Bird’s-eye view of Lewiston and Auburn in 1875. Adinah Barnett

The Lewiston Evening Journal said people in the area had never had more earnest discussion than they did about what the jury in the trial of James M. “Jim” Lowell would do.

“All the evidence was in. The arguments were well-nigh finished,” the paper said. “Most of the facts in the possession of the counsel, and most of the theories they had built upon those facts, were equally the property of the most illegal spectator in the crowd.”

So when Lewiston residents sat down for dinner, it said, “there were, perhaps, four or five thousand unretained counsel pleading the case, on the one side or the other, just as earnestly and just as honestly as had reputation and renumeration been stakes upon the effects of their amateur arguments.”

“On the streets, in stores and counting-rooms, on railroad trains and in hotel offices, this great murder trial has been the one absorbing topic of conversation,” the paper said, based mostly on the long reports in the newspaper of what had transpired in the courtroom.

“At a good many farm firesides, and even in remote counties, the testimony was more minutely comprehended and more logically considered than by many a person who suffered compression in the crowd during every session since the trial began,” it added.

In some towns, the Journal said, “men so far forgot propriety as to bet largely on the verdict.”


The paper said that it seemed the farther people were from Lewiston, the more likely they figured Lowell would hang.

One of the many newspapers around the country following the trial, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, said after the evidence had all been heard — but before the jury’s decision — “there is not, probably, a single trial to be found on the criminal records of this country so marked by dramatic sensationalism as that of James M. Lowell for the murder of his wife, the evidence for which was all completed in the Supreme Court at Auburn, Maine on Monday last.”

After receiving about an hour and a half of instructions from the judge, the jury took a break for dinner before beginning its deliberations.

They gathered in secret in a suite of two rooms not far from the courtroom within the courthouse. One of the rooms had “comfortable oak seats and desks,” the Journal said, “and was in every respect convenient for the final discussion of the serious question which the jury had in hand.”

Officials handed them the clothing found in the woods and reams of documents produced by authorities.

Judge Charles Walton Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

Once the jury had left to begin its deliberations in secret, Judge Charles Walton told the sheriff, “The Court will be kept open. I shall go to tea. I wish you to preserve the propriety of the place in my absence, and send for me if the jury come in either with a verdict or for instructions.”


A Boston Globe reporter said observers expected a mixed result, which would free Lowell.

At 10:15 that evening, the jury told the court it had made a decision. The judge called Lowell into the courtroom. Everyone watched as jurors proceeded back to the seats where they’d seen and heard all the evidence.

Walton asked if they had a verdict. The foreman responded that they had: “Guilty of murder in the first degree.”

Hearing the fateful words, the Journal said, everyone turned to look at Lowell.

“But it would have taken an acute observer to have noted any change in his expression,” the paper said. “When he was taken out, he walked with his usual careless air, almost approaching a swagger.”

Taken to his cell, Lowell showed anger rather than grief at the news, The Boston Globe said.


The Journal said that when an officer expressed sympathy to him, Lowell replied with an oath: “Haven’t got through with ‘em yet.”

Then guards locked him up for the night.

The next morning, though, a confident-sounding Lowell told reporters that he had never slept better in his life, insisting his eyes were closed half an hour after the foreman announced the verdict.

The Globe said that many had expressed sympathy for Lowell’s wife, “who is deeply affected at the result of the trial, a result she is said to have anticipated from the first, notwithstanding the hopeful assurances of her husband, the accused.”

She spoke with her husband for a long while at noon, the paper said, “and a most sorrowful interview it was.”

Many people in Lewiston said they were surprised that Lowell had been convicted. They were also upset that his sentencing didn’t happen right away. A huge crowd gathered at the courthouse, the Globe said, expecting to hear the judge sentence Lowell to hang.


They were disappointed when Walton told them that the case had been continued until the April term, leaving Lowell a little time to search for new evidence.

But nothing new turned up.

Walton later told friends that Lowell “couldn’t help being convicted with such evidence as Lawyer [George] Wing piled up. He was beyond the possibility of escape.”

This is the 21st chapter of a serial that will run every Sunday for much of the year. Follow the mystery here.

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: