Madeline Smith Murder Mystery Part 2

About the Madeline Smith murder mystery that was the talk of British crime in the mid 1850s, the crime involving poison and her lover, her arrest and trial.


The Hunt: Madeleine's affair with Emile was common gossip and his friends, particularly spinster-confidante Mary Perry, considered her a prime suspect. So did the police. In addition to the revealing letters, Madeleine had openly purchased large quantities of arsenic on 3 separate occasions in February and March. When questioned by the Procurator-Fiscal of Glasgow, Madeleine readily admitted buying the arsenic--not to poison rats as she had told the chemists, but "for cosmetic purposes." Madeleine was equally candid in confessing she had lied to Emile about Minnoch, and that she had resumed the affair with l'Angelier only because she hoped he would then return her letters.

One of those letters, counted as key evidence against her, was delivered to l'Angelier on Saturday afternoon, March 21. In it, she wrote, "Oh beloved are you ill? Come to me sweet one. I shall wait again tomorrow night." Madeleine insisted she had written the letter on Friday, March 20. Therefore, the word "tomorrow" meant Saturday, not Sunday, the night he received a fatal dose of arsenic. She had waited all Saturday night, said Madeleine, but Emile had neither kept the date nor sent a message. Ingenious though her explanations were, Madeleine Smith was arrested on March 31 and charged with the murder of Emile l'Angelier. Her historic 9-day trial began June 30, 1857.

The Accused: Enigmatic Madeleine Smith was beautiful--with a graceful figure, fair skin, cameo-like profile, raven black hair, and intense physical vitality. During the trial, she received hundreds of marriage proposals. Her mother was an invalid and Madeleine efficiently managed the household while still in her early teens. She was keenly intelligent with a seemingly imperturbable poise, which enabled her to endure and survive the trial. If she had been born 100 years later, Madeleine would probably have been a militant feminist, perhaps even a lawyer herself. Instead she was an accused murderess, regarded at best as a flirtatious manipulator--one of the few roles available to strong-minded women in the Victorian era.

The Trial: At the trial--held in Edinburgh--Madeleine was described by an eyewitness as "wearing a brown silk dress and straw bonnet trimmed with white ... the only unmoved, cool personage to be seen ... Miss Smith never ceases surveying all that goes on around her, returning every stare with compound interest." Three judges--Lord Justice-Clerk Hope, and Lords Ivory and Handyside--presided over the trial. John Inglis, dean of the faculty, handled the defense and Lord Advocate James Moncrieff led the prosecution.

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