In 1885, Journal correspondent Harry Andrews, a future editor of the Los Angeles Times, visited the state prison in Thomaston to witness the execution of two Italians convicted of murder in Brewer. While there, he asked the warden if he could see James M. “Jim” Lowell.

Brought to Andrews in a prison office, the reporter said Lowell looked “fat and healthy,” with a “flaxen moustache and goatee,” appearing much the same as he did when first clapped behind bars.

Andrews noted that Lowell had already served 10 years in prison and would likely be there for a long while yet, given that his death sentence had been commuted to life behind bars.

Harry Andrews

“He had not talked with anybody from the outside world for a long time, and seemed glad to receive a call, but was rather reserved in his conversation at first,” Andrews said.

Then, in one of those telling questions that good reporters sometimes ask, Andrews threw out a feeler.

“I asked him if he had heard from his wife lately,” the journalist noted. Lowell responded, “No,” then added he did not think she was still alive.


“I’ve been thinking, lately, that I would like to make a statement and give a true account of the whole affair,” Lowell continued.

Without any further urging, and in the presence of the warden and deputy warden, Lowell told Andrews his version of what really happened 15 years earlier.

“Those remains found on the Switzerland Road were my wife’s, and I put them there — but I didn’t murder her. I took her to ride that night and went up that road at her request. She and I did not live together at that time, but I used to call around evenings and take her to ride. Perhaps I had a glass or two of liquor on that night, but not enough to affect me.

“Well, while we were riding, she got mad with me and flew in my face and eyes, as she always did. In the row, I gave her a push and at the same time, the horse started up, and she went out the wagon between the wheels. I laid her on the blanket and tried to bring her to, but her neck was broken.”

Some years later, Lowell added that Lizzie had angrily and unjustly accused him of going out with other women right before she fell.

In his confession to Andrews, though, Lowell continued, “I came down to Barker’s Mill and thought I’d get assistance, but it was between 10 and 11 o’clock and the people had gone to bed, so I went back alone.


“I decided to conceal her body in the bushes, fearing that I would be accused of killing her. So I hid her in the bush quite a way above the place where she died. That was in June 1870.”

The following year, he said, he returned to the site with his team of horses “to get the remains and bury them. They were decomposed. Nothing but the bones remained.”

“While I was carrying the skull to my wagon, I heard somebody coming and it scared me. I quickly thrust the skull under a big log in the fence and rammed it down with the heel of my boot. I think that skull is there now.

“I do not believe that the skull found a few years ago was the skull of my wife, and would like to have a search made for the skull that I put under the log. The log was on the fence on the east side of the road.” He said it should be on a little knoll about eight or 10 roads west of the place where the remains were found.

“The next morning after my wife broke her neck, I went down to the blocks and Mrs. Blood, the boarding mistress, asked me if I had heard that Lizzie had gone off with a curly-headed circus man. This was the origin of that story.”

“I had no idea of killing my wife,” Lowell concluded. “Her death was accidental.”


Andrews asked if Lowell worried about his wife’s corpse lying in the brush. He answered that he didn’t think about it much.

The confession proved a sensation.

The New York Times said that “it was generally believed” that Lizzie had “ran away with a circus and many have hitherto believed Lowell innocent.”

The prison warden, Gustavus S. Bean, knew better. He said Lowell had made the same confession to him several months earlier but he hadn’t talked about it since he keeps to himself whatever a prisoner says confidentially.

Bean said he thinks there ought to be a search for the skull where Lowell says he hid it.

Lowell said the skull found in 1881 couldn’t have been Lizzie’s. But Andrews went to the murder scene and determined that Lowell was mistaken.

He said the spot where the skull had been found “exactly agrees in every particular” with Lowell’s version of what happened to it.

“There can be no doubt that the skull found there belonged to the headless bones of Lizzie Lowell,” the Journal said.

This is the 26th chapter of a serial that will run every Sunday for much of the year. Follow the mystery here.

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