Sept. 4 — Prosecutors faced a stiff legal challenge in their attempt to convict James M. “Jim” Lowell of his wife’s murder.
First, they faced the need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the headless skeleton found in the woods along the Swiss Road was all that remained of Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lowell, the 28-year-old woman who disappeared in June 1870. .
If it wasn’t her, after all, then Lowell could hardly be held responsible for the murder.
Since this was long before experts could test DNA or turn to a range of other scientific measures to provide assistance, proof that the bones belonged to Lizzie would inherently have to rest on two things: that she was gone and that the clothes found with the skeleton were hers.
Criminal Law Magazine said that to hang Lowell, the prosecution would necessarily have to rely on a series of women who noticed her clothing while she was still walking the streets of Lewiston and could remember enough to build a case.
But the all-male panel, judge and lawyers wouldn’t necessarily be an easy sell on that point.
“In such a flood of voluntary female testimony,” the magazine said, “the state and the jury had to be careful.”
Beyond proving the identity of the remains, prosecutors had to do two more things: prove that Lowell could well have killed her and that he had the opportunity to do so.
To achieve this, the prosecution will have to gather enough evidence of previous, serious and violent problems between the spouses. They would have to show that Lowell, who generally seemed mild-mannered, had another side.
They would rely on the testimony of friends, relatives and neighbors to try to prove that Lowell had acted violently towards Lizzie in the past and that he had also threatened her life.
Finally, they had to show that on the day Lizzie disappeared in Lewiston, Lowell probably played a role. They had to prove, in short, that he was at or near the scene of the murder on the Sunday night in June when several witnesses reported him missing.
Criminal Law Magazine noted that the case was “purely cumulative”, that each piece depended on proving what had gone before.
In the final picture, the whole affair was inherently circumstantial.
Authorities never found anyone who saw Lowell kill his wife. They had no one ready to testify that he had admitted his guilt in the months and years that followed.
What they had was a pile of bones, evidence of fights and threats, and people who were ready to say that they had seen Lowell and Lizzie riding out on the night in question, heading for the place where the body found three. and half a year later.
For Lowell’s defense attorneys, the case was in many ways simpler.
They had to find a way to pull the foundation from a carefully constructed case that could be overturned by casting enough doubt on any part of it.
Everything about it left room for questions and discussion, a reason it resonated so deeply with audiences.
Long before the trial began, the Lewiston Evening Journal reported, “every entrance and stairway in the courthouse was filled with a jostling crowd. Large, strong, and bold individuals had the obvious advantage in the contest for admission, and more than a terrific excitement Seker was disgusted by the haste and melee and retired to his more comfortable but less impressive hearth.”
The sheriff, Thomas Littlefield, was busy trying to keep order and “sending little boys who had smuggled themselves into advantageous seats, while good citizens and taxpayers sweat their feet,” the newspaper reported.
The paper noted that the opening days of trials rarely draw crowds “because people know there is much drudgery and little excitement in the preliminary formalities of sentencing and jury selection.
However, at 10:15 A.M. “the courtroom floor was packed with men as thick as sardines in a can. However, the ladies who filled the gallery were less eager and impatient and who looked down on the unhappy crowd. the consciousness of the unquestionable vantage point,” said the paper’s Edward Page Mitchell.
The commotion for the space subsided when the Reverend E. Martin of Auburn rose to speak. He offered a prayer for a fair and impartial process.
From the bench, Judge Charles Walton, a former member of Congress, asked the sheriff to bring in the prisoner, which he did.
Lowell sat and looked around “with easy independence,” the paper reported. “He looked none the worse for his long confinement, neatly dressed and clean-shaven except for his heavy black moustache.”
After a hearty breakfast, Lowell had asked the sheriff if he would send a barber to beautify him, the paper said, and the man provided “a few artistic touches,” including coloring the mustache, to make Lowell presentable.
“The prisoner continues to express himself as confident of his acquittal,” the paper added.