The 12:07 p.m. train from Rockland pulled into the depot in Lewiston on a Thursday, a week before Thanksgiving in 1899, and a middle-aged man with a big mustache stepped carefully onto the platform.

“That man,” as the Lewiston Evening Journal reported, “was James M. ‘Jim’ Lowell,” coming back to a town he hadn’t seen “since he was led away captive” on a May morning a quarter century earlier.

James M. “Jim” Lowell’s appearance when he returned to Lewiston in 1899 after his pardon for a murder conviction. Lewiston Evening Journal

Sprung from prison by a gubernatorial pardon, the convicted killer of his wife had come home a free man.

As was so often the case in the long saga surrounding Lowell, the Journal had someone at his side to record his thoughts and observations.

Earlier in the day, the warden had shaken Lowell’s hand and wished him well.

“It’s about the best morning I ever saw!” Lowell told the reporter.


Lowell’s presence created a stir.

The first to grab Lowell’s hand was an old friend named Dan Sewell, whom the ex-prisoner struggled to recall, finally remembering they’d worked together on the Maine Central Railroad.

“That’s the feller,” Sewall said. “Do you remember those steers you used to drive down there? Reckon you couldn’t drive ‘em now, eh, Jim?”

The Journal said Lowell “answered with a little laugh, a laugh that hadn’t been let loose in a long time and isn’t quite sure of its footing.

“I’d be willing to try,” Lowell said.

Then he went off to have dinner at the home of a friend on Bates Street.


Along the way, Lowell said little.

“It was a new world to him,” the paper said. “Here and there was a landmark that he knew, but even these were in much strange surroundings that he could hardly make them seem real.”

The Lake Grove trolley startled him.

When he’d left for the State Prison in Thomaston, trolleys didn’t exist. Even the old horse car line hadn’t started up before Lowell got locked up.

His friend William McCann said a lot had changed.

He told Lowell that the old bog-hole now had a great brick building atop it, the Healy Asylum.


Along the entire trip, Lowell watched in wonder at the many new buildings everywhere. The city had boomed in his absence.

Lowell planned to spend a few days catching up with old friends and seeing the sights.

But he was eager, he said, to get going to Haverhill, Massachusetts, “where his only son is waiting for him and urging him to hurry.”

His son and daughter-in-law had written to him three times in recent days to tell him they wanted him to come live with them.

McCann told him the suit the prison gave him wasn’t too nice.

“No, it isn’t,” Lowell said. “But I told the warden this morning that most anything would do. I wasn’t standing on ceremony for a suit of clothes, with the open air before me after 25 years behind stone walls.”


It had to be gratifying to Lowell to have been received so warmly.

“Everywhere he has gone this afternoon, some elderly man has stepped out and given him the right hand of welcome to the world again, and once or twice it has been more than he could stand and he has broken down for a moment,” the Journal said.

“But on the whole, he has been wonderfully composed for one in such strange surroundings. Just think as you sit down to your supper this evening that today’s dinner was the first that James Lowell has eaten save in the solitude of his own little cell with the barred doors bolted.”

Freedom, though, isn’t everything.

It’s not clear what happened in Haverhill, but by October 1900, the Lewiston Daily Sun reported under the headline “Belief That He is Becoming Insane” that Lowell was “now making his home on Sabattus Street” in Lewiston and “is alleged to be causing some uneasiness to the members of his household and the police department.”

Though the police were not anxious to discuss the issue, it said, Lowell’s “actions of late have excited some little commotion in that vicinity and it has been deemed expedient to send an officer to the place to see that no violence is done to anyone associated with Mr. Lowell.”


In 1901, Lowell was driving a wagon through the fairgrounds in Lewiston when a freight train plowed into it and “completely demolished the back of his wagon and hurled 30 cases of Blood Wine into the air,” which boys quickly scooped up and ran off with, the Journal reported.

A few years after his release, Lowell was “arrested for felonious assault,” though he was ultimately acquitted in the case, according to a 1926 story in the Sun. That story said “the girl in the case” had a father, mother and brother in the county jail. She was sent to the reformatory, it added.

The story offered a further hint at Lowell’s character as well. It mentioned that “prominent men now living” who knew Lowell said “he was never bad nor immoral, but given to violent fits of anger and was weak mentally.”

His next appearance in the press is more shocking.

In November 1909, police burst into a Lewiston tenement looking for missing money. What they found was a 14-year-old girl sitting on a bed and Lowell putting his pants on.

Albert Savage in 1905 Bangor Daily News

“You have caught me and I am willing to fix up the matter in any reasonable way I can,” Lowell told police. He said he had been “caught in the act” but had “not accomplished my purpose.”


It appears, though, there was more going on than officials wanted to talk about, with more than a hint that the young woman, a French speaker charged with fornication who could barely understand what was going on, may have been trafficked by predatory adults.

After relatives said she’d been beyond their control for a year and a half, the teenager was ordered to spend the rest of her childhood at the state’s industrial school in Hallowell.

When the criminal case against Lowell came to court in 1910, the white-haired former prisoner appeared, donning a worn-out fur coat. He waived the reading of the charges and pleaded guilty to rape.

Justice Albert Savage said he “believed the circumstances surrounding the crime did not merit a jail sentence” so he fined Lowell $75, the equivalent of a $2,000 fine today.

Lowell promptly “pulled out a large roll of greenbacks” and counted them off one by one until he covered the penalty.

This is the 28th chapter of a serial that has run every Sunday for much of the year. Follow the mystery here.

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