Madeleine Hamilton Smith was part of a well-to-do Glaswegian family — her father, James, was a wealthy architect. In March 1855, aged 19, she met Jersey-born clerk Pierre Emile L’Angelier, a man almost 12 years her senior, and they fell madly in love. Via Madeleine’s servant Christina Haggart they exchanged passionate love letters but found it difficult to engineer meetings because of their different social standings. Madeleine burnt Pierre’s letters but he kept the 198 epistles she sent to him. Eventually they arranged to spend time at her father’s country house Rowaleyn at Row on the River Clyde and there they finally went to bed together on 6 May 1856.
In their letters she referred to L’Angelier as her “beloved husband” and signed them “Mimi L’Angelier”. When they returned home it again proved difficult to meet and they had to communicate via the basement window of her bedroom in her home at 7 Blythswood Square.
When James Smith found out about the affair he forbade Madeleine to see her lover and told her that he had plans for her marriage that did not include a shipping clerk. Madeleine told L’Angelier that the affair was over and asked him to return her letters but instead he threatened to send them to her father. Madeleine pleaded with him not to do that. In February 1857 L’Angelier fell ill and died on 23 March.
A post mortem was carried out and cause of death was established as arsenic poisoning. When the letters were discovered Madeleine was arrested on 31 March and charged with her lover’s murder. She admitted buying arsenic but said that it was to kill rats. She later said it was for cosmetic reasons. Madeleine went on trial on 30 June 1857. The prosecution alleged that she had poisoned L’Angelier with the arsenic mixed in a chocolate drink. The defence claimed that L’Angelier ate arsenic regularly and that he was a blackmailer and a seducer of young girls. On 9 July 1857 the jury returned the peculiarly Scottish verdict of “Not proven” — in essence “We know you did it but it has not been proven so go away and don’t do it again.”
11 Franklin Place, Glasgow, Scotland
Monday 23 March 1857
James Smith died in 1862. After the court case, Madeleine moved to London and then to America. She married twice (firstly on 4 July 1861 to George Wardle [died 1910] by whom she had two children) and died as Lena Sheehy on 12 April 1928 aged 93.