Imagine the scene on the morning of Feb. 11, 1874, as 12 jurors and Deputy Sheriff Keene piled into the largest sled the community could find, named the General Grant after the Union’s top Civil War general and president of the United States.

The General Grant needed a big team of horses to pull it across the frozen ground, but it had proven its mammoth capacity four years earlier when it successfully hauled “a couple dozen” of the laziest, largest men attending a Fat Men’s Convention in the Twin Cities during a wintertime parade of corpulent visitors.

That morning, a bitter wind caused snow to drift across the highways and byways of Lewiston and Auburn, cold enough for the Lewiston Evening Journal to joke that it was a fine day, as long as you had ready access to a red-hot, coal grate.

A sketch appeared in the Lewiston Evening Journal by Dr. Jennings of New Jersey showing the location of the skeleton found near Switzerland Road.

Keene guided the big sled out to Switzerland Road so the jurors could tramp around the site where prosecutors said the body of Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lowell had been found the previous fall, three and a half years after she vanished.

Eben Pillsbury, an attorney for accused killer James M. “Jim” Lowell, had suggested the visit, telling the judge that in seeing the spot, jurors “might better understand its surroundings.”

Attorney General Harris Plaisted, who was handling much of the courtroom prosecution, agreed that that tour made sense. He convinced the judge to add “several localities in the city” of Lewiston as well to help jurors picture other key events he intended to call to their attention.


When they returned to the courtroom after little more than an hour, the jurors would have seen a jammed courtroom, with people jostling for a view and many accepting the reality that they’d have to stand all day to witness the proceedings.

The Journal noted fewer women in the attendance than during the first day, perhaps because “mornings bring with them domestic exigencies which cannot be neglected.”

Even so, it said, a lot of young women were there, laboring through a rough crowd in pursuit of acceptable seating.

Much of the early testimony rehashed the same material brought up at the inquest and arraignment, with much of it focused on the material and construction of the dress Lizzie wore.

Prosecutors did, after all, have to convince the jury that the body found in the woods in 1870 was all that was left of Lizzie.

At this distance, though, the identity of the skeleton is so certain that detailing the types of cloth, stitching and the like is a pointless endeavor for anyone who didn’t have to serve on that jury.


Even then, few doubted that it was Lizzie, in part because nobody had ever thought of anyone else it could be. There were no other missing women in the community.

And it wasn’t the sort of place that a stranger would just happen to choose to lie down for an everlasting nap.

Still, Androscoggin Attorney George Wing and Plaisted had a case they had to build. And step one was to make a convincing argument that those bones belonged to Lizzie.

That was the easier piece of the equation, though Pillsbury sought valiantly to undermine the assertion that Lizzie provided the skeleton.

The more difficult piece was to show that Lowell had both the opportunity and the desire to kill his wife.

Annie Maney, an assistant to Sophronia Blood, Lizzie’s landlord, told the court she recalled Lowell coming to the house after tea in the evening, then going for a drive with Lizzie after she had changed into her new black dress.


The boarding house at 12 Canal St. in Lewiston, demolished years ago, where Lizzie Lowell set off on her fatal ride in 1870. Lewiston Evening Journal

“They drove up toward the Bates,” Maney said, which may have been a reference to either the mill or the college. Both, though, were in the right direction for someone heading eventually to the Switzerland Road.

Another woman, Frances Jepson, told the court she saw Lowell and Lizzie that night “up where the town pump is” on Main Street, heading away from the river.

“They both bowed and spoke,” Jepson said. “They were riding.”

Blood said the pair departed in an open carriage with a white horse pulling it.

Blood said she stayed up late to see Lizzie on her return, but her friend never showed up that night.

The next day, Blood said she watched for Lowell and when she caught sight of him, asked him, “Where is Lizzie this morning?”


Lowell claimed he left her at Blood’s door while the factory clock was striking 10. If she never came in, he said, she probably “went off with that damned circus fellow” she’d been talking with earlier.

“He did not look at me” as he spoke, Blood testified. “He seemed looking down at his feet.”

Lowell also told Jepson the next day that his wife had gone off with a man from the circus.

Both Jepson and Blood said that a few days later, Lowell told them he’d gone to Portland in search of Lizzie, but found that the circus had moved on. He told them he couldn’t find her.

This is the 18th chapter of a serial that will run every Sunday for much of the year. Follow the mystery here.

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