A Trial of Passion
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.
lover had been Pierre Emile LAngelier of Jersey. The Crown
alleged that she had administered arsenic to him between 19th
February and 23rd March that year, at or near her fathers
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.
during their passionate affair, LAngelier and Madelaine had
corresponded through secret letters. LAngelier 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 LAngelier assumed that
they were married according to Scots law.
death investigators uncovered the secret correspondence between
the pair which revealed their passionate liaison and helped piece
together the events surrounding LAngeliers suspicious
was discovered that, despite her affair with LAngelier, Madelaine
had been attracted to a Mr Minnoch, a high class member of society.
Soon after, she became engaged to Mr Minnoch and wanted LAngelier
to return the letters. LAngelier refused and threatened to
bring them to the attention of her father and Minnoch. Madelaine
buckled under the threats, and was forced to maintain LAngeliers
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 Madelaines
After her arrest
Madelines 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".
that she had not seen LAngelier 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
LAngelier 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.