Chapter 13: Murder charge lodged against Lowell

  • In US
  • 2022-08-14 06:50:00Z
  • By Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine

Aug. 14-Before the next legal proceeding, officials decided that it would be a good idea to get a photograph of James M. "Jim" Lowell.

They took him from his cell, left the City Building with him, and tried not to be too noticeable as they walked to a nearby studio. Lowell was especially anxious not to be seen.

Pictures were taken, but only for "private use" and were not distributed to anyone, the Lewiston Evening Journal said.

"While he sat in the photographer's chair," the paper said, "people in the room were talking about his case, not cognizant that he was being captured by a photographic negative before their eyes."

"It is only justice to Lowell that he should be kept thus quiet and retired, and not held for exhibition," the Journal said.

With the inquest completed that concluded the skeleton found off Switzerland Road was likely the missing Mary Elizabeth "Lizzie" Lowell, her husband next faced a preliminary examination on a murder charge before Judge Albion Knowlton that was supposed to take place in the Police Courtroom in the City Building's basement.

But the crowds were so large Thursday, Oct. 23, 1873 - one alarmed observer said "they're squeezin' the women to death" who had come to watch - that authorities moved the whole proceeding upstairs to the much larger City Council Chamber.

The crowd rushed to the great hall to try to claim the best seats.

The Journal said "several hundred ladies" filled the southern gallery, some holding babies "who occasionally expostulated in the familiar vocabulary of early infancy."

Sitting beside his attorney, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eben Pillsbury, Lowell wore a hat with a flat-topped crown and rolled brim, a brown cashmere vest, dark blue pants, an embroidered shirt and a black coat.

His dark brown, slightly wavy hair had been carefully brushed and parted in the middle.

Lowell sat with his fingers interlocked, tipping forward and back in his chair, only occasionally catching anyone's eye.

"The prisoner's demeanor was quiet," the Journal said, "and he appeared more than usually weighted with the consciousness of the gravity of the charges against him."

City Marshal H.H. Richardson produced the necessary legal paperwork accusing Lowell, a laborer in Lawrence, Massachusetts, of murder.

It said that Lowell "on the 12th day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy, at said Lewiston in said Androscoggin County, with force and arms and unlawfully in and upon one Mary Elizabeth Lowell, in the peace of the State then and there being, feloniously, willfully and of his malice aforethought, did make an assault, and her, the said Mary Elizabeth Lowell, in some way and manner, and by some means, instrument and weapons unknown, then and there feloniously, willfully and of malice aforethought, did kill and murder said Mary Elizabeth Lowell, against the peace of said State, and contrary to the form of the statute in such cases made and provided."

Richardson then asked that Lowell be apprehended and held to answer for his crime.

Androscoggin County Attorney George Wing proceeded to call witnesses.

Woodcutter John Small and coroner Ham Brooks described finding Lizzie's body the previous week. Dr. H.L.K. Wiggin said the bones the men found were those of a woman and had likely lain in the woods for two or three years.

Richardson discussed the clothing found with bones and a friend of Lizzie's, Sophronia Blood, said the clothing matched what Lizzie had been wearing the last time anyone saw her in 1870.

Blood also talked about Lowell misleading her when he claimed to have dropped off his wife at Blood's boarding house that night after a ride when he had not in fact brought her home.

In addition, Blood said that Lowell told her a couple of days later that he was going to Portland to try to find out if his wife had run off with a circus performer she'd spoken with in Lewiston the weekend she vanished.

Lizzie's mother and sister, Sarah and Georgia Burton, both told officials about some strange letters they'd seen that Lowell wrote and about their interactions with him.

Meanwhile, a woman in Greene, Mary A. Smith, told Officer E.D. Wiggin that not long after Lizzie vanished, Lowell tried to give her a necklace and a gold ring that belonged to his wife - if Smith would agree to kiss him.

Smith said she turned him down.

"I asked him why he didn't go back and live with his wife," Smith said.

His answer?

"Oh, she's gone off with a circus," he said.

Lowell's attorney agreed that Wing had presented enough evidence to show probable cause to hold Lowell for trial.

Judge Knowlton said that in his view '"the probability is to my mind" that Lizzie's death must have been caused by Lowell. He said his job wasn't to decide guilt, but merely to bind the prisoner over for trial in the Superior Court for Androscoggin County.

The Journal said Lowell offered to one of his guards another version of what happened the night Lizzie vanished.

He said that he'd gone for a ride with Juliette Edwards, a friend of Lizzie's, and then continued on later with Lizzie. He told the guard they drove over to a spot in Auburn "where the gypsies used to camp," an old-fashioned and disreputable word to describe Roma people, and that in the woods near the Auburn freight depot, Lizzie and Lowell had sex before he took her back to the boarding house where she'd been staying.

Before noon Friday, Oct. 24, City Marshal H.H. Richardson took Lowell across the river to Auburn and handed him over to the custody of the sheriff, Thomas Littlefield, who put him in one of the stone bedrooms in the jail.

Those stone cells still exist in the "scary part" of the county jail, the upper floors that are today used only for storing records nobody ever wants to look at again.

They are about 8 feet square with thick bars over the windows, grim little spots with a view into a dark hallway.

Lowell was placed in the lower tier, south side, middle cell, with thieves locked up on each side of him. It cannot have been a pleasant place to await a trial that could lead to a death sentence.


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