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Welcome to criminalize a production of chandeliered audio in partnership with I Heart Radio, welcome to Criminal Year. I'm Holly Fry. And I'm Maria Komaki.


And this week we are going to look into the life of Murray Lafarge, who at just 24 years old, became the sensational central figure in one of France's most notorious murder cases, her crime.


Murray was convicted of murdering her husband by poisoning him with arsenic. But what's most notable about that, in doing so, she became the first person ever to be convicted based on direct forensic toxicological evidence, like on Dexter or CSI.


She was born Marie Capelle in France in January of 1816, and she was the daughter of a colonel in Napoleon's artillery of the guard. Her mother's lineage could be traced to France's reigning royal family. Her grandmother was the daughter of King Louis, the 13th father, Phillipe Égalité, and his mistress, Comtesse Stephanie.


Felicity de Jean Marie was an aristocrat.


She was beautiful, cultured woman who played the piano and wrote poetry in her memoirs, which weren't published until after her trial, though she described herself as having an unhappy childhood.


She claimed her father had often lamented not having a boy, and her younger sister, who was five years younger, was at least to be considered prettier and more charming than she was.


And when her father died in a hunting accident in 1835, Marie was just 12 and her mother remarried very quickly. But just seven years later, her mother also died, and that meant that orphaned Marie was sent to live with her aunt. That was her mother's sister.


Her aunt was also the wife of the secretary general of the Bank of France, though it said she was treated well in her new home and sent to the best schools as an orphan, Marie status went from aristocrat to poor cousin.


She had no dowry of significance, rumoured at only about 90000 francs. And in those days, that made her a marriage liability.


Her wealthy upper class peers started to marry wealthy nobleman. But because of her financial situation, Marie was still without a husband at age 23. And at this time in France, marriage for aristocratic women was a serious business. And so her uncle went to a matchmaker for help.


The matchmaker did manage to strike a deal for Marie. Her arranged marriage was to Charles Lafarge's, who was a robust man, often described as coarse, and he was merely a matter of expedience for both.


Charles needed money to repair his estate and reinvigorate his business, and Marie was in desperate need of a husband.


Charles had really presented himself as a wealthy manufacturer and a property owner with an annual income of 30000 francs from his iron foundry. But the reality was a little bit different. He had lost almost all of his money and his property during the French Revolution.


So if Charles had offered an honest matchmaking profile, it wouldn't have been very appealing. He was a bankrupt widower with nothing but a collapsed chateau. The chateau, his one asset, if we're being generous, also had a serious rat problem.


And when Marie first met Charles during a date to the opera, it wasn't exactly what she found him to be common and boorish and ugly. And she really didn't like him very much. But still, a short few days later, they were engaged. And just a few more weeks later, in the summer of 1839, Marie and Charles were married.


And not surprisingly, when she arrived at her new home at LaGuardia, not far from Bordeaux, it turned out to be set within the ruins of a former monastery. And Marie was disappointed.


And as for her new in-laws, they were not the aristocracy that she was accustomed to rubbing elbows with. They were peasants and they disliked her immediately.


Unhappy and disappointed with her new reality, Marie made a determined effort to break loose from Charles. On her first night in their new home, she locked herself in her room and wrote a letter to her new husband, begging him to free her from their marriage, or else she threatened she'd poison herself.


This was also the first time that she invoked this idea of murder by arsenic, although, of course, she was threatening to take her own life and not his writing, quote, Spare me be the guardian angel of a poor orphan girl. Or if you choose, slay me and say, I have killed myself.


But later that night, she admitted to her ruse. Charles, in return, agreed not to act on his marital privileges him until he had both renovated the house and saved his failing ironworks business. He kept his word in. Accounts suggest that things did seem to improve between the two of them over the next few weeks.


But that didn't last. Charles really did seem to be trying. Charles spent a significant amount of money on his bride during this time. He really seemed to be doing his very best to win her over, and he wanted her to be able to pursue her intellectual interests and find some happiness. So he had her piano shipped from Paris and he also. Bought her an Arabian horse that she could ride around on the grounds, and he also subscribed her to magazines and newspapers and he set her up with an account at the local library.


It does seem to be trying really hard. He's like he's like, here's this Arabian horse that I bought for you. Please don't poison yourself, honey.


I know you expected, but I want to make this palatable for you.


Yet accounts of their marriage suggest Marie remained uncomfortable, feeling that his attentions toward her were, and we, quote, paid in a manner that shocked her refinement still in return.


I mean, Marie was not blind to the fact that he was making an effort. She started to take on her responsibilities as the mistress of the house and at the top of her list of things to do to take care of that pesky rat infestation, those damn rats.


We're going to get into a little bit of chemistry.


But first, we're going to take a quick sponsor break. Welcome back to treatment, Ilya. Let's get into a pinch of chemistry for a moment. Arsenic is an element of the periodic table and it's a naturally occurring state. It's not particularly toxic.


It's white arsenic, which is a byproduct of the smelting process of various metals that's highly deadly, poisonous. And that's what was commonly used to get rid of rodents and weeds and almost anybody could buy it. In the 19th century, Murray got hurt from the local druggist.


And also just as a historical cultural level set during this time in France, arsenic could be found in Wedmore household products then you would probably feel comfortable with today by mixing copper, arsenic, hydrogen and oxygen together.


It produced a brilliant green, though highly toxic pigment that was used in everything from kids toys to soaps and candles and fabric dyes, even wallpaper.


Pretty much anything that was colored this this green during this period would have been laced with arsenic.


It could even be found in medications that were used to treat everything from asthma to malaria and cancer to enhancing a waning male libido.


Arsenic wasn't just used to kill rats and mice. During the mid 19th century, when life insurance had gained popularity as an industry, arsenic took on a new identity as people saw a new chance to supplement their income.


It was nicknamed the Inheritance Powder because it was so frequently used to kill off uncles and other family members who might leave behind a chunk of cash or some other assets. And although men committed about 90 percent of spousal homicides, women were not above using it to kill husbands.


Yeah, so some of this arsenic took maybe like a review for you. And because it was cheap and odorless and had no flavor, arsenic, as we've mentioned before, it could not be detected in food or beverages. And because those symptoms that it caused, like diarrhea and vomiting and abdominal pain are all pretty common for many other conditions, including cholera. A medical examiner usually had no way to discern whether or not poison was involved in a person's death.


The first sign that you've ingested arsenic. Keep this in mind is a sharp burning pain in your stomach and esophagus, a symptom that comes on any time between about 30 minutes to several hours after you've swallowed that poison tea.


And then comes the nausea and vomiting and diarrhea. Arsenic will go on to damage the heart eventually. And a lot of people will poisoned with arsenic, have lingered on in their deathbeds for weeks.


In fact, until the 20th century, doctors had no idea how to treat arsenic poisoning. They fed patients milk, vinegar, linseed sugar water, egg whites, you name it.


In order to induce vomiting and find a cure, they would even go through the contents of a victim's stomach. And eventually it was realized that some of the the reaction that happened in the human body when ingesting arsenic while arsenic had no odor, that process could produce a garlic smell. So if they smell bad, then they would suspect that arsenic had been involved.


They also use that old standby of the time bleeding, whether by incision or more often with leeches.


But it wasn't just difficult to prove poison as a murder weapon. It was also difficult to place the murderer at the scene of the crime. Dying from arsenic poisoning, as we just mentioned, could take hours and far longer if the poison had been administered in small doses like in your daily meals through much of the 19th century, it's estimated that about one third of all criminal poisoning cases involved arsenic poison.


And this brings us back to Marie and Charles. Shortly after they were married in December of 1839, Marie made a will bequeathing her inheritance to Charles with the agreement that he was going to do the same thing for her. And Charles did make a will bequeathing everything of his to his new bride. But then he made another will. A secret will end in that secret will. He instead left his entire estate to his mother.


So then just a few months into the marriage as well, Charles began having recurring spells of vomiting and diarrhea. And while he was on a business trip to Paris, he snacked on a cake sent from his wife and fell violently ill.


I believe it was a Christmas cake, which makes it somehow more cruel. I believe it was Merry Christmas. And Charles returned home and his condition continued to deteriorate. And his doctors, both in Paris and at home, had diagnosed him with what they believed was cholera. But his friends and relatives really started to suspect that Marie might be the problem and the reason for his poor health.


It is said that she refused to leave his bedside. In fact, as his condition worsened, Marie's mother in law had the remains of a glass of eggnog analyzed by the local druggist who reportedly did find traces of arsenic in the beverage.


There's this part of me that loves eggnog so much that I'm like, how poison is it? Because maybe I'll drink it anyway.


He's like, This is going to kill me.


But damn, it's just a delicious way to go, although we're being very jovial.


But we get to the very grave section next, which is less than a year into their marriage. It was just January of 1840.


Charles died and although she maintained she was completely innocent, Marie was suspected of having poisoned him, the evidence against her centered around the food she had offered to Charles, including not only the cake that she'd sent to him on his business trip, but nuggets of venison and truffles were in there as well.


Suspicion also swirled around a small, mysterious box, the powdery contents of which Marie had been seen stirring into her husband's food and drink. Enough evidence was collected that she was arrested on suspicion of his murder.


I will mention if you want an entertaining, read her memoirs, talk about this whole box thing like accidental switcheroo of powders and oh yeah, the gum Arabic.


She's like, it's good for your stomach. Yes. So Marie Lafarge's trial, which was held during the summer of 1840, became a sensation in Europe. And it the fascinated public quickly divided into Pro and Altimari camps and in salons plays recreated the events of the trial. No one could get enough of this story. Marie's aunt had secured the best lawyer in Paris, a man named Alphonse Payet, who, with his associates Charles Le Show and Teodor Back, would be Murray's defense team because the daily newspaper reports Murray's case was one of the first, followed closely by the public.


She became the object of admiration for some as much as suspicion for others, and received thousands of letters and gifts and even marriage proposals.


Yeah, she kind of becomes one of the earliest criminals to gain that weird dual notoriety where people are just obsessed with her on both sides of the the belief of her innocence or guilt. When she entered court for the first time on September 3rd of 1840, she was dressed completely in morning gear and she carried a small bottle of smelling salts with her.


Throughout her trial, Marie had a flair for the dramatic. Her lawyer played up, quote, the excellence of her piano playing, her delightful voice, her competence in more than one science, her fluency in several languages, and her ability to compose in Italian verse kind of goes back to that thing we've talked about before, like she is such a great person and look how adorable she is.


There's no way she's bad cycler.


If you've seen Chicago, she's tap dancing right now.


Like now, there is a little bit of twist that comes into the story here because, well, we have been talking about her murder trial. It turned out that she actually ended up with two indictments against her. So there is the one that charged her with the murder of her husband. But there was a whole second charge that came up regarding a jewel theft.


So here's the story about the jewel theft. A former school friend of Marie's accused her of having stolen her diamonds while visiting one summer before she had met Charles.


The famous Marie actually freely admitted that the diamonds were, in fact, at her home, but she refused to admit that she'd stolen them. She claimed her friend had entrusted the diamond necklace to her.


So people generally did start to just believe that she was a thief because she had these jewels. And while some people that were following this trial so closely, because it was a huge sort of media event, I thought that, yes, she might be guilty of this thievery. But that doesn't mean she's a murderess. But other people just saw these two charges as entwined in regards to her very immoral character and thought that if she was capable of lying about stealing diamonds, then, of course, she was also capable of carrying out the murder of her husband.


But it wasn't popular opinion that she was convicted on. Murray was the first person convicted of murder by the use of direct forensic evidence.


Forensic science is what apply science to the analysis of physical evidence during a criminal investigation. And it was brand new at this time.


Yeah, toxicology in particular is the scientific study of chemicals, including poisons on humans and other living things. Forensic toxicologist study the detection and treatment of poisons as well as the effects poisons have on the body. Again, bleeding edge science at this point. Yes, brand new information.


So Marie never concealed her possession of arsenic.


She bought it openly to kill rats, she stated, and that suspicious white powder she was seen stirring into her husband's food and drink.


She insisted that was just gum Arabic, which at the time was commonly used to relieve stomach complaints.


Yeah, he he doesn't feel well. I'm trying to fix it. Unlike today, when autopsies are fairly common, any time foul play is suspected in the 19th century, that was not really a standard procedure to interfere with a dead body. Often there were religious reasons for that. So although a post-mortem was made on her husband's corpse, that was not done until sometime after the fact when it was insisted upon as all of these suspicions came up. Now, before we jump into sort of the development of the test that really damned Marie, we're going to have a little spots or break.


During the first half of the 19th century, Parisian academics were debating which tests and practices for arsenic detection were authentic and which were jazz funk.


But before they settled on one, they were there were big disagreements over the tests conclusiveness and the debates became known as the arsenic wars.


One of the ways to test for arsenic was a procedure called the Marsh Test that was invented by chemist James Marsh in the early 1836. Marsh, who is British, had first used this test in his lab in 1832 in a court case that involved a grandson accused of poisoning his grandfather. And while Martius test of the evidence did produce precipitate of arsenic sulphide, that compound was unstable and it broke down before the trial so it couldn't be used. That propelled Marsh to develop a much more robust version of his test, which he successfully did in 1836, that being just a few years before Marie's case.


And when it comes to Murray's case, it was the first time the local doctors had performed or, you know, frankly, even heard of the marsh test, which was, as we mentioned, still really quite new to scientists.


And even in its refined version, it was also notoriously finicky. Ultimately, the local doctors performed it incorrectly anyway and found no evidence of arsenic in the corpse, the food that had been served. Charles, however, did test positive for the poison.


And when all of these results were revealed in court, Murray, in response, fainted dead away and had to be carried out.


Very dramatic, but not everyone believed there was no poison in that corpse. It wasn't until one of the most prominent scientists of the time was called in by the defense team to help out in the case. That evidence was found that Charles had indeed been poisoned with arsenic through his meals, that prominent scientists with Matteo, Morphia and or Filla, was the dean of the Paris Faculty of Medicine and the premier toxicologist of the time.


He actually went on to be recognized as the founder of the science of Toxicology. And because he was living in France, he was considered France's foremost expert on the marsh tests.


The marsh test was capable of accurately detecting minut quantities of arsenic as little as one fiftieth, as little as one fiftieth of a milligram.


And it could be used on bodies that had been long dead or fella asked to verify that there was no arsenic in the corpse, was able to prove conclusively to the court that there indeed was arsenic in Charles's exhumed body, which was said to resemble a, quote, paste rather than flesh. Also, because soil can naturally contain arsenic, he wanted to be very thorough. So he also tested the soil around the burial site to make sure that the corpse had not been contaminated by that.


And none of that soil that was adjacent to his burial tested positive for arsenic. Things aren't looking good for our hero.


While this was one of the first cases where the marsh test was successfully used to identify poisoning by arsenic, it was far from the last. Marsh continued to refine his revolutionary detection process and with modifications along the way, it was used reliably for about 150 years or so, along with the enactment of divorce laws that made domestic homicide less tempting.


The Marsh test and its ability to trace the murder weapon directly contributed to arsenic poisoning falling out of fashion.


And for a little science on this test, it worked a little bit like this. A sample containing arsenic would be combined with sulfuric acid and zinc in an apparatus that was made up of tubes and rods and stopcock and nozzles just to name a few of its components.


It was complicated and reacting with the zinc, the arsenic would turn to gas. And then when the gas was heated to a certain temperature, it left behind a film of metallic arsenic. That arsenic would appear as a black streak after it was allowed to cool on a piece of glass or porcelain. And that presentation came to be known in the court as the arsenic mirror to counter the test. The damning results in Marie Lafarge's case, the defense team tried to debunk awfullest findings with another expert witness.


This was Francois Grassby, who also happened to be awfullest enemy in the arsenic war. So there's a whole secondary drama playing out here, but Respighi actually got to the whole event too late.


The verdict had already been given and he wasn't even wanted by the time he got in the end, the jury deliberated for just an hour and Murray was found guilty. She was sentenced to life in prison. She was also sentenced to two years imprisonment for the theft of that diamond necklace time, which was merged with her life sentence, considered a murderous, yet still a respectable female criminal.


And that respectable refers to her background of aristocratic birth. Marie was not sentenced to hard labor or to public pillory.


In fact, she actually made use of the downtime that came with her sentence. While Marie was incarcerated, she wrote two volumes of her memoirs. In them, she describes her arrival at the prison by saying. My arrival was expected, the populace crowded around my carriage, shouts, laughter, gross and insulting words fell on my ears. The prison door opened at the sound of the bolts. I involuntarily recoiled. I made two steps backwards, then collecting all my strength with desperate courage, I crossed the threshold of my tomb.


She's so dramatic, she's such a writer. Yes, she is. This is why you like her. She's been my favorite.


So in June of 1852, after 12 years in prison and reportedly suffering from tuberculosis, Marie was finally released by Napoleon the third she died just five months later in 1937, Marie's memoirs were adapted into the novel The Lady and the Arsenic, and her story also got cinematic treatment a year later with the release of the film L'Affaire Lafarge.


And in 1953, more than 100 years after her trial, CBS Radio series Crime Classics broadcast a version of the story of Marie called the Seven Layered Arsenic Cake of Madame Lafarge.


As we look at Marie Lafarge's case, it's worth noting that her crime seems borne of a feeling on her part that she had no voice or no recourse in her own life.


If you read her memoirs, one of the pieces of advice that she had received from a friend, incidentally, the friend entangled in that whole Neckless drama not long before being introduced to Mr. Lafarge lays bare her fraught situation. She was told, quote, You have no fortune and are almost 23. A good marriage can alone confer in society that liberty necessary to your character. Listen, seriously, while I remind you of certain disagreeable but wholesome truths, your health is not good and the nature of your complaint does not add to your beauty.


You will soon be an old maid as dissatisfied with yourself as you will be disagreeable to others. Avert this by becoming an amiable wife. You would not hear me last winter and evaded the subject every time I attempted to speak on it. Now I have caught you and I am determined to persuade you to make up your mind and to make you happy in spite of yourself, that some harshness that is like, you know, how people will say like a friend will tell you the truth.


That is that might be a little too much truth.


I feel like she's like, I'm never going to see her again. I can just tell her everything.


I think I think it's like it's a little cruel to just be the truth in some way. Oh, my God. It's like you're getting old. You're getting ugly. Oh, my gosh. The section where she's like, your health is not good and the nature of complaint does not add to your beauty.


It's like why it's so unkind. It's an unkind wammo. Yeah. Holly, you would not hear me last winter.


That's rather sobering advice from the viscountess, dell'orto and relaid in Marie's memoir makes very, very clear that as a fallen daughter of the aristocracy fallen simply because she was orphaned, who is gasp aging?


She is just doomed unless she finds a husband ASAP. And remember, she was like 23 without a husband. What if she's right? I mean, when is this she's like 21 or 22 and her friends, like, you're getting old? Yeah, pretty much. It doesn't look good on you.


Additionally, per her memoirs, she really, really thought she was marrying into a much better situation than she ended up in.


Marie recounts an evening where Charles sued her and her aunt beautifully colored illustrations of his ironworks in his home and how it was simply told to her that all of this was her future as her marriage had been decided for her.


And she describes the moment in the wedding ceremony when it was time to say yes to a life as Charles Lafarge's wife by saying, quote, I felt that I was giving away my life.


This is all to say that while she was the killer, Marie was also at her core, a woman who felt very trapped.


Hey, Maria, it's time for what's your poison? So what is your poison this week, Holly? So this week I have one that is invented by a French person, allegedly. That inventor is already Toulouse Lautrec. You may recognize and this drink is called an earthquake. It is composed of equal parts, absinthe and cognac. Delicious.


OK, well, let me set the scene at my house. So two things. I am a drinker. My husband is not. I like a.. And my husband does not. Let's just set that up right there. That's one of the things I love about you, right? That I love anise and drinking. That's two things you love about me. It's two things. But I like the way quite a bit.


So I put together this little mixture, which is mercifully easy. Right. And equal part drink is super easy to put together. And it was funny because my husband Brian had kind of said, like, I doubt this is going to be the drink for me, but I'll try it. And so I had some and I kind of made a surprised face because I honestly thought it was going to be yucky. But in fact, there's something cool that happens where the absinthe really is like the the main player.


That's where most of the flavor comes in and the cognac doesn't undercut it. The absinthe kind of overwhelms it. So it just ends up tasting like a super kind of liquor ishi mehndi thing that, you know, is going to get you super drunk.


Like I know. I know why it's called an earthquake if it gets cold, because I'm I'm pretty sure you lose sense of ground being solid if you drink a lot. Like I said, I said when I had it, like if I had two of these, I would be stumbling a wreck. Wow.


Even just after the second one. Yeah. And that's after, like having a sip and a half. But so the funny thing is my husband took a sip and like looked slightly terrified for a minute and then went, wow.


And then he was like, this is not for me.


So yeah. So it is pretty fun. And if you want to have a historical cocktail, it's an easy one to throw together once you have acquired the absinthe and the cognac.


But it seemed like a good fit because it kind of makes me think of the duality of Marie and Charles and their doomed marriage.


Oh, so that is our what's your poison for today? The earthquake. The earthquake. We hope that you like us. You're here to the end. So thank you for listening to criminality. And if you would like to subscribe to the show, we would also just think that's Graem. You can do that on the I Heart radio app at Apple podcast or wherever it is you listen to shows. Criminality is a production of Shawanda Land Audio in partnership with I Heart Radio.


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