Oscar Slater
Dec 21, 1908 (Glasgow)

Oscar Slater was sentenced to death for the murder of Marion Gilchrist, an 82-year-old wealthy spinster. Gilchrist was found bludgeoned to death in her Glasgow home. Three witnesses saw a man exit Gilchrist's home and walk quickly by them immediately before one of them found her murdered body. The only thing missing from Gilchrist's home was her diamond brooch.

Police soon got a tip from a man who said Slater had tried to sell him a pawn ticket for a diamond brooch. They also found that Slater had a checkered past. While he had no criminal record, he used assumed names to escape from creditors. When police went to look for Slater they found that he and his mistress had left Glasgow by train, bound for Liverpool, where on Dec. 26, the couple sailed on the Lusitania, under an assumed name, bound for New York. Police were sure that Slater was Gilchrist's murderer because not only did he pawn a diamond brooch, but he exhibited evidence of guilt by secretly fleeing to the United States.

On arrival in New York, Slater was arrested. However, it was found that the diamond brooch had been pawned one month before the murder. It was also found that Slater had owned the brooch for years and had frequently pawned it in the past. Police were undeterred and sent two officers from Glasgow and three eyewitnesses of the presumed murderer to New York in the hopes that the witnesses would identify Slater. Two of the witnesses had been shown a photo of Slater prior to their official identification. Also while they were waiting for the identification lineup, Slater was led past them and was obviously a prisoner. The witnesses identified Slater as the man they saw, but they knew he was the only suspect.

Slater agreed willingly to return to Britain. Back in Britain, police found abundant evidence that Slater planned for some time to emigrate to the United States around the turn of the year. Thus his trip to New York could not be characterized as a decision made following Gilchrist's murder.

At trial the witnesses identified Slater as the man they saw leaving Gilchrist's house, although there were discrepancies between their initial descriptions of the man they saw and Slater. Slater had his mistress and his former servant as alibi witnesses. Despite this evidence the Lord Advocate (prosecutor) told the jury that Slater was unable to produce a single witness to say he was anywhere other than at the scene of the murder on the night it occurred. The Lord Advocate also told the jury that the murder weapon was a small hammer owned by Slater, when in truth the victim's wounds could have been produced by a large variety of instruments.

Because Slater was wrongly identified as a suspect due to his pawning of a diamond brooch, it would be a wild coincidence if he was the actual culprit. After a petition was signed by 22,000 people, Slater's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment just a day before his execution. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes books, reinvestigated the case. The reinvestigation found that one of the witnesses had told senior police officials that the man exiting Gilchrist's home was Dr. Charteris, a regular visitor to Gilchrist's home. In 1927, after the witness, then living in America, confirmed this account, another witness back-pedalled on her identification. Within two weeks Slater was released from prison, but without any declaration that he had been wrongly convicted. After Conan Doyle organized an appeal, Slater's guilty verdict was set aside on the grounds that the judge misdirected the jury. Slater was awarded £6000 in compensation. He died in 1948.  (CTI) (NAS) (FMAP) (TCOS) (Summary)  [11/10]