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Second City of The Empire: 1830s to 1914


Madeleine Smith

By Irene Maver

Madeleine Smith was the central figure in a sensational 19th century murder trial that remains one of Glasgow's greatest unsolved mysteries. Born in Glasgow, she had a privileged upbringing. Her father, James Smith (1808-1863), was a prominent city architect. At the age of sixteen, Madeleine was sent to a London finishing school where she was expected to acquire sufficient poise and polish to attract a rich husband when she returned to Scotland.

Instead, in 1855, she embarked on a torrid, two-year affair with Pierre Emile L'Angelier (1823-1857). The full extent of their relationship was revealed at the trial in Madeleine's explicit love-letters, which scandalised middle-class Scotland. L'Angelier was glamorous and charming, but unsuitable as a match because he was a low-ranking clerk in a Glasgow warehouse. Their secret romance began to fade when Madeleine was courted by one of her father's wealthy business associates. In due course marriage was proposed. This was the motive for murder claimed by the prosecution at the trial. It was alleged that Madeleine had resolved to remove L'Angelier because he was threatening to blackmail her.

Madeleine supposedly gave her lover a cup of cocoa laced with arsenic during an assignation at the Smith's town-house in Blythswood Square. L'Angelier died of poisoning on 23 March 1857. While there was compelling evidence against Madeleine, including recorded purchases of arsenic, she was found "not proven" by a jury at Edinburgh's High Court of Justiciary. She walked free, but the verdict was ambiguous and has generated intense speculation ever since. Not surprisingly, Madeleine left Scotland after her trial. She married twice and lived long, settling first in London and then in New York.

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