Death Scenes and Dioramas: The Crime Scenes of Frances Glessner Lee

Steps from the White House, hanging from a red brick building lit from below like someone holding a flashlight under their chin to tell a ghost story, the banner read, “Murder Is Her Hobby.”

Well now. I was instantly drawn in to Renwick Gallery and Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deathan exhibit that highlights her contributions to forensic science and delightfully macabre craftwork.

In a time when women were expected to pursue ladylike hobbies, Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962) directed her money and energy to the emerging science of death investigation.  She worked with medical personnel and police, and became the first female Police Captain in the United States.

“Convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.” – police adage of the era

At sixty-five, she combined her love of crafting with her darker interests, and began building her Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, grisly death scene dioramas for training police. She spent months on each one, filling them with hand-crafted details.  She crafted each with precise elements for investigators to parse out and recreate what happened.

The Renwick Gallery rooms were dark, and the Nutshell Studies were lit from within by tiny lamps and overhead lights. Small flashlights were available to shine into them, illuminating the dark corners just as an investigator would while walking through the scene.  Ms. Lee’s details were meticulous: a smear of lipstick on a pillow, a shoe kicked off by a hanging victim, a package of meat left rotting when a body wasn’t found for nearly a week.  A victim’s cheeks in a locked garage were painted with a rosy glow in one scene.  In another scene, a cabin was burned and someone died, but close examination showed the fire didn’t come from the wood stove.

Burned Cabin (ca. 1944-48)

Burned Cabin: Skeletal remains in a burnt bed

The Nutshells, as they are called, are homey and chilling.  The victims met tragic ends while doing mundane things, like hanging up laundry.  Most of the victims were alone in the diorama, the detritus of their life and violent end discarded around them.  Some of the case studies gave witness accounts, and it felt like a potential murderer was still very close to the scene.

Dark Bathroom (ca. 1944-48): a dead woman, water running in the bathtub, and male companions who left some time ago

Most of the Nutshells are housed at Harvard University, and they are still used for training, so the solutions to the scenes are kept secret. Case studies are given for each scene, and it is up to the observer to look for clues and figure out the cause of the unexplained death.

original source: Dang Gurl, Cool Hunt .LA http://coolhunt.la/members/dang-gurl/

If you would like to play investigator, you can view five of the Nutshell Studies through 360 VR.  Click on this link with your mobile device to see the Nutshells in 360 degree view of the Nutshell Studies.

The Renwick Gallery is part of the Smithsonian family of museums, housing contemporary craft and decorative arts. The Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death exhibit runs through January 28, 2018.  You can read more about the extraordinary Frances Glessner Lee and her Nutshells in The Atlantic and The Washington Post.

Getting in Your Head: Brian Plays THE EVIL WITHIN

I LOVE horror games (shocker, I know), and I just spent the past few months revisiting two of my all-time favorites, Dead Space and Dead Space 2. When I finally put them to rest, I was looking for something to play when the ads for The Evil Within 2 started coming out. I’d played about ten minutes of the first game, so I decided to go back to that one and play through it so I could eventually get the sequel as well. I’m glad I decided to give The Evil Within another shot, because it’s great. I’ve started a let’s play series, and you can watch the first episode of the playthrough right here!

If you enjoyed the first installment, you can check out the rest of the series over at the Co-Op Critics YouTube channel.

Let’s Watch a Horror Movie: Christmas Can Be Scary Too

Tis the season! Lights! Love! Hope! And don’t forget a bit of horror. Christmas horror! A gift that becomes a bit more than you can handle. A dark spirit of Christmas ready to punish all who don’t believe. So, dear scary-loving friends, let’s watch a horror movie…NO, let’s watch two Christmas horror movies!

First…

Movie poster for 1984 film Gremlins

A 1984 horror-comedy directed by Joe Dante.  No one can resist fuzzy little Gizmo in a Santa hat! And who can pass up creepy killers singing Christmas carols? Not me. A fun destructive romp through the lovely town of Kingston Falls where murder and mayhem are the perfect seasonal events.

Wednesday, December 13th at 9 pm EST press play on Gremlins! Turn out the lights…they don’t like bright lights…and join me for the fun.

 

But I can’t leave it there because I have another favorite scary Christmas movie!

Poster for 2015 movie Krampus

Another horror-comedy for the season directed by Michael Dougherty was released in 2015. A fabulous look at the darker side of Santa, who visits those who no longer believe in Christmas spirit, who let go of the magic. A strange spirit comes to deliver punishment. I love creepy snowmen, elves, and deranged gingerbread men…who doesn’t?

On Friday, December 22nd press play at 9 EST and join me in watching Krampus!

Time to celebrate the season and watch horror movies together. That’s what Christmas is all about.

Over the River and Through the Wood

I grew up celebrating Thanksgiving on the edge of a Florida swamp. Our cabin was perched in the crook of a bend of the Little Withlacoochee River. It stood on eight-foot posts because sometimes the blackwater river would come out of its banks and spread through the swamp. You’d have to wade to the cabin then, shuffling to find the hidden logs, your legs lost in the dark water. It was pretty great.

Thanksgiving Day was spent fishing, exploring the woods and making holiday crafts my mother devised. One year, we traced each other’s outlines on butcher paper. Everyone, even the adults, went home with life-sized paper dolls of themselves dressed as Pilgrims and native Americans. Another year we made cornucopias filled with nuts and dried corn cobs that the squirrels dragged away and ate.

We even had turkeys for a while, in a pen on the edge of the woods. My dad was still building the cabin, and they gobbled whenever he hammered.

Blam! Gobble gobble gobble.
Blam! Gobble gobble gobble.

I ate their giant eggs for breakfast. Then one day, we didn’t have turkeys anymore. Something came out of the swamp and tore them to bits.

When I reach for writing inspiration, the swamp and river emerge again and again. Florida swamps are layers upon layers of living and dead things. The trees are covered in lichens and air plants. Their roots are sunk into dark muck, built from the decomposing bodies of leaves and other living things. Water runs through it all, giving life to some things and drowning others. It’s fertile ground for monstrous stories to grow.

Fall nights came early at the cabin, hemmed in by swamp. Creatures lived in the woods that roamed at night, and you could hear them rustling just outside the lights of the cabin. From the porch you could here things sliding in and out of the river, and occasionally a splash from something too large to be a fish.

On Thanksgiving, consider that the true horror story isn’t whether the turkey was properly cooked. It’s the story of how they were torn to bits by something that came out of the woods. The storyteller’s question is whether you would rather see the monster, or do you want to keep wondering what’s there.

Keep listening to it rustle. Try to make it out amongst the trees. And wait.

Over the River and Through the Wood is an American Thanksgiving poem by Lydia Maria Child.

 

CHANNEL ZERO: NO-END HOUSE Is Disturbingly Great

I really, really enjoyed the first season of SyFy’s Channel Zero series, Candle Cove. While it had its rough spots, the premise of a super creepy kids’ show coupled with some great imagery carried the season.

Season two of the Creepypasta-inspired series is not short on frightening imagery either, but it’s so much deeper and consistently disturbing that it surpasses the first season in almost every way.

Titled “No-End House,” this season’s story begins with the legend of a haunted house that appears in a random location once per year. The house allegedly has six rooms, and each one gets progressively scarier than the last. Most people who go in bail before they get to the last room, and those that venture in it are allegedly never seen again.

That’s a fantastic setup, but where last season rested a bit on premise, the horror of this season lies in the baggage that each character takes into the house. Grief, relationships, memories and loss are themes that are explored for each character, and who you relate to will likely depend on the baggage you take into this series. There are some gut punches along the way, made all the more powerful by the fantastic performances of Amy Forsyth (Margot), John Carroll Lynch (The Father) and Aisha Dee (Jules).

I cannot recommend this season of Channel Zero enough. At six episodes, it’s not a huge time commitment, though I would advise against binging the whole thing in one sitting. There’s a lot to think about here, so maybe spread it out over two or three sessions.

Have you seen Channel Zero: No-End House? Let us know what you think!

Blog Tour: Monsterland by Michael Okon

Hello boys and ghouls,

Welcome to Monsterland, the scariest place on earth.

When I first heard of this book, I had some serious RL Stine vibes in my head. One Day at Horrorland, anyone? Which was exciting for me because I freaking love RL Stine and I was pumped that someone else was writing a story about a dangerous theme park filled with monsters… Seriously, that would be like a dream date.

This concept has been done with Jurassic Park or Westworld, but it hasn’t really been done in YA before, with vampires and werewolves. I was super excited about this book and what would happen…

Oh yeah, there’s a sweet giveaway at the end so make sure you read down all the way!

Here’s a little about the book.

Welcome to Monsterland, the scariest place on earth.

When world markets are decimated by a crippling plague, philanthropist, and billionaire businessman, Vincent Konrad decides to place monsters in a theme park setting to promote education and tolerance. Copper Valley is chosen as the primary site for the park in the United States.

Wyatt Baldwin, a high school senior is dying to go to the opening and when he lands special passes to the park, he and his friends are expecting the experience of a lifetime.

After all, in a theme park where real zombies, werewolves, and vampires are the main attractions, what could possibly go wrong?

Find it: 

Amazon

B&N

iBooks

TBD

Goodreads

 

While I was looking around about this book I noticed some pretty fantastic feeback on it. Check the out. But maybe don’t just take their word for it. Get yourself a copy!

“The adventure ramps up to an enjoyably gore-soaked finale…full of both mayhem and heart.” – Kirkus Reviews

“…sure to become the next YA sensation…chock full of action and suspense.” – The Children’s Book Review

“Michael Okon’s MONSTERLAND is a fun and highly entertaining romp through the territory of all my favorite scary movies when I was a kid.” –Kevin J Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of the Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series

 

Check out the trailer!

 

 

About the Author

Michael Okon is an award-winning and best-selling author of multiple genres including paranormal, thriller, horror, action/adventure and self-help. He graduated from Long Island University with a degree in English, and then later received his MBA in business and finance. Coming from a family of writers, he has storytelling in his DNA. Michael has been writing from as far back as he can remember, his inspiration being his love for films and their impact on his life. From the time he saw The Goonies, he was hooked on the idea of entertaining people through unforgettable characters.

Michael is a lifelong movie buff, a music playlist aficionado, and a sucker for self-help books. He lives on the North Shore of Long Island with his wife and children.

 Find Michael:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads | Snapchat

 

Giveaway Details

2 winners will receive a signed finished copy of MONSTERLAND, US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want more? Check out the rest of the blog tour stops!

Tour Schedule

Week One:

10/30/2017- Owl Always Be Reading– Excerpt

10/30/2017- Abooktropolis– Review

 

10/31/2017- Books,Dreams,Life– Spotlight

10/31/2017- Texan Girl Reads– Review

 

11/1/2017- Reese’s Reviews– Guest Post

11/1/2017- Under the Book Cover– Review

 

11/2/2017- Dazzled by Books– Excerpt

11/2/2017- A Gingerly Review– Review

 

11/3/2017- Twirling Book Princess– Excerpt

11/3/2017- Birdie Bookworm– Review

 

Week Two:

11/6/2017- Books at Dawn– Guest Post

11/6/2017- Don’t Judge, Read– Review

 

11/7/2017- BookHounds YA– Interview

11/7/2017- Adventures Thru Wonderland– Review

 

11/8/2017- Savings in Seconds– Spotlight

11/8/2017- Novelties– Review

 

11/9/2017- Sweet Southern Home– Review

11/9/2017- Twisted Book Junkie– Review

 

11/10/2017- Parajunkee– Interview

11/10/2017- The Midnight SocietySpotlight

 

Spooky Empire Creators Track

Wednesday Addams, the Headless Horseman, and Velma from Scooby Doo walked into a horror convention.

They walked with me from the parking garage to Spooky Empire, along with gender-swapped Beetlejuice and more than one Pennywise. Sam from Trick r Treat greeted me when I walked in. I love Sam, and Halloween was only a few days away, but I had a writing panel to catch.

original source: Spooky Empire Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SpookyEmpire/

Spooky Empire started in 2003, and it’s grown to be one of the largest horror conventions in the nation. The self-proclaimed ‘dark side of Comic Con’ is held in Orlando, Florida nowadays, and this year included Q & A’s with artists and filmmakers, appearances by horror movie and TV stars, a tattoo festival, a film festival, a costume and cosplay contest, live musical acts, and a huge exhibitor room of vendors and artists.

Above the floor filled with Oogie Boogies and an original Ecto-1, the Spooky Empire Creators Track was a horror creator’s dream.  Horror has expanded in popularity through all forms of media, and this year’s track included panels of horror writers, artists, podcasts, filmmakers, prop makers, directors, actors, bloggers, and podcasters.  The diversity of horror writer and storyteller panels was impressive.  Participants included short story writers and novelists, screenwriters, and graphic novel and comic book writers.

Storycraft Panel – practical advice for horror writers from story creation through publishing and marketing

Horror as a genre is sometimes sidelined in traditional writing conferences, though many writers incorporate horrific things in their stories.  They put their characters into frightening situations that lead to romance or catching a thief. It’s still the same breathless running and racing heart. But the craft of horror writing isn’t usually a focus.

Non-fiction horror writers and filmmakers also come to Spooky Empire

It was  wondrous to be surrounded by other writers who focus on spooky elements and explore the depths of fear.  The presenters were delightful.  They spoke earnestly about using creepy settings and building tension through a scene.  They shared paranormal phenomena they’d experienced, or wished they had, and giggled together about especially bloody deaths they’d written.  These were the people who love the dark as much as we do.

Four Stories – short readings, including the terrifying Slit-Faced Woman and a scary story with a unicorn

Women horror writers were highlighted in the Women in Horror panel, but female writers and artists were on every panel and track.

For the spooky girls out there: a panel full of women horror writers

The main Spooky Empire convention is held each October, and the cost of a full-weekend pass is lower than you’d expect.  The spring Spooky Empire event is coming on April 6-8, 2018 in Orlando, Florida.

Sam says keep Halloween in your heart, and don’t blow the jack o’lantern out before midnight

 

 

Halloween…A Love Story, A Sad Story

Another Halloween has come and gone. Another season of skulls and horror movies and carving pumpkins. Another night of becoming something else, of facing that which scares us. The crunch of leaves underfoot. The colors of fall. The chill in the air. There’s nothing like Halloween.

As a kid, I couldn’t wait for my dad to get home so we could go trick-or-treating. Always proudly wearing my costume to school that day. Always ready for a bag full of candy that never lasted until Christmas like I hoped.

When we moved to this big old house with a front porch…and his kids no longer wandered the streets begging for candy…Halloween evolved. My dad set about creating a scary scene on Halloween night. I remember the first Halloween in our new house. I remember the creepy sounds and flashing lights. I remember the kids who were too scared to come up to the front door. As my sisters were up in their rooms or watching TV, who knows, I was hovering at the front window, watching Halloween.

As the years passed, Dad added new terrors to the porch, which eventually spilled out onto the front yard. This tradition continues. Each year he looks for a new scare. Each year he finds a new creepy mask. Each year he stands at his front door in his mask and robe with a bowl of candy and waits.

When I got married and moved away and into my own house…I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted Halloween. We had moved into a city neighborhood, a street lined with houses. So I got lights. I got a scary music CD. Hubs made me headstones. I constructed ghosts. I bought skulls and bones. I found a caldron to hold the candy. And the yard glowed with terror.

I stood at the door, handing out candy, smiling at the compliments for my decorations, and drinking in the night. Even after the trick-or-treaters had gone, I sat on my porch in the middle of the lights and sounds and enjoyed the chill on my skin, the gray of the night, the leaves skittering across the road.

Then one year a ‘For Sale’ sign was added to my decor. That year, many parents of trick-or-treaters told me they’d miss me, that my house was always a favorite, and a few asked where we would be moving, so they could find me. Too far, I answered. To a little town outside the city, to a street away from people.

Out here in the middle of nowhere, where miles don’t hold as many houses as that city block, where I have a great front porch, one perfect for Halloween decorations…but no trick-or-treaters. I bought candy the first year…I put out my skeletons and spider webs, to be disappointed.

In a few years, my kids were old enough to haunt the streets in hopes of candy, so we drove into town, parked, and joined the fun. I loved those years, being a part of Halloween again.

But that ended.

Now on Halloween, I decorate my house. I watch horror movies and remember.

For Halloween goes on without me, away from me. I live for texts from my mom showing pictures of Dad’s yard, for updates on the kids that wouldn’t climb the stairs or set foot on the sidewalk to approach the big man in a mask.

I miss it…a lot. I love my big house in the country, but if I could have one thing from the city, it would be Halloween. The one night I want to be around people, that I want to be among the crowds. So I will do what I do to make me happy on that bestest of nights and wait…for maybe Halloween will evolve again.

 

Unforgettable

 

Oh, hello there,

 

It’s been a while since we had a good chat. Too long, if you ask me. I took some time off. My brain got a little twisted but I’m back. I spent this week thinking about what I wanted to chat about. The obvious would be Halloween. It is, after all, nearly here.

So I started checking out cool Halloween movies that flew under the radar and googling weird Halloween traditions from around the globe but I just kept thinking about death. Not mine, mind you. No, not yours either. I’m thinking about theirs.

**TRIGGER** Actual death descriptions about to take place **TRIGGER*

I won’t say their names. I wouldn’t want to read about my friends/family dying on some stranger’s blog on the internet. It was a man and a woman and their motorcycles.

We were coming home from dinner with my parents. We’d passed many, many bikers. It was a gorgeous night and the sun was setting and everything was bathed in dusty pinks and bruisy purples.

A group of bikers roared up behind us…two started to pass us. They didn’t see the trailer turning in front of us, blocking the lane. He couldn’t slow down – she was right on his tail.

Bam.

I called 911. I was a coward. I wouldn’t look at them. The operator needed me to tell her what was going on. I ran to him. He looked up at me and said her name.

“You’re going to be okay! Hang in there!”

I counted out CPR for the woman hammering on his chest.

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4. You’re doing great. You’ve got this. 

The woman was thirty feet away, surrounded by her friends. She was groaning and twisted up but alive.

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4.

I pressed towels against a gash in his chest and put my phone on speaker.

Damnit, where is the ambulance?

Sirens. Finally. It had only been ten minutes but it felt like a decade.

They ran to her. The slowly put gloves on for him. They covered him with a blanket.

Paramedics came. She crashed. They loaded her up.

We waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The helicopter landed and special paramedics rushed into the ambulance.

We waited.

and waited.

and waited.

They came out slowly and boarded the chopper alone.

One of her fellow riders screamed into the black night. Sobs filled the air.

It had only been 54 minutes.

I saw their faces and heard those screams every hour for weeks.

It took a while before I realized I never saw any blood. Femoral arteries were severed and gravel was heaped upon the carnage left on the gravel road but I didn’t see any blood. Only the spatter on the CPR-giving-woman’s cheek and a bloody fingerprint on my phone. Funny how the brain works.

I used to be fascinated by death.

I’m not so much anymore.

All That You Touch, You Change

You wake up alone, locked in an empty room. You lift up the phone from its cradle, and a scratchy voice intones, “All that you touch, you change.”

The message repeats, no matter how many times you try to use the phone. It’s flat. Insistent. Its cadence is off, like something trying to sound human.

So begins Cube Escape: Seasons, the first in a series of surreal horror games set around, and beneath, Rusty Lake. On the surface, the Cube Escape games are lovely, pastel escape rooms. Haunting music plays as you explore. You find objects while exploring each room, and you figure out how they work together.

Harvey could use a little bird seed

The deeper you explore, the more unsettling things seem. The Woman first appears in Cube Escape: Seasons, and you play from her point of view. But time is tricky, and you see hints that something terrible has happened to you.  That voice comes through the phone again, but this time it says, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

And yet, Cube Escape: Case 23 opens with The Woman’s bloody corpse.

The Rusty Lake games are set in the same mysterious place as the Cube Escape games, and they build on the story.  The denizens of Rusty Lake – shrimp, snails, fish, other creatures – show up in unlikely places, often with secrets to reveal. There are mystical forces at work, and people trying to exploit them.  Rusty Lake: Roots follows generations of a family on the lake, and the artwork is dark and gorgeous.

Albert’s masks are a delight

The scores of Cube Escape and Rusty Lake fully immerse you in the world. Game play is almost soothing, set to a melancholy soundtrack. Machinery churns. Lake water laps against buildings. You are lulled into the dreamlike story, until music crashes around you, terrifying things happen, and you scramble to escape.

If you see a disembodied hand, reach out.

If you see a cube, take it, but know you’ll likely be changed forever.

Rusty Lake: Mental Health & Fishing

Cube Escape and Rusty Lake games were created by Rusty Lake, an Amsterdam-based indie game studio whose goal is to become the “Twin Peaks of gaming.” The Cube Escape games are free on iOS, Android, and online. Rusty Lake: Hotel and Rusty Lake: Roots are available at a low cost.