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Madeleine Smith: The Hot Cocoa Killer

Madeleine Smith had a rich fiancé, a secret lover, and one hell of a hot chocolate recipe. We recreate her cup of cocoa ... without the lethal ingredient.


Emile L’Angelier was in love – or so he said.

He had been secretly seeing Madeleine Smith for months. She was young, beautiful, and from a well-to-do Glasgow family. Since Emile was a lowly warehouse clerk, her father forbid the relationship (it was 1857 Scotland, after all). Of course, Madeleine agreed to keep seeing him. How could she resist?

A mutual friend let the lovers meet at her house. Or Emile would visit Madeleine’s bedroom window after her parents had gone to sleep.

When they couldn’t talk in person, Emile and Madeleine wrote each other letters … explicit letters.

But Madeleine’s family had other plans for their eldest daughter. She eventually became engaged to a man named William Harper Minnoch, who was from their same social circle. When she broke the bad news to Emile, she asked him to destroy her letters so they would never be discovered.

But Emile refused. He told Madeleine if she didn’t run away with him, he would send the letters to her father, ruining her new relationship and shaming her family.

While Madeleine’s future crumbled, Emile kept up appearances, telling friends they were still in love. He claimed to be visiting her bedroom window, where they talked about their future while sipping hot cocoa and coffee.

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After one of the supposed secret evenings, Emile’s landlady noticed he looked a little ill. The next day, the two had tea, where Emile made a strange statement: he declared he would always love Madeleine – even if she poisoned him.

Over the next three weeks, Emile got sicker, until one morning, his landlady found him dead. An autopsy showed copious amount of arsenic in his stomach, along with a dark brown liquid. It looked like chocolate.

madeleine smith trial

Madeleine’s letters were soon discovered, and she was accused of poisoning Emile. But no one could testify they had seen Madeleine and Emile together during the last weeks of his life. His friends assumed they were still meeting, based on what Emile had said, but Madeleine adamantly denied it.

It was her word against a dead man’s. Emile had already attempted blackmail. Could he now be framing Madeleine for murder from beyond the grave?

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The jury came back with a “not proven” verdict, meaning they didn’t think Madeleine was innocent, but the evidence didn’t prove she was guilty, either.

Soon after the trial ended, Madeleine broke off her engagement to William and moved away to escape public scrutiny. She eventually landed in the United States, where she assumed a new identity and died without anyone knowing the true story behind her deadly affair.

[via A Most Curious Murder; Crime Library]

All photos via Wikimedia Commons