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Shooting death of lumberman still a mystery

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise on Saturday October 2, 1999

NEDERLAND--Whereas some in East Texas called her “Lizzie Borden without an axe,” her former employees in the Hemphill-East Mayfield vicinity praised Lillian Knox as “our lady bountiful.” Many were astounded when she was arrested for murder. The amazing episode occurred on Nov. 26, 1922, when Lillian’s Husband, Hiram Knox, Jr., was found dead with a bullet hole in the back of his head.

There were letters in Knox’ pocket, noting that he was depressed because of economic misfortune and ill health, indicating possible suicide, and a pistol was found grasped in the palm of his hand. The Sabine County sheriff also found a window open and the footprint of a man, but there were also no powder burns on his hands or head, apparently ruling out suicide. Hence the sheriff suspected at once that the widow was involved in the killing.

The story began about 1900 when Hiram Knox, Sr., who had earned a $10,000,000 fortune while sawmilling in Wisconsin, retired to Texarkana to supervise his retail lumberyards in the Southwest. When Hiram Knox became ill, he hired a very attractive young nurse, Lillian Marshall, to care for him full time. After a year, the nurse married his son, Hiram Knox, Jr.

Hiram Knox, Sr. decided to reenter sawmilling in 1902, when he bought 2 large tracts of timberland in Polk and Sabine counties. The families lived first at Knoxville, near Livingston, until 1912 when his sawmill exhausted all the Polk County timber. Knox, Sr. was in process of moving his sawmill to Sabine County when he suddenly died.

Hiram, Jr. and Lillian completed the move to the vicinity of Hemphill, where they built a new sawmill town called East Mayfield. Lillian built a new hospital, and she quickly endeared herself to all the sawmill families. Often she visited and gave gifts to the patients there, especially new mothers. She built a library, started bank accounts for each newborn infant, and endowed a dozen other philanthropies that made employees praise her generosity.

Since Hiram often proved slothful and lacking ambition, Lillian Knox soon took over active management of Knox Industries. When Lillian wanted a 12-mile railroad built from Hemphill to Bronson, Hiram told her, “Build it yourself!” So Lillian donned overalls and she bossed the construction crew until the railroad was completed.

In 1917, when Knox signed contracts to supply large timbers for the coastal shipyards, Lillian again donned overalls and bossed the logging crews as they cut only the largest trees. And in between, Lillian continued to win the love of her employees with her gifts and philanthropies.

Knox Industries, however, fell on hard times at the end of 1918, when Hiram, believing that World War I would last much longer, borrowed money to buy expensive timberlands. As a result he was near defaulting when he sold out to Temple Lumber Company in 1921 for nearly $2,000,000.

From the beginning there seemed to be no motive for Hiram’s murder. Lillian was neither an adulteress, nor did she possess any large insurance policies on Hiram’s life.

Nevertheless Lillian was arrested for murder on Christmas day, and she remained locked up for the next ten days. When her case went to the grand jury, her defense lawyer highlighted the lack of a motive, that only circumstantial evidence existed, and many witnesses extolled the beautiful Lillian’s virtues, generosity and charity to others. Hence the grand jury soon no-billed her of all murder charges.

As a result, Lillian Knox sold her remaining personal assets, packed her bags, and disappeared into total obscurity. And the Hiram Knox murder case soon was swept into the dustbin of unsolved mysteries where it has remained to the present day.

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