month, Sabine County will mark the 80th anniversary of one of East
Texas' most famous mysteries.
The story began in 1900 when Wisconsin lumberman Will Knox and his
wife Mary, accompanied by their son Hiram and his wife Grace and son
Willie, came to Texas, purchased 10,000 acres of timberland, and built
a sawmill near Livingston in Polk County. They also bought 25,000
acres of timberland near Hemphill in Sabine County.
While in Houston, Hiram contracted pneumonia and was nursed back to
health by Lillian Marshall, an attractive young nurse who soon endeared
herself to the family. When Grace died unexpectedly, Lillian married
Hiram, Jr. A year later, young Willie was murdered.
Lillian captivated the elder Knox and dominated the son. She also
immersed herself in the family's business affairs.
In 1913, while a new Knox sawmill was being built in Sabine County,
Colonel Knox died in Houston, also unexpectedly, but Lillian and Hiram
completed the sawmill and named the town East Mayfield for
Texas Railroad Commissioner Earle B. Mayfield.
The Knoxes built a palatial home, which Lillian furnished with expensive
and lavish furniture, tapestries, art, and imported china. The home
was surrounded by fine cars, stables of Arabian horses, Russian wolf
hounds, and a private zoo.
Lillian clearly relished the role of a timber baroness. She ran a
shortline railroad, supervised the logging operations, and saw that
the mill's employees were treated well. In 1918, the American Lumberman
Magazine declared her "the most remarkable woman in the lumber
Among the poor people of East Mayfield, Lillian was remembered as
an angel of mercy. She used her nursing skills to care for sick children
and women and showered the community with lavish gifts, earning her
the name of Lady Bountiful.
But on November 26, 1922, Hiram Knox was found shot to death in his
own bed. A single bullet had pierced the back of his head. He held
a pistol in his hand and had placed letters addressed to his mother
and his attorney in his coat pocket.
Sheriff George Alford, basing his decision on a lack of powder burns
on Knox' head and mysterious footprints found outside his bedroom,
charged Lillian with murder. But when her case went to a grand jury,
she was no-billed. The panel said Knox died at the hands of "an
Mrs. Knox soon left Sabine County, but she continued to travel down
a trail pockmarked with intrigue and mystery. She and her oldest son
were questioned, but never charged, in the 1937 beating death of Hiram's
mother, Mary Knox of Dallas - the last of the five Knoxes who came
to Texas from Wisconsin.
Using a series of aliases, Lillian spent four years in prison for
mail fraud and was implicated in a series of fraud cases in Chicago
in the l950s. In 1966, at the age of 75, Lady Bountiful died in an
Illinois mental hospital and was buried in a pauper's grave with none
of her nine children present. She never shed any light on the East
Mayfield or Dallas murders or the odd deaths of Will, Grace and young
Things Historical >
November 2002 Column
syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
Published with permission
Bob Bowman is the author of The Mystery of Lady Bountiful, a new book
on the Knox deaths in Texas. He lives in Lufkin.