Welcome back to the very last episode of Random Scottish History’s true crime project; Glasgow’s Square Mile Murders. In this one we’re going to go through the verdict and aftermath of the trial against Oscar Slater for the brutal murder of Miss Marion Gilchrist. A super interesting celebrity gets involved during the aftermath of this one. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Dundee Evening Telegraph, Friday 7th May, 1909, p.2.
“I AM NOT THE ONLY
SLATER IS REPORTED
TO HAVE SAID.
TO THE POLICE OFFICIALS.
CLOSING SCENES OF
The Glasgow Herald this morning says:- It has been ascertained from a source upon which we can place the utmost reliance that soon after he was taken to the cells below the Court, Slater, who was labouring under great agitation, made a significant and startling statement. Speaking to the officials who had him in custody, he said –
See here! I am not the only guilty party. When I am dead another will be found guilty.
The Final Scene.
Describing the closing scene of the great trial a correspondent writes:- His Lordship had retired on charging the jury; the jurors had gone into their locked chamber; counsel had disappeared. Surely the sense of humanity might have dictated the removal of the prisoner to the seclusion of the cell below. The irresponsible chatter and surmises of the crowded Court might have then seemed less incongruous. But no. There sat Slater between his two guardians. He sat doubtless with anxious thought, but maintaining that composure and courtesy which belong to a man of the world. Now and again he seemed to pass a jocular remark to the warders, and even these policemen were constrained to smile. And as every phase was noticed, so also did the unsuspecting Courtroom share perhaps the apparent confidence of Slater. The disillusionment came with the tinkling of the jurors’ bell. The 15 men silently and gloomily resumed their places in Court. Verdict was written in their faces. The verdict was guilty. People seemed to search for a way out from the mental impasse and consternation created. Though returned by a majority the verdict could only be translated in the one way. That only way had its prescribed form of translation, and again the sense of humanity seemed to be cruelly outraged by procedure. The doomed man had risen to his feet. In broken tones he addressed “My Lord,” and added something which was inaudible. In kindly tone Lord Guthrie asked Slater to “sit down just now.” With alacrity he obeyed. The painful result of his brilliant forensic skill had been too much for the Lord Advocate. He had left the Court, and it fell to his depute, Mr Morison, K.C., to move for sentence.
The Death Sentence.
There ensued a period so agonising and painful in suspense as unnerved the spectators. Lord Guthrie, with flushed face and downcast eyes, was deeply moved, and appeared in the attitude of prayer. The hush over the Court was profound. There were deep escaping sighs, the occasional sob, the feeling of emotion taking the shape of nervous physical tremor. A moving spectacle was being enacted in the well of the Court. The clerks of justiciary, with flushed faces and palsied fingers, wrote with seemingly unconscionable delay the record of the jury and the death sentence. Counsel appeared to be in distress. The jurors hung their heads. In the dock crouched Slater. His fine physique had been a remarked on feature. Those broad shoulders seemed now perceptibly to shrink and sink almost below the level of the seat. With heroic struggle he would now and again square himself up and resume his upright position. But he could contain himself no longer. With choking voice he sobbed out his declaration of innocence and a pathetic reference to his parents. He was asked by the macer to keep quiet. Again he obeyed with fortitude, and in a moment of quietness Lord Guthrie suggested to his counsel to advise him to reserve anything he had to say to the Crown authorities, adding that if he insisted upon it he would not prevent him speaking. Mr McClure, suffering in the common emotion, turned to Slater and asked him if he desired to say something. Mingled with the sobbing of a strong man came the faltering words, spoken in a foreign accent, which moved to pity and tears the excited Court, “I know nothing about the affair,” he again and again repeated.
Assuming the black cap, Lord Guthrie considerately stopped the hysterical cries and speech of the man by pronouncing the sentence of death. It was followed by bewilderment. Instantly round the dock sprang to attention numbers of detectives. But there was no resistance. With a fortitude which he seemed to have suddenly regained, Slater quietly accompanied his guardians to the cell below the Court. The descending figure was closely followed by hundreds of greedy eyes. The trap door closed over Oscar Slater, who in the eyes of the law is a dead man, with his goods and chattels forfeited to the Crown. The Courthouse promptly cleared. “Madame” – with a love and fidelity that is touching – had remained almost to the end. She, too, collapsed. Her physical cries coming from an adjoining waiting-room tended to heighten the pitifulness of it all.
Slater cast a hurried look round the Court before stepping from the dock, and as he put his foot on the stairs he placed his right hand to his forehead.
He appeared to be weeping bitterly, and his face was convulsed by feeling which he was at no pains to conceal. When he got to the bottom of the short flight of steps he was seen to momentarily remove his hand from his forehead and look upwards as if endeavouring to see someone.
The trapdoor then descended with a bang, and the doomed man disappeared from view. The exacting and painful drama was over; one of the most remarkable trials of recent years was brought to a close. On reaching his cell the unhappy man swooned, and when later he was removed to the Calton Prison he was in a state of utter collapse.
The prisoner will be executed in Glasgow Prison on May 27 between eight and nine o’clock.
It subsequently transpired that the voting was nine for guilty, five for not proven, and one for not guilty.
Lord Guthrie thanked the jury for their attendance at that long and complicated trial, and said they would be excused from jury service during the next three years.
Removal of Slater.
Prior to the announcement of the verdict a crowd, numbering several hundreds, gathered in Parliament Square, but they were kept back from the Mercat Cross, so that the space in front of the Justiciary Court was clear. When the verdict leaked out a slight cheer was raised by some of the crowd. Slater’s removal to the Calton Prison took place a little later. Prisoner’s face was deathly white, and he seemed to be in a dazed condition as he was helped into the van and driven off. As he passed some youngsters shouted, “Cheer up!” but Slater seemed incapable of taking notice of anything. The authorities are very reticent as to Slater’s removal to Glasgow, and doubtless an attempt will be made to effect it with the same secrecy as was successfully observed when he was taken from Glasgow to Edinburgh.
Slater’s Career in Edinburgh.
It seems that ten years ago Slater was well known to the Edinburgh police as living in the city a disreputable life similar in character to what was brought out in the evidence in the course of the trial. It does not appear, however, that he had ever actually been in the hands of the Edinburgh police. Slater, some half-dozen years ago, was well known personally to a large number of the residents of Edinburgh. He used to frequent a billiard-room which has now disappeared, and which was a favourite resort for bookmakers and others – generally men who had a considerable amount of funds at their disposal. He was a good billiard player, and many persons who went to the billiard-room knew him as such and as nothing else. Six years ago he was conspicuous on the streets by the fact that he was frequently accompanied by two large boar-hounds. Since that time, it is stated, he has aged considerably, and he had not then the somewhat hunted appearance he has displayed since he came into prominence in connection with the Glasgow murder.
Dundee Courier, Friday 7th May, 1909, p.4.
THE SLATER CASE.
The conviction of Oscar Slater of the murder of Miss Gilchrist will come as a surprise to few who have closely followed the trial.
Nor, at the same time, is wonder likely to be expressed by most at the small majority by which the verdict involving death sentence was returned.
The jury were confronted by a case into which several peculiarly complicating elements entered. The unjust conviction of Adolf Beck was rightly brought prominently before them by the counsel for the defence. The whole case hinged upon the identification of Slater with the man who was met rushing from the house of the murdered woman.
It would undoubtedly have been more satisfactory had the evidence to that effect been strengthened by certainty as to the weapon with which the foul deed was committed and the connection of the prisoner with it, or in some other such way. Had Slater been a man of a less unusual type of feature he would probably have been given the benefit of the doubt, and been a free man to-day. His peculiarly arched nose, however, proved his undoing. Something more was required than the evidence adduced by the defence as to the prisoner’s movements and his possession of a budding moustache to outweigh the positiveness of the chief witnesses for the prosecution. His last hope vanished when Lord Guthrie threw the idea of the alibi overboard.
Although the Judge properly warned the jury against being swayed by the revelations concerning Slater’s mode of life, these could not but tell heavily against him in the long run. It was abundantly shown that he was a man whom no considerations were likely to deter from committing even murder itself did the temptation come his way. Discovery in the act of robbery by a defenceless woman like Miss Gilchrist was just the sort of circumstance that would open up to such a man the avenue to the capital crime.
The wonder is that Slater has not ere this fallen into the hands of the police. The fault probably does not lie with the force, who have come out of the present trial with credit, but with the state of the law in this country. It is scarcely credible, as it is certainly not creditable to the advanced state our civilisation is supposed to have reached, that a man whose existence has been not only, as Lord Guthrie described it, “a living lie,” but worse, should have possessed the faculty for surrounding himself with a veil of mystery that baffled observation. There is all the more reason for congratulation that he did not on this occasion succeed in covering up his tracks.
Unfortunately, Slater is only the representative of a large class of men, equally depraved, and in an equal degree pests of whom society would be well rid. He has only been unlucky enough not to have continued equally elusive. His conviction of this atrocious crime ought to confirm the determination and to strengthen the hands of our legislators and our authorities in their efforts to deal with these alien vampires.
Falkirk Herald, Saturday 8th May, 1909, p.4.
A REMARKABLE MURDER TRIAL.
On Thursday evening, at the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh, before Lord Guthrie, there was brought to a close, after a hearing which extended over four days and caused about as much sensation throughout the country as in bygone years was created by the Pritchard, Sandyford, and Ardlamont cases, the trial of the mysterious foreigner calling himself (among a number of aliases) Oscar Slater, who was charged with having, on the night of December 21st, 1908, murdered an octogenarian lady, Miss Marion Gilchrist, in her house at No. 15 West Princes Street, Glasgow. The Lord-Advocate (Mr Alexander Ure, M.P.), as representing the Crown, ably conducted the prosecution, and was competently assisted in his anxious duties, while Mr McClure and the other counsel for the defence did their zealous and skilful utmost in the interests of the prisoner. The public mind was wrought up to a pitch of intense excitement as the proceedings went slowly on towards their conclusion; but there was no general expectation that the accused man would be convicted, the prevailing idea being that a verdict of “not proven” would be returned. This was due, not so much to any moral doubt that Slater really was the cruel author of Miss Gilchrist’s death, as to the view that the evidence might not be sufficient to procure his conviction. Convict him, however, of the capital offence the jury did, by a majority of 9 to 6; and the culprit was accordingly sentenced to suffer the extreme penalty of the law, Lord Guthrie appointing the execution to take place within the Prison of Glasgow on the morning of May 27th. Slater, when he heard the dreadful announcement of his doom, completely broke down, although continuing loudly to declare his innocence. It is authoritatively stated that, on being conducted to the cells below, he frantically exclaimed to the officers in attendance: “See here! I am not the only guilty party. When I am dead another will be found guilty.” These words, if he really used them, are regarded by many as amounting to a confession of at least complicity in the brutal attack that cost Miss Gilchrist her life. As for the result of the trial itself, this much is clear – in the main Slater’s condemnation was brought about by purely circumstantial evidence. There are some who are in the habit of looking askance at testimony of this sort, and certainly it must have a pretty obvious consistency and strength in order to justify a conviction. This consistency and strength the jury believed to be in the circumstantial evidence adduced by the Lord-Advocate in the Slater case, and so, by a decisive majority, they gave a verdict, the effect of which is that the prisoner is to be handed over to the hangman. Miss Gilchrist, who had attained the ripe age of about 83, was a lady of independent means. She resided in a comfortable flat in the West end of Glasgow, quite near the busy thoroughfare of St George’s Road. Although seemingly she lived a very quiet and retired life, she was not without her own little “fads.” One of these was her love of jewellery, of which she possessed articles worth several thousands of pounds. The fact that she owned such valuable gems was well known in the vicinity. About seven o’clock on the night of December 21st her single servant, Nelly Lambie (the only other inmate of the house) was sent out as usual to buy a paper; and during the girl’s absence of about ten minutes Miss Gilchrist was foully murdered. Oscar Slater lived within a few minutes’ walk of that part of West Princes Street. When Nelly Lambie came back from her message she and a Mr Adams (a neighbour, who had gone upstairs on hearing some suspicious noises) saw a man coming out of Miss Gilchrist’s house. That man Miss Lambie identified, both at the extradition examination in New York and at the trial in Edinburgh as the prisoner, and Mr Adams stated that he was very like the man he had seen. A sharp message girl, Mary Barrowman, against whom the man collided in the street on leaving the house on the night of the murder, confidently and stubbornly identified him. A number of witnesses who had on several occasions before the murder seen a man hovering about near Miss Gilchrist’s house identified that man as the prisoner, and a large amount of other evidence of a circumstantial nature was adduced. The theory of the Lord-Advocate was that Slater haunted West Princes Street in order to become acquainted with the habits of the Gilchrist household, that he knew Miss Gilchrist owned valuable jewellery, and that he murdered the old lady in a deliberately planned attempt to rob her of it. Slater, who fled to America, and was there arrested, bore the worst of bad characters. He professed to be a dentist, but his actual source of income appears to have been gambling and sharing the wages of prostitution.
Dundee Courier, Monday 10th May, 1909, p.7.
THE SLATER CASE.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE COURIER.
Sir, – Anyone who has followed the trial in the High Court of Justiciary, Edinburgh, of the man Slater, who has been sentenced to death for the murder of Miss Gilchrist, Glasgow, cannot fail to be struck by the entire absence of direct evidence against the doomed man. Did the police prove motive? No. Were bloodstains found on his clothes? No. Was any instrument found with which the poor old lady’s head had been battered and its ownership traced to Slater? No.
Where, then, are the “damning facts” usually associated with convictions for murder on circumstantial evidence? Slater’s identification as the man seen coming from the murdered lady’s rooms after the commission of the foul deed was sworn to by the witnesses Adams and the girl Lambie, but, remembering the Beck case, is this enough to send a man to his doom? We think not.
Then there are differences of opinion between the jurymen. Was there any “damning fact” adduced during the trial to convince nine men that the German was guilty which failed to convince the other six? No. Oscar Slater may or may not be the slayer of Marion Gilchrist. He has been sentenced to death for it, but there is an uneasy feeling in the public mind that his guilt has not been proved beyond the slightest possible shadow of doubt. – I am, &c.,
CRIMINAL COURT OF APPEAL
TO THE EDITOR OF THE COURIER.
Sir, – The recent trial for murder in Glasgow and its result ought to urge your readers and the rest of the people of Scotland to compel the Government to introduce and pass a Bill in Parliament to authorise the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh to act as a Court of Appeal in all criminal cases on the High Court of Criminal Appeal in England.
In the trial to which I have referred a popular agitation has already begun in favour of the prisoner, whose guilt or innocence I am not to discuss here in one way or another. But when a jury differs in the proportion of 9 against 6, and where a change of 2 from 9 would have resulted in a verdict of “Not proven,” at least there are grave dangers of a miscarriage of justice, and a necessity arises for a thorough reinvestigation by the public authority in such matters. I have no doubt that the prisoner’s case will receive such investigation. But I still urge that as soon as possible there shall be a regularly constituted Criminal Appeal Court of three or four or more of the most experienced Judges of the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh. When we allow appeals to the highest Court of the Empire on the most trumpery civil cases it is a national scandal and disgrace to have no Criminal Court of Appeal in Scotland.
In conclusion, I have to state that for the last thirty years I have advocated the reform here indicated. – I am, &c.,
Newington Terrace, Broughty Ferry.
Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette, Tuesday 11th May, 1909, p.4.
SLATER IN PRISON.
VISITED BY FRIENDS.
It was intimated yesterday that Mr Ewing Spiers, writer, the agent for Slater in Glasgow, had received a copy of the memorial which has been prepared by counsel for the prisoner for presentation to the Crown authorities, requesting a commutation of the death sentence. It is being revised by Mr Spiers, and will be finally approved in a few days, and forwarded to Lord Pentland. The memorial, it is understood, emphasises the narrowness of the vote of the jurymen and the peculiar nature of the evidence, and calls attention to the fact that Slater’s character was brought before the jury. A large number of letters have been received by Mr Spiers, requesting him to prepare a public petition for a reprieve. He had not decided on the matter, but he mentions that he is preparing a statement setting forth shortly the points upon which Slater was convicted, which seemed quite insufficient, he claims, to justify a conviction. This statement he intends to publish.
A searching inquiry is being made by the Crown authorities with regard to the administration which Slater is alleged to have made immediately after the conclusion of the trial which ended in his being sentenced to death.
It is stated on the best authority that the Governor of Duke Street Prison has received two strange letters in connection with the case of Oscar Slater, the man under sentence of death in respect of the murder of Miss Gilchrist in her flat in Glasgow. One of the letters is from a man who claims to know the murderer and his accomplice, and actually gives the names of the individuals whom he accuses. As this letter is signed, the task of determining its import should not be difficult. The other is of a different nature, and of a kind not unknown in connection with previous murders. It is anonymous, and purports to be from the actual murderer, who, though he does not disclose his identity, gives in minutiæ his supposed doings on the day of the murder. Both of these extraordinary epistles have been handed over to Mr Ewing Spiers, Slater’s agent during his trial.
SLATER VISITED BY FRIENDS.
Slater, the condemned man, was visited in prison yesterday afternoon by a party of three friends, consisting of Madame Antoine, who lived with him at 69 St George’s Road, Glasgow, her sister, and a man who gave the name of Rogers. They travelled from Edinburgh by the Caledonian Railway, arriving at the Central Station early in the afternoon. They were to have been met by the Rev. Mr Phillips, the Jewish pastor, but owing to some misunderstanding that gentleman had gone to Queen Street Station, and it was not until the party had engaged a taxi-cab and visited his residence that they met him. Arrangements for a visit to the prisoner were speedily concluded, and the party of four lost no further time in proceeding to Duke Street.
Madame Antoine was dressed in a grey costume, with a large fur boa. Her sister was attired in widow’s mourning. Rogers stated that he has known Slater for some time, and that he wished to converse with him before leaving for America on an early date.
At the prison the meeting of Slater with his friends was carried out under conditions in keeping with the kind treatment extended towards him by the prison officials. The interview took place, not in the cell customarily reserved for such meetings, but in the apartment set aside for law agents in their consultation with clients who are awaiting trial. To an onlooker the brief meeting – possibly the last – between Slater and his former associate was touching in the extreme. Both struggled bravely to preserve a cheerful exterior, and it was not until after the final farewell – more tender than allowed by strict prison regulation – that their emotion broke its bounds. Madame Antoine was led gently away, weeping bitterly, leaving behind her an equally grief-stricken figure.
To-day, it is stated, Madame departs for France to return to her own people, who are said to be a highly respectable family.
APPEALS IN SLATER’S FAVOUR.
The Rev. Mr Phillips continues to express, without qualification, his emphatic belief that there has been a miscarriage of justice. He stated yesterday to a Press representative that he has perhaps known more of Slater’s inmost soul and his past life than anyone who has come in contact with him since his arrest. Slater admits fully and freely that he has led an evil life, yet he denies absolutely that he went the length of murder. His reiteration of his innocence is unshaken, and Mr Phillips is convinced that the statement alleged to have been made by Slater immediately after the sentence was pronounced has been grievously misconstrued. On the point of immorality Mr Phillips has the strongest of views. “Hang him for that if you like, if he were being judged upon his past life; but to convict him of murder on the strength of what his past life has been!” – such was his exclamation. If anything can be done to secure a reprieve for Slater or to point to his innocence, Mr Phillips will spare himself neither time nor trouble. He is, indeed, highly hopeful that the death sentence will be commuted to one of penal servitude, although Slater is willing to die rather than be incarcerated for the whole of his life.
Falkirk Herald, Wednesday 12th May, 1909, p.6.
THE GLASGOW MURDER.
The anonymous letter is apparently the work of a practical joker with a very grim sense of humour. The writer of the other has been interviewed by Mr Spiers, slater’s agent. The writer’s allegations have been found to have no substantial foundations.
Another letter received by Governor Buglass, of Duke Street Prison, where Slater occupies the condemned cell, runs – “It was me that did the deed, a woman dressed in man’s clothing. I was, of course clean shaven. I also had my hat drawn down over my face, so as not to give myself away. I was well paid for doing the thing, and it was done with a bit of stair railing that was given me for the purpose. I got in quite easy, and the old lady got up and asked me if I wanted anything. Of course, then I gave here the blow. I did not take long to do it. I am tall and dark, and, of course, not the least like poor Slater. The witnesses all stood in the Court, and just opened their mouths and said anything, and which were only lies. I would know Lambie and Mr Adams again, and as for that girl Barrowman, I will know her, as I nearly fell over her, but as it was a quiet street, I just went up the next stair that I came to, and stripped off my false garments. I do not know Slater, nor does he know me, so I am writing to you to let you know the truth of the matter. I got nearly £200 for doing the thing. As I wanted money, I took the chance when I got it.”
Slater’s real name is Oscar Leschzinger. He is thirty-seven years of age, a native of Beuthan, Sohl, Germany, and his father is Adolph Leschzinger, of that place.
Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette, Saturday 15th May, 1909, p.4.
The “Glasgow Herald” to-day publishes a letter from the man Oscar Slater or Leschinger, now lying under sentence of death in Duke Street Prison. It is to his father and mother, who live at a grimy, dreary, uninteresting Polish mining town named Beuthen, on the confines of the district where Russian, Austrian, and Prussian territory meet. In that letter the culprit re-asseverates his innocence, and remarks that Scotland believes him innocent of the crime of killing Miss Gilchrist.
Dundee Courier, Saturday 15th May, 1909, p.4.
WHEN JUSTICE IS BLIND!
A Parallel to the Slater Case.
Is the Eye a True Witness?
(Special to the Courier.)
Oscar Slater, the man with the twisted nose, who is at present lying in Duke Street Prison, Glasgow, under sentence of death, was convicted on the evidence of a number of observant witnesses, who, in spite of severe cross-examination, stuck to their belief that the man who stood in the dock was the same man they had seen that night in December when the dread crime was committed.
The twisted nose, the peculiar rolling walk the Semitic face, were all features which would readily be imprinted on the mind tablets of observant persons, but it is fair to ask the question – Is it possible that these witnesses may have been mistaken? We are not an observant people given to studying the peculiarities of our neighbours unless there is a personal reason, and Sir A. Conan Doyle, who has made a study of the subject declares that the majority of men and women are sadly lacking in perceptive and descriptive powers.
Professor Blackie’s Test.
It was Professor Blackie who set a test to his students to prove that the evidence of the senses was not to be relied upon. A stranger clad in a peculiar garb which would have excited comment on the street was brought into the classroom. He stood facing the students, and in a loud guttural voice wished them “Good morning,” then retired. “Now, gentlemen,” exclaimed the Professor, with a twinkle in his eye, “you had all an opportunity of observing that man who has just passed out. Kindly write a description of what you saw and heard, painting a pen-picture as it were.”
The results were most surprising, and clearly proved the Professors theory that the senses are not reliable witnesses. Not one of the students gave a correct description of the garments, some declaring the coat to be black, brown, blue, and even grey. As a matter of fact, it was dark green. Very few were correct in their pen-picture of the features, the class being divided as to the presence of hair on the cheeks, and not one student noticed that he wore a black glove on his right hand. It was a most interesting test, and the students were thoroughly surprised.
The Alleged Confession.
Slater could not put forward an alibi, at least not strong enough to convince the jury, and he has been convicted on the evidence of the witnesses who saw him leave the premises where the ghastly crime was committed…
Even the sense of hearing is not to be relied upon, for sentences may be garbled and the meaning entirely altered, as, for instance, in the alleged confession made by Slater after sentence had been pronounced. On the whole, where circumstantial evidence has to be solely relied upon, it should be beyond reproach and absolutely conclusive, especially when a life is at stake. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle truly says – “You will indeed be surprised with the result when you come to compare your pen-picture with the reality in the flesh.”
Dundee Evening Telegraph, Monday 17th May, 1909, p.5.
SLATER IS DEPRESSED.
REMARKABLE SCENES AT GLASGOW.
In Connection with Reprieve Petition.
Oscar Slater is spending the monotony of his days at Duke Street in taking exercise in the prison yard or doing a little reading within his cell. Rev. E. P. Phillips, the Jewish pastor, who is acting as his spiritual adviser, visited him yesterday and found him in a rather depressed condition. At times a fit of depression takes hold of him, and he is inclined to take a pessimistic view of his chances of reprieve; at others he is as full of confidence.
He confided to Mr Phillips that he had received a letter on Saturday from his parents in Beuthen in reply to his own. The old people wrote words of comfort and affection to their son, and assured him of their belief in his innocence. The condemned man, while he did not show the pastor the letter, communicated its purport to him, and seemed to be greatly moved by its receipt.
The petition for the reprieve has been posted by Slater’s law agents to the Secretary for Scotland.
Copies of the petition were available for public signature throughout Glasgow on Saturday. One man who had taken up a position in Gordon Street with a table and writing material came in for rough handling in the evening. He was surrounded by a crowd of people who evidently viewed the petition with disfavour. In the course of the hostile demonstration the table was smashed in splinters, while the owner complained to the police that two of his sheets were amissing. In George Square a petition was also being displayed, and the man in charge complained also of the hostile attitude of the crowd, a young lad upsetting the ink bottle on the petition. In East Clyde Street, with its mixed Saturday night population, the petition received a more favourable consideration, the signatories being mostly people of foreign appearance. Yesterday, in the Saltmarket, copies of the petition received the signatures of a good number of young people.
Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette, Friday 21st May, 1909, p.2.
May 20, 1909.
Sir, – Let me answer the main question put by “Vox populi, Vox Dei” – a high-sounding, abominably blasphemous pseudonym, in my opinion. No, Slater has not yet got his due, but he will get it shortly after the stroke of eight on the morning of Thursday, May 27, when he is hanged by the neck until he is dead. All this mawkish sentiment about the wretch is sickening; as a symptom of the cowardly flubbiness that nowadays has seized a section of our people it is positively alarming. For my part, I disapprove altogether of the death penalty, but while it is the law of the land the law should run its course in appropriate cases. If ever there was a case for hanging this is one. Since Slater did commit that ferocious atrocity, as he has been proved to have done by circumstantial evidence – the strongest, best, and most irrefutable of all evidence – why cannot he be left in peace to face the music and let himself be hanged like a man? – I am, yours, etc.,
Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, Saturday 22nd May, 1909, p.6.
It is stated that the public petition for the reprieve of Oscar Slater has been signed by 25,000 persons.
Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette, Saturday 22nd May, 1909, p.4.
Greenock, 21st May, 1909.
Sir, – Your correspondent “Z” seems to be a linguist, when he is able to translate this pseudonym, as he calls it, viz., vox populi, vox Dei. It is indeed a great relief to me to know that we have such men as your correspondent “Z,” who are able at a glance to detect the difference between an abominably blasphemous pseudonym and a reverential one. I would like to inform “Z” that the precise date of execution is well known by everyone. In his remarks he informs us that circumstantial evidence is the most irrefutable of all evidence. If that is so, then I say we must all be careful, in case we got imprisoned on circumstantial evidence given by our enemies. Let “Z” be rational and illustrate to himself the following: Slater is condemned to die on the morning of 27th May, provided a reprieve is not forthcoming. According to the evidence given at the trial it was made clear that Slater did not live a valuable life. Then is it not terrible to think that this man will be hurled into eternity without the chance of repenting for his past sins? If “Z” will meditate over the following, written by Lord Beaconsfield:-
Mercy is due unto the greatest sinner;
You’ll find forgiveness sweet, and always winner.
Think on the old proverb: Qui nimium probat nihil probat – he who proves too much, proves nothing. – Yours, etc.,
VOX POPULI, VOX DEI.
Dundee Evening Telegraph, Tuesday 25th May, 1909, p.2.
OSCAR SLATER PETITION.
Is Reported to be Secretary for
The Secretary for Scotland is reported to have written to the authorities in Glasgow intimating that His Majesty saw no reason for interfering with the decision in the case of Oscar Slater, now lying in Duke Street Prison under sentence of death for the murder of Miss Marion Gilchrist in her house in West Princes Street, Glasgow, in December last.
At Duke Street Prison the arrangements for the carrying out of the death sentence are being pushed forward.
Slater, it may be recalled, was arrested on board the Cunard liner Lusitania at New York, and was extradited for trial in this country. Lord Guthrie, in the High Court of Justiciary three weeks ago, sentenced the accused to death, the verdict of the jury being nine for guilty, five for not proved, and one for not guilty.
Immediately after the verdict steps were taken to promote a petition for the commutation of the death sentence, the grounds for the exercise of the Royal clemency being the difference of opinion among the jury and the alleged weakness of the evidence as to the identification of the accused man.
Something like 20,000 signatures were secured in support of the appeal for a reprieve, but, in view of the strong summing up of Lord Guthrie, it was scarcely to be expected that any appeal, no matter how many names might be appended to it, could influence the responsible Minister of the Crown whose duty it is to advise His Majesty as to the proper course to follow in the terrible alternative of life or death.
Oscar Slater, therefore, will meet his doom on Thursday morning. It had been hoped by the Jewish community that the execution, if it were finally ordained it should take place, should be delayed for a day so that it should not happen during the Pentecostal Feast, one of the most solemn festivals in the Jewish year. But, as already indicated, the responsible advisers of the King have not seen any reason for interfering with the course of justice, and there will, therefore, be not even a day’s respite.
Bailie James Henderson, who, with Bailie Thomas Paxton, had the duty according to statute of being present at the execution, has intimated that he cannot face the ordeal, and has asked to be excused. This request will be considered at a special meeting of the Magistrates to-day.
Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette, Wednesday 26th May, 1909, p.3.
PENAL SERVITUDE FOR LIFE.
The sentence of death passed upon Oscar Slater for the murder of Miss Marion Gilchrist in her home, West Princes Street, Glasgow, on December 21 last, has been commuted to penal servitude for life. Slater was indicted before Lord Guthrie at the High Court, Edinburgh, on May 3, and after a trial extending over four days the jury by a majority of 9 to 6 returned a verdict of guilty. A memorial prepared by his counsel and law agents, and a petition signed by about 20,000 persons, were forwarded to the Secretary for Scotland praying for a commutation of the death sentence.
The decision of the Secretary for Scotland was officially communicated last night as follows:-
“The convict Oscar Slater, now lying under sentence of death in Duke Street Prison, Glasgow, has been reprieved, the Secretary for Scotland having advised His Majesty to commute the capital sentence to one of penal servitude for life.”
The following telegram to Lord Provost McInnes Shaw was received at the City Chambers shortly before seven o’clock:-
“To the Lord Provost of Glasgow, City Chambers, Glasgow. – Case of Oscar Slater. Execution of sentence of death is respited until further signification of His Majesty’s pleasure. – Under Secretary for Scotland.”
A telegram intimating the decision was also received by Mr Buglas, Governor of Duke Street Prison. The Lord Provost, who had gone in the afternoon to Edinburgh, where he had an official engagement in the evening, was informed by telephone of the purport of the telegram addressed to him, and he decided to return to the city. Meantime Mr Buglas conveyed to Slater, who had been in a somewhat depressed condition, the news of his reprieve. The prisoner’s manner at once became intensely anxious and pathetic. Holding forth his hands, he cried, “Am I to be hanged?” the governor informed him that the Secretary for Scotland had sent instructions for the respite of the death sentence till further signification of the pleasure of His Majesty the King. Failing to understand clearly the meaning of the word “respite,” Slater stared for a second in wonderment, and then asked if that meant penal servitude for life. The meaning of the message was more fully explained to mean that the execution would not meantime be carried out, but that as to the alternative further explanation would be given him later. Slater stammered out some expressions of gratitude, and Mr Buglas and Dr Devon left him sobbing deeply.
Accompanied by Mr Myles, Town Clerk, and attended by Mr Anderson, the Council officer, the Lord Provost reached the city shortly before ten o’clock. He was met on the platform at the Central Station by Bailie Shaw Maxwell, the senior magistrate, and Mr John S. Samuel, and the party immediately proceeded to the prison. They were received by Mr Buglas, who conducted them to the cell occupied by Slater. The Lord Provost read to the prisoner the terms of the message from the Secretary for Scotland, and in reply to his question Slater said that he fully understood its import. The interview lasted only a few minutes.
DECISION BY THREE MINISTERS.
A London correspondent writes: In view of the extraordinary amount of controversy that has been excited by the news that the Secretary for Scotland has reprieved Slater, it may be stated that Lord Pentland referred the case to the Lord Chancellor for advice, and that then the Lord Chancellor desired that Mr Haldane’s opinion should be taken. Both the Lord Chancellor and Mr Haldane agreed that the amount of prejudice which there was in the rumours about the case and about the past of the prisoner rendered the evidence of identification, which at the best was somewhat slender, not sufficiently reliable to justify the Crown in letting the verdict of the jury carry its complete consequences. The responsibility for the decision is thus shared by the Lord Chancellor, the Minister for War, and the Secretary for Scotland, and it is desired that this fact should be known. It is understood that Lord Guthrie gave assistance in the examination of the evidence, and that he concurs in what has been done.
Musselburgh News, Friday 28th May, 1909, p.1.
The Grand Historical Galleries
WAXWORK AND MUSEUM,
SOUTH BRIDGE, EDINBURGH.
One of the Principal Sights of the City.
Portrait Model of OSCAR SLATER
has now been added to the Collection.
OPEN FROM 10 A.M. TILL 10 P.M.
Admission to the whole Establishment –
Mid-Lothian Journal, Friday 28th May, 1909, p.4.
OSCAR SLATER. – A model of Oscar Slater has just been added to the up-to-date waxwork collection of Mr Macleod in the South Bridge, Edinburgh. Many of those who were present during the trial and had exceptional opportunities of a close scrutiny of the original have visited the rooms, and the general comment is that a life likeness has been obtained.
Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette, Friday 28th May, 1909, p.3.
Preparations are now being made for the removal of Oscar Slater to the convict prison at Peterhead. His departure from Duke Street Prison will be very quietly effected. While it is likely that he will leave before Saturday there is just the possibility that the arrangements may not be completed this week. Mr Ewing Speirs, writer, paid a visit to Slater in prison on Wednesday. The prisoner was in good spirits, and expressed himself as grateful for what had been done on his behalf. Mr Speirs, although satisfied with the decision, is of opinion that an anomalous situation has been created, and it is his intention to take further steps in the matter. The course to be followed has not been decided, but it is probable that an effort will be made to induce one of the city members of Parliament to put a question in the House of Commons, and also, in view of the connection of the Lord Chancellor with the case, in the House of Lords. Nothing, however, will be done for a few days.
Dundee Courier, Wednesday 2nd June, 1909, p.5.
GLASGOW SCHOOLBOY HANGS HIMSELF.
The pathetic death, in tragic circumstances, of a schoolboy of fourteen years of age, was reported to the police in the Northern Division of Glasgow yesterday.
The boy, who was of a bright disposition, left school a few weeks ago. Recently he had been required to attend to the household duties in his home, as his mother had been an invalid. At five o’clock on Monday night his elder brother left him in the house, apparently in his usual cheery state of mind.
About an hour later a younger brother entered the house and was shocked to find the deceased hanging by a rope which had been tied round his neck and suspended from a hook in the lobby. The startled cries of the boy who discovered his brother attracted the mother, who was in bed.
The police express the belief that the boy’s mind had been affected by the recent happenings in the Oscar Slater case, in which he appeared to take an exceptional interest.
Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette, Friday 4th June, 1909, p.4.
The last has not yet been heard of the Slater case. Now the scene is to shift to the House of Commons. On Tuesday Sir Henry Dalziel will question the Lord Advocate as to Slater’s future. The member for the Kirkcaldy Burghs is anxious to know the grounds on which Oscar Slater is now detained in custody. It goes without saying that Mr Ure’s handling of the question will be watched with keen interest. On the face of it, the position of affairs is certainly an anomalous one, and as a nation whose love for justice is a dearly-prized tradition, some explanation is absolutely essential.
Scotsman, Wednesday 9th June, 1909, p.9.
THE GLASGOW MURDER.
Sir J. H. DALZIEL (L., Kirkcaldy Burghs) asked the Lord Advocate whether he would state the grounds on which he advised that the extreme penalty of the law should not be carried out in the case of Oscar Slater, convicted of murder, and now detained in Glasgow prison, and on what grounds the said prisoner was now detained in custody.
The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr Ure) – The Lord Advocate does not advise the Crown in regard to the exercise of the prerogative of mercy, and it would be contrary to practice to state the grounds on which the prerogative of mercy is exercised in any particular case. Oscar Slater is detained in custody on the ground that he has been convicted of the crime of murder.
Sir J. H. DALZIEL – Was the Secretary for Scotland in possession of the right hon. gentleman’s views before any decision was taken with regard to the matter? and, further, if Slater is detained in custody for the crime of murder, why was he not called upon to suffer the extreme penalty for this brutal crime?
The LORD ADVOCATE – The Secretary for Scotland was in possession of my views before the decision was taken, but I think the House will agree that it is entirely contrary to practice and to public policy to state the grounds on which the Secretary for Scotland exercised the prerogative of mercy.
Sir J. H. DALZIEL – Are we to understand from that, the view of the Government is that Oscar Slater was guilty of this brutal crime?
The LORD ADVOCATE – I am afraid that is only asking in another form a question which I have declined to answer.
Fraserburgh Herald and Northern Countries’ Advertiser, Tuesday 15th June, 1909, p.5.
THE OSCAR SLATER SERMON.
To the Editor Fraserburgh Herald.
“Calcraft” repeats here, that the sermon on Oscar Slater was a lowering of the dignity of the pulpit; and he would add that it would appear that the good old Bible has been exhausted for texts, by some of our preachers.
The beautiful words of the great poet, are very pat and very apt:-
He preached the Holy Bible dry
Fae Genesis tae Revelations,
Sae, for a change, he thocht he’d try
His han’ at up-to-date sensations.
As luck wid hae’t, a murder shook –
The country, and providit maitter;
He left Cain in the lurch an’ took
His text fae Squint-nosed Oscar Slater.
I am, etc.,
Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette, Thursday 8th July, 1909, 2.
OSCAR SLATER REMOVED TO PETERHEAD.
(From Our Own Correspondent.)
Glasgow, Thursday. – Oscar Slater, whose death sentence for the murder of Miss Gilchrist was respited, was to-day removed from Duke Street Prison, Glasgow, to Buchanan Street Station, and thence conveyed to Peterhead.
He was attired in the regulation convict garb, and was handcuffed to two other convicts.
Slater, who was looking remarkably well, and has gained considerably in weight since he was reprieved, has grown a smart black beard. He carried a small paper parcel and several photographs.
Dundee Evening Telegraph, Friday 17th December, 1909, p.3.
HOPES SOON TO BE AT LIBERTY,
Says Lady Who Visited Him at Peterhead.
A lady giving the name of Antoine, who states that she is the woman who was along with Oscar Slater, the Glasgow murderer, when he was arrested at New York, has been interviewed by our Aberdeen correspondent.
She was stylishly dressed, and wore much jewellery. She said she had just come from Peterhead, where, in compliance with the regulations, she had had an interview with Slater. Slater, she states, is doing well, and he expressed the hope that he would soon be set at liberty.
She also stated that a woman had been discovered who said she saw Slater at the same time as the witness Barrowman on the night of the murder at a different part of the city and differently dressed. Slater denied that his parents were in poor circumstances, and had shunned him.
The lady also explains that Slater’s brother and brother-in-law were to visit the convict. Slater’s brother is to offer £250 of a reward to any one who can give information that will lead to the murder being traced to another.
The lady said she had known Slater for six years, and had been with him four times in America.
The reason he had changed his name repeatedly was because he was not on friendly terms with his wife, and did not wish her to know of his whereabouts.
The lady was staying at a leading Aberdeen hotel.
Dundee Courier, Monday 28th March, 1910, p.5.
EFFORTS WILL BE MADE
TO SECURE RELEASE OF
It is stated that another movement is on foot in Glasgow and in Germany with the view to further steps being taken in connection with the sentence of penal servitude which Oscar Slater is at present undergoing at Peterhead as the result of his trial for the murder of Miss Gilchrist. The object which those interested in the movement have in view is the securing of such evidence as will lead to the conviction of some other person, and the consequent release of Slater, who since his conviction has never ceased to protest his innocence, and to express the belief that he had been unjustly convicted. This belief is shared by many of his friends, particularly in Germany, where a sum of about £200 has been raised to aid the prosecuting of further inquiries. Nothing definite as to procedure has yet been decided owing to certain difficulties having arisen.
Dundee Evening Telegraph, Tuesday 24th January, 1911, p.2.
OSCAR SLATER’S APPLICATION.
The Peterhead Convict Prison Visiting Committee paid a visit to the establishment, and as it was the occasion of the half-yearly Court for dealing with any cases reported, there was a full attendance. An application came before the committee from Oscar Slater for a new trial. Slater, it will be remembered, was tried and sentenced to death more than a year ago for the murder of an old lady in the West End of Glasgow. The sentence was afterwards commuted to penal servitude for life. The committee have no power to order a new trial, and could do nothing with the application.
Wishaw Press, Friday 23rd February, 1912, p.2.
BAPTIST CHURCH GOSPEL TEA MEETING. – Last Sunday Mr McLeod, of the Prison Aid Society, delighted the large audience as he related some of his interesting experiences of the prisoners. Mr McLeod is in possession of Oscar Slater’s trousers (with the blood stains on them), collar, braces, scarf, socks, straw hat, photo frame, pencil, etc. A couple of solos were effectively sung by Mr Lawson, jun. – Mr McLeod addressed a crowded meeting at Waterloo P.S.A. on Sunday, when a large number inspected the belongings of Oscar Slater. – The tea meeting will not be held to-morrow evening owing to the Mission Band soiree.
[We know Slater was never found in possession of any evidence, much less bloodied clothing – hence his respite from the death sentence.]
Dundee Courier, Wednesday 21st August, 1912, p.5.
PLEA FOR NEW TRIAL OF
CONVICTED OF MURDER OF
CONAN DOYLE CRITICISES
A brochure from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle dealing with the case of Oscar Slater, condemned to death for the murder at Glasgow in 1909, and now in penal servitude, is published by Messrs. Hodder & Stoughton, price sixpence.
The crime was a particularly atrocious one. It consisted of the bludgeoning to death in her flat of an elderly lady of means, Miss Gilchrist, and the robbery of a small article of jewellery. Many circumstances helped to constitute the case one of the most remarkable in the records of criminology.
In presenting the story of the crime, Sir Arthur Doyle, like Edgar Allan Poe in his narration of “The Murders in the Rue Morgere,” gives a simple digest of the facts, and then proceeds to a careful analytical examination of the evidence. The convict Slater was arrested on an Atlantic liner at New York a fortnight after the murder and brought back for trial in Scotland.
IDENTIFICATION METHODS CRITICISED.
Sir Arthur severely criticises the methods adopted at the process of identification, and points out the glaring discrepancies in the descriptions given by the witnesses of the wanted man, the absence of proved motive, the apparent lack of knowledge on the part of Slater of the position in life and the conditions under which Miss Gilchrist resided, and the inability of the prosecution to find any trace connecting Slater with the death of the victim.
The departure of Slater for America was explained as being due to a personal cause; he had made early and open preparations for his leaving this country, and when arrested in New York he readily consented to extradition.
A great point for the prosecution was the robbery of the crescent diamond brooch. It was found that Slater had been in possession of such a brooch and that he held a pawn ticket for it. The brooch was recovered. It was not the one which was missing from the room of the murdered woman, and it was proved to have belonged to Slater, who had repeatedly pawned it before. Despite this the police proceeded with their case and secured the conviction of their prisoner on circumstantial evidence, open to as much doubt, suggests Sir Arthur, as that which was disproved in the cases of Beck and Edalja. Slater was convicted by a majority of a jury of fifteen, nine of whom were for “guilty,” five for a verdict of “not proven,” and one for “not guilty.”
THE MAJORITY VERDICT.
“By English law,” remarks Sir Arthur, “a new trial would have been needed, ending, possibly, as in the Gardiner case, in the complete acquittal of the prisoner. By Scotch law the majority verdict held good.” Slater was reprieved twenty-four hours before he was to have suffered the extreme penalty.
Having exhaustively dealt with the known evidence and that presented to the Court, Sir Arthur says “Oscar Slater might conceivably have committed the murder, but the balance of proof and probability seems entirely against it,” and, adds the comment, “the trouble, however, with all police prosecutions is that, having once got what they imagine to be their man, they are not very open to any line of investigation which might lead to other conclusions. Everything which will not fit into the official theory is liable to be excluded.”
In conclusion, the author says:- “It is on the conscience of the authorities and, in the last resort, on that of the community that this verdict obtained under the circumstances which I have indicated shall now be reconsidered.”
Dundee Evening Telegraph, Monday 21st October, 1912, p.2.
HOW OSCAR SLATER LEARNED
That “Sherlock Holmes”
Was on the Trail
In An Attempt to Prove
Clever System of Prison “Wireless.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who is believed by Scottish jurists to be attempting the impossible, has at anyrate (writes a correspondent) put the convict Slater into a more hopeful frame of mind than he has ever been since being condemned to the living death at Peterhead Convict Prison.
To “pierce the veil” at Peterhead is more difficult in some ways than to gain information even at Dartmoor. But news filters out and from a convict just returned from the grim prison on the shores of the North Sea I have been able to glean particulars of how Slater got to know that “Sherlock Holmes” was working on his behalf. Since his incarceration Slater has turned morose and suspicious of his fellow-prisoners. He is a broken man, and until this news reached him was living the hopeless life of his fellow-“lifers” at Peterhead, wishing for that day when mother earth would give him eternal rest.
“Oh, he is quite perky again, is Slater,” remarked this ex-convict as his hungry-looking eyes, with the peculiar glitter which only the eyes of convicts assume, peered up into my face, trying to gauge what sort of value I was likely to put on the statement he had promised to make. “The news that ‘Sherlock Holmes’ is working for him has made another man of him.
“He would have heard the news sooner than he did but for his suspicious temper which he has developed since he was sent down. He has fits of the sulks, sees pictures of the past, and thinks of what he might have been doing had he not been nabbed.
The Peterhead “Wireless.”
“More fool him, say I. That sort of game don’t pay, guv’nor. It brings out the grey hairs, makes the slops (warders) surly in turn and sets the other prisoners against one. So he did not hear the news until it was tapped out to him in his cell.’
“He had previously heard a ‘whisper’ brought in by a new man that it was likely Conan Doyle was going to try his hand, but it was the Peterhead ‘wireless,’ as we coves call it, that first told Slater that ‘Sherlock Homes’ was on the trail.
“It is a tedious business this ‘wireless’ dodge. It’s the Morse code system of the tapping. The letter A means one tap, B two, and so on. So when the message was rapped out to him, ‘Sherlock Holmes’ trying to get you out – big slaps in newspapers – it took a time, as you can understand. The letter S itself meant nineteen raps alone. But time does not count there – I mean the time after working hours – and even Slater’s biggest enemy would gladly deliver such a message for the sake of the mere excitement it would give.
“The warders are up to the tapping game, and do their best not to let any such news filter out, but that’s impossible. When a new batch comes from Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Dundee, why, there’s quite a run on the ‘wires,’ and it makes a wonderful difference knowing how the old world is going.
“When General Booth died it was soon all over the prison. The same with the Titanic disaster. The prisoners were cut up about old Booth.
All “Innocent” Men.
“Many of them had been through his hands, and had always found him a bit of the right stuff.
“What do the prisoners think of Slater’s chance, you say? Oh, well, I’m not the one to deny any chap a chance, but I’m very doubtful. I expect the Secretary for Scotland is the best man to answer the question. He gets plenty of letters from Peterhead asking for a new trial, all from ‘innocent’ men, guv’nor. Lord bless you, when a man has read his library book until his eyes are sore he takes to writing letters, and any prisoner has the privilege of petitioning the Secretary for Scotland about his case. He must think there are quite a large number of splendid fellows at Peterhead.
“No. I can’t say the chaps are particularly bright about Slater. They’d like to see him get a trial, if only for the novelty of the thing, but if he got another trial why not all the rest of the blokes? That’s what we say, and that’s all I can say.”
Challenge to Sir Herbert Stephen.
A challenge to Sir Herbert Stephen to go to Glasgow and promote a Slater release movement is the outcome of the controversy between Sir Herbert and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who urges that Oscar Slater was not properly convicted for the murder of Miss Gilchrist at Glasgow) and Mr Robert K. Risk a Glasgow man.
Mr Risk writes a further letter to the press in which he states:-
“Sir Herbert Stephen describes as ‘noxious’ and ‘abominable,’ my statement that ‘Slater’s infamous character and career provide quite a sound reason for leaving him in penal servitude.’ I accept this censure as the proper and usual reward of a person who is indiscreet enough to enunciate in public the principle of rough justice upon which the majority of men act instinctively in relation to an agitation such as this.
“If Sir Herbert is correct in describing any statement as ‘noxious’ and ‘abominable’ in which case it would be repudiated by the majority of responsible and decent citizens, let him go down to Glasgow and convene a public meeting to promote a Slater release movement. He will find the hall in which the meetings of the Microscopical Society are held sufficient for his audience.
… According to logic and abstract justice Slater should either have been hanged (as the jury intended) or set free (as Sir Arthur proposes). He is alive and in penal servitude – an acceptable compromise which should not be disturbed.
“It is significant of the weakness of the case for the release that Sir Arthur and Sir Herbert appear to be more anxious to deal with the moral obliquity of a statement which they regard as irrelevant than to rebut the material points made in my letter. I contend that there is sound evidence of a confession of complicity, made under stress of conviction and sentence. If that is so, why should any person seek to release Slater? Sir Arthur is entirely incredulous. Naturally he must disbelieve a fact which knocks the bottom out of his case.”
Aberdeen Press and Journal, Wednesday 11th December, 1912, p.6.
OSCAR SLATER’S SENTENCE.
CASE NOT TO BE REOPENED.
In the House of Commons yesterday afternoon,
Mr McKinnon Wood, replying to Mr Marshall Hall, said that recent expressions of opinion of a varied character which had appeared in the public press and elsewhere with regard to the conviction of Oscar Slater in 1909, and the justice of the verdict, had been brought to his notice. The case was considered with the greatest care, both at the time of the conviction and again recently. No new considerations, in his opinion, had emerged which would justify him in reopening the case.
Fife Free Press, & Kirkcaldy Guardian, Saturday 14th December, 1912, p.4.
THE AGITATION initiated by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for a revisal of the sentence passed upon the convict Oscar Slater has had its day. The statement by the Home Secretary that the whole circumstances of the case had been fully gone into at the time, and that nothing has transpired since to lead the Department to reopen the case will probably be accepted by the general public as a wise decision.
Aberdeen Press and Journal, Tuesday 18th January, 1927, p.8.
First Cases to be Heard in Scotland.
The first cases under the Criminal Appeal (Scotland) Act, 1926, came before the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh yesterday.
Daily Herald, Friday 4th November, 1927, p.1.
CONAN DOYLE’S VIEWS.
From Our Special Correspondent.
I am able to throw new light on the much discussed case of Oscar Slater, as a result of conversations I have had with a highly-placed Scottish official who has inside knowledge of the facts of the case.
Slater is a Jew, born in Germany, but he left that country in order to escape military service. This circumstance lends special significance to what the authority told me.
“Slater would have been released long ago,” he said, “as his life sentence term has expired; but the authorities did not know where to send him.
“The authorities are convinced,” that there is no need for either an inquiry or a fresh trial.
“They are in agreement with the verdict reached in the original trial. They are not impressed by newspaper stunts.
“Slater is not British and Germany disowns him. The man’s nationality is a mystery.
“If it could be proved that he has a genuine domicile in any country, and that no objection would be made to his repatriation there, there would not be much difficulty about his release.
“Slater is, so far as the authorities know, a man without a country, and his only home is Peterhead Prison, where he is cared for in the usual way.
“The circumstances of his detention are pathetic; but what else can the authorities do but keep him at Peterhead until a national home can be found for him?
“Perhaps the ‘stunt merchants’ can solve this problem.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who has made such strenuous efforts to secure Slater’s release, ridicules the contention that the man has “no home.”
“His address in Germany is well known to the authorities,” he said to the DAILY HERALD last night. “The last thing the poor man did before he went to America in December, 1908, was to send £5 to his aged father in Germany.”
Oscar Slater was found guilty in May, 1909, at the High Court at Edinburgh, by a majority verdict, on a charge of murdering an aged single woman of means named Marion Gilchrist.
Nine members of the jury decided that he was “guilty”; five held that the case was “not proven”; one believed that he was “not guilty.”
A reprieve was granted on the eve of the execution, following a petition which was signed by more than 20,000 people who regarded the evidence against him as inadequate.
SIR A. CONAN DOYLE.
Since then he has been imprisoned in the convict jail at Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, despite many attempts made to secure a re-trial. A Commission inquired into the case about 14 years ago, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle pointed out recently that “as the Commissioners did not take evidence on oath and barred everything against the police, the Commission was futile.”
The evidence given at the trial showed that Miss Gilchrist was murdered in her seven-roomed flat in Glasgow about seven o’clock in the evening when her maid-servant was out for an evening paper. A family named Adams, who lived in the flat below, heard the noise of the assault and of the stricken woman’s falling body.
When Lambie (the maid) returned Adams went with her to the flat and unlocked the door. As they entered the hall the murderer came quietly from a bedroom, and, before Adams could decide on his action, bolted out of the house.
Miss Gilchrist was found dead with her head battered in.
Scotsman, Friday 11th November, 1927, p.9.
TO BE RELEASED.
A CONTROVERSIAL CASE.
THE Secretary of State for Scotland (Sir John Gilmour) yesterday announced in Parliament that he had authorised the release of Oscar Slater.
Mr James Stewart (Soc., St Rollox) had a question on the paper for oral answer asking the Secretary of State if he was “prepared to make a statement regarding the imprisonment of Oscar Slater, now undergoing a life sentence in Peterhead Prison.”
As he was not in his place at the time the question was called it was passed over.
Mr Ramsay MacDonald, who had been anxiously watching the clock and the doors, had a whispered consultation with the Secretary of State across the table, but no opportunity arose under Parliamentary procedure of asking the question.
During the afternoon, however, the Secretary of State, in accordance with custom, circulated a typewritten reply. It was in the following terms:-
“Oscar Slater has now completed more than 18½ years of his life sentence, and I have felt justified in deciding to authorise his release on licence as soon as suitable arrangements can be made.”
AGITATION FOR RELEASE.
Some time after the trial doubts were raised in certain quarters of the justice of the verdict. In 1914 the late Mr David Cook, Glasgow, Slater’s solicitor, submitted a statement to the Secretary for Scotland, Mr T. McKinnon Wood, containing information given by the late Detective-Lieutenant Trench of the Glasgow Police. An inquiry was ordered, and was held in private in Glasgow in April of that year by Sheriff Millar of Lanarkshire. About thirty witnesses, six of whom had not given evidence at the trial, were examined. These included Helen Lambie, Miss Gilchrist’s maid. In July a White Paper was issued containing statements submitted at the inquiry, including those by Detective Trench. He criticised the evidence for the prosecution on a number of points, and alleged that certain facts were made known to the Glasgow Police in their investigations which did not appear in the evidence at trial. No action was taken following this inquiry.
After the war years the agitation for the release of Slater on account of the alleged unsatisfactory nature of the evidence with regard to identification and other matters, including the “brooch” clue, was renewed. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took a leading part, having published a book on the case in which he sought to show Slater’s innocence. A few months ago a Glasgow journalist, Mr William Park, published a book called “The truth about Oscar Slater.” In this book Mr Park alleged that Detective Trench’s action in the 1914 inquiry led to his dismissal from the force. Soon after the appearance of this book the Secretary of State for Scotland announced that following representations made to him the Government were giving the matter consideration.
Slater was about 37 years of age at the time of his trial, so that he is now just under 60 years of age.
SIR A. CONAN DOYLE.
A THOROUGH INQUIRY WANTED.
“The release of Slater is only the beginning of things. What we want now is a really thorough and impartial inquiry into his case.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made this statement to a Press representative last night a few hours after the Secretary of State for Scotland had announced in the House of Commons that Slater would shortly be released from prison.
“Slater is now an old and broken man,” said Sir Arthur, “and no effort should be spared to ensure that his sufferings should be productive of some good. The form of inquiry I would suggest would not be elaborate. All that is required is to obtain answers to about fifteen questions which I could write out on a sheet of notepaper. If these questions can be satisfactorily answered, well and good. If not, then it will be clear that grave mistakes were made by the judicial authorities concerned with Slater’s trial.
“It seems to me that anyone who happened to be walking about the streets of Glasgow at the same time as Slater might have been found guilty just as easily as he was. A number of people who gave evidence for the prosecution have since declared that their statements were twisted.”
Asked what immediate steps were to be taken in the matter, Sir Arthur said emphatically:- “We shall go on with the agitation. This man’s freedom is nothing. I am quite sure that an inquiry could be carried out without any great expenditure of public funds.”
Dundee Courier, Monday 14th November, 1927, p.5.
OSCAR SLATER’S FUTURE.
Offer of a Home in Germany.
From a Special Correspondent.
Information is still being withheld by the prison authorities at Peterhead as to the date of Oscar Slater’s release after 18 years’ imprisonment for the murder of Miss Marion Gilchrist, an old Glasgow lady.
It is believed, however, that early in the week the “suitable arrangements” referred to in the Secretary for Scotland’s announcement will be completed, and Slater will be liberated.
Where he will go is a question arousing much discussion. It had to be noted that he is being released, not on any special ground, but solely because it is considered he has received sufficient punishment.
According to precedent, Slater, when he does emerge from prison, will be on license, and so long as he remains in this country he will require to report his movements to the police.
Having been so long absent from Germany he has lost his official nationality of that country but as his niece there has offered to provide him with a home it is anticipated that should he desire to return there no barrier will be put in his way.
Meanwhile it is practically certain that Slater will go straight to Glasgow, where help and a home are being arranged by Rev. E. P. Phillips, Rabbi of Garnethill Synagogue, who was his religious adviser before and subsequent to Slater’s incarceration at Peterhead.
On Saturday afternoon Slater, looking remarkably well and cheerful, attended a prison football match between two convict teams.
Dundee Evening Telegraph, Tuesday 15th November, 1927, p.1.
OSCAR SLATER SPEAKS ABOUT HIS TRIAL.
ALLEGES JUDGE PUT LEADING
QUESTIONS TO DOCTOR.
MATTERS OVER WHICH HE HAS
PONDERED DURING HIS IMPRISONMENT.
“Why so many against me? why so hard to get me out?” These were the questions to which Oscar Slater gave voice to-day after his first day of freedom spent in Glasgow.
Slater declares that there is a lot locked up in his heart over which he has pondered during his long incarceration in Peterhead, and he will sooner or later speak out.
Slater makes a complaint about the manner in which the late Lord Guthrie conducted his trial, and alleges that the Judge put leading questions to the medical witnesses.
Aberdeen Press and Journal, Wednesday 16th November, 1927, p.7.
APPEAL FACILITIES FOR SLATER.
SPECIAL ACT OF PARLIAMENT
TO BE INTRODUCED.
In order to give Oscar Slater the right to appeal against his conviction, the Government has offered to pass at once a special Act of Parliament so that his case may come before the Court of Criminal Appeal.
Provided Parliament is willing, Sir John Gilmour, Secretary of State for Scotland, is prepared to rush a short Bill through Parliament so that Oscar Slater’s conviction may be reviewed by the Scottish Criminal Appeal Court. In reply to a question put to him in the House of Commons yesterday by Col. Day (Soc – Southwark) Sir John said:
Had the conviction in this case taken place after October 31, 1926, I should have had power to submit questions regarding it to the Court of Criminal Appeal under the provisions of the Criminal Appeal (Scotland) Act, 1926. If I could obtain from Parliament the legislation necessary to extend the Act so as to enable me to refer this case under the provisions mentioned, I am prepared to take the course. (Cheers.) A single-clause Bill would be all that is necessary, but at this stage of the session I cannot hope to get it through unless the House is prepared to pass the Bill by general consent and without discussion.
Mr Ramsay MacDonald – In view of the somewhat unfortunate position in which this case has been left, cannot some very special attempts be made through the usual channels to arrange for the passing of this Bill?
Sir John Gilmour – So far as the Government are concerned they welcome the suggestion. (Hear, hear.)
Sir John Gilmour’s announcement that the Government would welcome the opportunity to have a judicial inquiry was not entirely unexpected, as many Scottish and other members of the House of Commons had been making representations to Ministers recently. The definite offer to have the inquiry at an early date, however, was a surprise. Once the Bill has been passed, there will be no unnecessary delay in acting on it. The inquiry will, in effect, be a re-hearing of the case for and against Slater.
As our London Correspondent states, the Bill is expected to be introduced immediately, and is likely to be treated as noncontentious.
All the police officials who were closely associated with Slater’s trial have since retired, and a few have died.
Ex-Convict Leaves the Rabbi’s House.
Oscar Slater has quietly left the house of his rabbi friend, the Rev. E. P. Phillips, in Kelvingrove Street, Glasgow, and has taken up secret quarters in another part of the city. Slater is said to have declared he must have rest, and that he does not want to be disturbed.
The Rev. E. P. Phillips, who accompanied Slater from Peterhead on Monday and took him to his own house, stated that Slater was not anxious to appear in the limelight. Slater, he added, would still remain in Glasgow, as he had to report periodically to the police. The move to keep his address secret, however, was prompted by another reason. They had to consider the position of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was anxious that nothing should be done to prejudice Slater’s case.
The only money that Slater had in his possession on his release was a shilling and a threepenny piece. On the journey, as reported in the “Press and Journal” yesterday, he gave the shilling to a railway official and the smaller coin for the railwayman’s child.
Sir A. Conan Doyle’s Letter.
On the day when Slater was informed of his impending release, he received a letter from Sir A. Conan Doyle, which said:
Dear Oscar Slater. – This is to say, in my wife’s name and my own, how grieved we have been at the infamous injustice which you have suffered at the hands of our officials. Your only poor consolation can be that your fate, if we can get people to realise it, may have the effect of safeguarding others in the future. We will still work in the hope of getting an inquiry into these iniquities, and eventually, as I hope, some compensation for your undeserved suffering.
Scotsman, Tuesday 15th November, 1927, p.9.
OSCAR SLATER FREE.
ARRIVAL IN GLASGOW.
AFTER serving over eighteen years’ imprisonment for the murder of Miss Gilchrist in Glasgow, Oscar Slater was released from Peterhead Prison, Aberdeenshire, yesterday afternoon.
Many motor cars drove up to the prison, in one of which was Rev. E. P. Phillips, a Jewish rabbi from Glasgow, who passed through the prison doors, and a few minutes later appeared with Slater.
The car was then driven off to Peterhead Station, followed by others containing Pressmen. Slater left by the 3.35 train in a private reserved compartment.
None of the Pressmen was allowed to interview him. “I am saying nothing,” he said.
GRATEFUL TO HIS FRIENDS.
When the train from Peterhead arrived at the Aberdeen Joint Station at 5.20 P.M. there were about fifty people awaiting to catch a glimpse of the ex-convict as he was taken to the L.M.S. train en route for Glasgow, where, Slater stated, a few friends would be waiting to meet him and to look after him until plans for his future had been decided. As he stepped along the platform in company with the Rev. Mr Phillips, Slater was closely scanned by onlookers, who soon got to know that this was the man about whose release so much had recently been heard. He wore a suit of rough grey tweeds, and his only possessions were contained in a small brown paper parcel which he carried under his arm.
In a brief conversation with a Press representative, Slater stated that all he could say at present was that he was very grateful to all the friends who had stood by him, and his thanks were due to them for his release. He stated further that he would have plenty of time now, and would do his best to clear up a lot of things regarding the crime of which he still maintains he was innocent.
When Slater had been seated in a special compartment well to the front of the train, the blinds of the carriage were drawn. There was no demonstration of any kind.
SHIELDED BY UMBRELLA.
Slater reached Buchanan Street Station, Glasgow, at 9.25 last night. Before the arrival of the train, a large number of Pressmen gathered on the platform. A motor car stood in a secluded part of the station roadway, and the removal of one of the temporary barriers in use in the station to permit of the passage of the vehicle gave rise to the belief that it was intended for Slater’s conveyance.
When the ex-convict stepped from the train he was approached by a woman dressed in black, who put up an umbrella and held it over his head, obviously with the intention of shielding his features from the eager camera men.
Accompanied by the woman and the Rev. Mr Phillips, who had travelled with him, Slater, with the aid of police officials, was escorted to the waiting motor car which hurriedly left the station. Slater made no statement.
A large force of police prevented anyone from jumping on to the footboard of the motor car. Pressmen, however, jumped into waiting taxi cabs and followed Slater’s taxi to the house of Mr Phillips, where, it is understood, Slater stayed over-night. There was no cheering or any demonstration at the station on the part of the crowd.
When Slater reached the house of the Rabbi, in Kelvingrove Street, he was surrounded by a number of friends on the doorstep, and while two men shook him cordially by the hand, wishing him the best of luck, a young woman thrust into his arms a bouquet of flowers.
It was learned that, after Slater entered the House, he consented to pose for one Press photographer only.
NO INQUIRY LIKELY.
THE OFFICIAL VIEW.
[FROM OUR LONDON CORRESPONDENT.]
LONDON, Monday Night.
It is evident that the Government will be confronted by a strong and well-supported agitation for an inquiry into the case of Oscar Slater, who was released from Peterhead Prison to-day. Ministers, as at present advised, are, I believe, opposed to anything of the kind.
The records of the original trial have been repeatedly examined by experts, and every incident alleged as throwing doubt on the verdict has been found to have no substance. If an inquiry were considered necessary, it would be only, according to the official view, to dissipate the charges which have been made against the police conduct of the case.
No question of compensation arises, and deportation has not been considered. Slater is understood to be a native of Silesia, so that it would be difficult to say, apart from the question whether long residence has not given him a domicile in this country, if he should be sent to Germany or Poland. In any case the official view is that no further action is required.
Sunday Post, Sunday 22nd July, 1928, p.12.
THE OSCAR SLATER APPEAL.
THE decision of the Scottish Court of Appeal in the Oscar Slater case will give general satisfaction. It relieves the public mind – or shall I say the public conscience – of a weight of doubt which has burdened it for almost twenty years, doubt as to whether an innocent man, albeit a foreigner, was serving his life out in Peterhead through a miscarriage of justice.
Belated though it is, the decision will enhance public confidence in the powers of Scottish justice to redress wrongs committed in its own name. And, of course, it supplies the most convincing proof of the virtue of the new Scottish tribunal which delivered it.
But when all that has been said, is there very much for a Scotsman to rave about as regards the administration of justice revealed in this case? Is not the whole story one of bungling from beginning to end?
* * * * *
Immediately after Slater’s conviction, the late Mr Ewing Spiers, who acted as his solicitor, presented to the Secretary for Scotland a memorial, in which, after a most damning criticism of the Crown evidence, he pointed out that the verdict of guilty had been arrived at by the narrow majority of nine to six, that the evidence did not justify the conviction, that such a verdict in England would not have obtained a conviction, that as Oscar Slater’s solicitor he had had very many interviews with him, and had absolute belief in Slater’s innocence, and that the question of Slater’s character should never have been brought before the jury.
Mark the last, telling, most compelling sentence, for it is the point on which the Court of Appeal has put its finger to-day. The five learned Judges who sat on the tribunal had an entirely unique and difficult duty to perform, and it is gratifying that they have been able to arrive at a unanimous decision on a clear-cut issue – the question of whether the jury’s verdict was influenced by any misdirection on the part of the presiding Judge.
They have found that – “The jury were instructed as to all the proved facts affecting appellant’s character and circumstances – this included his relations to the women referred to in the case – but were told they would be wise if they made up their minds to convict, to be able to say to themselves that they had disregarded the appellant’s character. The direction was, in our opinion, wrong in law as regards the first part of it, and inadequate as regards the latter part of it.”
On this substantial ground the judgment of the Court before whom Slater was convicted has been set aside.
* * * * *
Thus twenty years afterwards has justice been vindicated – twenty years during which time the Judge who sentenced Slater to death; the Scottish Secretary, who refused to confirm that sentence, and changed it to penal servitude for life; and many others who figured in the case have passed form this earthly scene.
Five successive Secretaries for Scotland occupied office, and all refused to reopen the case – all except one, who did reopen it in some measure, but left it to a ridiculous secret tribunal, in which witnesses were not even put on oath, to tinker with it. He also left Lieut. Trench, whose courageous and public-spirited action in the interests of justice led to that inquiry, to be sacrificed on the altar of officialdom.
* * * * *
As one who has had opportunities of studying the case in all its phases from the beginning, I feel bound to say there was much to cause public disquietude as to the methods employed in the prosecution of Slater.
There was, first of all, the wrongful arrest – for Slater was arrested on the strength of a clue, the brooch in pawn, which was subsequently found to be entirely false. Slater was arrested in New York on the arrival of the vessel by which he had sailed from Glasgow. Instead of resisting extradition he voluntarily agreed to return to Glasgow in custody to stand his trial.
Once in the meshes of the law it is not so easy getting out, as Slater discovered to his cost. He was tried before the Scottish High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh in May, 1909, the trial lasting four days.
The case against him presented to the jury bristled with grave discrepancies in the evidence, especially as to identification, with such altogether undue insistence that Slater’s departure from the country was a flight from justice, and with a raking up of the prisoner’s character which, as many people thought at the time, ought not to have been obtruded.
It is this question of prisoner’s character and the Judge’s handling of it before the jury that has now resulted in the judgment being set aside. As it was, the difficulties referred to were reflected in the verdict of the jury, with its narrow majority of three for conviction.
* * * * *
The Court of Appeal decision is a feather in the cap of those who through the years have kept hammering at the doors of justice. Behind their persistence there was, of course, something infinitely broader at stake than the mere liberation of this man, and they are to be congratulated on the result of their efforts.
Oscar Slater will now get compensation of some kind, though what money can compensate anybody for eighteen and a half years spent in penal servitude Heaven only knows.
And that brings us to the end of Oscar Slater’s case. We can see that celebrity had its use even at the start of the 20th century, where Arthur Conan Doyle has obviously petitioned and been particularly vehement in his desire to see Oscar Slater liberated, even penning a book to that end. No one else was ever convicted for this murder. Slater’s verdict was set aside, ultimately, but there was nobody found guilty for this murder. The person that was able to brutally do that an elderly lady, for no purpose, went free and unnoticed by society. It’s still a mystery who was guilty of doing that to her. It’s horrendous that, in the very aftermath of the brutal scene, reports were coming out that she was still seen to be taking a breath and that one person witnessed her hand move, which is just awful. Anyone would hope that, after an attack like that, death would be instantaneous. It would seem that, for miss Gilchrist, she wasn’t so lucky in that respect.
What kept niggling at me throughout the research of this case, it’s later reading for YouTube, and now, having read it through again, Helen Lambie keeps striking me as a super suspicious character. We’re told that the murder scene depicted a newspaper with Miss Gilchrist’s spectacles on the table, and that it looked as though she had got up to greet the person that had entered her house. On finding out who it was she had been struck and then murdered in the way she had been. For that person to get into the house reports speak of there being levers inside the house to operate the close door. I believe that these levers were by the front door and it’s unlikely she’d go to front door, open the downstairs main door, go into living room, sit down and then stand up again when the person came in. The alerting of Miss Gilchrist to someone needing to get in and her rising to go and let them in would have taken precious minutes from the 10 minutes the perpetrator seemingly had. What makes infinitely more sense, and far less time, would be for Helen Lambie to have let in the murderer as she was leaving. Was there perhaps a desire on her part for a particular crescent diamond brooch that maybe a boyfriend was willing and able to procure for her? Going into the kitchen first, instead of the room in which she knew she had left her mistress in, and shouting initially that everything seemed to be alright, would have given the assailant time to put some distance between himself and whoever might follow. We know Mr Adams wasn’t able to catch up to him. It was Mr Adams query as to if her mistress was OK that had Helen check in on her and made it impossible for her not declare the result of the stranger’s visit. Initiating Mr Adam’s rushing out in the hopes of catching the man.
It’s someone that knew the household. The fact that jewellery wasn’t stolen with the exception of one brooch, that it was papers the perpetrator seemed to be mostly after, was that as a distraction? Was that to add mystery to the case? I don’t know but it seems to me possible that Nelly Lambie has let someone in as she’s left and that’s given the murderer the time to do what he needed to. We’re told that she can’t have been away for more than 10 minutes, so every second counted to the murderer. Having an access to the house would certainly have made life a wee bit easier for them. It is still a mystery. We don’t know who killed Miss Gilchrist.
I hope that you have enjoyed this series. I certainly enjoyed researching it and relating it for you. Thank you for joining me on this journey through Glasgow’s Square Mile of Murder. I hope that, if you knew about the cases previously, that maybe I’ve been able to supply you with extra additional details you weren’t aware of, or maybe just changed your mind on your ideas about them. Thank you so much again, and take care.
Narration by Jenny
Art by Alex
Intro-Outro by Tony ‘Lucky Dog’ Wilson
Greysteil by Paul Burns.