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Texas | Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

The Mystery of Lady Bountiful

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

November 22 will mark the 85th anniversary of an East Texas murder that created a still-lingering mystery and put a timber baroness in a pauper’s grave.

Between 1915 and 1922, Lillian Marshall Knox was renowned for her generosity, compassion and skills in running one of East Texas’ largest lumber companies.

President Woodrow Wilson complimented her for contributions to the World War I effort and a national lumberman’s magazine called her “one of the most influential women” in the industry.

But in 1966, when she died in Illinois, Mrs. Knox was buried in a grave with no tombstone, her life scorched by five tragic deaths, a string of forgeries and confidence schemes, a prison term and a broken, scattered family.

In the pre-dawn hours of November 22, 1922, a shot broke the silence of millionaire Hiram Knox Jr.’s home at East Mayfield, near Hemphill, in Sabine County. Knox was found sprawled across the bed, a bullet in his head and a .45-caliber pistol in his hand.

It appeared to be suicide, but when Sheriff George Alford investigated, Knox’s charismatic wife Lillian--widely known as “Lady Bountiful” for her lavish spending and charitable endeavors--emerged as a murder suspect.

Alford charged Lady Bountiful with murder on his last day in office, igniting a firestorm of newspaper headlines. But a grand jury refused to indict her.

As the Knox family history unraveled, it turned out that Lillian had been in the shadows of the deaths of four other Knoxes.

Lillian Marshall, a practical nurse, came into the Knox family in 1908 as a secretary for Colonel Knox at Knoxville in Polk County.

Later that year, Hiram Knox Jr.’s wife Grace suddenly took sick and died while Lillian was caring for her. Two years later, Lillian married young Hiram.

In 1911, another tragedy struck the family. Hiram and Grace’s son, Willie, was stabbed to death at a Knoxville home. And in 1913, Colonel Knox died under mysterious circumstances in a Houston hotel.

Lillian and Hiram moved to the Hemphill area, where they built a second sawmill and a railroad and started cutting 25,000 acres of virgin pine timberland. Lillian, who ran the mill while Hiram spent much of his time hunting, became the most prominent woman in the industry. The Knox lands and mill were eventually sold to the Temple family and Lillian left East Texas. She spent money lavishly and her fortune quickly disappeared. In 1937, she and a son, also named Hiram, were questioned in the bludgeoning death of her wealthy mother-in-law, Mary Knox, in her Dallas home. But neither were charged in the crime.

Lillian Knox soon separated from her family, went to prison on charges she wrote a hot check to Arthur Temple, Sr., served time at a prison in West Virginia until 1944 and eventually made her way to Chicago, where she became a nurse and caretaker for wealthy women.

Lillian almost went to prison again for taking $53,000 in bonds from a Chicago matron, but a smart lawyer helped her beat the rap.

“Lady Bountiful” died in 1966 of heart disease while living in the Kankakee State Hospital, south of Chicago. None of her family members were present and she was buried in the hospital’s weed-choked graveyard with only a numbered post to mark her resting place.


All Things Historical November 5, 2007 Column.
Published with permission
A weekly column syndicated in 70 East Texas newspapers
(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman is the author of more than 30 books about East Texas, including “124 Things You Might Not Know About East Texas If You Didn’t Read This Book.”)

See Bob Bowman's East Texas

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