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Oscar Joseph SLATER






Birth name: Oscar Leschziner
Classification: Murderer?
Characteristics: Victim of miscarriage of justice - Robbery
Number of victims: 1 ?
Date of murder: December 21, 1908
Date of birth: January 8, 1872
Victim profile: Marion Gilchrist, 83
Method of murder: Hitting with a hammer
Location: Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to death in May 1909. Commuted to imprisonment with hard labor for life. Released in 1928 with £6,000 compensation. Died in 1948
photo gallery

The National Archives of Scotland


Photographs of the interior and exterior of Miss Gilchrist's house


Inventory of Miss Gilchrists's jewellery


Oscar Slater's letter from Tombs Prison


Oscar Slater's petition to the Secretary of State for Scotland


Selection of newspaper cuttings about Oscar Slater


Oscar Joseph Slater (8 January 1872 – 1948) was a victim of miscarriage of justice. He was born Oscar Leschziner in Oppeln, Upper Silesia, Germany to a Jewish family. Around 1893, to evade military service, he moved to London where he worked as a bookmaker using various names, including Anderson, before settling on Slater for official purposes. He was prosecuted for malicious wounding in 1896 and assault in 1897 but was acquitted in both cases.

In 1899 he moved to Edinburgh and by 1901 was living in Glasgow. He claimed to be a gymnastics instructor, a dentist, and a dealer in precious stones but was known to police as a pimp and gangster who associated with thieves, burglars, and receivers of stolen goods.

Marion Gilchrist

In December 1908 Marion Gilchrist, an 83 year old spinster, was beaten to death in a robbery at West Princes Street, Glasgow after her maid had popped out for 10 minutes. Despite the fact that she had £3,000 (2009: £220,000) of jewelry hidden in her wardrobe, the robber was disturbed by a neighbour and all that was taken was a brooch. Slater had left for New York five days after the murder and came under suspicion as, before the murder, a caller to Gilchrist's house had been looking for someone called 'Anderson', and Slater had previously been seen trying to sell a pawn ticket for a brooch.

The police soon realised that the pawn ticket was a false lead but still applied for Slater's extradition. Slater was advised that the application would probably fail, but, in any case, decided to return voluntarily to Scotland.

Trial of Oscar Slater

At his trial, defence witnesses provided Slater with an alibi and confirmed that he had announced his visit to America long before the murder. He was convicted by a majority of nine to six (five ‘not proven’ and one ‘not guilty').

In May 1909 he was sentenced to death, the execution to take place before the end of the month. However, the trial judge, Lord Guthrie organised a petition, signed by 20,000 people and the secretary for Scotland, Lord Pentland, issued a conditional pardon and commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.

The following year Scottish lawyer and amateur criminologist, William Roughead, published his Trial of Oscar Slater highlighting flaws in the prosecution. The circumstantial evidence against Slater included his ‘flight from justice’; while the Jury had been made aware of his entire past life; The identification evidence was fleeting and otherwise unreliable, prejudiced, tainted, or coached. In particular Slater was conspicuously contrasted with nine off-duty policemen in his identification parade.

Under pressure from Detective Trench, a prison doctor and a Glasgow lawyer named David Cook the then Scottish Secretary McKinnon Wood launched a secret enquiry in 1914. However this was a "farce" and "Gilbertian" and Trench was sacked and then framed for reset by the Glasgow Police. Indeed the case remains the worst miscarriage of justice in Scottish legal history with several senior police officers, Stevenson, Orr, Ord disgracing themselves, John Neil Hart the Fiscal and several Liberal Lord Advocates, and even the Judge Lord Guthrie as well as politicans actively colluding to retain the conviction. Slater was released only in 1928 with £6,000 compensation when pressure from the Conservative Secretary of State, Labour opposition politicans including Ramsay MacDonald), Arthur Conan Doyle and several journalists lead to a new act and court of appeal for Scotland. Those responsible for Miss Gilchrist's murder were never brought to justice but the crime was almost certainly the joint enterprise of two or three male relatives ( including a doctor/academic and a lawyer who were protected by legal and political connections).

The Case of Oscar Slater

Roughead's book convinced many of Slater's innocence; influential people included Sir Edward Marshall Hall; Ramsay MacDonald; (eventually) Viscount Buckmaster; and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1912, Conan Doyle published The Case of Oscar Slater, a plea for a full pardon for Slater.

In 1914 Thomas MacKinnon Wood ordered a Private Inquiry into the case. A detective in the case, John Thompson Trench, provided information which had allegedly been concealed from the trial by the police. The Inquiry found that the conviction was sound and, instead, Trench, was dismissed from the force and prosecuted on a trumped-up charges.

Criminal Appeal (Scotland) Act 1927

Finally, in 1927 the publication of The Truth about Oscar Slater by William Park proved decisive. Solicitor General for Scotland, Alexander Munro MacRobert, reported to Sir John Gilmour, that it was no longer proven that Slater was guilty. An Act (17 & 18 Geo. V) was passed to extend the Jurisdiction of the the recently established Scottish Court of Criminal Appeal to convictions before the original shut-off date of 1926. Slater's conviction was quashed in July 1928 on the ground that the judge had not directed the jury about the irrelevance of Slater's previous character. Slater received £6000 (2009:£260,000) compensation.


As an enemy alien, Slater was interned for a brief time at the start of WWII. He died in 1948. Detective-Lieutenant Trench had died in 1919, aged fifty, and never lived to see Justice done.

The lessons of the Slater miscarriage were considered as late as 1976 by the Devlin Committee review on the limitations of identity parades.

In Glasgow rhyming slang See you "Oscar" rhymes Slater with later.

More recently, the Slater case has been revisited by several authors of non-fiction.


The trial of the century

EVEN in Glasgow, a city which is no stranger to notorious murders, the killing of 83-year- old spinster Marion Gilchrist was savage and shocking.

The "fastidious and cultured" pensioner was bludgeoned to death in the dining room of her city apartment.

But the discovery of her battered body 100 years ago this month sparked a sensational chain of events which led to a notorious miscarriage of justice and an establishment cover-up.

It also prompted Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to intervene on behalf of the man wrongly convicted of Marion's murder, Oscar Slater.

It is a name which for a century has been embedded in Glasgow folklore. In recent years a pub in St George's Road had the name of Oscar Slater's. It is now the Carnarvon.

The scene which greeted Marion's maidservant Helen Lambie when she opened the living room door of her home was one of true horror.

The room had been ransacked and the old lady was lying in a pool of blood. Every bone in her head had been smashed by her killer.

Helen had left the flat in Queen's Terrace, now part of West Prince's Street, 10 minutes earlier to get a newspaper. When she returned a neighbour, Arthur Adams, was pacing round the hallway. He had heard noises coming from Marion's flat.

The two saw a man leaving the building but thought nothing of it until the body was found.

Ms Gilchrist's belongings had been rifled through but only a diamond brooch was missing.

Police, facing a public outcry, were keen to act quickly.

Five days later - on Christmas Day - they received a tip that a man who lived nearby had pawned a diamond brooch.

Oscar Slater, real name Oscar Leschnizer, was a 37-year-old Jew who had fled his native Germany to avoid military conscription.

He had a sordid lifestyle as a gambler, pimp and trafficker in stolen jewellery.

When police arrived at his home they discovered he had left for New York on board the liner Lusitania - using a false name.

He and his mistress Andree Antoine, a prostitute, were booked on the voyage as Mr and Mrs Otto Sando.

Police were certain they had their man. When New York detectives boarded the vessel they arrested him for murder. In his pocket they found a diamond brooch.

Three witnesses, Miss Lambie, Mr Adams and a 14-year-old girl, Mary Barrowman, who had seen a man leaving the dead woman's flat, travelled across the Atlantic. The two women identified him as the man they had seen.

Extradition proceedings were started but Slater, convinced he would never be convicted, returned to Scotland of his own accord to stand trial.

It was the biggest mistake he made.

The legal establishment disapproved of his lifestyle and he was not helped by anti-Jewish sentiment at the time.

Astonishingly the trial judge, Lord Guthrie, told the jury that "a man of that kind has not the presumption of innocence in his favour."

Slater was sentenced to death, which was then commuted to life imprisonment, and he was taken to Peterhead Jail.

But the trial was a travesty. It had ignored the fact that a friend in San Francisco had invited Slater to the States, that he had changed his name to avoid paying his ex-wife and that the brooch in his pocket belonged to him.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was horrified by what he saw as a clear miscarriage of justice and published two books on the case.

A Glasgow journalist, William Park, also wrote a book which claimed evidence pointed to Miss Gilchrist's nephew, Dr Francis Charteris, being the killer.

The book was a sensation and in 1927, after more than 18 years in prison, Oscar Slater was released. He was later pardoned and given £6000 compensation.

But who was the man seen leaving Miss Gilchrist's apartment that night if it was not Slater?

Dr Charteris, who went on to become a professor at St Andrews University, fitted the description. But authors over the years have not thought him the likely killer.

Instead they lean towards another of Miss Gilchrist's family called Wingate Birrell.

He was the fiance of the maidservant Helen Lambie who - perhaps conveniently - was out of the house for the short time it took for her employer to be killed.

The case also ended the police career of John Trench, the detective who led the investigation into the murder.

Convinced a conspiracy had taken place he leaked documents to the Press and the courts and was immediately sacked with the loss of his 21-year police pension.

One hundred years on the conviction of Oscar Slater still casts a black cloud over the Scottish legal establishment.


The Oscar Slater Case

In 1925 William Gordon was released from Peterhead Prison in Scotland.  Unbeknownst to the authorities Gordon smuggled out a message from fellow prisoner, Oscar Slater.  The message, written on waterproof paper and hidden under Gordon's tongue, was a plea for help.  It was to be delivered to none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Conan Doyle first heard the name Oscar Slater years earlier.  He became aware of the case when Slater was sentenced to death for the murder of Marion Gilchrist.

The crime occurred on December 21, 1908 in Glasgow.  Helen Lambie, the sole servant of the elderly Miss Marion Gilchrist, left her employer for a few minutes to get a newspaper.  Shortly thereafter, Arthur Adams, who lived in the apartment directly below Miss Gilchrist said he and his sisters heard three knocks on the ceiling.  Thinking that Miss Gilchrist wanted his assistance, Adams went to investigate.  When he arrived at Miss Gilchrist's door he rang the bell.  Although no one came to the door he heard noises inside the apartment.  He returned downstairs, but his sisters urged him to check on Miss Gilchrist one more time.  He returned upstairs and was in front of the door when Helen Lambie returned from her errand.  At about this time they glimpsed a man in the building's hallway.  However it didn't strike either of them as unusual.  Perhaps it was another tenant or a visitor.  At any rate, Adams told Helen what had been going on and together they entered the apartment. 

To their horror they discovered that Miss Gilchrist had been bludgeoned to death.  Her personal papers had been rifled and a diamond brooch was stolen. 

There was a public outcry against the brutal murder.  The police and the public wanted the crime to be solved quickly and the murderer put behind bars.  Within five days the police announced that they were looking for a suspect.  His name was Oscar Slater.

At first glance it did seem that the police had found their man.  Slater lived near Miss Gilchrist.  He was known to the police for running an illegal gambling operation.  He recently pawned a diamond brooch. Even more damning was the fact that soon after the murder Slater left the country under an assumed name.   

Slater was discovered in America.  Once he was made aware of the accusations against him Slater willingly returned.  He was positive that he could prove his innocence.

The brooch that he pawned did not match the description of Miss Gilchrist's brooch.  He also had witnesses who could testify as to his location at the time in question. 

The police were not swayed by Slater's evidence.  They were sure that he was the culprit.  In addition to Slater's criminal history was the fact that the police had witnesses.  After some coaching by the authorities, these people, including Helen Lambie,  were sure that they'd seen Slater leaving the scene of the murder.  Also the police believed they found the murder weapon after a small hammer was found in Slater's possession. 

The trial was held in 1909.  Despite the conflicting evidence Oscar Slater was found guilty of the murder of Marion Gilchrist and sentenced to death.  Slater's lawyers started a petition that urged mercy.  Two days before he was scheduled to die, Slater's sentence was changed to imprisonment with hard labor for life. 

Slater's lawyers also contacted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  While Conan Doyle didn't approve of Slater or his lifestyle it was clear that he was not the murderer of Marion Gilchrist.  In 1912 Conan Doyle published The Case of Oscar Slater.  It examined evidence brought forward at the trial and point by point proved that Slater was not the killer. 

For example, Conan Doyle explained that Slater traveled under an assumed name because he was traveling with his mistress.  He was trying to avoid detection by his wife, not the police.  And while it was true that Slater did posses a small hammer it wasn't large enough to inflict the type of wounds that Miss Gilchrist had sustained.  Conan Doyle stated that a medical examiner at the crime scene declared that a large chair, dripping with blood, seemed to be the murder weapon.

Conan Doyle also concluded that Miss Gilchrist had opened the door to her murderer herself.  He surmised that she knew the murderer.  Despite the fact that Miss Gilchrist and Oscar Slater lived near one another, they had never met.

The Case of Oscar Slater caused some demand for a new trial.  However the authorities said the evidence didn't justify that the case be reopened.  In 1914 there were more calls for a retrial.  New evidence had come to light.  Another witness was found that could verify Slater's whereabouts during the time of the crime.  Also, it was learned that before Helen Lambie named Slater as the man she'd seen in the hallway the day of the murder she had given the police another name. Unbelievably, the officials decided to let the matter rest. 

Conan Doyle was outraged.  "How the verdict could be that there was no fresh cause for reversing the conviction is incomprehensible.  The whole case will, in my opinion, remain immortal in the classics of crime as the supreme example of official incompetence and obstinacy." 

Throughout the years Conan Doyle raised the issue of the injustice against Oscar Slater.  However he was not successful in his efforts.  Then in 1925 he received the message smuggled out of Peterhead Prison.  Oscar Slater didn't offer any new revelations.  There was no new evidence.  It was just a note from a desperate man who wanted justice.  He begged Conan Doyle not to forget him and to try one more time to free him.

Conan Doyle could not ignore Slater's heartfelt request.  He fired off a fresh barrage of letters.  He wrote to his influential friends, the press and to the secretary of state of Scotland.  He made public appearances and began to gather other likeminded people to the cause.  The movement slowly began to gather steam.  The turning point was in 1927 when a book by Glasgow journalist, William Park, was published.

The Truth About Oscar Slater reexamined the case.  Park came to the same conclusion that Conan Doyle did years ago, Miss Gilchrist had likely known the murderer and had invited him into her home.  Park speculated that Miss Gilchrist had argued with this person about a document that she possessed.  During the argument she was pushed and hit her head.  Her assailant was then forced to make a decision.  What would be worse?  To have Marion Gilchrist recover from her wounds and charge him with assault or to kill her and be done with the matter?  He chose to kill her.  Libel laws prevented Park from naming this person in the book, however he believed the murderer to be the victim's nephew.

The book caused a huge uproar.  Newspapers were full of information about the case.  Witness came forth to talk about the police coaching them into naming Slater as the man they'd seen around the building that fateful day. 

On November 8, 1927 the secretary of state for Scotland issued the following statement: "Oscar Slater has now completed more than eighteen and a half years of his life sentence, and I have felt justified in deciding to authorize his release on license as soon as suitable arrangements can be made."  Within a few days Oscar Slater was a free man. 

However the case was not totally a happy ending as far as Conan Doyle was concerned.  Slater was released, not pardoned.  As a result the case had to be reopened and retried.  At that point Slater could apply for compensation from the government for the years of wrongful imprisonment.  Conan Doyle and others gave money to Slater for his legal fees. 

In the end Slater was cleared of all charges and awarded �6,000 in compensation.  Conan Doyle assumed that Slater would reimburse his supporters for his legal fees.  After all, it was what Conan Doyle would have done.  However Slater saw the matter in a different way.  He thought it was ridiculous that he had to pay court costs at all and so he shouldn't have to pay them back. 

Conan Doyle didn't need the �1,000 that he had given for Slater's legal fees.  What bothered him was that that Slater seemed ungrateful for the support that he was given. Honor was very important to Conan Doyle and he believed that Slater had behaved in a dishonorable manner.  Conan Doyle wrote to Slater saying, "You seem to have taken leave of your senses.  If you are indeed responsible for your actions, then you are the most ungrateful as well as the most foolish person whom I have ever known." 

Had Conan Doyle been alive in 1948 he probably would have disagreed with the newspaper notice about Oscar Slater's death:  "Oscar Slater Dead at 78, Reprieved Murderer, Friend of A. Conan Doyle".



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