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Sun Journal Headless Skeleton

About this series

In the fall of 1873, a Lewiston woodcutter stumbled upon a headless skeleton and a tattered black dress lying beside some pine trees near the city’s most romantic drive. His haunting discovery is at the heart of the mystery of who she was and what happened to her, questions that riveted the community, the state and the nation. This series, published in weekly chapters on Sundays, tells the story.

  • Let’s go back in time to a crisp Wednesday in mid-October of 1873, beside a small clump of pine trees along the most romantic drive in Lewiston, a mile away from anyone’s home.
  • The continuing story of Maine's most spectacular murder case.
  • When the Lewiston Evening Journal reported the skeleton of a woman had been found near the Switzerland Road, women in town “said with one accord: ‘I think that’s Mrs. Lowell’s remains.’”
  • In the first hours after the grisly discovery of a body in the woods, the Journal tracked down a few people who remembered Lizzie and her husband, James M. Lowell.
  • Though the dream had no impact on the discovery of the skeleton, it likely contributed to the stir caused by the find in a spot eerily similar to what Sarah Burton imagined.
  • After James Lowell stepped down off a wagon, where he was loading rags at the Munroe’s Paper Mill in Lowell, Massachusetts, Officer E.D. Wiggin of Lewiston handed him a copy of that day’s Boston Journal, which carried an account of the discovery of the headless skeleton in Lewiston.
  • Arriving at the jail, the city marshal told James M. Lowell he’d get the best accommodations possible and brought him to the northwestern corner cell, where the local newspaper editor noticed that the bones collected on Switzerland Road — thought to be the remains of Lowell’s wife — were still bound up in a mat in the corner, some of them protruding into the air.
  • Interest in the case ran so high that when copies of the Journal began rolling off the press, hordes waited outside the building for a chance to buy one for 2 cents. Some stood patiently for hours since the editor declared that subscribers would get their papers first.
  • James Lowell served in Company G, which never saw active fighting, but didn’t have it easy. Among the places its men guarded were the Seneca Quarries in western Maryland, where the stone for the original Smithsonian building came from.
  • Their first decision was to bar the crowd outside from squeezing into the room, keeping those inside to a minimum — the coroner, Androscoggin County Attorney George Wing, the witnesses and the press. It seems that Frank Dingley, the Lewiston Evening Journal’s intrepid editor, was always allowed to see whatever he wanted.
  • The Lewiston Evening Journal said at the time the meeting between James Lowell and his former mother-in-law “was evidently not a pleasant one for the prisoner. He was a good deal agitated when the silk dress was carried in with them, was shown to him for the first time.”
  • It struck everyone as more than a little suspicious that a letter purporting to come from Lizzie was so chock full of help for the things her husband wanted, including, apparently, Jennie Blood.

About this series

In the fall of 1873, a Lewiston woodcutter stumbled upon a headless skeleton and a tattered black dress lying beside some pine trees near the city’s most romantic drive. His haunting discovery is at the heart of the mystery of who she was and what happened to her, questions that riveted the community, the state and the nation. This series, published in weekly chapters on Sundays, tells the story.

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