The vast majority of unsolved murders are a complete mystery, yes we may have a few ideas of suspects or motives but mostly the killer is just as likely a total unknown and it’s this mystique and air of whodunnit that draws so many of us to the unsolved. Some unsolved cases, however, become even more intriguing as they contain a mystery within a mystery. The murder of Ida Lowry is one of those cases.
The Attack On Ida Lowry
In the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the night of August 23, 1960, just a little after midnight, Edwin Smith was driving home along North Plankinton Avenue. As he reached the section between St Paul and Clybourn Avenues he suddenly overheard the wails of a woman yelling for help. Edwin went to investigate the cries.
Lying on the floor in a pool of blood down a nearby alleyway was seventy-six-year-old Ida Lowry. She had been the victim of a brutal rape and had been viscously beaten with a blunt object before the attacker absconded from the scene, leaving his unfortunate victim or dead.
The police were summoned to the crime scene by Edwin Smith. On arrival, Ida was able to tell officers a couple of details despite her obvious pain and distress. She said she had been walking along the road near the alleyway when her attacker suddenly grabbed her, threw her to the ground and then dragged her down the alleyway. Ida was able to give a brief description stating that her attacker worked “on the bridge” and that he was a large white male. Ida told officers she had no money on her possession. An hour after arriving at County Emergency Hospital Ida Lowry sadly passed away as a result of her injuries.
The area was searched for clues by sixteen officers in the hope of finding the murder weapon but nothing was uncovered which could help to identify her assailant. A search of the nearby Milwaukee River in the days following also failed to find the instrument which killed Ida Lowry.
The autopsy was carried out by the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner Dr L J Van Hecke. He determined the cause of death as shock caused by internal injuries suffered in the brutal and sadistic sexual assault. Hecke found the victim had suffered several blows to both her head and body, stating the weapon may have been some sort of large, heavy stick.
Investigators quickly looked into the history of Ida Lowry to see if they could discover a motive for her murder. They found the story of a woman who sadly lost her husband Walter ten years prior and since had struggled to find meaning in her life. By the time of her attack in 1960, she had become something of a loner. She lived on her own on Michigan Street at the Hotel Royal, which lay just four blocks from where she was murdered. By all accounts, Ida had seemingly struggled financially to make ends meet and pay her weekly rent of $10 on time.
Ida did have two sisters who lived nearby but they were unable to give any insight to move the investigation forward. Neither had been particularly close to their sister Ida, with the last contact either had with Ida occurring several weeks prior to her murder.
The investigation also revealed Ida had become well-known for wandering the streets of Milwaukee foraging through bins, she would often find clothing and then wear them in a mishmash style. It also wasn’t uncommon for her to do this at all hours of the day. The general feeling in the community been that she was although a little eccentric she was seen as been totally harmless.
Suspect Number One
Despite lacking a suspect with a personal vendetta against Ida Lowry law enforcement soon found a person of interest. Amongst several early suspects a large, white male who also used to work on the railway bridge, fitting the vague description given by Ida, became the chief suspect. He had been arrested days prior to the murder at the same location as the crime scene for been intoxicated. Police decided to take a closer look at the individual which included a search of the suspects home.
During the search, the police found several items of clothing which had blood on them. The items were sent for testing and the suspect questioned.
He vehemently denied any involvement in the rape and murder of Ida Lowry, explaining that he had cut himself whilst on a drunken binge and this was where the blood had come from. When test results on the blood came back the man’s tale seemed to be vindicated as it wasn’t a match for that of Ida Lowry.
Suspect Number Two
The disappointment of law enforcement that the suspect wasn’t there man was soon replaced with hope when another suspect came under suspicion. The suspect who was been held in police custody for another offence (been drunk and disorderly) had a previous conviction for attempted rape on his file. He had been so drunk at the time of the attack that he had no recollection of it.
Under questioning, the twenty-four-year-old suspect admitted that he couldn’t deny or confirm any part in the attack on Ida Lowry as he was in the same sort of alcohol-fuelled blackout as when he was convicted previously. He also admitted he was in the area were Ida Lowry’s murder took place on that night.
No hard evidence, however, could be found to link the suspect to the murder of Ida Lowry and after forensics turned up nothing on the suspects clothing he was released without charge. As of writing, no one has ever been charged in relation to Ida’s death.
The Plot Thickens
The mystery of who killed Ida Lowry wasn’t the only mystery of the case. When investigators searched the room at the Hotel Royal were Ida Lowry had been living police found a couple of interesting items. Amongst a pile of old stock certificates, which were found to be worthless, officers also discovered two keys.
The keys were traced to a couple of safety deposit boxes at two separate local banks. The first box was opened and was revealed to be completely empty. Law enforcement entered the premises of the M and I Bank expecting pretty much the same outcome from the second safety deposit box, but that wasn’t to be the case. Instead what officers discovered was a box containing over $17,000 in cash. According to the calculator at DollarTimes, this translates to $148,590.41 today (23/08/2020).
Why was a woman in possession of so much money living the lifestyle she was upon her death? She struggled to pay her rent, she rooted through dumpsters and trashcans, yet financially she was better off than a lot of people will ever be. It is one final mystery in the life and death of Ida Lowry that as of writing no one has been able to solve.