Sherlock Book Reviews - Oscar Slater A Killer Exposed

Posted by Steve Emecz on

David Marcum 

Oscar Slater has long been known to fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When ACD’s efforts to prevent miscarriages of justice are listed, this case, along with the George Edalji affair, are the two prime examples. Slater was convicted of a brutal 1908 murder, in spite of questions related to the evidence and trial procedure. He was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to hard labor. During his time in prison, his case became a celebrated cause, and after serving nearly two-decades of hard labor, he was freed.

ACD was one of the prime movers into securing Slater’s freedom – but he didn’t have all the facts. Scholar Brenda Rossini’s modern research has given her access to records that Doyle never had during his initial defense of Slater. She tells the whole story in this massive and well-documented volume – including the parts that many casual ACD fans forget: In later years, Doyle changed his mind and decided that Oscar Slater, the man he’d helped free, was in fact a murderer after all. 

This is an important book for ACD scholars who need to understand the bigger picture, and – while Sherlock Holmes is not involved in the investigation – he’s still present in many ways.


Diane Madsen

Brenda Rossini presents a revealing exposé of Oscar Slater, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the brutal murder of 82-year-old Marion Gilchrist – a murder which caused an uproar in Glasgow on the night of December 21, 1908.   The portrait Ms. Rossini paints of Slater is one of a deceitful, greedy, woman-beating pimp, con-man and blackguard who was assuredly guilty of the murder.

The Glasgow police and the general public initially never doubted Slater’s guilt. The various eye-witnesses were believed in their certainty it was Oscar Slater they saw fleeing the victim’s lodging and racing away down the streets of Glasgow at the time of her murder.  There was evidence to corroborate the witness testimony -- blood spots on Slater’s fawn overcoat and a claw hammer believed to be the murder weapon in his luggage.  He admitted ownership of both.  Other eye-witnesses saw Slater watching the place prior to the murder. Thus, Oscar Slater became the prime suspect five days after Marion Gilchrist was killed.

Oscar wouldn’t be so interesting or so famous had not a campaign seeking a retrial and reversal of his guilt been waged by journalist William Roughead and supported by Conan Doyle.  Doyle, famous not only for his fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, but also for his fight for justice in the Edalji case, believed Roughead’s personal slant on the witnesses and evidence, and Doyle’s involvement helped marshal the masses in a cry for justice for Slater.

In her well-researched and thoughtful review of the Gilchrist murder and Slater’s trials and subsequent reversal, Rossini unearths many salient points.  She argues that the police were remiss in not connecting the three persons involved in the conspiracy to burgle Marion Gilchrist’s rooms for a cache of uncut diamonds believed to be in her possession.  Rossini details Slater’s relationship to the other two conspirators - i.e. Lambie the maid and Patrick Nugent, and she presents a powerful recreation of the burglary and murder.  The police, she argues, did not go back far enough before the crime to unearth Slater’s criminal record of violent behavior, and thus it was never brought out at trial.  She suggests that William Roughead, whose book covered the first trial and who propounded the call for commutation of the death sentence and reversal of the verdict, misrepresented evidence and eyewitness testimony in order to create conflict and inflame the public into believing the arrest and conviction were unfair and based on antisemitic prejudices.  She also slams the alliance between Roughead and Glasgow Detective-Lieutenant John T. Trench as flawed, alleging their motives were profit from “income-producing publications for many years.”

Anyone who doubts Slater‘s guilt should read this book.  Rossini’s view is persuasive, and she points out that Conan Doyle did not have access to some facts, even though he was able to link Lambie and Nugent together as conspirators, which the police failed to do.  Sprinkled throughout, Rossini ties Holmesian incidents from tales in the Canon to various aspects of this very remarkable case.

Rossini sums up her damning unmasking of Slater not only with Lambie’s later accusation that Slater was the murderer, but also with Conan Doyle’s own words– words Doyle used after Slater was released – that “nearly everything he says is untrue.”


Oscar Slater A Killer Exposed is available from this site. 

Other options:   Amazon USA      Amazon UK     Barnes and Noble   


This is the story of Oscar Slater, a Jewish immigrant in Glasgow, Scotland and two fellow Scottish scammers, Helen Lambie and Patrick Nugent. In the Christmas season of 1908, the trio conspired to rob an elderly, wealthy lady of her diamonds, and, in the course of which burglary, Oscar Slater murdered her on December 21, 1908.

All, not some, authors and sleuths who researched the 1909 conviction emphatically supported Oscar Slater's innocence, that he was misidentified and wrongfully convicted.

In an effort to place guilt for Marion Gilchrist's murder squarely on Oscar Slater, the conclusions here reach further back in the crime's timeline to January 1908, about a year before the murder—the month that Patrick Nugent and Helen Lambie attended a New Year’s party. The Glasgow police investigation tarried at only 30 days leading up to the murder.


“When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”  Sherlock Holmes, Sign of Four.

“If you’re looking for Trouble, you’ve come to the right place.”  Trouble, by Elvis Presley.

“I am Woman, hear me roar.” I am Woman, by Helen Reddy.

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