Soon after Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lowell disappeared in 1870, someone threw a mysterious letter into Sophronia Blood’s backyard in Lewiston.

The handwritten epistle was signed by “Lizzie,” though it doesn’t appear anyone ever thought she wrote it.

Addressed to “Miss blood,” the letter purporting to be from Lizzie said that her husband James M. “Jim” Lowell “will never see me again. I have done wrong. I have lied about him. He never used me bad once.”

It went on to tell Blood to give Lowell all her clothes and to “tell the girl that goes with Savage that I want her [to] court Jimmy and have him. She can never get a better one.”

As if that wasn’t enough, the epistle added, “Tell Jennie to kiss Jimmy three times for me.”

Lydia Blethen, a family friend, said the letter clearly intended to infer that Lizzie planned to commit suicide.


But it struck everyone who saw it as more than a little suspicious that a letter purporting to come from Lizzie was so chock full of help for the things Lowell wanted, including, apparently, Jennie.

It wasn’t the only letter signed by “Lizzie.”

An illustration of 19th century letter-writing by artist John Wolcott Adams. Library of Congress

The missing woman’s sister, Georgia Burton, said she also received one that asked her to “pack my things in your trunk and bring them” to her husband.

“Don’t let anyone know that you have heard from me,” the letter concluded.

Both letters, according to Blood and Blethen, were filled with poor spelling. Neither of them had any doubt that Lizzie wasn’t their author.

Lowell, who denied writing them, sent letters to Sarah Burton, Lizzie’s mother, on at least two occasions after his wife went missing.


On Aug. 4, 1870, he wrote to Burton, with the original spelling and punctuation retained, reads: “Dear Mother, I tak this optunity to answer you kind Leter witch I got a few days ago and was glad to hear from you i hav not heard from lizza sence She went away only whot a girl told me She told me that She saw her after the forth She told her that he was going to leave the place for good and never would never see her a gain for she should never rite to me georga was out here last weeke and i have not scene since give my love to all and a Large share to your self So good By and good Luck, from James M Lowell – I am coming down in a few weeks rite and tell me All the news.”

Burton said that as soon as she got the letter, she headed for Lewiston, confronting him on her arrival at Harlow’s shoe store.

Other letters from Lowell also turned up, including the last one from Lowell to Lizzie’s mother on Sept. 5, 1870, in which he claimed that he had received a letter from Lizzie.

“She wanted to know if I would live with her again,” Lowell asserted. He added that he didn’t think he would do so with anyone who has “done as She has.”

“I wrote to her yesterday and told her not write to me again,” Lowell said.

Burton responded by telling Lowell that “if he had any mercy to write and tell me where she was.”


But she never got another letter and did not see him again until they met in his jail cell in Lewiston several years later.

Burton said that from her knowledge of Lowell’s handwriting, she thought he had penned all of them, including the ones signed Lizzie, “but I do not feel positive about it.”

Georgia Burton, who said she’d seen Lowell’s writing many times, said she was more certain that he had written the letters.

“I have seen him write, and seen his letters,” she said.

She said she had even talked to him about writing during a visit to the farm where he lived with Lizzie in Greene.

“You are a pretty splendid writer, ain’t you, Jim?” Georgia Burton remembered asking him.


“Oh, Lord, yes,” Lowell responded. “I kept school once.”

One Journal reporter, who eyeballed them, wasn’t nearly as impressed.

He said they all had “wretched orthography.” Someone else called Lowell’s style “exceedingly primitive,” rude and ungainly.

Yet another writer who read the notes years later said that “whoever wrote the letters was illiterate to the point of unintelligibility. It was difficult even to find the same errors made twice the same way.”

Edward Hale Bierstadt, who read them for his 1930 book “Enter Murderers!,” said it was clear that Lowell wrote them all, serving in the end only to draw the net tighter around himself.

This is the 12th chapter of a serial that will run every Sunday for much of the year. Follow the mystery here.

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