IT was the Glasgow murder trial where millions of people across the world eagerly awaited the outcome.

The case of 22-year-old socialite Madeleine Smith, charged with poisoning her older French lover, was the scandal of the age.

When she strode into the dock at the High Court in Edinburgh in June 1857, she was probably the most notorious woman in Britain, if not the world.

The nine-day trial filled the pages of newspapers everywhere with stories of poison plots and illicit passionate sex.

One reporter in The New York Herald wrote at the time: “Our readers will probably find our report of the trial the most thrilling narrative of crime, passion and judicial inquiry that has ever fallen under their notice.”

Madeleine was alleged to have given her French lover Pierre Emile L’Angelier cups of hot chocolate laced with arsenic, after he had tried to blackmail her over their relationship.

She wanted to marry a young business associate of her father’s with far greater prospects.

However, L’Angelier threatened to make their relationship public, including almost 250 steamy love letters and details of how she lost her virginity to him.

If that came out, it would have ruined not only her marriage prospects but her entire reputation.

The case caused even further controversy when Smith was cleared on a not proven verdict by a jury of 15 men even though she was the only person with motive and opportunity. So, who was Madeleine Smith?

Glasgow Times:

Smith was born in 1835 into one of the best known and most respected families in Glasgow at the time.

Her architect father James Smith had designed many of Glasgow’s then modern Victorian buildings.

The family lived in Blythswood Square, then the city’s most prestigious address, and young Madeleine had spent two years at a private girls finishing school in London.

Glasgow Times:

As was normal back then, her parents planned to find her a suitable husband – a Victorian version of an arranged marriage.

As the daughter of a wealthy and famous Glasgow architect, she was expected to marry someone of her own social standing. However, the 20-year-old socialite broke all the rules when she began a secret two-year affair with dashing 30-year-old warehouse clerk L’Angelier from the Channel Islands.

The passionate love letters which were considered highly indecent at the time shocked the public with their detailed sexual content.

The couple had met by chance in 1855 during one of Madeleine’s many shopping trips to nearby Sauchiehall Street.

When her parents announced a match with the far more suitable William Minnoch, a wealthy merchant and friend of her father, she knew that she would have to end things with her lover.

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In February 1857, Madeleine agreed to marry Minnoch, and asked L’Angelier to return her 248 letters and photographs but he refused. In one letter, she pleaded: “I trust to your honour as a gentleman that you will not reveal anything that passed between us.”

L’Angelier then pressured Smith into a series of clandestine meetings at her home – and began keeping a diary.

He told people he had been seeing Madeleine and “felt ill” after drinking chocolate she provided adding: “I think I’m being poisoned.”

L’Angelier collapsed suddenly at his lodgings in Glasgow on March 23, 1857.

He was found by his landlady in a doubled-up position and despite medical attention by a doctor he died the following day.

After his death, his family insisted a post-mortem was conducted and the results were handed over to the police. A forensic examination detected more than 30 grains of arsenic in his remains.

Detectives also uncovered the secret correspondence between the pair which revealed their passionate liaison and helped piece together the events surrounding L’Angelier’s suspicious death.

A decision was then taken to charge young Madeleine Hamilton Smith with this murder.

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On June 30, 1857, her trial began in Edinburgh in full glare of the world’s media.

The full extent of their relationship was revealed including Madeleine’s explicit love letters. “My nightdress was on when you saw me,” she wrote to her French lover. “Would to God you had been in the same attire.”

The prosecution claimed she had poisoned L’Angelier with arsenic at her father’s house, to prevent news of their affair emerging.

Madeleine had the means, the motive, the opportunity – but what the prosecution didn’t have was concrete evidence.

The court was told that Madeleine purchased a bottle of arsenic from Murdoch Brothers dispensary on Sauchiehall Street under the name MH Smith – with the H referring to her middle name.

Arsenic was a popular murder weapon in the 19th century because it was so readily available.

It was also used to make candles, wallpaper and dresses.

Throughout the trial Smith never seemed concerned by the proceedings.

She also seemed to exert a peculiar fascination over the men in the court, particularly the jurors.

She was later to tell a female prison governor in the jail, where she had been held awaiting trial, that she had received hundreds of offers of marriage from men who had read about her exploits.

In her defence, Madeleine claimed that she had not seen L’Angelier for three weeks prior to his death.

She also insisted that the arsenic she had bought from the chemists was for killing vermin and also for cosmetic purposes, diluted with water, to wash her face, arms and neck. The prosecution case rested on the overwhelming motive that the young woman had for disposing of her former lover.

Her legal team argued that there was no evidence that the couple had ever met on the days when she was supposed to have administered the deadly doses of poison.

It was even suggested that the heartbroken L’Angelier may have taken his own life after she ended their affair.

Despite objections from the defence, all the love letters were read out in court. Due to their frank descriptions of sex, they shocked and excited the then prudish Victorian society.

The letters were also widely published in the hundreds of newspapers which were covering the case.

But although they proved a possible motive for the murder there was nothing incriminating in the content.

Just because she wanted to end an affair to start another relationship, it didn’t necessarily make her a killer.

It had been proved that Madeleine had purchased arsenic, but it could not be proved that she had been with the victim on the night he died or even in the days leading up to the death.

The jury was told by the trial judge that they could find the accused guilty, not guilty or not proven. After only 30 minutes of deliberations Smith was cleared of the murder charge on the controversial third verdict.

When the foreman delivered their decision, the court broke out in applause. Madeleine Smith left the court a free woman.

Despite her acquittal she was seen by many ordinary people as the little rich girl who got away with murder. Victorian Britain had been scandalised by explicit correspondence quoted during the trial and the astonishing coolness in the dock of the upper-class young woman facing the death penalty.

Despite the acquittal verdict, Madeleine was never quite free of suspicion and decided to leave Glasgow for good.

She moved to London where she married artist and designer George Wardle and had two children – Tom and Kitty – with him.

The couple separated and then divorced, and Madeleine moved to New York City in 1890 with her now grown-up Tom.There she married a second time to a William Sheehy and this marriage lasted until his death in 1926.

She passed away two years later on April 28, 1928, aged 93 and was buried under the name of Lena Sheehy. To this day she is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson in New York.

L’Angelier meanwhile is buried in the Ramshorn Cemetery on Ingram Street in the Merchant City.

Because of the scandal Smith’s family were forced to quit their Glasgow home and moved to Bridge of Allan in Stirlingshire.

They moved again to Polmont near Falkirk where Madeleine’s father died in 1863 aged 55, broken by the whole affair.

Most people at the time believed that Smith murdered her lover in order to protect her own future prospects and end the blackmail threats.

However crucially there was no proof that Smith and L’Angelier met in the weeks before his death. Smith’s QC also managed to have his diary of their later meetings, with references to being poisoned, excluded from the trial which probably saved her from a death sentence.

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Even to this day it remains one of Glasgow’s greatest unsolved mysteries.

If Madeleine Smith didn’t murder her lover, then who did?