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William Sinclair Manson

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Scottish Mysteries. / Writings · 14 March 2024

Scottish Mysteries. Marion Gilchrist.

The Murder of Marion Gilchrist.

The case of Oscar Slater still remains a giant black eye for the Scottish legal system, even now, a hundred years later. It is one of the country’s most egregious miscarriages of justice, fueled by prejudice, xenophobia, and antisemitism.

In 1909, a German Jewish immigrant named Oscar Slater was convicted of the murder of Marion Gilchrist, a wealthy 83-year-old spinster. Somebody had entered Gilchrist’s house while her maid was out, beaten her to death with a hammer and began rifling through her drawers. A neighbor heard the noise and checked in on the old woman, forcing the killer to flee with only a brooch. 

Marion Gilchrist 150x150 1

A few days after the crime, Oscar Slater left for America, after having recently sold a brooch to a pawn shop. This was all the evidence police had to go on to arrest him. Never mind the fact that Slater had scheduled his trip before the old woman was murdered. Never mind the fact that his brooch turned out to be a different one which belonged to his girlfriend, or that he had an alibi.

Slater was charged, convicted and sentenced to death, but later commuted to life in prison. His trial had been rife with prejudice, and his defenders pointed out all the flaws in the prosecution’s case, with one whistleblower even alleging that evidence in his favor had been purposely hidden. At one point, even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got involved, publishing in 1912 a pamphlet arguing for Slater’s innocence. 

Slater was eventually released after almost two decades in prison, receiving £6,000 compensation from the government. His case became rather notorious, but one aspect that tends to be left out is the actual murder – the true killer of Marion Gilchrist has never been identified.

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