Episode Description

 “The only time I ever saw something that I thought was abnormal…there was a human arm in the refrigerator,” said J. Peter Willard about his aunt, Mary Louisa Willard. Otherwise, he insisted, she was “very normal.” But Mary Louisa Willard, a chemistry professor at Pennsylvania State University in the late 1920s, left a strong impression on most people, to say the least. Her hometown of State College, Pennsylvania, knew her for stopping traffic in her pink Cadillac to chat with friends, and for throwing birthday bashes for her beloved cocker spaniels. Police around the world knew her for her side hustle: using chemistry to help solve crimes.

HOST: Carol Sutton Lewis

Carol is a co-host of Lost Women of Science and hosts and produces the award-winning podcast Ground Control Parenting with Carol Sutton Lewis

PRODUCER: Sarah Wyman

Sarah is an audio reporter and producer at NPR.  Her work has also aired on 99% Invisible, The World from PRX, APM, and other podcasts.


Elah is a journalist, audio producer, and editor. Her work has appeared on Science Friday, Undiscovered, Science Diction, Planet Money, and various CBC shows.

ART DESIGN: Keren Mevorach. Credit: Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries


J. Peter Willard is the nephew of Mary Louisa Willard.

William Herron is a post-conviction forensic consultant who volunteers with the Innocence Project Delaware. Formerly, he was an associate professor of chemistry at Neumann University. 

Bruce Goldfarb, former executive assistant to the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Maryland, is the author of 18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics.

Mary Louisa Willard
Mary Louisa Willard. 1921-1923

Pennsylvania State University biographical vertical files, 00003. Eberly Family Special Collections Library.


18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics, by Bruce Goldfarb, Sourcebooks, 2020.

OCME: Life in America’s Top Forensic Medical Center, by Bruce Goldfarb, Steerforth Press, 2023.

Labors & Legacies: The Chemists of Penn State 1855–1947, by Kristen A. Yarmey, The Pennsylvania State University, Department of Chemistry, 2006. See pages 109–110 and 149–150.

Penn State alumnus endows Mary Willard Trustee Scholarship,” Penn State, 2009.

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