Little more than 48 hours after the discovery of a body in the woods, the city’s newspaper said that “it is not strange that the developments thus far may require the presence in Lewiston of James M. Lowell. It seems certain that three years ago last June, Mrs. James M. Lowell mysteriously disappeared from this vicinity and unless her husband knows of her whereabouts, it does not appear that anybody knows.”

People were eager for every tidbit they could get. Many of them hoped to catch sight of the suspected murderer when he arrived in town on the train from Massachusetts.

When the engine chugged into the depot in Auburn, with belching steam and screeching brakes, one of the men in the crowd waiting for a chance to eyeball Lowell was the editor of the Lewiston Evening Journal.

In 1873, Frank Dingley had already been in charge of the paper for a dozen years, known as an intellectual man who could talk to anyone and who worked day and night to make his daily the best in Maine.

The afternoon that Lowell returned to Lewiston showed why Dingley already had the respect of his profession.

Dingley hopped aboard the train in Auburn, where he spotted City Marshal H.H. Richardson and asked him to describe Lowell.


Without pointing to the prisoner, who wore no chains because he’d behaved “as a gentleman,” Richardson obliged.

Dingley said he watched them directly aboard the train as it traveled the short distance from Auburn to the station in Lewiston.

Then he asked Richardson if he could accompany them both to the jail in the basement of the City Building. The constable agreed.

Dingley offered to hire a carriage to take all of them to what he called the city prison.

A postcard of the Maine Central Railroad depot in Lewiston in the 19th Century. Private collection

The men were met at the depot in Lewiston by a large but strangely subdued crowd, everyone anxious to see the prisoner, who was almost immediately whisked away in a carriage to the city jail, with Dingley at his side.

From the carriage, Lowell noted the many people trying to catch a glimpse of him.


“Guess all the mills will have shut down,” he told Dingley. “What are they making all this damned fuss about?”

Arriving at the jail, Lowell paced the hallway until Richardson told him he’d get the best accommodations possible and proceeded to escort him to the northwestern corner cell, where Dingley noticed that the bones collected on Switzerland Road were still bound up in a mat in the corner, some of them protruding into the air.

Somehow, the reporter got Richardson’s attention and the marshal managed to scoop up what they both thought were the remains of Lowell’s wife, Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lowell, and move them out before the prisoner caught sight of them.

Speaking years later, coroner Ham Brooks had a slightly different version of what transpired.

He said he’d already gone to bed when he got a bad feeling about the bones. Over his wife’s protest, he said, he headed over to the police station. Walking in, he realized a new officer was on duty who hadn’t been warned of their presence.

“Who have you got in that cell?” Brooks asked him.


“Jim Lowell,” the officer answered.

“My God, Jim Lowell is in there?” Brooks said.

Brooks said he snuck in and removed the bones, with Lowell none the wiser.

The bones safely removed, Richardson pointed to Dingley and told Lowell, “Now this gentleman is a reporter and if you have any statement you would like to make to the public, he will give you the opportunity.”

Lowell proceeded to give the Journal an amazing exclusive, an account of his life and his version of what transpired on that June day in 1870 when Lizzie vanished.

Lewiston Evening Journal Editor Frank Dingley File photo

“I didn’t live very happily with my wife,” he said. “I first picked her up on the street and went with her some time. Then she told me I had got her in the family way and I must marry her.”


“So marry her I did,” Lowell said. “But she lied, as she wasn’t in that condition, as it turned out.”

After they married, he said, they lived for a time with his father “up on the Greene Road” before they moved to Tim Fogg’s farm. Lizzie may have been a little forward with Fogg there and perhaps others.

“Then I got jealous of her,” Lowell said, “and told her what I thought she had been doing.”

The paper said he provided unprintable details at that point.

“Then she ran away from me,” Lowell said.

Lowell said he got a job working on a road project but eventually went after her and convinced her to return to him. That was about a year before Lizzie disappeared.


They returned to Greene for a few weeks before Lizzie ran off again, he said.

“I went after her and we made all up,” Lowell said.

They went north together while Lowell worked on a railroad line in Piscataquis County and then returned to keep house somewhere on College Street in Lewiston. Lizzie’s mother and a sister came to stay with them for a couple of months.

Lowell said his mother-in-law, Sarah Burton, left for northern Maine after a falling out with her daughter.

Lowell said that one winter night, Lizzie stormed out and lay down in the snow “under a bunch of pine bushes” but he found her and carried her back inside.

“She was subject to fits of ugliness,” Lowell said, “and this was one of ‘em. She told my mother once that the devil couldn’t live with her.”


Soon after, he said, Lizzie told him she’d been married once before, out in California, and had given birth to three children there. Each of them had died, she told him.

They soon found a place to live, over a stable on College Street. But their woes continued.

“She was rather fast then and we had trouble,” Lowell said.

He said Lizzie left again while he kept driving a team for Jacob Barker Ham’s hay and grain store on Haymarket Square. Barker had been Lewiston’s first mayor.

Ham’s feed and grain store on Haymarket Square in Lewiston, where James Lowell briefly worked. Androscoggin Historical Society

After Lowell wrote her, Lizzie returned once more, he said.

“I kept a horse and went to drive quite often with my wife,” Lowell said. “When we were riding, if she saw anybody on the street that she knew, she would often leave me and go away.”


In the spring of 1870, he said, she left again. She wound up working for Sophronia Blood, who had a boarding house, where Lizzie wanted her husband to take his meals, he said.

Lowell then told the reporter about the last time he ever saw Lizzie, early in June 1870.

They went to a circus together, he said, because Lizzie knew someone connected to it.

“She didn’t pay any attention to me, but she was laughing with that circus fellow all the time,” Lowell said.

He initially claimed he saw her only briefly the next morning and then never again, but pressed by the reporter, Lowell changed his story.

He remembered, he said, that he’d picked her up at Blood’s boarding house about 4 p.m. and they rode for a few hours on the Auburn side of the Androscoggin River down to Danville and back.


“She kept coaxing me to drive her to DeWitt House,” a hotel in Lewiston, “where the circus feller was.”

He left her about 7:30, Lowell said, and had “never seen her since.”

At that point, Richardson told Lowell that he couldn’t have any more visitors, including his parents, except for whoever he sought as an attorney.

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

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