IT WAS a savage murder, leading to a sensational miscarriage of justice which left a stain on Scottish legal history.

Even the creator of the world’s most famous detective got involved.

On December 21, 1908, 83-year-old Marion Gilchrist was bludgeoned to death in the dining room of her Glasgow apartment, her battered body left in a pool of her own blood.

Her maidservant, Helen Lambie, had left for 10 minutes to buy a newspaper, and returned to a horrific scene. The room had been ransacked, and Marion lay dead – every bone in her head had been smashed by her killer, who had stolen only a diamond brooch.

Glasgow Times:

Police went after Oscar Slater, a 37-year-old German Jew who lived a sordid lifestyle as a gambler, pimp and trafficker of stolen jewellery.

He was arrested in New York and voluntarily returned to Scotland, convinced he would never be convicted. But the trial was a travesty - the legal establishment disapproved of his lifestyle and he was not helped by anti-Jewish sentiment at the time.

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

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes books, was so horrified by what he saw as a clear miscarriage of justice he campaigned for Slater’s release. Eventually, the conviction was quashed in 1928.

Documents – including Conan Doyle’s letters, plus anonymous tips and photographs of Slater – are held by Glasgow City Archives, as part of its extensive collection of police records.

Glasgow Times:

Archivist Lynsey Green explains: “The UK’s oldest police force was established in 1800 (before London Metropolitan Police), when the Glasgow Police Act of 1800 received royal assent on June 30. Mr John Stenhouse, a city merchant, was appointed Master of Police at a salary of £200 per annum; also appointed were two sergeants, six officers, and sixty-eight watchmen, who were paid 10s a week.”

Lynsey and her colleagues, senior archivist Irene O’Brien, Barbara Neilson, Michael Gallagher and Nerys Tunnicliffe, have launched Ask the Archivist, a fantastic new campaign which gives people the chance to ask them questions about a range of topics based on their collections. More details are available on the Glasgow City Archives Facebook page.

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Ask the Archivist is part of #glasgowlifegoeson, a campaign to highlight the services available online from the city’s museums, sports, arts and music facilities.

“Glasgow Police recruited from all over Scotland and Ireland, making them an amazing source for the family historian,” says Lynsey.

“Individual conduct of officers was recorded in their personnel record. This could include anything from recommendations and salary increases for ‘stopping a runaway horse’ to remarks about poor conduct due to being ‘worse of drink.’ Remarks about poor conduct are very common but as the force became more professional, this became less prevalent.”

Glasgow Times:

The records also hold details of the Special Constabulary, officers who carried out limited police duties on a part-time voluntary basis. Special Constables were used extensively by Scottish police forces in times of emergency, such as wartime. During WW1, the Special Constabulary was increased to 3000 officers to guard strategic buildings within the City.

Lynsey adds: “We also hold information about notable officers including the personnel records for Detective-Lieutenant John Thomson Trench of the Glasgow Police who was convinced of Oscar Slater’s innocence and dismissed from the force over the matter, and former Chief Constable Sir Percy J. Sillitoe, who was hired in 1931 and was responsible for breaking up many of Glasgow’s organised gangs. He also introduced the famous black and white checked cap band to distinguish police officers.”