Officer Mansell Farr walked into the city marshal’s quarters at 8:35 a.m. Monday morning, Oct. 20, 1873.

He carried a piece of leather luggage by the handle. It contained all the bones collected in the woods the previous week by Ham Brooks, the city coroner.

Lewiston Police Officer Mansell Far Private collection

Farr joined six men gathered in the little courtroom for the coroner’s inquest: foreman William F. Garcelon, clerk W.J. Rodick, Warren Pressey, John Owen, Daniel Allen and John B. Garcelon.

They would consider whether a crime had been committed and, if so, whether James M. “Jim” Lowell should face charges.

Their first decision was to bar the crowd outside from squeezing into the room, keeping those inside to a minimum — the coroner, Androscoggin County Attorney George Wing, the witnesses and the press. It seems that Frank Dingley, the Lewiston Evening Journal’s intrepid editor, was always allowed to see whatever he wanted.

Next, officials took possession of a small box that contained a forearm, some dark hair “matted with an unknown substance” and a neck bone, all of them items collected at the Switzerland Road scene by members of the public who scoured the ground Sunday.


Then the inquest kicked into high gear as Brooks stood at the front of the room and held up high the black dress found with the bones — or what was left of it.

The coroner asked Sophronia Blood if she could identify the clothing.

Clearly a talker, Blood responded by mentioning that she knew the missing woman well because Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lowell had taken her meals at Blood’s home for some time.

“She was 5 feet, 2 or 3 inches tall, I should think,” Blood said. Lizzie had dark hair, “pretty white teeth” and black eyes.

She said her friend had left Blood’s home for the last time, likely on a Sunday night.

After the Central Block fire on Sunday, June 12, 1870, Blood said, Lizzie “had been out to see the ruins.”


She returned to tell her friend, crying, that “Jim was ugly as the Devil.”

Soon after, Lowell “came for her” as he often did. They used to go riding, Blood said. The only thing Lizzie ever told her about the rides were that Lowell offered “clever conversation.”

While the Central Block burned, Lydia Murray said she conversed with Lizzie. At one point, she said, Lizzie pointed across the street at her husband.

“There he is. See him watch me. See how mad he is to see you talking with me,” Lizzie said.

Lizzie showed her “my new silk dress I’ve talked about so much” as well, Murray said. She recalled that its sleeves were trimmed with lace.

She also said Lizzie told her a month before her disappearance that she planned to work in the mill long enough to afford a silk dress.


After Lizzie showed off her dress, she said, Blood came up in a carriage with a little girl. Lowell then came over and took Lizzie home, while the ruins still smoldered.

A drawing of Androscoggin County Attorney George Wing by artist D.D. Coombs, included in John W. May’s “Inside the Bar,” an 1884 book of law-related poetry.

Blood saw Lowell driving around the block the next morning, she said, and stopped him to ask where his wife was. He told Blood he’d left Lizzie at Blood’s house shortly after the clock showed 10 p.m., an assertion Blood did not believe.

She remembered that Lowell had told her, “I suppose she’s gone off with some of those damned circus fellows.”

After mentioning she didn’t have any photographs of her friend, she added that “Lizzie had on her silk dress when she went out.”

Wing next questioned Annie Maney, another boarder with Blood.

“All I know is, Lizzie dressed in my room the night she disappeared, in a black silk dress,” Maney said. “I went upstairs next morning and couldn’t find her.”


Lizzie told her that night she was going out for a ride with her husband. They left after dinner, before dark, she said.

Maney, who saw the pair drive off in a wagon, said Lizzie used to mention having trouble with her husband.

Maney said she also knew Lowell’s current wife, the former Mary A. Turner, but did not know where she was.

The county attorney asked the coroner for a private session, an unusual request. Brooks said he had never had a secret session and thought he should give his answers to the jury.

Attorney Mandeville Ludden, representing Lowell, said that if there was an objection to his presence, he would step out.

The coroner said he had a duty to make a proclamation asking everyone with information to come forward with it.


“If this is private, I don’t know how anybody is to hear it,” Ludden responded.

Wing relented and said Ludden could stay, but Lowell’s lawyer left anyway. Dingley asked if he could remain in the room and was told that he could.

Murray continued testifying.

Murray said that Sarah Burton, Lizzie’s mother, told her that Lizzie had been an affectionate child. She also told her that if her daughter had gotten into trouble with Lowell, she would have written home instead of remaining silent.

Murray said Lowell called his wife Mary, but her mother and friends called her Lizzie.

After Lizzie vanished, Murray said Burton told her she thought Lowell had killed Lizzie.


Murray said that Lizzie kept regular hours. She shared a room at Blood’s boarding house with “a girl named Thompson, who is now married and lives in Wisconsin.”

Lizzie’s sister Georgia Burton, who was about 14 at the time of the disappearance, was working at Bates Mill No. 4 and had boarded with Murray for about a year and half.

Garcelon said it would help to have Lizzie’s mother and sister present so the inquiry stopped midday Monday with plans to resume Tuesday evening after the pair could make it to Lewiston from their home in East Holden on the outskirts of Bangor.

This is the 10th chapter of a serial that will run every Sunday for much of the year. Follow the mystery here.

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