Madeleine Smith: Accused Glasgow Murderess of the 1850s

The accused Glasgow murderess known as Madeleine Smith was alleged to have killed Frenchman Pierre Emile L’Angelier (or Emile L’Angelier) in 1857. L’Angelier originally came from the Channel Islands, an archipelago in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. The two began a secret love affair in 1855 that involved hundreds of love letters and clandestine meetings at her bedroom window. One of these clandestine meetings resulted in Madeleine losing her virginity to L’Angelier.

Accused Glasgow Murderess Known as Madeleine Smith: Madeleine Smith

Madeleine Smith. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

L’Angelier had left the Channel Islands to seek his fortune in Scotland in 1851. When he first arrived in Scotland, he lived in grinding poverty and depended on the charity of inn keepers. Eventually, he began working as a clerk at a warehouse and then began assisting a gardener as an apprentice for moderate wages. By steadiness and assiduity, he improved his lot over time.

Madeleine, on the other hand, came from an extremely well-to-do family. Her father was an architect, and her family moved in the highest social circles. They lived in Blythewood Square, one of the most fashionable quarters of Glasgow, and their house was luxurious. Her family also possessed an elegant country home on the banks of the Clyde. Moreover, Madeleine received a stellar education and attended fashionable boarding schools, first in London, then Paris, and finally Manheim, Germany. 

The Smith house at in Blythewood Square, Author’s collection.

After Madeleine’s return from boarding school, she met L’Angelier. It occurred during her regular morning outing when she dropped a book, and L’Angelier, who happened to be passing by, retrieved it and handed it to her. He was an intriguing, suave gentleman who quickly swept Madeleine Smith off her feet and got her to agree to marry him. He naively thought that Madeleine’s parent would allow it. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Madeleine’s parents knew nothing of the affair or their daughter’s promise to marry L’Angelier until they discovered love letters between the two. Upon the discovery, Madeleine was ordered to stop seeing L’Angelier, and being a dutiful daughter, she broke off the relationship. Madeleine’s affections also soon cooled towards L’Angelier because Madeleine claimed it was partly due to herself. It seems she had encouraged L’Angelier to tell her faults, “he took her at her word; and the censure annoyed her.”[1]

Madeleine Smith and Pierre Emile L’Angelier meeting secretively in the laundry room. Courtesy of Wellcome Images.

Madeleine’s parents soon decided that their daughter should marry someone proper so she would forget L’Angelier. This proved fortuitous as an upper middle class Glasgow citizen named William Harper Minnoch was visiting their home often and had became enamored with Madeleine. Minnoch then proposed, and Madeleine accepted his proposal on 28 January 1857.

L’Angelier learned about Minnoch’s proposal and became jealous. He then questioned Madeleine Smith about Minnoch. Things between the two continued to deteriorate, and on 15 February, Madeline asked L’Angelier to return her love letters, writing:

“You may be astonished at the sudden change, but for some time back you must have noticed a coolness in my notes. My love for you has ceased, and that is why I was cool. I did once love you truly and fondly, but for some time back I have lost much of that love. I might have gone on and became your wife, but I could not have loved you as I ought. My conduct you will condemn, but I did at one time love you with heart and soul. It has cost me much to tell you this — sleepless nights — but it was necessary you should know. I know you will never injure the character of one you so fondly loved. No, Emilie, I know you have honor and are a gentleman. What has passed you will not mention; I know when I ask you that you will comply. Adieu”[2]

Madeleine Smith

Madeleine Smith at age 18. Author’s collection.

Unfortunately, L’Angelier was not willing to comply and refused Madeleine’s request to return her love letters. Instead, he threatened to use the letters to expose her and thereby force her to marry him. It was at that point, on 21 February, witnesses claimed Madeleine was observed in a druggist’s office, ordering arsenic, and signing the receipt as M.H. Smith.

L’Angelier died early on the morning on 23 March from arsenic poisoning. The discovery of Madeleine’s love letters at L’Angelier’s lodging house and the information about her ordering arsenic resulted in an indictment against her. The indictment charged her “with wickedly and feloniously administering arsenic, or some other poison, with intent to murder.”[3]

The house where L’Angelier died at Franklin Place in Glasgow. His room was immediately over the doorway. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

On 30 June 1857 Madeleine was brought to trial. Each morning a vast crowd assembled at the door of the Justiciary Court in the Parliament. Everyone hoped to get a seat and watch the proceedings. The excitement was fever pitch and described in the following manner:

“[A]s soon as [the doors were] thrown open, which was done at eight o’clock, the portion of the Court-room assigned to the public was immediately packed. … The scene was indeed an imposing one. Curiosity and expectation were written upon every countenance; … Notwithstanding that every eye turned upon her [Madeleine] when she entered … with as much nonchalance and self-reliance as if she had been entering a concert-room. The calm and placid demeanour, which she preserved throughout, caused no small amount of speculation and dispute.”[4]

Descriptions of L’Angelier at trial were not flattering. Witnesses reported that he was vain and that he believed he was irresistible to women. He was also described as a “profligate, vain adventurer, boasting, as it seems, of his bonnes fortunes.”[5] There were also claims that he deliberately seduced and corrupted Madeleine and that he was contemptible, selfish, and hollow-hearted. Other unflattering descriptions included the following:

“conceited, pretentious, inflated with an idea of his own attractions, full of morbid fancies, elated, cast down in suicidal despondency, good nature when pleased, resentful of slight, [and] revengeful. He before had attachments, before attempted to improve his position by marrying, before been disappointed, and had been cast down by despairs. His health was not strong, [and] he suffered desperately from mortification. He had at times habitually taken opium. He had avowed that he kept arsenic in his possession, and had declared if he were jilted he would have revenge.”[6]

Madeleine Smith

Madeleine Smith during the trial. Author’s collection.

Crucial to the case was the chronology of events and whether Madeleine saw L’Angelier in the weeks before his death. The dates that were important included the 22nd of March, which was the night before the murder, or on the day of his death, the 23rd of March. From all indications, no meetings happened on either date. Newspapers also claimed there was nothing to prove that Madeleine Smith had poison in her possession, or that she had any opportunity to give the poison to him. Moreover, newspapers reported that certain letters she wrote did not show that she had suddenly changed from an ardent and affectionate girl into a “cold, deliberate murderess.”

The trial lasted ten days, and during the ten days, the case was filled with mystery and wild romance. One paper reported Madeleine displayed no shock or grief and that it might have been a trial for poisoning a dog due to her indifference. However, most people and most newspapers supported Madeleine because at the time most people believed that the mercurial L’Angelier died by committing suicide. Supporters of Madeleine also believed that she could not have murdered him, partly because her love letters remained in L’Angelier’s possession. There were other reasons:

“[T]here was hitch in the case for the prosecution, — partly from the sympathy which her youth, her appearance, and her position in society created, — partly from contempt for the conduct of the man whom she was accused of murdering. So prevalent was this latter feeling, that one frequently heard the remark, ‘Well, if she did not poison him, she ought to have done it.'”[7]

Madeleine Smith was defended by advocate John Inglis, Lord Glencorse who later became a judge. The defense cost £10,000 and 189 witnesses were cross-examined. Toxicology evidence was also presented that showed L’Angelier died of arsenic poisoning. The case was presented to the jury on Thursday, 9 July 1857. They retired for a half hour. The jury foreman was a high school mathematics teacher, and he gave the verdict of “not guilty” and “not proven.”

John Inglis, Lord Glencorse. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Immediately after the verdict, Madeleine, accompanied by her brother, left the courtroom. They went to a witness room where she changed her clothes and dressed in a different colored cloak, a straw bonnet, dark ribbons, and a green veil. This was because they had a prearranged ruse. Another woman had agreed to play Madeleine’s part, and, according to newspapers, this is how the scene played out with everyone believing it was Madeleine:

“Miss Smith leaving the court, and, being suitably dressed and veiled, was hurried into the cab which had been procured for the purpose; but so affected was she by the eager gaze of the mob that she immediately fainted, and in that condition was driven towards the gaol, accompanied by a vociferating multitude.”[8]

In reality, Madeleine Smith and her brother left unobserved from another door and went to St. Giles’s Church where a cab was waiting. From there they went to Slateford Station of the Caledonian Railway and she took a train and then a steamer to her father’s house at Row. Despite the verdict, suspicions, innuendos, and rumors damaged her reputation even if her wax figure did not end up at Madame Tussaud‘s museum. One newspaper wrote:

“We are far from finding fault with the verdict … and while it frees the prisoner from the penalties of law, [it] casts a dark shadow on her character.”[9]

The shadow was long enough it encouraged Madeleine to leave Scotland, and various reports surfaced as to what happened to Madeleine. Some people claimed she married a Dr. Turdor Hora and moved to Australia, first living in Perth and then in Melbourne. However, friends asserted she never lived in either spot and that such a report was false. Other reports indicated that she married an artist named George Wardle. She moved to New York City in 1889, and Wardle then either died or they divorced because she remarried a second time. Her second husband was a man named William A. Sheehy and he died in 1926. Thus, the claim is that she died and was buried under the name of Lena Wardle Sheehy on 28 April 1928.

By the 1890s, newspapers began reporting that it was highly likely Madeleine Smith was guilty. Many people, including criminologists, have since looked at the case. Most investigators believe that Madeleine likely committed the crime. Moreover, after the trial had concluded, there were allegations by a Glasgow gentleman that he had seen “a lady” and man together on the night of L’Angelier’s death, between midnight and one o’clock, in the lane directly behind Smith’s Blythewood-square mansion. The Glasgow witnessed claimed, he saw the man “uttering words of endearment, and that the young man was attired in a dress similar to that which is proved to have been usually worn by L’Angelier.”[10] However, whether the Glasgow witness would have stood up to cross-examination is another story.

References:

  • [1]  “The Glasgow Poisoning Case,” in Worcestershire Chronic;e, 15 July 1857, p. 1.
  • [2] Smith, Madeleine Hamilton, The Story of Minie L’Angelier, Or Madeleine Hamilton Smith, 1857 p. 13.
  • [3] “The Glasgow Poisonings,” in Shrewsbury Chronicle, 17 July 1857, p. 2.
  • [4] Morison, John, A Complete Report of the Trial of … Madeleine Smith for the Alleged Poisoning of P. E. L’Angelier, 1857, vi.
  • [5] “Spirit of the Press,” in Bucks Herald, 18 July 1857, p. 3.
  • [6] “Miss Madeleine Smith,” in Liverpool Mercury, 13 July 1857, p. 5.
  • [7] Morison, vi-vii.
  • [8] “The Late Trial of Miss Smith,” in The Hull Packet and East Riding Times, 17 July 1857, p. 7.
  • [9] “Miss Madeleine Smith,” p. 5.
  • [10] “Madeleine Smith,” in The Leeds Mercury, 14 July 1857, p. 2.

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