Crime writer Denise Mina recently joined NRS archivist Bruno Longmore at General Register House to research the 1909 trial of Oscar Slater, who was charged with the murder of an elderly woman in Glasgow.
Slater’s trial was highly controversial at the time, attracting critical comments from across the United Kingdom including from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The trial became a landmark case in Scottish legal history, contributing to the creation of the Court of Criminal Appeal.
In our video above, Bruno describes the trial and its aftermath, then looks at some of the key case papers and evidence, while Denise gives her thoughts on the significance of this extraordinary case.
Oscar Joseph Slater – originally Leschziner – was born in 1872 in Upper Silesia, Germany, to Jewish parents. In 1893 or 1894 he travelled to London, where he worked as a bookmaker before setting himself up as a dealer in precious stones.
Once settled in Britain, he used various surnames – Sando, George, Anderson, Schmidt and Slater. It was the latter he appears to have used for official purposes. By 1899 he had moved to Edinburgh, claiming at times to be a gymnastics instructor and a dentist, although his business interests in jewelry continued.
When 82-year-old Marion Gilchrist was murdered at her home in Glasgow in 1908, Slater was living only a few blocks away from the scene of the crime. During the investigation, Slater was arrested on suspicion of involvement in her death and his trial in 1909 produced repercussions that echo in modern courts.
You can get a closer look at some of the case papers and evidence at the NRS website, as well as newspaper cuttings that provide an insight into how the case was viewed by the public at the time.
You can find more of Denise’s conclusions about the Slater case and its implications in her show Case Histories, which will be available to download from the BBC iPlayer for the next seven days.