Arsenic Killer: Madeleine Smith

The class struggle was very prominent during the 19th century. It was unheard of for a wealthy woman to marry anyone less than high status. When Madeleine Smith fell in love with a low-class man, Emile L’Angelier, it was almost as if they were star-crossed lovers but instead of family feuds, it was class feuds. Madeleine Hamilton Smith was born to a wealthy Glasgow architect James Smith and his wife, Elizabeth. Since class status was very important in 19th century Britain, this means that Madeleine would have been educated and would have lived a very wealthy and high-class life, she would have rarely encountered people in lower classes.

The victim of this case is Pierre Emile L’Angelier who would have been born in a lower class family. He was born in Jersey but travelled to Edinburgh looking for work. He was employed at Dicksons and Company, definitely not a job that would have allowed him to mingle with the upper class but that didn’t stop him from trying.

L’Angelier fell in love with a woman that was way out of his league but he was persistent to keep her in his life despite what anyone else thought. It is unknown of where Smith and L’Angelier first met but nonetheless, it was love at first sight. Over the course of their relationship, Smith and L’Angelier shared a series of letters professing their love for one another. These letters contained information that would have caused Madeleine to be shunned from society and probably her family. The letters claimed that she had been unchaste with L’Angelier. If that had gotten out while she was engaged to another man, her father, and most of society, would have seen the scarlet letter displayed on her chest. As Madeleine’s father would never approve of a marriage between her and L’Angelier, he made other plans for her to marry William Minnoch who was also a wealthy man. Madeleine began asking for her letters back from L’Angelier because she feared that her father would see them but L’Angelier refused to give them back.

On March 6, 1857, Madeleine was walking with her friend when Madeleine proceeded to go into Currie’s apothecary. It was revealed that Madeleine made a sixpennyworth purchase of arsenic with her reasoning being that she needed to kill rats. L’Angelier died in the early hours of March 23, 1857 from arsenic poisoning. Madeleine was accused of killing L’Angelier because she had the best motive to do so. She wished to marry William Minnoch but she wasn’t able to do so with L’Angelier in the way, he also could use the letters as blackmail against her.

Her trial began on Tuesday, 30th June, 1857 and lasted for nine days until the verdict was read on Thursday, 9th June, 1857. Many people testified at the trial, both those close to L’Angelier and expert witnesses. One of the witnesses was Auguste Vanvente de Mean who was the Chancellor to the French Consul in Glasgow. Auguste claims to have known about Madeleine and L’Angelier’s intimacy. Auguste heard the news that Madeleine was supposed to be engaged to another man. When he told L’Angelier what he had discovered, L’Angelier was convinced that the new must be false and that he had documents in his possession that would at least forbid the engagement. The case continued in court with many others testifying including, Mrs. Jenkins who lived with the deceased, Andrew Douglas Maclagen whose work assessing toxilogical evidence confirmed that the victim’s cause of death was arsenic poisoning, and many more. On June 9, 1857, the verdict was read out to a very packed courtroom. Everyone was waiting to see whether Madeleine was guilty or innocent the jury presented the verdict of “not proven” stating that there was not enough evidence to connect Madeleine Smith to the crime.

Although we will never know whether Madeleine Smith poisoned Emile L’Angelier with arsenic, there is some pretty compelling evidence against her. Juliet may have died for Romeo but, Smith was not willing to die for L’Angelier and, may have poisoned him to keep her reputation within society.

Works Cited:
The Glasgow Poisoning Case. The Times (London England), Thursday, June 2, 1857; pg. 5; Issue 22722.

“The Glasgow Poisoning Case.” Times [London, England] 10 July 1857: 12. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 1 Oct. 2017.

MacGowan, Douglas. The strange affair of Madeleine Smith: Victorian Scotland’s trial of the century. Edinburgh, Mercat Press, 2007, 7.