Life After Trial Poisoning and Madeline Smith Part 1

About Madeline Smith, a Scottish woman put on trial for the arsenic poisoning murder of her boyfriend and found not guilty.


Before: Madeleine Smith was almost a Victorian Era stereotype. Her father was a prosperous, domineering Glasgow architect, and she had led a sheltered, protected life until the time she met Pierre Emile L'Angelier in 1855. Madeleine was then 19; her lover-to-be was 10 years older and more experienced. Her family disapproved of Emile, a 10-shilling-a-week clerk and a foreigner to boot, and forbade Madeleine to continue seeing him. But she kept up a correspondence, met him clandestinely on occasions, and eventually became his mistress, right in her father's house-all this unknown to her family.

After a time, her initial enthusiasm cooled. Emile showed signs of becoming a petty, chauvinistic tyrant, and she tried to break off with him. But he threatened to show her father letters she had written, in which she admitted to, and reveled in, her seduction. Madeleine quickly "made up" with Emile, but also set her sights on marrying a substantial Glasgow businessman introduced to her by her father. Then after three occasions when Emile supposedly made secret visits to Madeleine, he was stricken with severe attacks of nausea and vomiting, the last of which took his life. An autopsy found 82 grains of arsenic in his stomach, and investigations later proved Madeleine had openly purchased arsenic on several occasions. She admitted doing so; but said she-in common with many women of the time-used it for a beauty treatment.

She was brought to trial, but certain incriminating evidence-Emile's notebook listing dates he had met with Madeleine-was ruled inadmissible by the judge. And a brilliant defense pointed out that what evidence was left involved only inference and suggestion, with little or no tangible proof of the lovers' having met prior to each of Emile's illnesses. Thus there was no provable opportunity for Madeleine to have administered the poison. After the trial it was even theorized that Emile-following a fad of the era-was an arsenic eater himself and that, with access to the poison, he might have committed suicide in such a way as to throw suspicion on his vacillating lover. He had threatened suicide on the occasion of an earlier jilting by another woman. Whatever the reality, the verdict brought in was Not Proven, suggesting the jurors thought Madeleine was guilty, but did not have enough evidence to justify a conviction. She was 21 when freed.

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