The mother of Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lowell recounted a dream she had on a Sunday night in June that seemed so shockingly real to her that she wrote about it in a letter from her East Holden, Maine, home during the summer of 1870.

That was long before the skeleton turned up in 1873 or anyone saw a need to interrogate Lizzie’s husband, James M. “Jim” Lowell.

The state’s attorney general, Harris Merrill Plaisted, called Sarah Burton’s dream “remarkable,” though it had no legal value.

To Burton, he said, it seemed “not at all a dream” when she outlined it in an August 1870 letter to a friend in Lewiston, Lydia Blethen, about two months after Lizzie vanished.

As Burton herself put it in the letter, reprinted in the Lewiston Evening Journal soon after the discovery of the body suspected to be her daughter, “it seemed as if I was in Lewiston, on a river road, and near some mills. I did not see any mills but something seemed to say: ‘There are mills here.’

“As I was on this road, all at once, I saw a wagon ahead and I said to myself: ‘That is Jim and Lizzie.’ I wondered why they were out there riding together. I seemed to keep along behind them up the road, with the river on one side, and all woods, when Jim turned off the river road into a by-road — into a pasture as it seemed to me — sort of a pasture road.


“Then I lost sight of them, when they disappeared in a thicket of pines. Then I saw Lizzie on the ground and Jim standing over her. She was pleading for her life.

“I heard her say, ‘O, don’t murder me!’ She was holding up her arm. ‘Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me!’

“Then her arm dropped down by her side. Lizzie sank down. He had his hand raised up as if to strike her.

“I tried to get to them, but a thick fog seemed between us. I could see the pines waving over. They were not large pines, but thick, and she seemed to be lying upon sidling ground.

“I was greatly frightened by my dream — and it did not seem like a dream. I had been to bed but a little while, and the moon was bright in the room.”

Burton said there was an old saying: “Dream Sunday nights and tell it Monday morning it will surely come to pass.” So she stayed silent awhile but could not keep it out of mind.


“Nights when the wind blows it wakes me up, and I think it is the sound of the pines over Lizzie.

“I was worried more because I could not hear from them — could not get no answers to my letters” to Lizzie, she concluded.

Some old accounts of the case mistakenly point to the dream as the reason people searched for, and eventually found, the corpse in 1873. That never happened. The first mention of the 1870 letter came the day after Lowell’s body turned up.

Though the dream had no impact on the discovery of the skeleton, it likely contributed to the stir caused by the find in a spot eerily similar to what Burton imagined.

And it may have contributed to the immediate suspicion that no innocent explanation existed for Lizzie’s demise and that her husband ought to be hauled in for questioning.

It also made some wonder if Burton knew more than she was letting on.


“As prophetic dreams have not much legal value, and as the skeleton was found in the place indicated, Mrs. Burton should be forced to pass through a very incisive examination as to the source of her knowledge of the affair,” The Norfolk Virginian wrote when the Associated Press shared the tale.

The Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York, said the finding of the skeleton suggested “that this Mrs. Burton, among others, ought to be investigated. She cannot be suspected, of course, of complicity in the murder of her daughter, but her dream may have been the result of some valuable facts not heretofore considered by her of any importance.”

Another odd development occurred on the Switzerland Road, where the skeleton had been found and residents had scrounged about in a vain effort to secure its missing skull.

An unnamed “spiritual medium” convinced City Marshal H.H. Richardson and a Journal reporter to go the scene with him, despite their skepticism, insisting she could find the skull.

When they arrived at the spot, the medium “began to whack around among the neighboring stumps, with grotesque manipulations of hands and arms,” claiming to fire shots of electricity all about from his fingertips.

The reporter wryly noted that he was “showing no mercy” to the ancient stumps.


“I shall find a knife and the skull will be six inches from the knife,” the medium said to a growing audience of skeptics who had showed up to watch.

As darkness started to fall, it began to rain, which the medium declared a welcome development because it would make for “a red-hot night for spirits.”

“They show poor judgment to be out in such weather as this,” someone responded.

The medium plunged into the underbrush and began scouring the area.

Richardson and the reporter must have taken off because the newspaper merely promised to let everyone know if anything came of it.

“If he finds the missing member, we shall report it,” the Journal said. “Tragedy and Comedy — Such is life!”

This is the fifth chapter of a serial that will run every Sunday for much of the year. Follow the mystery here.

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