These days, a scoop like the one Frank Dingley snagged in getting a suspected murderer to talk extensively about the case for the Lewiston Evening Journal would warrant a banner headline across the front page and rate some prime television time, too.

But in those days, everything in the Journal, and nearly every other newspaper, appeared in small print on extra wide pages that contained not a single notable headline, illustration or photograph. From a distance, the pages appeared to have a giant, somewhat ragged rectangle of black ink.

On Oct. 18, 1873, the Lewiston Evening Journal put Lowell’s account of what happened to his wife in the middle of page three, leaving the front page mostly for advertising.

Dingley wrote that the Journal sought to “gather everything which seemed to bear the appearance of reliability” in a bid to bring to “life the shroud of painful uncertainty which hangs over the disappearance” of Lowell’s wife in 1870.

The details of James M. “Jim” Lowell’s talk with Dingley appeared on page three, halfway through a long story, under the subhead, “Lowell’s Statement.”

People devoured it anyway.

Interest in the case ran so high that when copies of the Journal began rolling off the press, hordes waited outside the building for a chance to buy one for 2 cents. Some stood patiently for hours since the editor declared that subscribers would get their papers first.


“We have never seen a deeper feeling than is aroused in this case, intensified by the mystery which still enshrouds it,” the daily noted the day after Lowell’s return to Lewiston.

That night, the jailer handed Lowell a copy of the paper. The prisoner read the account of his words carefully and commented, “Guess that’s about correct. Don’t know but that’s all right.”

He expressed no further opinion.

Looking back on it a half century later, the Lewiston Daily Sun expressed awe at Dingley’s enterprise and skill.

“There was much better writing then,” it added, with “meticulous regard for English construction with none of the slovenliness that goes hand-in-hand with today.”

Mandeville Ludden, attorney Lewiston Public Library

On Sunday, Oct. 19, 1873, his first full day back in Lewiston, Lowell remained alone save for a visit by Mandeville Ludden, the lawyer Lowell chose to represent him. A kingpin in the area’s legal fraternity, Ludden, who attended Harvard Law, had been the first member of the Androscoggin County Bar Association two decades earlier. How the pair knew each other, and what they discussed, is unknown.


The Journal said that Lowell’s appearance “is not unprepossessing. He is dressed in dark cashmere pants and a beaver overcoat,” items that appear to have been in fashion based on the advertising in the papers at the time.

It said Lowell was cleanly shaven except that “he sported a dark and quite heavy moustache.”

The paper described Lowell, 31, as being of medium size and height, with “a thin face and dark sun-burned complexion.”

That same day, mobs descended on Switzerland Road, crossing a sand hill to the spot near some sagging pines where the body had been found. People searched every “dingle and dell” for a mile around, the newspaper reported, and came up with some items, including two bones found by Leonard Jepson each about 6 feet from the spot where the skeleton had been.

Someone else came up with some matted, coarse hair. And many more beads were collected as well. But nobody found the one thing they all sought most: the skull.

On Monday morning, a photographer had showed up at police headquarters hoping to take Lowell’s picture. But City Marshal H.H. Richardson refused the request because Lowell had only been arrested on suspicion “and there is, at present, no special necessity for such a display of his countenance.”


Only one other prisoner shared the cell with Lowell, a drunkard who’d gotten into some hard cider. The cellmate knew from experience he’d have to pay $5 the next morning as a penalty.

Lowell slept “sound as a log” and, after washing up at 8 a.m., donned a short-sleeve shirt and sat down to a hearty breakfast. Afterward, he expressed a desire for a shave so authorities took him to a barber to perform the service.

Lowell was ready for the inquest that would decide if he should be held any longer.

The Journal urged readers to give Lowell “a fair hearing” and not to prejudge him.

“Let public opinion await through investigation,” it said.

But Lowell’s account did not sit well with some of the people who had known the couple in Lewiston.


Sophronia Blood, who ran the boarding house where Lizzie last lived and worked, said in a statement to the Journal that she recalled a day when Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lowell “came in to me crying and showed me some finger marks on her neck and arms.”

“That old devil choked me,” Lizzie said of her husband, according to Blood.

Blood said that after the fire that consumed Central Hall on Sunday, June 12, 1870, Lizzie went to see the ruins and then returned to say she had met a circus fellow she knew and talked with him for a time “and that her husband came along and saw her talking with him and was mad.”

“He’s ugly as the devil,” Blood recalled Lizzie telling her.

But that evening, Lowell came by to give Lizzie a ride. She put on her black silk dress, Blood said, as well as a velveteen cape and a white silk hat.

She never returned, Blood said.


But the next morning, Lowell came by.

“Where’s Liz?” Blood asked him.

She said he told her, “Left her at 10 o’clock last night,” Lowell responded.

Blood said she told him, “You didn’t do any such thing” because she’d waited up for Lizzie.

“Now, Lowell, I want you to tell me where she is,” Blood said.

“Perhaps she’s gone off to Portland with that circus fellow I saw her with,” Lowell answered.

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

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