“You are convicting an innocent man”
At 7pm four days before Christmas 1908, 81-year-old Marion Gilchrist sent Helen Lambie, her 21-year-old maid, to buy an evening newspaper. As Lambie returned to the luxury, seven-room, first-floor flat, Arthur Adams, who lived on the ground floor at number 14, stopped her. He said he had heard strange noises coming from Miss Gilchrist’s home.
Together they went up the stairs and entered the flat. As they did so a man came out of the spare bedroom “like greased lightning” and ran down the stairs, knocking over teenager Mary Barrowman in the street. In the dining-room was Miss Gilchrist, her head caved in by 60 or so blows. Despite the plethora of jewels in the flat, only one small piece was missing — a crescent-shaped diamond brooch.
The police had little to go on but on Boxing Day they were told that a man called Oscar Slater had been trying to pawn a crescent-shaped diamond brooch. The police went to Slater’s home in St George’s Road, Glasgow where he lived with his prostitute girlfriend but the couple had left for New York aboard the Lusitania that same day. Further investigation revealed that Slater had pawned a crescent-shaped diamond brooch but had done so on 18 November and that it had not been Miss Gilchrist’s. However, Glasgow police did not let a complete lack of evidence deter them and in February 1909 they extradited Slater from America. Unfortunately for Slater, he was German, Jewish, lived off immoral earnings and preferred to gamble rather than work, all of which prejudiced the jury against him. On 3 May 1909 he went on trial at Edinburgh.
The three witnesses Lambie, Adams and Barrowman said that they recognized Slater as the man seen running from the spare room — even though Barrowman was shown photographs of Slater before her identification, Adams was short-sighted and Lambie said the man was clean-shaven (Slater had a moustache). A 15-man jury deliberated for 70 minutes and found Slater guilty by a majority and he was sentenced to hang on 27 May 1909. He cried out, “You are convicting an innocent man.”
15 Queen’s Terrace, Glasgow, Scotland
Monday 21 December 1908
Oscar Slater was reprieved and his sentence commuted to life imprisonment on 25 May 1909. He was sent to Peterhead Prison on 8 July 1909. In 1928 Slater was freed on appeal. He married in 1937 and died at Ayr in February 1948. In 1994 the truth was revealed. Miss Gilchrist had disinherited her relatives from her will. Two of them, Dr Francis Charteris and her nephew Wingate Burrell, had visited her and Burrell had beaten the old lady to death with a chair. The establishment covered up for the wealthy family and used Oscar Slater as a scapegoat.