Today we glance far into the past with a retelling of the trial of Oscar Slater.  Listen to our newest podcast episode or read the full story below.

It was a cold late December evening in 1908, just days before Christmas, and the 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 Queen’s Terrace, West Princes Street, Glasgow, then one of the most sought after address in the city. 

On returning to the flat around 7pm with the evening paper and other purchases, 21-year-old Helen Lambie opened the front door. 

At this point a mystery man emerged from the bedroom, ran past her, and rushed downstairs. 

Alarmed by what she had seen, she immediately suspected a burglar and feared for her elderly boss. 

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Lambie first went into the kitchen, then the bedroom and finally the dining room where she found the old woman lying in a pool of blood. She was dead after being brutally battered. 

The servant ran out of the flat to seek help from a neighbour Mr Adams, who had also seen the same man run off. 

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

Mr Adams then telephoned the police who searched the flat and quizzed a shaken Helen Lambie. 

Unusually the suspect had lit the gas light in the bedroom and had even left behind his matches.  

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 item, a diamond crescent brooch, was missing. 

There was also no sign of forced entry suggesting Marion may have known her attacker and even let him in. 

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

There was another witness, however, a fourteen-year-old girl named Mary Barrowman.  

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She was passing the house at the time of the murder when the same man rushed into the street and almost knocked her down. 

Marion Gilchrist had been been beaten so savagely that her facial features were barely recognisable. 

The public were shocked by such a savage attack on a old lady in her home and there was pressure on police to make a quick arrest over fears that the killer might strike again. 

Following the murder, the police discovered that a German man recently arrived in the city and who lived nearby, had been trying to sell a pawn ticket for a diamond crescent brooch. 

Glasgow Times:

He was Oscar Joseph Leschziner who had settled in Glasgow about a month before the murder. 

He was with Andrée Antoine, a Frenchwoman, and they lived in a flat in St. George’s Road, close to the murder scene, under the name of Anderson.  

Another of Leschziner’s aliases was Slater and it was as Oscar Slater that he was known in Glasgow. 

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

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

He was then thirty-nine years of age, five feet, eight inches in height, well built, and had a short black moustache. 

Slater had been prosecuted for malicious wounding and assault in London in 1896 and assault in 1897 but was cleared in both cases. 

Slater came under further suspicion when detectives were told that someone had called at the Gilchrist house before the murder looking for someone called "Anderson", one of Slater's aliases. 

They 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. 

On Boxing Day, the couple had sailed on board the famous liner the Lusitania for New York. 

Meanwhile, the police had discovered that the brooch had been pawned on November 18, five weeks before the murder.  

It had three rows of diamonds, whereas the one stolen from Miss Gilchrist had only one row.  

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Yet, in spite of this obvious discrepancy, a reward of £200 was offered and a warrant issued for Slater's arrest.  

This information was immediately sent to the police in New York and at the same time an application was made for his 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, but before the parade took place Lambie and Barrowman were shown photographs of Slater. 

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

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

Although Slater was strongly advised to resist extradition, he refused and insisted on returning to Glasgow to stand trial in a bid to clarify 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. 

They also identified a waterproof coat, found in Slater’s trunk, as the one he had been wearing that night.  

Lambie also that the killer had a distinctive walk, similar to Slater's.  

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. 

Helen Lambie while being questioned in the witness box described her life with Marion Gilchrist, 

She said: "Miss Gilchrist had not very many visitors. There were some business gentlemen that came to the house. 

"I knew that she had a great many jewels. 

"She wore jewels every day, usually a ring and a brooch when she went out to tea and to dinner she wore more jewels. 

"It was the usual practice for me to go out errands in the evening.  

"I usually went out about six o'clock and sometimes a little later."  

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

However, there was clearly doubt in the jury's mind as to his innocence with six voting to acquit him. 

Of the jury, nine voted for "guilty", five for "not proven" and one for "not guilty". 

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 on appeal because of public outcry over the case. Many thought him innocent and the victim of a miscarriage of justice. 

In the aftermath of his conviction and for years to come there were calls for the case to be reopened and the murder conviction quashed. 

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

In an 80-page publication in 1912 titled, The Case of Oscar Slater, he publicly questioned the verdict. 

He said there was not a single piece of evidence to link him with Marion Gilchrist's murder. 

Doyle claimed that the identity parade had been rigged with Slater with his distintive dark features made to stand alongside eleven fair skinned Scotsmen, who included police officers. 

One journalist later wrote: "It was like attempting to conceal a bull-dog among ladies' poodles'.  

Conan Doyle had a track record for reversing miscarriages of justice and called the investigation into Marion Gilchrist's murder 'a disgraceful frame up'. 

The Edinburgh doctor turned author strongly believed in Slater's innocence and set out to prove it in a manner of his famous fictional creation Sherlock Holmes, dismantling the police case point by point. 

He knew Slater was a petty criminal and possibly even a pimp, but he was not a killer. 

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

Conan Doyle also alleged that witnesses, including the victim's housemaid Helen Lambie, had been coached by police what to say. 

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. 

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

He publicly said that he was "morally certain that justice was not done". 

Conan Doyle also wrote: "There is really no single point of connection between the crime and the alleged criminal." 

He branded the injustice "a serious scandal if this man be allowed upon such evidence to spend his life in a prison". 

Slater's supporters claimed that aspects of the investigation and the trial had been mishandled. 

They said too much emphasis having been placed on his unsavoury character and former misdeeds, and on the statements of the key witnesses which later turned out to be unreliable.   

Doyle's investigation stoked public anger at the verdict. Yet the courts refused a retrial. 

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

Detective Lieutenant John Thomson Trench had been with the City Of Glasgow Police for twenty-one years and was the holder of the King’s Police Medal for meritorious service.  

He had not been a member of the police team which had investigated the murder. 

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

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

Trench had been told that on the night of the murder Lambie had later spoken to a niece of Marion. 

She then named another man as the killer, who also happened to be a relative of the victim. 

Glasgow Times:

Five years after Slater had been sentenced to life, 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.  

Lieutenant Trench must have known the risk he ran in doing what he did. 

However, it was doubtful if he fully appreciated what the consequences might be.  

Particularly as any review or appeal of the case would cast a negative light on the force. 

On September 14, I914, despite his distinguished record, he was sacked from the force in disgrace for leaking information on the case to the lawyer. 

Meanwhile Slater spent his time in prison doing hard labour in tough 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 Conan Doyle which he had concealed under his dentures. 

Although he was given a full medical examination before his release, nobody thought to check his mouth.  

By this time Slater had spent 16 years in jail. 

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 Conan Doyle once again started campaigning and this time newspapers took up the story which in turn put pressure in the authorities. 

Conan Doyle, who was a celebrity of his day, contacted high society friends and politicians and made public speeches. 

Labour Party leader and later Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald wrote to the Secretary of State for Scotland pleading for Slater to be freed claiming that witnesses had been influenced and evidence withheld. 

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

It was alleged that those responsible for the investigation had withheld vital evidence that would have proved his innocence at the original trial. 

Renowned Glasgow writer William Park wrote his own book in which he backed Conan Doyle's findings that Gilchrist must have known her killer and invited him into her home. 

In 1927 a third book was published on the case called The Truth about Oscar Slater by William Park.  

The contents led the Solicitor General for Scotland, Alexander Munro MacRobert, to conclude that it was no longer proven that Slater was guilty.  

On November 14, 1927, the German was finally released by the Scottish Secretary of State because of the anomalies in his case. 

A new court of criminal appeal had also been set up by this time which would hear the case. 

At one point 20,000 people had signed a petition publicly demanded Slater's release. 

Glasgow Times:

By now the case was so infamous that "see you Oscar" had became Glasgow rhyming slang for "see you later"  

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

The judges ruled that the trial judge had misdirected the jury and he was set free, his name cleared. 

Slater was given a compensation payment of £6,000 (worth £750,000 now) for his wrongful conviction and nineteen years spent behind bars. 

However, the payment created a rift between Conan Doyle and Slater, who had only previously met once. 

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

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

Conan Doyle then told Slater: "You are the most ungrateful as well as the most foolish person whom I have ever known."  

The two men, who had not gotten on to begin with, never spoke again. 

Slater had suffered one of the worst miscarriages of justice in Scottish legal history

While the case had done nothing to enhance the reputation of the City of Glasgow Police. 

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

He had married his second wife, Lina Wilhelmina Schad, in 1936 who was 30 years his junior. 

Both were briefly interned as aliens at the start of World War II because of their German nationality. 

Most of Slater's surviving Jewish family, including his two sisters, were murdered in the Holocaust. 

He was described as a 'retired journeyman baker' on his death certificate which was his late father's occupation. He had also repaired and sold antiques after moving to the Ayrshire town. 

Detective Lieutenant Trench died on May, 13 1919, and despite Slater’s successful appeal his name was never cleared or his reputation restored. 

So who murdered Gilchrist? There were many theories.  

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

Trench believed one had a plausible motive for murder. 

He had wondered why only a diamond brooch had been stolen from Gilchrist when other expensive jewellery had been left untouched. 

He also wondered why her personal papers were ransacked and scattered about her flat. 

One relative would have been heir to the spinster's £80,000 fortune, worth about £10 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. 

Yet, despite Slater's reprieve, nobody else was ever charged with Gilchrist's murder and mystery over the real killer's identity persists to this day.