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19 September 2014
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A Trial of Passion

Madelaine Hamilton Smith On 30th June 1857 the trial of Madelaine Hamilton Smith
began in Edinburgh. The 21-year-old beauty was the
daughter of a well known Glasgow architect and socialised in high circles until she was charged with the murder of a previous lover.

Her one-time lover had been Pierre Emile L’Angelier of Jersey. The Crown alleged that she had administered arsenic to him between 19th February and 23rd March that year, at or near her father’s house. L’Angelier had collapsed suddenly at his lodgings in Glasgow on 23rd March. He was found in a doubled-up position at the door in the early hours of the morning and despite constant medical attention by a doctor he died the following day. After his death, his family insisted a post-mortem was conducted and the results were handed over to the police. A forensic examination detected over 30 grains of arsenic in his remains.

Previously, during their passionate affair, L’Angelier and Madelaine had corresponded through secret letters. L’Angelier often referred to his lover with the words "Wifie mine". On one occasion Madelaine had written, "Am I not your wife? Yes, I am", and there is reason to believe that L’Angelier assumed that they were married according to Scots law.

After L’Angelier’s death investigators uncovered the secret correspondence between the pair which revealed their passionate liaison and helped piece together the events surrounding L’Angelier’s suspicious death. It was discovered that, despite her affair with L’Angelier, Madelaine had been attracted to a Mr Minnoch, a high class member of society. Soon after, she became engaged to Mr Minnoch and wanted L’Angelier to return the letters. L’Angelier refused and threatened to bring them to the attention of her father and Minnoch. Madelaine buckled under the threats, and was forced to maintain L’Angelier’s company. His nightly visits resumed, but on two occasions he was seized with an inexplicable illness after being given a cup of cocoa from her hands. On the evening of his death witnesses testified that he had been seen heading in the direction of Madelaine’s house.

After her arrest Madeline’s family were said to be distressed and ashamed, however Miss Smith did not seem to suffer from the same discomfort. At her trial she entered the dock with "the air of a belle entering a ballroom or a box at the opera. Her steps were buoyant and she carried a silver-topped bottle of smelling salts. She was stylishly dressed and wore a pair of lavender gloves".Throughout the trial she never appeared perturbed, and seemed to exert a peculiar fascination over the men in the court audience. She was later to tell her prison matron in a letter that she had received hundreds of letters "all from gentlemen, offering consolation, their hearts and money".

Madelaine claimed that she had not seen L’Angelier for three weeks prior to his death. In her defence she explained that a poison she had recently purchased was for killing vermin and also for cosmetic purposes, diluted with water, to wash her face, arms and neck. The prosecution case rested on the overwhelming motive that the prisoner had for disposing of her erstwhile lover. The defence proceeded to allege that there was no evidence that the couple ever met on the days in question. It was even suggested that the heartbroken L’Angelier may have taken his own life in despair.

The jury took only half an hour over their deliberations. While they were absent, it was said that the least excited person in the court was the prisoner. When the foreman delivered a verdict of "not guilty of the first charge by a majority, of the second charge not proven, and by a majority find the third charge also not proven", the result was greeted with great applause. Madelaine Smith left the trial a free woman. A short time after the trial, Miss Smith married a gentleman of good social standing in London. She emigrated to America some years later, where she married yet again. The story was famous in Victorian times for the reason that the public could not believe that a woman could be so devious. Madelaine became something of a femme fatale and was sensationalised as a devil woman who captured unsuspecting men in her web of deceit.


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