By Louise Harlow
Report of the Trial of James M. Lowell, Indicted for the Murder of his Wife, Mary Elizabeth Lowell. Frontispiece. 8vo, contemporary leather-backed boards; covers detached, spine-label laid in, generally sound internally. FIRST EDITION. (McDade 633).
June 12, 1870, the night when the Central Hall, pride of Lewiston, Maine, was burned. It was a memorable night, particularly for Mary Elizabeth Lowell, the victim in the case.
The victim, was seen in the company of her cousin at the fire, she was seen later in the day with her husband, the defendant James Lowell, going to her boarding place. She worked for a Mrs. Blood doing various chores and housework. She no longer lived with her abusive husband and suspected murderer. She had escaped his wrath on many occasions, including being whipped in front of her place of work. While living together neighbors told of her screaming that she was being murdered, after which she often appeared with scars around her neck and person. His temper was well known, and often without provocation would beat his wife.
He was wont to take her for carriage rides with threats to her well being. She went on the rides as long as the child of her employer was with her. On the evening in question her husband had managed to take his wife alone in his carriage. When she left her employer knew exactly what she was wearing, as did many of those who witnessed her at the burning and about town. All those testified as to her garments, which became one of the centerpieces of the evidence. At this time her head was still firmly attached to her body.
Two years after she went missing a body was discovered in a desolate part of the woods close to the last sighting, although it was some miles into the woods. When she was discovered in the same clothing as described the only thing missing was her head. The murder obviously decapitating her.
Shortly after her disappearance her husband was questioned, his story changed throughout his interrogation. He was detained and held for trial. The trial began with Mr. Wing, County Attorney detailing to the jurors, the well known facts connected with the finding of the headless skeleton. She was found a mile in the woods, in a black silk dress with plain skirt and waist trimmed with lace, with buttons covered with twist.
His jealousy was noted, particularly to an occasion where he felt she was dressed in a way that he determined was worn to attract the attention of other men, whereupon he ripped the back of her dress and beat her nearly senseless. Another occasion at a circus, her husband accused her of flirting with a circus performer, and once again she was beaten. This is of importance in the case, as he claimed that she most likely ran off “with that damned circus fellow.”
The defense argues that her head may have been eaten by animals, as he claims there was no blood at the scene that would prove otherwise. He implicates the woman was prone to seizures, and there is that odd circus man. Did she in fact go off to join the circus? Could this be a magician’s work in cutting her as show in a box?
The prosecutor asks the jury if they would like to follow the prosecutors idea; “Heads, I win; tails, you lose?” Mr. Lowell made a practice of selling his wifes clothes whenever she disappeared, which he claims, was often. The defendant contradicts himself, but “isn’t that what men do?”
The final remarks of the prosecution; “Did she cut off her own head?” The defense has suggested suicide as a possibility, yet her head was missing.
After the judge gave the jurors instruction, the verdict came back as guilty of first degree murder. The judge gave the sentence of “you be hung by the neck until you are dead.”
There is a great deal of this case that is of great interest, including the use of crystals, an endless dissection of the victim’s attire, and the bizarre testimony of the victim decapitating herself in a wooded area 5 miles from where Mr. Lowell claims to have left her that night.