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Madeleine Hamilton SMITH





Classification: Murderer?
Characteristics: Poisoner
Number of victims: 1 ?
Date of murder: March 23, 1857
Date of arrest: 8 days after
Date of birth: March 29, 1835
Victim profile: Pierre Emile L'Angelier, 33 (her lover)
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
Location: Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom
Status: Verdict of "not proven" on July 9, 1857. Died on April 12, 1928

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Report of the trial of Madeleine Smith (25.1 Mb)


A complete report of the trial of Miss Madeline Smith (13.6 Mb)


Madeleine Hamilton Smith (1835–1928) was a 19th century Glasgow socialite who was the defendant in a sensational murder trial in Scotland in 1857.


Smith was the first child of an upper-middle-class family in Glasgow; her father James Smith (1808–1863) was a wealthy architect, and her mother, Janet, the daughter of leading neo-classical architect David Hamilton. The family lived at No 7, Blythswood Square, Glasgow, and also had a country property, "Rowaleyn", near Helensburgh.

Smith broke the strict Victorian conventions of the time when, as a young woman in early 1855, she began a secret love affair with Pierre Emile L'Angelier, an apprentice nurseryman who originally came from the Channel Islands.

The two met late at night at Smith's bedroom window and also engaged in voluminous correspondence. During one of their infrequent meetings alone, she lost her virginity to L'Angelier.

Smith's parents, unaware of the affair with L'Angelier (whom Smith had promised to marry) found a suitable fiancé for her within the Glasgow upper-middle class — William Harper Minnoch.

Smith attempted to break her connection with L'Angelier and, in February 1857, asked him to return the letters she had written to him. Instead, L'Angelier threatened to use the letters to expose her and force her to marry him. She was soon observed in a druggist's office, ordering arsenic, and signed in as M.H. Smith.

Early in the morning of 23 March 1857, L'Angelier died from arsenic poisoning. After Smith's numerous letters were found in his lodging house, she was arrested and charged with murder.


At trial, Smith was defended by noted advocate John Inglis, Lord Glencorse.

Although the circumstantial evidence pointed towards her guilt (Smith had made purchases of arsenic in the weeks leading up to L'Angelier's death, and had a clear motive), the jury returned a verdict "not proven", ie the jury was unconvinced that the Smith was innocent, but the prosecution had produced insufficient evidence to the contrary.

Crucial to the case was the chronology of certain letters from Smith to l'Angellier, and as the letters themselves were undated, the case hinged to some extent on the envelopes. One letter in particular depended on the correct interpretation of the date of the postmark which was unfortunately illegible, and attracted some caustic comments from the judge; but the vast majority of these postmarks were quite clearly struck. It transpired that when the police searched L'Angelier's room, many of Smith's letters were found without their envelopes and were then hurriedly collected and stuck into whichever envelopes came to hand.

Later life

The notoriety of the crime and trial were scandalous enough that Smith left Scotland.

On 4 July 1861 she married an artist named George Wardle, William Morris's business manager. They had one son (Thomas) and one daughter (Mary). After many years of marriage, they separated and Madeleine moved to New York City and died in 1928 under the name of Lena Wardle Sheehy.

Later theories

As in the case of Lizzie Borden, scholars and amateur criminologists have spent decades going over the minutiae of the case.

Most modern scholars believe that Smith committed the crime and the only thing that saved her from the noose was the fact that no eyewitness could prove that Smith and l'Angellier had met in the weeks before his death.

After the trial, The Scotsman ran a small article stating that a witness had come forward claiming that a young male and female were seen outside Smith's house on the night of l'Angellier's death. However, the trial was already in progress, and the witness could not be questioned during it.


Smith's story was the basis for several plays and the 1950 film Madeleine, directed by David Lean. Jack House's 1961 book Square Mile of Murder, which contained a section on Smith, formed the basis for a BBC television version in 1980. A television play based upon the case, "Killer In Close-Up: The Trial Of Madeleine Smith", written by George F. Kerr, was also produced by Sydney television station ABN-2, airing on August 13, 1958.

The case was an inspiration for Wilkie Collins' 1875 novel The Law and the Lady, though the only main similar feature being the problem of the "not proven" verdict and arsenic poisoning as a means for murder.

Other novels based on the case include The House in Queen Anne's Square (1920) by William Darling Lyell, Letty Lynton (1931) by Marie Belloc Lowndes, Lovers All Untrue (1970) by Norah Lofts, and Alas, for Her That Met Me! (1976) by Mary Ann Ashe (pseudonym of Christianna Brand.


Madeleine Smith and her poisonous tale

Diane MacLean

Sex, blackmail, poison and death. With this heady mix it is hardly surprising that one of the most enduring murder cases from the past 150 years is the story of Madeleine Smith.

At her trial in 1857 the whole of Scotland was scandalised by newspaper accounts of pre-marital sex and arsenic poisoning. Yet the young and attractive Miss Smith walked free after a verdict of "not proven". Even today opinion is split as to whether she was framed, or got away with the murder of Emile L'Angelier.

The key players

Madeleine Smith

  • Daughter of a Glasgow architect

  • Privileged upbringing

  • Expected to marry well

  • Beautiful and wealthy

  • Flaunted convention

Emile L'Angelier

  • French, born in the Channel Islands

  • Moved to Edinburgh to work in a nursery

  • Engaged, then jilted by a wealth Fife woman

  • Angry, bitter and had attempted suicide

  • Attractive and "exotic"

They were introduced in 1855 by Miss Smith's middle-aged neighbour Miss Mary Perry – who herself had become close to Emile L'Angelier. They started to meet in secret and were both prolific letter-writers, correspondence which reveal a passion and physical intimacy that would certainly have shocked her family. Miss Smith refers to herself as Emile's "darling wife" or "Mimi L'Angelier", and Mr L'Angelier presses her to marry. However, Miss Smith is clear-headed enough to realise that her family would never condone a match between them.

When Miss Smith becomes engaged to the wealthy William Minnoch, she asks Mr L'Angelier for the return of her letters, writing: "I trust your honour as a gentleman that you will not reveal anything that may have passed between us."

Mr L'Angelier replies in a thinly veiled blackmail attempt, suggesting that he will give her letters to her father unless she marries him. Miss Smith begs him to see her and not to do anything hasty.

Mr L'Angelier starts a diary which refers to him being ill – especially after visiting Miss Smith in Glasgow. He confides to a number of his friends that he believes he is being poisoned. He tells Miss Perry: "I can't think why I was so unwell after getting that coffee from her … If she were to poison me, I would forgive her."

A third bout of illness on 23 March 1857 was so severe that his landlady called the doctor, who administered morphine. By morning Mr L'Angelier was dead. A post-mortem showed an enormous amount of arsenic in his stomach, and when the police found the letters from Miss Smith she was arrested and charged.

During her trial in Edinburgh Miss Smith, age 22, was represented by the best legal mind of the time, John Inglis, who led a brilliant defence of what he clearly thought was a guilty woman. Although the verdict of "not proven" meant she was free, the shadow of guilt was never close behind.

She subsequently moved to London, where as Lena Smith, she married George Wardle one of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. After her divorce she moved to America, where she married for a second time and lived until her death in 1927 at age 93.

There are good arguments both for and against her guilt, and the list below sums up the main issues raised at her trial. It is possible that modern-day forensics may some day solve this crime, but until there is definite proof, we can only wonder if Madeleine Smith was a wanton woman with a great lawyer, or an innocent in a deadly game of revenge and spite.

Evidence against Madeleine

  • Her letters obviously threatened her with scandal

  • Her insistence that Emile meet with her

  • She bought three doses of morphine shortly before Emile died

  • On the morning of Emile's death, she left her home and travelled alone to the family summerhouse in Rhu

  • She had carried out a clandestine love affair and was clearly capable of deceit

  • When her fiancé Minnoch caught up with her, she said she was ashamed of something she had done.

Evidence against Emile

  • Killing Emile would not have averted the scandal, as he still had possession of the letters

  • There is only Emile's notebook to prove that they did actually meet – no one witnessed any meetings

  • She bought the first dose of morphine after Emile first records feeling unwell

  • The morphine she bought was coloured with soot; the morphine found in Emile's stomach was white. (Arsenic sold in chemists was routinely coloured to differentiate it from other household products like flour.)

  • Emile's friends testified to his use and knowledge of arsenic. Indeed Chambers Journal (July 1856), which he had read, suggests that people who dabbled with arsenic write a letter exonerating friends lest they become implicated in murder

  • He told his friends that he wanted revenge on Madeline

  • Emile "coached" Miss Perry, suggesting the notion of poison to her. On the night he took ill, he asked for her – in the expectation that she would alert doctors to the possibility of arsenic poisoning. Fatefully she was delayed in arriving, and by then it was too late.


The Madeleine Smith Story

by Douglas MacGowan

A Death in Glasgow

Just past 2:00 a.m. on March 23, 1857, Emile L'Angelier stumbled through the dark Glasgow streets towards his lodging house, doubled over and gripping his stomach.

His landlady helped him to his room and got him settled into bed.  She asked if he had eaten anything that might have caused this illness.  Emile said he had not, but the landlady wondered.  It was his third attack of stomach illness in less than two months.

At the same time, in the nearby home of the notable architect James Smith, one person of the household may not have been asleep, and a single candle may have cast long shadows across the elegant rooms.

At 5:00 a.m., seeing that her lodger’s condition was getting worse, the landlady went out to fetch a doctor.  The doctor told her to give Emile laudanum-laced water and a poultice and to return, if necessary, later that morning.

At six o’clock, the servants of the Smith household woke and began their morning chores.  The Smith family would breakfast in their rooms, and if anyone noticed unusual behavior from the eldest daughter Madeleine, they attributed it to a young bride-to-be’s nerves about her upcoming wedding.

The doctor visited Emile twice that morning: first at about 7:00, when he examined the patient, and again at eleven.  The landlady reported on the doctor’s second visit that Emile had been sleeping peacefully.  The doctor examined the patient and quietly told the landlady to draw the curtains. “The man is dead.”

The drawing of the curtains in Emile's small room started a web that spun quickly outwards and would, in the space of one week, lead to the discovery of stacks of illicit love letters, cause someone intimately close to the deceased to flee Glasgow, and see James Smith's eldest daughter Madeleine arrested for the murder of her lover, Emile L'Angelier.

Madeleine Smith

Emile was born the first of five children to French parents on the Channel Islands in April of 1823.  The family ran a seed merchant business out of their small house, and their business was confined to natives or French speakers.

Emile’s father wanted to attract the business of the wealthy English visitors who spent time on the islands.  With this goal in mind, Emile was sent to be an apprentice to a neighboring nursery that catered to that British clientele.  After some initial uneasiness, Emile became a hard worker and enhanced the basic English he had learned at school – becoming quite fluent in both French and English.

In 1842, as Emile was nearing the end of his apprenticeship, Sir Francis Mackenzie from Scotland took a liking to him and offered to take him back to work on his Scottish estates.  The family agreed this would be a good way to attract even more of the British business, and so Emile journeyed to a nursery in Edinburgh for training in the plants of Scotland.  One year later, however, Sir Francis died suddenly, and, without enough money to return home, Emile was stranded in Edinburgh.  Fortunately, the nursery where he had been training was pleased with his work and offered to keep him on.  Over the next few years, Emile would continue to work as a nurseryman in Scotland, the Channel Islands, and France. In 1852, he moved to Glasgow, where his fate awaited him.

While the young Emile was in the early years of his apprenticeship on the Channel Islands, a first child was born to the wealthy Glasgow architect James Smith and his wife Elizabeth.  The child was named Madeleine and, like Emile, Madeleine was to become the oldest of five children.

As a daughter of an upper-class family, Madeleine was educated from her earliest years in the proper manners and culture of the gentry.  Class separation was a strictly enforced concept in mid-19th century Glasgow, and Madeleine, almost from birth, accompanied her parents to the parties and other social occasions worthy of one of her status.

When she came into her early teens, she traveled to London to attend Mrs. Alice Gorton's Academy for Young Ladies, where she was taught proper manners and took appropriate courses (piano lessons, walking as exercise, tatting and other ladies' crafts), and then returned to her family home in the summer of 1853 at the age of 18 years.  Once again she slipped into the proper role of a daughter of gentry.  It was a docile role that someone of Madeleine’s temperament would never be comfortable with.

It is not known when Emile first saw Madeleine in Glasgow, but she was attractive enough that he sought an introduction to her by a mutual friend, as was the proper custom of that era.

After several weeks of searching, he found a mutual acquaintance, and so in the early spring of 1855, Madeleine, the daughter of one of the most prominent families in Glasgow met Emile, who was then working as a warehouse clerk.

The meeting would soon end the life of one and forever haunt the life of the other.

A Dangerous Affair

Even though she knew that a warehouse clerk would be an unacceptable companion for a young lady of the upper class, Madeleine was attracted to Emile, and he provided much-needed relief from the tedium and routine of her life.  Soon after their initial meeting, she wrote him a friendly note that began:

My Dear Emile, I do not feel as if I were writing you for the first time. (We) have become as familiar friends. May we long continue so.

Letters continued back and forth between the two, and several times they arranged meetings on the street or at a nearby shop. Soon, however, Madeleine's father learned of the friendship and demanded that it stop. Disappointed, but following the social customs of the time, Madeleine reluctantly wrote to Emile that their friendship must end and wished him all happiness in the future.

Emile entreated her to meet with him again, and persuaded a friend, Miss Mary Perry, to allow the couple to meet covertly at her house. Madeleine relented, and the correspondence and meetings continued, although secretly.

As time went on and their romance intensified, they planned their wedding, and in June of 1856 they became lovers – an unthinkable taboo in Victorian times. Although no ceremony had yet been performed, they addressed each other as husband and wife.

Emile kept all of Madeleine’s letters, but firmly instructed her to burn his, probably to prevent anyone in the Smith household from accidentally coming across them. They met at Miss Perry's when they could -- and occasionally met late at night at Madeleine's house, long after her family was asleep.

Madeleine's parents, not knowing that the relationship with Emile had continued after it had been forbidden, began to search for a suitable husband for Madeleine. They settled on 30ish William Minnoch, a wealthy merchant and neighbor of the Smiths. In September of 1856, Minnoch stayed with the Smith family at their summerhouse on the Clyde, and he spent much time with Madeleine.

Knowing that Minnoch would be more acceptable to her parents and to society than Emile ever would, Madeleine encouraged Minnoch's affections and accepted his marriage proposal in late January of 1857.

Madeleine, now needing to be rid of Emile, wrote him in early February: there is coolness on both sides, our engagement had better be broken.

Altogether, I think owing to coolness and indifference--nothing else--that we had better, for the future, consider ourselves as strangers.

I trust your honor as a gentleman that you will not reveal anything that may have passed between us.  I shall feel obliged by your bringing me my letters and likeness on Thursday evening at seven.  Be at the area gate, and (the housemaid) will take the parcel from you.  On Friday night, I shall send you all your letters, likeness, etc.

P.S. You may be astonished at this sudden change--but for some time back you must have noticed a coolness in my notes.  My love for you has ceased, and that is why I was cool.  I did once love you truly, fondly, but for some time back I have lost much of that love.  There is no other reason for my conduct, and I think it but fair to let you know this.  I might have gone on and become your wife, but I could not have loved you as I ought. 

I know you will never injure the character of one you so fondly loved.  No, Emile, I know you have honor and are a gentleman.  What has passed you will not mention.  I know when I ask you, that you will comply.

Yet Emile would not comply.

She wrote him again, but by this time Emile had heard rumors of her engagement to Minnoch, and he demanded to know if they were true. She heatedly denied the report of her engagement, and asked again for the return of her letters. Emile again refused, saying that he was planning instead to show the letters to Madeleine's father.

Madeleine wrote two pleading letters to Emile, begging him not to expose their past love and sexual encounters to anyone, which would bring great shame on her and possibly get her thrown out of the family house. Instead, she asked him to meet with her again secretly.

February & March of 1857

The police and the courts would later pick over the events of the next several weeks in minute detail.

At a supper with Miss Perry on February 17th, Emile said that he had plans to meet with Madeleine the night of the 19th. It is not known whether the two did meet on the 19th, but late that night Emile suffered an attack of violent stomach pains. He recovered, however, by the following morning.

On Saturday the 21st, Madeleine went to a local apothecary and purchased a small amount of arsenic, which she said would be used to kill rats. As required by law, she signed the Poison Book at the time of this purchase.  Arsenic at that time was sold with coloring matter such as soot or indigo mixed into it – probably to keep it from being confused with flour or sugar or other benign household substances.

After a night out at an unknown whereabouts, Emile returned to his lodgings early the morning of February 22nd, suffering from a more severe attack than the previous one, this one leaving him bedridden for eight days.

On March 6th, Madeleine again went to the apothecary and bought more arsenic.

On March 9th, Emile had tea with Miss Perry and he said, as Perry would later testify, "I cannot think why I was so unwell after getting that coffee and chocolate from her." Perry understood the “her” to mean Madeleine. Emile then told Perry that he was so in love with Madeleine that "if she were to poison me, I would forgive her." Perry chided him for even thinking such a thing, and asked what possible reason Madeleine would have for such action. "I don't know that," Emile replied. "Perhaps she might not be sorry to be rid of me."

On March 17th, Madeleine and her family returned from a trip, and the following day Madeleine made a third purchase of arsenic.

On the 19th, Emile traveled to Bridge of Allan, about five miles north of Stirling, for a weeklong vacation. He returned unexpectedly the evening of March 22nd, telling his landlady that he had received a letter calling him back, but he would return to Bridge of Allan the following day. He asked for the key to the front door, as he expected to be out late, but did not specify his destination or plans for the evening.

After midnight, early in the morning of the 23rd, his landlady awoke to a violent commotion at the front door, and found Emile outside and doubled up in pain.  He died about ten hours later.

The letter that had "called him back" was found in Emile's vest pocket after his death, and was from Madeleine. Within the next few days, more of Madeleine’s letters were found in Emile’s room and at his office.

Madeleine, however, said nothing regarding the mysterious death that was becoming the source of much local gossip.

Thursday morning, March 26th, Madeleine’s sister Janet awoke to find her eldest sister gone from the bed they shared.  And gone from their room.  And gone from the entire house.

The Trial of the Century

William Minnoch stopped by the Smith home late that Thursday morning to pay a call on his intended bride.  Finding the family and servants in a panic, and hearing that Madeleine had gone missing, he suggested that she might have gone to the Smith's summerhouse on the Clyde. The family agreed this was possible, and Minnoch proposed that he and Madeleine's brother Jack travel to the summerhouse -- the rest of the family remaining at home, in case she returned.

Minnoch and Jack took the next train from Glasgow to Greenock, and there caught a steamer headed for Helensburgh.  Moving through the crowds of people on the boat, they found Madeleine sitting calmly and looking out at the water.  She had boarded the boat earlier, in Glasgow, and showed no particular surprise at seeing the two of them.  Sitting down next to her, Minnoch gently asked her why she had fled and caused such worry to her family and friends.  She began to respond, but Minnoch told her to wait, as there were too many people about who might overhear.

Once in the privacy of the large summerhouse, Minnoch asked again for the reason behind her flight.  Madeleine cryptically told him that she was afraid her parents would be very upset at what she had done, and promised to tell him more at a later time.  In a long carriage ride broken by only infrequent conversation, the three rode back to the candlelit windows and gas lamps of a Glasgow evening.

On March 31st, based on the stacks of letters found at Emile’s lodgings and office, Madeleine was arrested and gave a lengthy statement to the Sheriff-Substitute of Lanarkshire stating that she had last seen Emile three weeks previous to his death. She did not deny that they had been lovers, that she had written the letters to him, or that they had seriously discussed marriage. Neither did she deny making three purchases of arsenic in the previous month. She had mixed the arsenic with water and washed her arms and face with it, a cosmetic use she had learned while at school. She had lied to the apothecary about the arsenic's use, she said, because she was too self-conscious to say that it was for her complexion. She said that she "never administered, or caused to be administered, to M. L'Angelier arsenic or anything injurious -- and this I declare to be truth."

Because of the immense and sudden popular interest in the case, the trial was moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh and began June 30, 1857. Madeleine was represented by a team including one of the greatest legal minds of the time, John Inglis. Due to the court rules of the time, Madeleine was not allowed to take the stand in her own defense, but had to rely solely on her legal counsel and on her deposition. During the trial, people swarmed the courthouse to catch a glimpse of Madeleine, and crowds lined the streets every night as her carriage took her back to the East Jail of Edinburgh. The newspapers carried detailed descriptions of every aspect of the trial, and the proceedings became the chief topic of conversation throughout Scotland.

The Prosecution argued for the court to admit all of Madeleine's letters and all of Emile's papers as evidence. Inglis argued that her letters could be presented, but that a diary found in his room should not be admitted into evidence. The Prosecution stated that the diary should be admitted, as it contained notations that possibly indicated that Emile had seen Madeleine right before his first and second attacks of the stomach illness. But with the author of the diary now dead, Inglis argued, the written entries could not be questioned or properly cross-examined. The reasons were persuasive on both sides, but Inglis won and the diary was withheld from the jury.

The trial went on for nine days and many witnesses; including Madeleine's sister Janet (who testified that she did not recall Madeleine ever getting out of bed the night of March 22nd) and William Minnoch (who had quickly withdrawn his marriage proposal) took the stand. The Prosecution called witnesses to testify about the contradictions in Madeleine's story -- but the Defense countered with experts who discussed arsenic's cosmetic uses and called witnesses who claimed Emile had made statements to them regarding several prior suicide attempts.

Madeleine showed remarkable calmness and poise during the trial, refusing food and water while in court, but keeping a small vial of smelling salts, which she never had to use. She followed the questioning of witnesses closely and only showed discomfort when the text of some of her letters to Emile was read aloud.

The Prosecution argued that Madeleine had already lied at least once about the real purpose of the arsenic -- to the apothecary -- and stated that Emile's refusal to return her letters and end the affair was motive enough for killing him. Inglis countered by saying that nobody could solidly disprove Madeleine's claim that she had not seen Emile in the three weeks before his death. And, Inglis pointed out, Emile had his first attack two days before Madeleine's first recorded purchase of arsenic.

The Prosecution and the Defense both argued brilliantly, but due primarily to the fact that it could not be shown that Madeleine and Emile had actually seen each other before any of his three attacks, the jury deliberated for only 30 minutes on July 9th and then reached a verdict of "not proven" (a unique verdict in Scotland that signifies that the accused was not found innocent, but the prosecution had not made a strong enough case to convict), and Madeleine went free that afternoon and returned to the Smith home.

What actually happened on the night of March 23, 1857, will never be known.  Letters about the crime were prevalent in newspapers at the time of the trial and for many months afterwards, and most contemporary British newspapers took a side regarding the verdict:

The Glasgow Sentinel: "[Madeleine Smith was] as much the seducer as the seduced. And when once the veil of modesty was thrown aside, from the first a very frail and flimsy one, the woman of strong passion and libidinous tendencies at once reveals herself.... [Madeleine is] one of those abnormal spirits that now and then rise up in society to startle and appall us...."

The Glasgow Citizen: "In her first efforts at retrieval [of her letters], she found herself not in the arms of a protector but in the coils of a reptile."

The Scotsman: "[Madeleine Smith is] either the most fortunate of criminals or the most unfortunate of women."

The Examiner: " Madeleine Smith alone his horrible death seems to have been no shock, no grief, and she demeaned herself [at] her trial as if L'Angelier had never had a place in her affections. If it had been a trial for poisoning a dog the indifference could not have been greater."

The notoriety of the trial did not cool and eventually necessitated Madeleine's leaving Scotland.

She went to London and eventually married George Wardle, a draftsman and the business manager of the artist William Morris, in July of 1861. She continued to remain silent about the trial and her accused crime, although newspapers and curiosity-seekers hounded her. After many years of marriage and two children, Madeleine and George separated.

Madeleine's trail after her separation from George is murky, and wild rumors of her living (or dying) in places such as Australia and France appeared from time to time in various newspapers. A common theory, that she died under a different name (Lena Wardle Sheehy) in New York City in 1928, is strongly contradicted by Mrs. Sheehy’s death certificate, which states she was almost 30 years younger than Madeleine would have been.

Wherever and whenever Madeleine passed away, she took whatever she knew about Emile's death with her to her grave.

Possible Solutions

Since 1857, there have been two schools of thought as to how Emile received his fatal dose of arsenic:

Emile killed himself

At the time of Madeleine's trial, some people felt that Emile accidentally poisoned himself, mistaking the arsenic for some form of medicine. The problem with this theory is that no arsenic (or arsenic container) was found on his body or among his possessions. Also, his name was not found in any Poison Books in the Glasgow, Stirling, or Bridge of Allan areas.

Another theory is that Emile killed himself and purposely framed Madeleine for his death. The lack of arsenic in Emile's possession applies to this theory, too, in addition to other questions:

If Emile killed himself with his own arsenic, how did he know that Madeleine was, coincidentally, buying the exact same poison?  (Some have theorized that Emile, in order to frame Madeleine, convinced her to start buying arsenic.  But there is not a single piece of documentation or evidence that shows that Emile ever had even a passing conversation about arsenic with Madeleine, let alone a direct attempt to persuade her to buy the poison.  None of her letters reflect such a conversation, either -- and so this theory remains highly speculative.)

If Emile killed himself with his own arsenic, what did Madeleine do with the arsenic she purchased?  None of Madeleine's biographers, even those who were clearly pro-Madeleine, believe that she actually used it as a cosmetic arsenic wash, as she stated in her official declaration. Arsenic was sometimes cosmetically used at that time as a solid and used to remove unwanted hair.

Some proponents of this theory state that because none of the coloring matter from Madeleine’s arsenic was found in Emile’s stomach, it could not have been her arsenic they found there.  This would be strong evidence if it were true, but at Madeleine’s trial the physician who performed the autopsy specifically stated: “I was not asked to attend to the coloring matter.  I did not see it, and I did not search for it.”  Similarly, the arsenic in Emile’s stomach was found inside a “dark liquid” that may have been cocoa or coffee.  But the physicians were not instructed to find out exactly what that liquid was, even though it was clearly present.  And a dark liquid might easily hide indigo or soot.

Similarly, some Madeleine supporters have stated that Emile could not have accidentally swallowed that much arsenic in cocoa without distinctly noticing the gritty texture of the poison.  However, during Madeleine’s trial a witness stated that in the few weeks before his death Emile had said, “he was not surprised at cocoa not agreeing with him, as he was not accustomed to it.”  Therefore, as far as Emile knew, cocoa could indeed have been gritty in texture, and he would not have known the difference. Also, this notion rests on the idea that Emile received only a single “gritty” cupful of the “dark liquid”, when he might have received smaller doses in several cups.

Madeleine killed Emile

Much of the circumstantial evidence points to this, but there are questions with this theory, too:

If Madeleine was secretly poisoning Emile over the course of several weeks, why did she make her arsenic purchases so blatantly? She even brought an eyewitness with her to one of her purchases.

If Emile suspected that he was being poisoned by Madeleine, as several trial witnesses testified to, why did he continue to take the poisonous beverages from Madeleine?

Even with Emile dead, Madeleine knew that highly damning evidence, her letters to Emile, were still in existence and were bound to be discovered. But she made no attempt to retrieve the letters from Emile's rented room and office.

And so today, Madeleine Smith has taken on a folkloric mystique akin to that of Lizzie Borden.  The “did she or didn’t she?” debate continues, and the doubt of her innocence even reached to her legal defender, John Inglis: he was once asked at a dinner party if he truly believed that Madeleine was innocent of the murder charge. After a thoughtful pause, he said simply that he would "rather have danced than supped with her."


Anonymous.  Trial of Miss Madeleine H. Smith, before the High Court of Justiciary, Edinburgh, June 30th to July 9th, 1857, for the alleged poisoning of M. Pierre Emile L’Angelier, at Glasgow : special verbatim report, with portraits and plans.  Edinburgh: D. Mathers, 1857.

Hunt, Peter.  The Madeleine Smith Affair.  London: Carroll & Nicholson, 1950.

Jesse, F. Tennyson.  Trial of Madeleine Smith.  Edinburgh and London: W. Hodge & Company Ltd., 1927.

Morland, Nigel.  That Nice Miss Smith.   London: F. Muller, 1957.

MacGowan, Douglas. Murder in Victorian Scotland.  Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999.



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