Chapter 8: Preparing for Lowell’s Investigation
These days, a scoop like the one Frank Dingley landed to get a suspected murderer to speak at length about the case for the Lewiston Evening Journal would warrant a banner headline on the front page and also rate some prime time at the television.
But at that time, everything in the Journal, and almost every other journal, appeared in small type on very wide pages that did not contain a single notable headline, illustration or photograph. From a distance, the pages appeared to have a giant, somewhat jagged rectangle of black ink.
Dingley wrote that the Journal sought to “bring together all that seemed to bear the semblance of reliability” with the aim of reviving “the veil of painful uncertainty that hangs over the disappearance” of Lowell’s wife in 1870.
Details of James M. “Jim” Lowell’s conversation with Dingley appeared on page three, in the middle of a long story, under the caption “The Lowell Statement”.
People devoured it anyway.
Interest in the case was so great that when copies of the Journal began rolling off the presses, hordes waited outside the building for the chance to buy one for 2 cents. Some have sat patiently for hours since the publisher said subscribers would get their newspapers first.
“We have never seen a deeper feeling than that aroused in this affair, intensified by the mystery which still envelops it”, noted the daily the day after Lowell’s return to Lewiston.
That night, the jailer gave Lowell a copy of the diary. The prisoner carefully read the account of his words and commented, “I guess that’s about right. I don’t know, but it’s okay.
He did not express any other opinion.
Looking back half a century later, the Lewiston Daily Sun expressed admiration for Dingley’s company and skill.
“There was much better writing then,” he added, with “a meticulous respect for English construction without any of the sloppiness that comes with today.”
On Sunday, October 19, 1873, his first full day back in Lewiston, Lowell was left alone except for a visit from Mandeville Ludden, the attorney Lowell chose to represent him. A mainstay of the area’s legal fraternity, Ludden, who studied at Harvard Law, had been the first member of the Androscoggin County Bar Association two decades earlier. How the couple met and what they discussed is unknown.
The Journal said Lowell’s appearance “is not unpleasant. He is dressed in dark cashmere trousers and a beaver overcoat,” items which appear to have been fashionable from newspaper advertisements of the time.
It indicated that Lowell was clean-shaven, except that “he sported a dark and quite heavy mustache.”
The newspaper describes Lowell, 31, as being of average height and build, with “a thin face and a dark, sunburned complexion”.
On the same day, crowds descended on Switzerland Road, crossing a sandy hill to the spot near sagging pine trees where the body had been found. People searched every “dingle and dell” for a mile around, the newspaper reported, and found items including two bones found by Leonard Jepson each about 6 feet from where the skeleton was.
Someone else came in with tangled, coarse hair. And many other pearls were also collected. But no one found the thing they were looking for the most: the skull.
On Monday morning, a photographer showed up at police headquarters hoping to snap Lowell’s photo. But City Marshal H.H. Richardson refused the request because Lowell had only been arrested on suspicion “and there is, at the present time, no particular necessity for such display of his face.”
Only one other prisoner shared the cell with Lowell, a drunk who had taken to drinking strong cider. The cellmate knew from experience that he would have to pay $5 the next morning as a penalty.
Lowell slept “sound like a log” and, after showering at 8 a.m., put on a short-sleeved shirt and sat down to a hearty breakfast. Afterwards, he expressed a desire to shave, so authorities took him to a barber to perform the service.
Lowell was ready for the inquest that would decide whether he should be detained longer.
The Journal urged readers to give Lowell “a fair hearing” and not to prejudge him.
“Let public opinion wait through the investigation,” he said.
But Lowell’s account did not sit well with some of the people who had known the couple in Lewiston.
Sophronia Blood, who ran the boarding house where Lizzie last lived and worked, said in a statement to the Journal that she remembered a day when Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lowell “came to me crying and m ‘showed fingerprints on his neck and arms.’
“That old devil suffocated me,” Lizzie said of her husband, according to Blood.
Blood said that after the fire that ripped through Central Hall on Sunday, June 12, 1870, Lizzie went to see the ruins and then came back to say she had met a circus fellow she knew and had spoken with him. for a while” and that her husband came along and saw her talking with him and was mad.
“He’s ugly as hell,” Blood recalled, having told Lizzie to him.
But that night, Lowell came to take Lizzie by car. She put on her black silk dress, Blood said, and a velvet cape and white silk hat.
She never came back, Blood said.
But the next morning, Lowell came by.
“Where’s Liz?” Sang asked him.
She said he told her, “I left her at 10 p.m. last night,” Lowell replied.
Blood said she told him, “You didn’t do anything like that” because she waited for Lizzie.
“Now, Lowell, I want you to tell me where she is,” Blood said.
“Maybe she went to Portland with that circus guy I saw her with,” Lowell replied.
This is the eighth chapter in a series that will run every Sunday for much of the year. Follow the mystery here.