Madeline Smith Murder Mystery Part 3

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 trial and verdict.


The most damaging testimony was given by Mary Perry. She swore Emile had told her he experienced his 1st attack after drinking a cup of cocoa prepared by Madeleine, adding, "If she [Madeleine] were to poison me, I would forgive her." The defense contended that l'Angelier was an arsenic eater and had probably killed himself deliberately, or by an accidental overdose. However, they offered no proof that he had made any arsenic purchases.

The weakest point of the prosecution's case was its utter failure to produce any evidence that Madeleine had met with l'Angelier before any one of his 3 attacks. There was a diary in which Emile had made notations about seeing Madeleine on one or more of those occasions; but it was ruled inadmissible on the grounds that a man might conceivably use such notes to revenge himself upon another after death.

Madeleine was never questioned directly. At that time prisoners were not allowed to go into the witness box. The verdict was Not Guilty on one count of poisoning, and Not Proven on 2 others. A verdict of Not Proven is recognized by Scottish courts, but not by English or U.S. law. Many crime buffs believe the jury was really trying to say, "We think she did it, but we can't prove it, and the cad probably deserved it anyway."

The verdict was loudly applauded by courtroom spectators, but Madeleine's counsel avoided the customary congratulatory handshake. Her parents, who never attended the trial, were equally cold. Soon after, the family actually changed its name, even though "Smith" would seem sufficiently common to guarantee anonymity in itself.

The End: Undaunted and indomitable, Madeleine moved to London in the fall of 1857, accompanied by brother Jack, the only member of the family who stood by her. There she joined poet William Morris's socialist movement, and married one of his followers. In 1909, when she was 73, the remarkable old woman emigrated to the U.S. to be near her son. She was 92, deaf, and poor when she died in 1928.

Proud, even in poverty, she had recently turned down an offer from a Hollywood studio to make a silent movie based on her life. It wasn't until 1950 that an English film was finally produced, with Ann Todd playing the title role in Madeleine. Unfortunately the picture failed to answer the riddle, "Did she or didn't she?"

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