On this day in 1927

Convict championed by Arthur Conan Doyle is released

Oscar Slater spent 19 years in prison, performing hard labour, for a murder he didn’t commit. Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was one of many notable names who were convinced there had been a miscarriage of justice, but it took until 20 July 1928 for the 1909 conviction to be overtuned.

Oscar Joseph Slater

Oscar Slater was born Oskar Leschziner, in Germany, in 1872, and by the early 1900s was living in Glasgow. So, too, was Marion Gilchrist who, in December 1908, aged 83, was bludgeoned to death by an unknown intruder while her maid had briefly popped out. According to the official doctor’s report, the cause of death “was extensive wounds and fractures of breast-bone and ribs, together with shock and bleeding therefrom”, caused by a “forcible contact with a blunt weapon… with considerable force”.

Unfortunately for Oscar Slater, he was already known to the police, having been picked up on several minor matters over the years. None of the descriptions given by three witnesses sounded much like the man, but he was accused of the crime nonetheless. By then, he had travelled to New York on the Lusitania, but, keen to clear his name, he voluntarily returned to Scotland, only to be arrested and put on trial. What followed was later considered a gross injustice.

An unfair trial

The police were keen to get a conviction, so glossed over inconsistent evidence, including the diverse and mismatched descriptions, with the result that nine of the jury declared him guilty. It was a majority verdict, with five saying the case had not been proven, and one declaring Slater not guilty. Slater, himself, maintained his innocence, but the trial judge, Lord Guthrie, donned the black cap, sentenced him to death, and directed that the sentence be carried out by the 27 of the month.

Perhaps Guthrie didn’t consider the strength of public feeling the case had aroused. Slater’s solicitor, Ewing Speirs, organised a petition that attracted 20,000 signatures. He presented it to the Secretary of State for Scotland, who subsequently advised the king to commute the sentence to penal servitude for life.

Oscar Slater freed

One of the police officers who had worked on the prosecution raised some concerns, particularly over the alleged withholding of evidence that one of the victim’s own family members could have been the murderer. However, the officer was dismissed from his job and Slater seemed destined to spend the rest of his natural life behind bars.

It was only with the publication of William Park’s The Truth About Oscar Slater, in 1927, that the evidence against his conviction was finally too strong to be ignored any longer. Slater was duly released, although his conviction was not quashed, and was granted compensation. He took this with him to Ayr, where he lived out his remaining years.

He died there in 1948.

 

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...and on this day in 1915

Submarine U-23 is sunk

U-boat SM U-23 was launched in April 1913 and served in the Imperial German Navy in the First World War, where it took part in the First Battle of the Atlantic, a prolonged engagement between the German and Allied navies around the British Isles, North Sea and French coast.

Although her crew was successful in sinking seven Allied vessels in less than two years (five British, one Norwegian and one Danish), she was torpedoed off Fair Isle on 20 July 1915, and sank with the loss of 24 lives. Ten of her crew survived.


 

Yesterday…

Trial that led to Glasgow’s last public execution

Dr Edward William Pritchard was the last person publicly executed in Glasgow when hanged for poisoning his wife, Mary, and his mother-in-law.

Tomorrow…

Commuter trains crash at Newton

Two passengers and both drivers when a pair of trains crashed head on at Newton station, around six miles outside of Glasgow.