Guilty or Innocent Oscar Slater and the Murder of Miss Gilchrist Part 3

About the murder of Miss Marion Gilchrist, the role Sir Arthur Conan Doyle played in freeing Oscar Slater, his later life.

Oscar Slater--The Great Suspect

Slater's case was forgotten until 1925, when Slater stuffed a cryptic note into a tiny pellet which was then concealed in the mouth of a newly pardoned prisoner and smuggled to Conan Doyle. Doyle sparked another press campaign, which ultimately located Lambie in Pittsburgh, Pa. In a dramatic interview, Lambie confessed that she had known the real murderer, but that the police had scoffed at her identification and finally persuaded her she was mistaken. The identity of the mysterious non-stranger, referred to only as A.B., was never revealed, except inasmuch as he had been an acquaintance of Miss Gilchrist's, which explained how he had gained admittance to the apartment, and why Lambie hadn't screamed upon seeing him. After Lambie, Barrowman made a similar confession of perjury and severe treatment by the police, and Slater was finally released.

Upon his release, Slater wrote to Doyle, "Sir Conan Doyle, you breaker of my shackles... I thank you from the bottom of my heart.... Till my dying day I will love and honour you... my dear, dear Conan Doyle...."

But Slater wasn't satisfied with mere release; he wanted complete exoneration. In 1926 Scotland had finally passed the Criminal Appeal Act. Slater's conviction was of course prior to 1926 and therefore ineligible, but Doyle instigated a special bill bringing Slater's case within the purview of the new act.

Slater won his appeal on a glaring technicality, the prejudicial jury address by Lord Guthrie. But he became so furious at not being declared innocent that Doyle confided to a friend, "I was in a mood to sign a petition that the original sentence be carried out."

The rift between Slater and Doyle widened when Slater rather impetuously accepted a paltry pound 6,000 compensation from the government and then refused to reimburse even Doyle's expenses. After a series of increasingly heated letters, an exasperated Doyle sent a final note. "If you are indeed quite responsible for your actions, then you are the most ungrateful as well as the most foolish person whom I have ever known." Although a settlement was finally made, Doyle wrote to a friend, "It was a painful and sordid aftermath to such a story."

Slater married in 1936, but, ironically, he had not seen the last of prison. Considered too dangerous to leave at large at the outbreak of W.W.II, the 67-year-old Slater and his new wife were temporarily interned in Scotland. When Slater died at 75, in 1948, the identity of A.B. was still a mystery.

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