Oscar Slater: The Immortal Case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Thomas Toughill After reading The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes I found myself wanting to know more about the cases Conan Doyle involved himself in in real life. And this book popped up after a bit of googling.Pre-read: Am interested in how the author will portray Conan Doyle and how much if any Sherlock Holmes references pop up. The history of the case is interesting already, it really doesn't need anything Holmesian added to the mix.Post-read: Just the right amount of Conan Doyle and barely a mention of Holmes, which is as it should be. Doyle is only one of the players in this, and certainly not the only well known author involved.The case of Oscar Slater was notorious in its time - if you lived in 1900's Scotland that is. Oh and don't worry about reading that wikipedia link - knowing the facts of the case won't spoil anything in this book, which is about the trial and sentencing of a man with a shady background who was nevertheless completely innocent of the crime of murder. In fact, it also helps to know something of the Dreyfus affair (events took place 1894-1906), because racial prejudice is definitely a factor here, and Slater himself compared his case to Dreyfus'. It seems clear that Slater's involvement with gambling and prostitution (and possibly pimping), together with his being a German and Jewish, all combined to set up him as the perfect suspect. That is, as long as you didn't look at witness testimony, material evidence, and all the circumstances - which all proclaimed Slater's innocence of the murder and theft. So this is definitely a topic worthy of research, and it seems odd that there aren't many books about its history.[Toughill's article on the case:The Oscar Slater Scandal Exposed, The Herald Scotland, 6 September 1994Scans of newspaper cuttings, documents, image of the infamous brooch:Feature: 100th anniversary of a notorious Glasgow murder, National Archives of Scotland, 10 January 2013Some visuals:Monstrous Conspiracy That Condemned The Innocent Oscar Slater, Scotlandia (blog), November 10th, 2010 ]Short version: This book is a historical retelling of the case, with many quotes from documents, statements made at trial/hearings, letters, contemporary books and newspaper articles. Those expecting the book to read like a mystery novel might want to look elsewhere. The author definitely has a suspect he feels is the murderer and a theory as to how it occurred and why, and he's not shy about presenting the information in that light. I usually like an author to be upfront with his/her biases, but this "THIS is THE solution" tone annoyed me here and there when I felt the facts didn't add up to that being 100% doubt-free. Another irritation - the amount of repetition in the chapter titled "Trial," which repeated SO much of what was already described in the chapters about the people involved and the crime itself. Aside from those quibbles I did enjoy the book.Added bonus: The book contains 12 pages of photos of the people involved in the crime and trial, as well as some documents, and a floorplan of the crime scene. Very helpful in demonstrating who Slater might have resembled. Photo of the victim fairly graphic for black and white. There's also a short bibliography which includes document references for the Scottish Record Office sources and the Glasgow University Archives (Forensic Medicine Department), as well as the correspondence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the Glasgow City Archives and the Mitchell Library, Glasgow. (In other words, lots of primary sources.)The Longer, Babbling Version: Besides Conan Doyle's involvement, what makes the Slater case so important - why isn't this just another "innocent man wrongly accused and jailed" story? Because the degree to which Slater's case was mishandled and how, once all the facts were known, it was amazing that he was convicted. The case involved witness tampering, witness coaching, witnesses with statements that would refute the prosecution's case were not called to testify and documents with their testimony were ignored. New York law enforcement felt there wasn't enough evidence to extradite Slater back to Scotland and so Slater wouldn't have had to return - Slater himself requested to return to clear his name. Among the other unjust things that went on at the trial, when sending the jury off to deliberate the judge basically told the jury that, since Slater was involved in prostitution he was thus Not A Gentleman, and this somehow meant he wasn't presumed to be innocent of other crimes. There are the multiple documents that make it clear that the police knew more information that indicated Slater wasn't their man, and pointed to other potential suspects - so there was definitely a cover-up. Not to mention the fact that witnesses had seen more than one man involved in the crime, and yet somehow once Slater was pinpointed those other men were completely forgotten and never mentioned again. All those facts then led to various authors becoming interested and indignant at the injustice (lots of letter i's in there), who then researched the case, interviewed people, and wrote books and articles explaining Slater's innocence as well as how the case was mismanaged. Which the public read and became equally indignant. The case became even more notorious when Slater was given a special "Conditional Pardon" - which meant that officials found reason to believe that there were technical problems with the case and so Slater shouldn't be hung - but also he shouldn't be released (because most officials were sticking with the "he's guilty!" story). Solution: life imprisonment. And at the time there was no court of appeal - begging for a pardon was a prisoner's only option. Meanwhile members of the public began to champion Slater's cause and Conan Doyle wrote a book The Case of Oscar Slater (1912) [ebook].[At this point I have to add a few of the other books Toughill cites that I now want to read, along with Doyle's:William Park - The Truth About Oscar Slater (1927)William Roughead - Trial of Oscar Slater (multiple editions as early as 1910, look for the 1950 version for info on release and appeal.) [1915 version, Gutenberg AustraliaWilliam Roughead - Knaves Looking Glass (1935)Jack House - Square Mile of Murder (1984) ]Then there's the story of John Thomas Trench, a police officer who was involved in the case, knew of another suspect via one of the witnesses, and of other facts that should have come out at the trial but didn't. He went to a lawyer and a journalist for advice (yep, it's a "whistleblower leaking official information/documents to the press/public" story), and then presented the information in a letter to the Secretary for Scotland. The result was a "secret inquiry" in which Slater wasn't represented, and many of the witnesses either refuted previous testimony or conveniently forgot things. Trench was fired, which wasn't an easy thing for a man with a family. Some years later when there was another inquiry he was put on trial for a long-ago police matter in another case - flimsy charges, and Toughill postulates that this was the police sending a clear message that Trench should stay silent on the Slater case.[More on Trench's story:The Downfall of a Man Called Trench, The Herald Scotland, 17 June 1989 ]But wait, there's more! After 18 1/2 years Slater was released - basically because former prime minister Ramsey MacDonald was given some police documents that indicated what had been going on (facts suppressed, other suspects, etc.) behind the scenes and threatened to take the story to the floor of the House of Commons where he would name names. You see the books and articles couldn't mention names of suspects because of the libel laws (then and now) - but the floor of the House was one place where libel couldn't touch you. (I'd love to read a book just about libel and that exception.)If you've read Slater's wikipedia page, you know the gist of the case, but not the names of all the people involved. Counting various family members, police officials and politicians, advocates for Slater, and witnesses, there are a LOT of people in this mess. Trying to boil down Toughill's theory as to who actually committed the crime - that bit's not easy (I had to reread a page or two to keep some of the family relations straight). But I sense there are some of you that will REALLY want to know the theory (or at least the whodunit part), and I know the book isn't something you can get your hands on immediately (and I totally know what it's like to be curious about this sort of thing). So here's the shortest version I could come up with, without going into who is related to who: The murdered woman had multiple family members who felt that she should leave them money in her will, and she had changed her will recently such that they were cut out. At the time police suspected Archibald Charteris, others his brother Francis Charteris. Toughill feels that the murder was done by a more obvious(to him) suspect who had long been the black sheep of his family - Wingate Birrell. And that Wingate killed the old lady while Archibald and Francis went through her papers, looking for the will or...something. Problem is that no one knows what was actually in the old lady's box of documents, and no one every made note of what was in it after the crime - so there's a lot of guesswork there. But it's also very clear that, since all the killer took was a diamond brooch while the box of documents had obviously been searched through and scattered about the floor - this wasn't about robbery. The old lady had more valuable jewelry than just that brooch.Why wouldn't the police just arrest Charteris, any of them? Because the family was full of highly respected scholars and lawyers, and doing so would have been a huge political mess. In any case, keeping them out of suspicion was definitely something the police would have been asked to do, and many of the officials involved knew/were related to/worked with a Charteris or two..Random Quotes:page 3, from the Introduction - new documents were available and thus this book is a revised version or Toughill's previous book on the case:"This book is an updated reconstruction of Sir Arthur's 'immortal' case, based on the author's 1993 publication, Oscar Slater: The Mystery Solved. Such a task has been made possible, indeed necessary, through the release of all known Government and Police files on the case as well as the recent purchase by Glasgow City Council of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's correspondence on the affair, which papers are now to be found in Glasgow's Mitchell Library....With access to the above material, the author has been able to produce a more detailed study of this truly scandalous case, using evidence which puts his findings beyond dispute."p 79, one of many examples of issues with witness testimony, italics in the text:"Bryson and Nairn both saw a man in West Princes Street on the same night, in fact the eve of the murder. Bryson saw his man at around 7:40pm, while Nairn's sighting took place at around 9:15pm. Nobody is likely to remain standing in a Glasgow street in December for an hour and a half. That and the different garb mentioned by the witnesses show that these were obviously two different men, a fact which tends to make nonsense out of the identification process. Naturally, Slater could not have [been] both of these men, although the Crown clearly suggested that he was."I added the word "been" in the last sentence - it wasn't there in the book. The occasional missing or wrong words suggest that whoever edited this book didn't do it very carefully.p 87, witness Mary Barrowman's testimony improves and she's much more certain about identifying Slater. McClure is Slater's lawyer, Lambie is another witness:"McClure questioned her closely on how she managed to take in so much detail about a man when she only saw him for a brief moment in a dark street and when he was running past at full speed. Barrowman claimed that the area around Miss Gilchrist's flat was well lit and that the man actually knocked against her as he ran. McClure also asked her about the trip to New York. Barrowman admitted that she had been shown photographs of Slater before she went to identify him at the extradition proceedings. She also supported the version which Lambie and Inspector Pyper had given about the sudden recognition of Slater in the corridor outside the New York courtroom....There is though one part of her testimony which stretches credulity to the limit and casts a great question mark over her integrity. This was Barrowman's assertion that although she and Lambie shared a cabin on the voyage to New York, they never once discussed the case or the evidence they could give. This is frankly incredible. What makes the matter so important is the fact that at some stage early on in the proceedings, Lambie changed her description in some crucial aspects to suit Barrowman's evidence..."p 110, Cameron is a witness for the defense and a friend of Slater, McClure is defense, Lord Advocate is prosecution. Previous paragraph is cross-examination by Lord Advocate where Cameron states that Slater "lives on the proceeds of women" (prostitution):"It is difficult to exaggerate the effect that this testimony would have had on an Edwardian Jury in a staunchly Presbyterian country, as Scotland then was. However, Cameron's allegation should not have been allowed on three grounds. Firstly, what Cameron said was hearsay evidence; secondly, it was irrelevant; and thirdly, British justice did not allow information on the character of the accused to be given in evidence unless he first made his good character an issue in the trial. Needless to say, the Judge, the Lord Advocate and McClure all knew this. Yet, the Lord Advocate sought the information; the Judge let the replies stand; and McClure did not protest at this outrageous, and legally unjustified, attack on his client's character."p 116, direct, actual quote from Judge Guthrie's summing up to the jury at Slater's trial:"About his character, proved, as Mr. McClure said, by his own witness, by Cameron, his companion and friend, and by Schmalz, his servant, there is no doubt at all. He has maintained himself by the ruin of men and on the ruin of women, and he has lived a life that many blackguards would scorn to live. That is not entirely against him in this case, because, being a man of that kind, taking a wrong name, telling a lie about his destination, going by different names, is jus what you would expect from a man of that kind, murder or no murder. ...I use the name 'Oscar Slater.' We do not know who that man is. His fellow-countrymen admitted that there was no such German name. He is a mystery. We do not know where he was born, where he was brought up, what he was brought up to, whether he was trained to anything. The man remains a mystery as much as he was when the trial began. That is the kind of man, and you will see at once that [h]is character is double edged. The Lord Advocate takes it in his own favour, and he may quite fairly do so, because, in the first place, a man of that kind has not the presumption of innocence in his favour. Which is not the form in the case of every man, but is a reality in the case of the ordinary man. Not only is every man presumed to be innocent, but the ordinary man has a strong presumption in his favour. Such a man may be capable of having committed this offence and that man also may be capable from his previous character of exhibiting callous behavior after the offence. That was founded upon by Mr. McClure. A man of such character does not exhibit the symptoms that a respectable man, who has been goaded into some serious crime of violence, does after the crime is over, and so you will consider that matter from both points of view, telling in favor of the prisoner and telling against him."p 123, oh and by the way, some of the witnesses were paid (and note that I can't remember where the symbol for pounds/unit of UK money is on my keyboard):"...And as for the claim that the witnesses were disinterested in Slater's conviction, it is pertinent to recall here that the 200 pound reward was divided amongst four of those who gave evidence for the prosecution. Mary Barrowman, the messenger girl who related a suspect story, received 100 pounds, perhaps two years salary to her. John Forsyth, the Liverpool witness who told the court that Slater appeared nervous and called himself 'Otto Sando' as he set out for New York, got 40 pounds. The rest of the Liverpool evidence, the great bulk of it very favourable to Slater, did not materialize at the trial. Gordon Henderson, the manager of the Motor Club, who claimed that Slater came to him on the night of the murder looking for money, was given 20 pounds. Finally, Allan McLean, the member of the Sloper Club who reportedly saw it as his civic duty to rush on Christmas Day to John Ord of the CID with his suspicions about Slater got 40 pounds."And randomly, I saw this review from another GoodReads member, Rick Light:"I've a personal interest in this case, I suppose, as my Grandmother's cousin, John Thomson Trench, was the detective involved in this infamous case of murder, mistaken identity and anti-semitism in Glasgow's prosperous West End."Always interesting to bump into someone related to history you're reading about.