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A FAMOUS MURDER

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
This 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 industry."

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 unknown assassin."

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 Willie Knox.


All Things Historical >
November 2002 Column
A syndicated column in over 70 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.
See Bob Bowman's East Texas

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