When the afternoon train from Bangor arrived in Lewiston shortly before 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 1873, two members of the missing Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lowell’s family were among the passengers who got off.

City Marshal H.H. Richardson met Sarah Elizabeth Burton, mother of the missing Lizzie, and Georgia Burton, 17, Lizzie’s younger sister, at the station. They asked to be taken to the home of Lydia Blethen, an old friend of the Burtons, but were instead assigned a room at the DeWitt House, a downtown hotel, where they could be kept in seclusion until their testimony at the inquest.

DeWitt House on the corner of Park and Pine streets. Lewiston Public Library

Yet that’s not where Richardson took them. He brought them instead to the jail in the basement of the City Building.

Richardson testified later that Sarah Burton asked to see James M. “Jim” Lowell and that he had “been advised” to let her. Nobody asked who gave him that advice, but since Androscoggin County Attorney George Wing was handling the investigation, it is a reasonable guess he made the decision to allow the visit.

In any case, Richardson escorted the two Burtons to Lowell’s cell and unlocked its door.

“I have got some company for you,” he told the prisoner. “Your mother and sister-in-law have come to see you.”


Richardson swung the door open and the two women entered the cell.

Sitting to the side in a chair, Lowell “did not get up or look up” when they arrived, Richardson said.

“How do you do, Jim?” Sarah Burton asked.

Then Lowell asked her how she was doing.

All the while, Richardson stood at the door to the cell, holding in his right hand the remnants of the black dress found with the skeleton in the woods almost a week earlier.

“Jim, did you ever see this dress before?” Richardson asked with the women present.


Without ever raising his eyes to see it , Lowell responded, “No.”

“Jim, that is Lizzie’s dress, and you know it is,” Richardson said.

Lowell again said it was not, adding that “Lizzie’s had fringe on it.”

“Jim, you don’t know what is on this dress,” the city marshal said. “You don’t know whether it is fringe, or what it is.”

Describing the scene later, Richardson said, “During all this time, he was sitting, looking on the floor; never looked up to me or the dress; neither was he looking at Miss or Mrs. Burton.”

Sarah Burton said she, too, never saw Lowell look up.


Richardson said that both Burtons then spoke briefly to Lowell.

“You know that’s her dress,” Lizzie’s sister said to Lowell.

The missing woman’s mother asked her son-in-law, “Why don’t you tell us where Lizzie is?”

“Because I don’t know where she is,” Lowell answered, never taking his eyes off the floor.

Lizzie’s mother said she made some sort of comment about Lowell “making away with her” and he told her that he had not.

The Lewiston Evening Journal said at the time the meeting “was evidently not a pleasant one for the prisoner. He was a good deal agitated when the silk dress was carried in with them, was shown to him for the first time.”


“Whether innocent or guilty,” the paper said, “such an ordeal as this visit could hardly have been coolly borne, as the mother and daughter showed signs of great mental distress.”

Their day, exhausting as it must have been by that time, was not yet over.

All the while, every scrap of information was mulled and discussed.

“The skeleton mystery is the absorbing theme of conversation in our midst, and the desire to unravel the mystery, is as natural as it is universal,” the Journal said.

It cautioned people “to suspend judgment in the case” until the sworn testimony was finished “and all possible light thrown upon the mystery.”

Lowell meanwhile expressed the hope that perhaps William Frye, a former Maine attorney general from Lewiston who had moved on to a U.S. House seat, might be willing to defend him in court.


Frye visited Lowell in jail to tell him he couldn’t spare the time.

The old City Building, located on the site of the present City Hall, where James M. “Jim” Lowell was initially incarcerated, in a basement jail, and where the inquest occurred that led inevitably to his trial in 1874. Lewiston Public Library

He emerged from the City Building to declare that Lowell “appeared well” and struck him as “very calm and composed.”

Frye said he had no opinion about Lowell’s guilt or innocence.

After dinner that Tuesday, the two women, dressed in black, sat in the jury room beside the city marshal’s office. They cried as Coroner Ham Brooks described the skeleton he saw a week earlier in a copse off the Switzerland Road, the bones of a young woman with her kneecaps nearly fused together in the dirt where they lay.

They had no doubt those bones were all that was left of Lizzie.

Called to the stand, Sarah Burton, a widow from a small town near Bangor, told the six men forming the coroner’s inquest that Lizzie disappeared in June 1870, though she only learned her daughter had vanished when a friend wrote to her that summer.


Burton said she’d seen the remnants of a black dress her daughter owned that had been found with the bones. Its lace trimming, she said, was so unusual that she was sure Lizzie and her other daughters used all there was of it.

Lizzie’s mother proceeded to suggest that her son-in-law was the likely killer.

“My daughter and Lowell did not live pleasantly together,” she said. “He appeared to be jealous of her and everything else.”

“I saw him whip my daughter often” when she stayed with them at their home on College Street, Burton said.

Once, she said, he hollered, “By God, I’ll kill you” at Lizzie as he whipped her.

That was two years before she went missing, Burton said.


It didn’t get any better for her daughter after that, she said.

After her daughter’s disappearance, Burton said she came to Lewiston and collected some things that Lizzie left behind at a boarding house.

She spotted Lowell at Harlow’s shoe store, she said, and greeted him.

“It’s no place to talk here,” he told her. “Let’s go down the street.”

Burton said she asked him, “Where’s Liz?”

Lowell answered that she was in Lawrence, Massachusetts, working. He told her he’d learned of her whereabouts from somebody named Charley.


Georgia had heard enough.

“Don’t let’s go with a murderer,” her mother recalled Georgia telling her that day in Lewiston.

With that, she said, “Lowell went off and left us, going in a direction opposite of where he had left his team” of horses.

“That is all the conversation I ever had with him,” Burton said.

Georgia, who worked in one of the mills in 1870, told the men gathered for the inquest that her mother’s memory matched her own.

A little after 8 p.m., the coroner’s jury began talking about the evidence. Three hours later, it had agreed on a verdict.

It ruled that, in its view, the remains found in the woods were those of the missing woman and that Lizzie “came to her death by violence three years ago last June, at the hands of some person or persons unknown to said jurors.”

Officials said they planned to arraign Lowell for murder in the Lewiston Police Courtroom on Thursday morning.

This is the 11th chapter of a serial that will run every Sunday for much of the year. Follow the mystery here.

View of City Park from atop the old City Building that existed on the site of the present-day structure built in the 1890s. City of Lewiston

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