Guilty or Innocent Oscar Slater and the Murder of Miss Gilchrist Part 2

About the murder of Miss Marion Gilchrist, account of the evidence against the accused Oscar Slater and the Scotland legal system.

Oscar Slater--The Great Suspect

Slater, whose real name was Oscar Leschziner, was a 37-year-old German Jew who had fled Germany to avoid conscription. He was a turn-of-the-century rogue surviving by his wits as a gambler. In 1901 he had married May Curtis, but May had drunk too much, and Slater had left her in 1905. In London, he had met and moved in with Andree Antoine, a prostitute. They traveled frequently, and because the estranged May was always hounding him for money, it became Slater's practice to adopt aliases and false destinations. The day Oscar had left with Andree for America, he had told friends they were going to Monte Carlo for a vacation. (Actually, a friend had invited him to San Francisco on business.) The police discovered that the pawned brooch was Slater's own, but they charged him with murder anyway because of his skulking demeanor and sordid life-style. If Slater had had any idea he would be hewing granite at Peterhead Prison for the next 18 1/2 years, it is doubtful whether he would have so willingly returned to Scotland.

Slater was tried in Edinburgh on May 3, 1909, before the Honorable Lord Guthrie and 15 jurymen. Slater sat upright in the dock, tidy and dignified, convinced they would never find an innocent man guilty.

The Crown, however, suppressed evidence which would have provided him with an alibi. The lord advocate hammered away at Slater's depravity, his underworld habitat, his suspicious evasiveness. The lord advocate implied things that were not true and misstated those that were. He howled of Slater's greed and portrayed Slater's business trip to America as a cunning "flight from justice." Remarkably, Lord Guthrie carried the advocate's cause by admonishing the jury, "...a man of that kind has not the presumption of innocence in his favor." By a slim majority, the jury found Slater guilty, and he was sentenced to hand on May 27, 1909.

Scotland had no legal system for appealing Slater's case, but two days before he was to hand, a petition bearing 20,000 signatures forced his reprieve. Slater disappeared into the granite quarries at Peterhead, but public agitation kept his plight before officials.

In 1912 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, already world-famous for his cocaine-shooting literary sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, espoused Slater's cause in a pamphlet, The Case of Oscar Slater, which blasted Slater's conviction. Still, officials refused to reopen the case.

Two years later, a special inquiry was held when a highly respected Glasgow detective, Lt. John Trench, accused Lambie and Barrowman of perjury. Lambie, Barrowman, and the police vehemently denied the accusations, and the case was closed. Trench was immediately dismissed from the force.

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