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Madeleine Smith


Madeleine Smith
(1835-1928)

Alleged poisoner

Daughter of a well-to-do Glasgow architect and the defendant in one of the most sensational murder trials ever held in a Scottish court. She had an illicit affair with a clerk but when she dropped him for a more wealthy suitor, her ex-lover threatened to expose the affair to her father by showing him her love letters. Madeleine was known to have bought arsenic three times in early 1857; her lover died weeks later; and a post-mortem showed he died of arsenic poisoning. Madeleine was arrested and tried for murder. Public interest in the trial was unprecedented, especially when the explicit love letters were read out. But she was brilliantly defended and the jury returned a ‘Not Proven’ verdict. Madeleine became a figure in fashionable London society and later emigrated to New York at the age of 80.

More About Madeleine Smith. We will never know tor certain whether Madeleine Smith was a murderess. We can make up our own minds, of course. but when she went on trial at the High Court in Edinburgh, the jury returned the peculiarly Scottish verdict of 'not proven' - which means that they think she did it, but found the evidence insufficient. Of course the fact that she
blazingly beautiful may have influenced the jury.

The case has fascinated novelists and dramatists ever since, and for the best of reasons. Madeline Smith was well born. Her father was a successful architect, who, among other things,  designed the McLellan Galleries, which still stand in Sauchiehall Street.

His home, at 7 Blythswood Square, is still there too, and it is part of the story. In 1855, Madeleine encountered a poverty-stricken Channel Islander called Pierre Emil I'Angelier, and it was love at first sight. The affair didn't have a chance, but they kept meeting tor passionate embraces.

Pierre also visited the house, but not by the front door. He would crouch at the kitchen window in the semi-basement, and they would exchange tender words; she would slip him a cup of cocoa to keep out the cold.

Then the amatory miss met another man. William Kinnoch, who was well-off and favoured by her snobbish family. Well, she had enjoyed the forbidden fruits of romantic love, but there is a time for everything, so she gave Pierre up.

Yet Pierre kept visiting Madeleine. And then he began to have funny turns shortly after Madeleine had bought some arsenic, from a local chemist, supposedly for use on rats at the family's house on the Firth of Clyde. Pierre's condition got worse after Madeleine had bought more arsenic from other shops. One night Pierre's landlady found him squirming outside the door of his lodgings, and he died shortly afterwards. There was a letter in his pocket from Madeleine, ardently inviting him to pay a call on her.

Madeleine was spurned by her family. She had got their name into the newspapers, a most grave sin. But she escaped conviction and abandoned her stuck-up relatives, moving to London, where the papers from time to time issued false reports other death.

Madeleine became a popular hostess down south, and the intellectuals of the time were glad to attend her elegant occasions. She later went to the United States, where she was equally popular. She was actually invited to play her in a silent movie, but refused. She Iived to be over 90. But the mystery of how Pierre met his death remains.