. An excerpt from her obituary is shared below.

Anna was born on April 18, 1952 in Chicago to Virginia and Dr. Philippe Shubik, the second of their four children. She spent the first 11 years of her life in the idyllic suburban town of Glencoe, Illinois. Of her happy childhood she would remember the care of her loving and gregarious mother, trips with her siblings to the local sledding hill, and summers spent at the cottage her parents built on Jack Lake in Ontario. In June of 1963, Anna and her father survived a house fire that claimed the lives of her mother, brother, and two sisters. From this tragedy Anna gained the lifelong trait of resilience. She often repeated the maxim “life goes on” even after the most terrible events. After the fire Anna and her father moved to Carl Sandburg Village on Chicago’s near north side. A year later, Anna’s father married his wife Valerie, and Anna gained two stepsiblings.

Anna left the midwest in 1970 to attend Smith College. At Smith she earned a bachelor’s degree in art history and a master’s degree in education, and made friends that she would retain for the rest of her life. She moved to New York City, where she first worked as a paralegal and then attended law school at Rutgers. She often reminisced about her wild 20s: the nights she spent at Studio 54 and the tiny apartment on east 17th Street where she resided.

At age 30, Anna met Paul Sweeney through mutual friends. They eloped five months later, marrying on the island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, and remained married for nearly 39 years. After a year of marriage they settled in Chester, selecting the town for its location halfway between their jobs. They welcomed their son Ben in 1985 and twins Virginia and Sam two years later. Anna quickly became an integral part of the town, playing an active role in Democratic politics, helping incorporate the Chester Land Trust, and serving for years as Chester’s Inland Wetlands Enforcement Officer. In the late 1980s she ran unsuccessfully for Chester first selectman on a platform of “Tomorrow’s Chester.” Anna maintained a law practice in town, supporting her clients through life’s difficult episodes and helping them prepare for the future.

Anna had a contagious and often absurd sense of humor and an unquenchable thirst for adventure. Throughout her life Anna loved travel, and in recent years she took journeys around the world with Paul and with her dear friends from Smith. But most of all, she loved spending time at Jack Lake, at the cottage where she had summered as a child. For most of the pandemic, she was unable to cross the border to visit, but she and Paul finally returned in August of 2021.

Anna first became a grandmother in 2019, and she thrived in this new role. She was the beating heart of her very close family, speaking with each of her children every day about things large and small. She will be missed beyond measure.

Featured Woman

Frances Glessner Lee

Frances Glessner Lee was born in Chicago, IL, on March 25, 1878. Homeschooled and lonely, Frances filled her days with learning how to craft. After a bout of sickness, coupled with a family friend medical examiner regaling his true crime tales, Frances became deeply interested in forensics science. But her father shot down her dreams of going to school, so she instead opened an antique store with her daughter. At 50, after the last patriarch in her family died, Frances inherited her family’s wealth and was finally free to pursue her interest in crime scene investigations. Using her childhood craft skills, Frances created visceral dioramas of murder scenes, called “Nutshells.” At nearly 60, Frances became a police captain and endowed the Harvard Associates in Police Science, a national organization for forensic science, with the Frances Glessner Lee Homicide School dedicated to her. Frances eventually donated her gorgeous, gory dollhouses to Harvard Medical School, where they are still in use today.