Since his conviction, James M. “Jim” Lowell had been in good spirits, the Lewiston Evening Journal said, and even the prospect of sentencing didn’t faze him.

Told ahead of time that the judge would rule soon, the convicted killer betrayed neither regret nor emotion. “I suppose it might as well be now as any other time,” Lowell said.

Androscoggin County Sheriff Thomas Littlefield, who also served as Auburn’s mayor. Androscoggin Historical Society

Shortly after 4 o’clock on the afternoon of May 6, Sheriff Thomas Littlefield brought Lowell into a packed courtroom. Already present were the prosecutor, Attorney General Harris Plaisted; Mandeville Ludden, one of Lowell’s lawyers, a Harvard-trained attorney who later served as Lewiston’s mayor; Judges Charles Danforth and Charles Walton; and a gallery that included many women and familiar faces who had watched the trial with fascination.

The public “betook themselves to the courthouse to hear one of the last, and most solemn, of the many scenes which the Switzerland road tragedy has afforded,” the Journal reported an hour later. “There they were, promptly on hand to hear the doom which the law should affix to the guilt it had already decided.”

Everyone watched carefully as Lowell entered.

In the silence between his entry in the courtroom and the start of the proceedings, they took note that Lowell had shaved his heavy black moustache. He hardly looked like the same man, some thought, and one reporter opined that his appearance seemed “manlier and better,” perhaps in part because Lowell was neatly dressed and “more quiet and gentlemanly than ever before.”


Plaisted spoke first, announcing that Lowell’s attorneys’ objections had been withdrawn. Ludden corroborated the attorney general’s words.

Lowell “looked about the room and met without flinching the gaze of the many eyes which were fixed on him” as Plaisted rose from his chair to request the inevitable sentence that would be handed down.

Harris Plaisted, Maine’s attorney general, who led the prosecution of James Lowell for the murder of his wife. Maine State Museum

“May it please your honor,” the prosecutor said, “James M. Lowell, the prisoner at the bar, having been indicted by the Grand Jury of this county for the murder of his wife, Mary Elizabeth Lowell, and after a fair and impartial trial before an intelligent and upright jury, almost of his own selection, being aided in his defense by counsel of great ability, furnished for him by the state, having been found guilty of murder in the first degree, it becomes my duty to move the court, as I now do, that the sentence which the law affixes to the crime, of which the prisoner stands convicted, be now passed upon him.”

Judge Walton, a former congressman, then peered at Lowell from the front of the courtroom.

Judge Charles Walton Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

He asked the convicted killer if he had anything he wished to say.

“Nothing, except that I am innocent of the charge against me,” Lowell responded.


Walton then recited his carefully crafted words.

“James M. Lowell, you are now placed at the bar of this court to receive sentence for the crime of which you have been convicted. The statutes of this state declare that murder of the first degree shall be punished with death. Of this crime you have been found guilty by an impartial, intelligent and upright jury. The trial was conducted with great care and deliberation. Nothing was done hurriedly. It is believed that nothing was done carelessly. Ample time has been given for reflection, for a careful review of the proceedings, and for the discovery of further evidence in your behalf if any such existed. Your counsel frankly state that they can find no error in the proceedings, no new evidence that will avail you, and that they know of no valid objection which they can interpose to avoid the sentence which it now becomes the painful duty of the court to pass upon you.”

The judge cleared his throat before proceeding.

“Which sentence is that you, James M. Lowell, be removed from this place to the State Prison at Thomaston, in the county of Knox; that within the walls or enclosed yard of said prison, at such time after the expiration of one year from this day, as the supreme executive authority of this state, by a warrant, under the great seal thereof, shall direct you be hung by the neck till you are dead — and that you be kept in solitary confinement in said prison till this sentence of death shall be inflicted upon you. And may God, of his infinite goodness, have mercy on your soul.”

Lowell returned to his jail cell, where he stayed until taken to the State Prison in Thomason on May 23, 1874.

Sometime in those days between the sentencing and his departure from Auburn, Lowell told Littlefield that on the night of June 12, 1870, while riding on the Switzerland Road with his wife, “they got in a quarrel and he threw her out of the wagon, over the seat backwards, and broke her neck.”


That tidbit, little noted at the time, is included in a now hard-to-find, valuable volume about the case that Plaisted published in 1875.

It marks the first known moment when Lowell admitted to having had a hand in Lizzie’s death.

Plaisted’s book, which largely consisted of a trial transcript, irked County Attorney George Wing because anyone reading it “would not appreciate that I had anything to do with that case at all,” as he complained half a century later.

“Every particle of that case was worked up by us” and handed to Plaisted, Wing said, even though the attorney general initially shrugged it off as “nothing of importance.”

“He said that he had heard something about a headless skeleton, but did not fancy that it would make a case,” Wing said. “Well, it made a decidedly interesting case, all circumstantial evidence and presenting a great many unique features.”

This is the 22nd chapter of a serial that will run every Sunday for much of the year. Follow the mystery here.

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