IT was a cold late December evening in 1908 and a young servant girl had been sent by her mistress to buy a newspaper.

Marion Gilchrist was a wealthy 83-year-old woman who lived in a well-appointed first floor flat at Queen’s Terrace, West Princes Street, Glasgow, then one of the most sought-after addresses in the city.

On returning to the flat around 7pm with the evening edition and a few other purchases, 21-year-old Helen Lambie opened the door with her key, At this point a mystery man emerged from the bedroom, ran past her, and rushed downstairs.

Lambie found the old woman lying in a pool of blood in the dining room.

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She ran out of the flat screaming and alerted a neighbour called Adams, who had also seen the mystery man run off.

The neighbour called a doctor who examined the body and realised that a broken chair leg had been used to kill her.

A wooden box where the victim kept her private papers had been forced open and the contents scattered on the floor.

Although several valuable pieces of jewellery lay on a dressing table, only one article, a diamond crescent brooch, was missing.

Both Lambie and Adams described the man they had seen rushing from the house as aged between 25 and 30, five feet eight, slim, dark-haired, clean-shaven, and wearing a light grey overcoat and a cloth cap.

There was a third witness, passer-by Mary Barrowman, 14, who had seen the same man flee.

The public was shocked by such a savage attack on an old lady in her home and there was pressure on police to make a quick arrest.

Around the same time a German man had been trying to sell a pawn ticket for a diamond crescent brooch.

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He was Oscar Slater who had arrived in Glasgow about a month before the murder.

He was with Andree Antoine, a Frenchwoman, and they lived nearby in a flat at St George’s Road, under the name Anderson.

Slater claimed to be a dentist and also described himself as a dealer in precious stones.

In fact he was a professional gambler who lived by his wits and who spent most of his time in snooker halls and clubs.

He was 39, five feet eight, well built, and had a short black moustache.

Detectives then discovered that Slater and his female friend had already left for Liverpool on Christmas Day, four days after the murder, which seemed highly suspicious.

The following day the couple sailed on board famous liner the Lusitania for New York.

This information was immediately passed to police in New York and an application was made for Slater’s extradition.

When news of Slater’s arrest reached Glasgow, Detective Inspector Pyper, of the City of Glasgow Police, left for New York, taking the three key witnesses Lambie, Adams, and Barrowman with him.

On their arrival, the New York police held an identification parade.

Both women identified him as the man seen running from the house on the night of the murder.

Adams was not so sure and would go no further than to say that Slater resembled the man.

Slater insisted on returning to Glasgow to stand trial in a bid to clear his name.

The case began before judge Lord Guthrie in the High Court in Edinburgh on May 3, 1909.

Both Lambie and Barrowman again named Slater as the man seen running from the house on the night of the crime.

Adams stuck to what he had said in New York – that he could not positively identify the accused.

Public interest in the trial was intense and there were queues each day for seats in the public gallery.

The prosecution savaged Slater’s character and despite a vigorous defence he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Slater was shocked by the outcome and shouted from the dock: “I know nothing about the affair, absolutely nothing!”

Judge Lord Guthrie donned his black cap and sentenced him to be hanged from the neck until dead.

However, Slater’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after public protests about the verdict.

In the aftermath of his conviction there were calls for the case to be re-opened and the conviction overturned.

One of his keenest supporters was Sherlock Holmes author and doctor Arthur Conan Doyle.

In an 80-page publication titled The Case of Oscar Slater he publicly questioned the verdict.

He said there was not a single piece of evidence to link Slater with Gilchrist.

Doyle also claimed that the New York identity parade had been rigged by police.

The brooch that Slater had pawned turned out to belong to a lady friend, and was not the one stolen from Gilchrist.

Slater’s trip to America was found to have been planned months ahead and was not a desperate escape. None of his clothing matched witnesses’ descriptions of the killer or carried any traces of blood.

Doyle interviewed new witnesses, hunted for fresh evidence, and even paid some of Slater’s lawyers’ fees.

There was another man even more convinced of Slater’s innocence and he bravely put his own career and reputation on the line to prove that Slater was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

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Detective Lieutenant John Thomson Trench had been in the City of Glasgow Police for 21 years and was the holder of the King’s Police Medal for meritorious service.

His own belief was that Gilchrist had known her killer and that it was not a random stranger who murdered her.

He also believed that Lambie knew more of the murder than she was letting on.

Five years after Slater had been sent to prison, Trench told Glasgow lawyer David Cook of his concerns.

Cook forwarded statements to the Secretary of State for Scotland, who ordered an independent investigation by a sheriff.

For a police officer to disclose information acquired during the course of his duties to any person outside the police service, even a respected city lawyer, was a serious breach of the police regulations.

On September 14, 1914, despite his distinguished record, he was sacked from the force in disgrace for leaking information on the case to the lawyer and died in disgrace five years later.

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Meanwhile, Slater spent his time in prison doing hard labour in Peterhead jail, wondering if he would ever be freed.

In 1925, a fellow prisoner by the name of William Gordon was freed from the same prison having served his sentence.

Crucially he had smuggled out a note from Slater to Doyle which he had concealed under his dentures.

The message which can still be found in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow was a plea for help from Slater.

Inspired by this act of bravado and ingenuity Doyle once again started campaigning and this time newspapers took up the story.

Witnesses who had previously testified against Slater came forward to confess they had been coached by police officers into identifying the suspect.

On November 14, 1927, Slater was finally released by the Secretary of State for Scotland pending an appeal.

Slater was heard in the High Court in Edinburgh on June 8, 1928, by five judges and his murder conviction was quashed.

Slater was given a compensation payment of £6000 (worth £750,000 now) for his wrongful arrest and 19 years spent behind bars.

However, the payment created a rift between Doyle and Slater.

Doyle thought Slater was honour-bound to reimburse some of his supporters’ expenses.

But Slater didn’t think the payment was enough compensation for the time he had spent in prison.

After his release he went to live in Ayr and it was there that he died, aged 79, on January 31, 1948.

So, who murdered Gilchrist?

Doyle, like Trench, believed that it was a family member of the victim who did the wicked deed.

One male relative had been heir to the spinster’s £80,000 fortune, worth about £5.2 million today.

But months before her death Gilchrist changed her will, leaving her fortune instead to a former maid’s family.

One theory is that she was killed by a family member looking for the revised copy of the will that they hoped to destroy.

One of them bore a resemblance to Slater.

Despite Slater’s reprieve, no-one else was ever charged with Gilchrist’s murder and the mystery over the real killer’s identity persists to this day.