Friday, August 16, 2013

The Second Murder; Madeline Smith

Murder number two is rather an interesting tale. Did one of Glasgow’s most desirable young women kill her lowly lover? She was a wealthy, attractive, 18 year old society beauty. He was a clerk 10 years her senior, earning ten shillings a week. Was she enticing him with her womanly wiles? With promises of marriage then murdering him when somebody better came along? Or was he planning her social downfall? Or did he commit suicide, hoping she would hang?
                                                     Madeline at the time of her trial
It’s either an affair of Taylor/Burton proportions with arsenic poisoning thrown in. Or maybe just one of them was a murdering schemer.
In Jack House’s book, A Square Mile of Murder, the chapter about this case is full of great little snippets; Madeline Smith was 18, small, plump, dark and pretty. She had been educated in England and hated Glasgow (therefore a woman not to be trusted in my opinion!). She kept herself busy by going to parties and balls, five in one night on one occasion. Pierre Emile L’Angelier, her lover, pretended to be French. (He was a Jerseyman). He was a dandified little fellow, with a pointed moustache and he was ‘very proud of his small feet.’ He boasted of being related to nobles with chateaus and castles. To the jurors at Madeline’s trial, he was not only a penniless clerk who had mercilessly seduced an innocent young girl...but a foreigner as well—shock horror!! These were the days when a glimpse of a female ankle frightened the horses and the sun could not set on the empire without asking permission from the queen first.

It was definitely Emile who set the chain of disastrous events in motion. In February 1855 he made sure he and his friend ‘accidently bumped’ into Madeleine and her friend as they paraded Sauchiehall Street of an afternoon. He had a history of ‘bumping’ into rich young ladies and using all his Gallic charm on them. Turns out he also had a record of histrionics whenever a lady friend threatened to dump him. The histrionics involved talking about poisoning himself with arsenic with a view to killing himself thus making her feel guilty. But the outcome of that meeting in early February was a single red rose being delivered to the Smith House in India Road, addressed to Madeline, but anonymous. On Valentine’s Day.
The affair between the two was secretive, with letters being passed via Madeleine’s servants to Emile. Emile kept most of them – 198 were found at his lodgings when he died, over 60 of them read out at court. Later, as her passion faded, or as she saw sense depending on your point of view, she begged him to destroy the letters. The result of that was he started to keep draft copies of the letters he was composing to her. Were his true colours coming to light? Was he getting ready to blackmail the young innocent girl he had deflowered? Or was he just heartbroken and using any ploy to keep her in his life? The letters contained very shocking physical details of their passion, they proved that Madeleine was enjoying her sexual encounters with him, they were all about nudity and body parts and all that stuff they get up to in Mykonos. Although this was Glasgow and there were probably less bikinis and more thermal underwear involved.
Maddy’s sister knew about the affair and helped keep her sister’s secret. By the time of the trial though she had developed some kind of retro grade sleeping sickness and claimed she must have slept all the way through two years of her sister sneaking in and out the bedroom window, shinning up and down drainpipes and generally warbling on about the size of her lover’s feet. When her dad, a very wealthy architect, found out he forbade his daughter to see Emile again. He forbade her many times but the letters would always start again. Madeleine would make her way to Emile’s lodgings where his landlady would quietly slip away so they could be alone and sip tea and look at etchings and water the aspidistra. Even moving to the Smith’s holiday house in Rhu didn’t deter them, Emile just followed to steal kisses from her under the apple tree.
the holiday house at Rhu, designed by Madeline's Dad
The letters are interesting. At times she is talking of marriage, leading him on and he is saying it will never work as she needs her family, her position and her money. Then she agrees with him, trying to cool it off and Emile starts pursuing her with even greater vigour.
Then Maddy’s dad  made a clever move - he introduced Maddy to a very rich young man of  her own age and from that point Emile was doomed - either by his own hand or by Madeline’s. Madeline wrote to Emile telling him that although she loved him, her father would never accept it and that they would be better apart. Emile replied with the Victorian equivalent of ‘stuff that for a game of soldiers’ and vowed never to let Madeline go.
Airth Castle, a popular wedding venue today, also designed by Madeline's dad.

At this point the tooing and frooing was nothing new. The new angle was that Maddy now had two men on the go. All kinds of furtive and passionate goings on with Emile and a very proper and public courtship with William Minnoch. In January 1857 Minnoch proposed and Maddy accepted. She tried to say goodbye to Emile by letter. He threatened to go to her father which would mean the end of her betrothal, her reputation...everything that was valued in Victorian Britain.
Then Madeline was seen buying arsenic, signing the poison register in her own name. She did it more than once, saying it was needed to kill vermin. Emile started to get sick at this time. His friends testified that he had his suspicions he was being poisoned even before it was shown Madeline had bought the stuff. Was he leaving a trail for the authorities to follow the minute he realised that Madeline’s attentions were drifting elsewhere?
                      There are many films, plays and books about the case. Even comic books now.

Was he just carrying out his threat?  And was that in an effort to get back into her affections or was that so she would be hung for his murder? Was he taking the stuff himself and she was innocent? Or were they both at it? Did Emile think that he was taking a dose of arsenic that would make him ill but not kill him, not knowing that Madeline was dosing his cocoa with a lethal amount. There is evidence both ways and the arguments rage on.
She was put on trial ( in Edinburgh not Glasgow, a decision that might have gone in her favour) and  the case was found Not Proven. It’s the ‘we know you did it but can’t prove it verdict’- often called ‘the cruel verdict’.
Madeline’s defence council has the last word. He was asked at a dinner party if he thought she was guilty of the murder of Emile, he replied. “I would have rather danced than supped with her.”
                                                  is a wee ten minute film about Madeline in court- it captures the tedious nature of the proceedings very well. However it does give an idea of the sensation of the trial, they sent out a lookalike once the verdict was given. Madeline herself was sneaked out a side door.

Caro GB 16/08/1013


  1. Some historians of the case--William Roughead was the first to point this out, I think--that the letters showed that Emile and Madeleine A: Had vowed to marry and B: Had sexual intercourse. In other words, by the rather loose Scottish marriage laws of the time, they were legally husband and wife. Madeleine even referred to herself as Emile's "wife" occasionally.

    In other words, even if she succeeded in breaking things off with Emile, she was still married to him. If she wanted to really be free from him and marry someone else, well, there was just the "till death do you part" option...

  2. "Arsenic and Old Lace," indeed! Who says today's rich and celebrities have 'invented' any new behaviors? Thanks for the story, Caro!

  3. There was just a major trial in Federal Court in Boston. One of the city's most notorious villains, James "Whitey" Bulger, was on trial for 19 murders he had either committed or he had ordered. He was found guilty of 11 and the jury ruled the others as "not proven".

    The "not proven" verdicts were based on the testimony of witnesses who are themselves gangsters. Whitey, so nicknamed because of the extreme blonde color of his hair but not the color of his soul, solved all his problems with a two word command to one of his henchmen, "Kill him." Despite his continued insistence that he never killed a woman, two of the 19 victims were women. The "not proven" verdict was for one of them. Her brother was devastated because the family is left with no resolution to the crime.

    Anyone interested in true crime should read "Whitey" by Boston Globe writer Kevin Cullen. Whitey was protected from arrest by the FBI. It is believed that Bulger is responsible for at least 44 murders.


  4. Caro, I'll have you know that aspidistra watering is frowned upon in Mykonos. Though I think Emile and Madeline would fit right in here in August. Probably wouldn't even be noticed. And the addition to his morning cocoa could likely pass as an acceptable effort at helping a hangover.

  5. Caro, the little film was weird but answered my question about what happened to the not-proved murderer next. She went to London and then, eventually, like many of the unproven before and since -- She came to New York. What a story.

  6. If it were a book, it would not be believed. Than you for the story.

  7. Just imagine the dioramas that could be created from that story. (I was paying attention).