James Lowell in the State Prison in Thomaston in 1899. Lewiston Evening Journal

In 1889, according to the Aug. 16 edition of the Portland Daily Press, James M. “Jim” Lowell wrote a letter to the secretary of state asking for a pardon “on the ground that his crime was only manslaughter.” It will be taken up by the governor and his council, the paper said.

In the letter, which “is causing no little sensation,” Lowell wrote, “I’ve been in prison 15 years, almost two terms for the crime I committed. I was convicted of willful murder. It is true my wife was killed while riding with me, but it was an accident it happened. If she had sat still on the seat instead of flying at me to pull my hair, she would have been living today, and I wouldn’t have been here.”

His plea, though, proved unconvincing.

Fortunately for Lowell, prison hadn’t proved an especially difficult place for him to remain.

In 1892, an account of some of the notorious inmates at the Maine State Prison mentioned that Lowell, “the Lewiston murderer, receives a liberal pension, which he spends for luxuries that are allowed. He has a special brand of cigars, manufactured in Rockland.”

One of the other prisoners, a forger, snagged the job of prison organist. He spent time composing “a stack of music, some of which he intends to publish after his release,” according to an account in the Feliciana Sentinel in St. Francisville, Louisiana.


In 1893, with growing support from community leaders in Lewiston, Lowell tried again for a pardon for his conviction of murdering his wife, Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lowell in 1870.

“I have suffered 19 years for a crime I never committed,” Lowell wrote. “It may be I deserve punishment for concealing the truth at the time, but my life was at stake, and my punishment, I respectfully submit, has been ample for such a wrong,” Lowell wrote.

Lowell vowed that if free, he would “live an upright life” and “demonstrate by my life that I deserve my liberty and am not a murderer in thought or act, but am incapable of such a crime.”

Lowell’s attorney for the pardon push, Seth Carter of Auburn, argued that he ought to be freed because if Lowell’s later confession was accurate, his crime had been manslaughter, not murder.

The maximum imprisonment for a manslaughter conviction at the time was 10 years. Carter said that Lowell had been punished enough. But, again, the state refused.

Lowell tried once more in 1897.


Lowell told authorities that on the fateful ride with his wife, she flew at him and he pushed her back. She fell between the wheels of the buggy and broke her neck, he said, according to an account in the Daily Kennebec Journal.

“I placed her on a blanket,” he said. “My only thought was to get her where assistance could be given her. When I found that she was dead, I hid her remains, for a feared that I should be accused of murdering her.”

One of Lizzie’s sisters, identified as Mrs. C.H. Millett of Auburn, wrote to decision-makers, “I hope you will not pardon this man. He has said he will fix us all someday, and I believe 20 years or more in jail has done nothing to change him.”

“We are in constant fear all the time,” she wrote. “If he would murder one, he would murder all.”

“I beg of you to keep him where he is,” Millett told Gov. Llewellyn Powers.

Lowell got support from state prison wardens.


Warren Hinckley, a deputy warden, said Lowell had always been a well-behaved prisoner and “able in the harness trade.”

Ex-Warden Samuel Allen said he thought Lowell was not a killer. But, he said, long years behind bars “had impaired Lowell, mentally and physically.”

Reviewing the case, the Journal said few in Lewiston believed Lowell would menace the public peace if freed.

“What he would do in this world now, no one can fancy, helpless, friendless and penniless, as he probably is,” the paper said.

Officials were not convinced he should go free.

But Lowell had more luck in 1899, a full quarter century after he first walked into the state prison as a convicted killer.


With attorney Daniel McGillicuddy, a future congressman, taking the lead, a number of well-known figures in Lewiston and Auburn got behind the push to let Lowell enjoy freedom again.

They presented a petition with nearly 1,800 names on it of people in Androscoggin County who endorsed the move.

U.S. Sen. William Frye, who had met with Lowell before his 1874 conviction, wrote a letter saying he had never believed that Lowell intended to kill his wife.

Androscoggin County Attorney George Wing built the strong, circumstantial case against James M. “Jim” Lowell that convinced a jury to find the accused man guilty in 1874. Wing later became a judge. Lewiston Evening Journal

Probably most significantly, lawyer George Wing, who had helped to prosecute Lowell, wrote that the man might be free now had he only told the truth in the courtroom.

Judge Albion Knowlton, the man who once told an officer to bring Lowell back to Lewiston from Massachusetts, also said he never thought the convicted killer had set out to murder his wife.

Manslaughter should have been the charge from the beginning, Knowlton said.


Members of the grand jury and others who played a role in the case also urged leniency toward Lowell, saying he’d served long enough for the crime he committed.

O.J. Douglas of Lewiston said that Lowell’s attorney told him years earlier that his client had privately confessed to pushing Lizzie off the wagon. He said that Lowell, though, didn’t want to admit it in court.

Capt. A.P. Ham said that Lowell had been “a first-class soldier” during the Civil War and that ought to mean something.

County Attorney George McCann said, however, that Lowell was “a man of low character” and that he was guilty of murder and ought to suffer the full consequences. He resolutely opposed offering Lowell a pardon.

McGillicuddy said the bottom line is that Lowell served a decade for manslaughter and then another 15 years, entirely unnecessarily, for perjury.

After hearing the competing claims, Gov. Llewellyn Powers’ Executive Committee urged the governor to grant the long-sought pardon.


The Lewiston Daily Sun reported on Nov. 15, 1899, that Powers had signed the pardon.

It said that Lowell, 58, had learned the painting and harness making trades in prison and would likely be able to pursue them in the outside world.

It took another day for the prison and Lowell to work out all the necessary logistics for his release, from collecting his prison pay to finding him some clothing for the outside world.

And then, the prison let him go.

This is the 27th chapter of a serial that has run every Sunday for much of the year. Follow the mystery here.

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