Chapter 12: Strange Letters to Lewiston

Shortly after Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lowell disappeared in 1870, someone threw a mysterious letter into the backyard of Sophronia Blood in Lewiston.

The handwritten epistle was signed by “Lizzie”, although it does not appear that anyone ever thought she wrote it.

Addressed to “Miss blood,” the letter claiming to be from Lizzie said her husband James M. “Jim” Lowell “will never see me again. I did wrong. I lied about him. never misused once.

He then told Blood to give Lowell all his clothes and “tell the girl that goes with Savage that I want her. [to] woo Jimmy and have him. She can never get a better one.

As if that weren’t enough, the epistle added, “Tell Jennie to kiss Jimmy three times for me.”

Lydia Blethen, a friend of the family, said the letter was clearly intended to infer that Lizzie was planning to take her own life.

But it struck anyone who saw it as more than a little suspicious that a letter claiming to be from Lizzie was so full of help for the things Lowell wanted, including, apparently, Jennie.

This was not the only letter signed by “Lizzie”.

A 19th century illustration of letter writing by artist John Wolcott Adams. Library of Congress

The missing woman’s sister, Georgia Burton, said she also received one asking her to “put my things in your trunk and take them” to her husband.

“Don’t let anyone know you’ve heard from me,” the letter concludes.

Both letters, according to Blood and Blethen, were filled with misspellings. Neither had the slightest doubt that Lizzie was not their author.

Lowell, who denied writing them, sent letters to Sarah Burton, Lizzie’s mother, on at least two occasions after his wife disappeared.

On August 4, 1870, he wrote to Burton, with the original spelling and punctuation retained, reads: “Dear Mother, I take this opportunity to reply to you kind Witch Letter which I received a few years ago days and was glad to hear from you I haven’t heard of Lizza Sence She only left what a girl told me She told me she saw her after the fourth She told him he was gonna leave the place for good and never see her win cause she should never rite for me georga was here last week and i haven’t had a scene since give my love to all and much to yourself So good By and good luck, by James M Lowell – I’m going down in a few weeks rite and tell me All the news.”

Burton said that as soon as she received the letter she walked over to Lewiston, confronting him when he arrived at the shoe store in Harlow.

Other letters from Lowell also appeared, including Lowell’s last to Lizzie’s mother on September 5, 1870, in which he claimed to have received a letter from Lizzie.

“She wanted to know if I would live with her again,” Lowell said. He added that he didn’t think he would do it with someone who “did like her.”

“I wrote to him yesterday and told him not to write to me again,” Lowell said.

Burton responded by telling Lowell that “if he would have the mercy to write to me and tell me where she was”.

But she never received another letter and never saw him again until they met in his prison cell in Lewiston several years later.

Burton said that based on her knowledge of Lowell’s handwriting, she believed he wrote them all, including the Lizzie-signed ones, “but I don’t feel positive about it.”

Georgia Burton, who said she saw Lowell’s writings on several occasions, said she was more certain he wrote the letters.

“I saw him write and I saw his letters,” she says.

She said she even talked to him about writing during a visit to the farm where he lived with Lizzie in Greene.

“You are quite a splendid writer, aren’t you, Jim?” Georgia Burton remembered asking her.

“Oh, God, yes,” Lowell replied. “I kept school once.”

A journalist from the Journal, who looked at them, was not so impressed.

He said they all had “miserable spelling”. Someone else called Lowell’s style “extremely primitive”, crude and ungainly.

Yet another writer who read the notes years later said that “whoever wrote the letters was so illiterate as to be unintelligible. It was even difficult to find the same mistakes made twice in the same way.

Edward Hale Bierstadt, who read them for his 1930 book “Enter Murderers!”, said it was clear that Lowell had written them all, ultimately only serving to tighten the net around him.

This is the 12th chapter in a series that will run every Sunday for much of the year. Follow the mystery here.

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