THE OSCAR SLATER CASE
A collection of letters and documents relating to the Slater case, 1914-1929, including:
Sir Arthur CONAN DOYLE. Two autograph letters signed (to unidentified correspondents), an autograph letter without signature (to [?Stanley] Baldwin), an autograph postcard signed (to J. Cuming Walters, editor of the Manchester City News) and a typed letter and typed postcard (to Oscar Slater, apparently retained copies), 2 November 1917 - 13 November 1929 and n.d., altogether 7½ pages, 4to, in autograph, and two pages, various sizes, typed;
Oscar SLATER. Thirteen autograph letters signed and one typed letter signed to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (one to Lady Conan Doyle, one to William Gordon),  - 30 August 1928 and n.d., INCLUDING THE FAMOUS LETTER SMUGGLED OUT FROM PETERHEAD PRISON BY WILLIAM GORDON UNDER HIS DENTURES;
William PARK (Glasgow journalist, author of The Truth about Oscar Slater (1927)). A series of approximately 78 autograph letters signed to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 23 September 1914 - 24 February 1929;
with a collection of approximately 43 related letters and documents, including Ramsay MacDonald (2 autograph letters signed, 15 and 26 September 1927), a typescript carbon copy of evidence submitted in the Slater trial (23 pages, 4to), and a typescript list of contributors to the Jewish Chronicle fund for Slater's appeal; and a collection of newspaper cuttings relating to the case.
THE DEFINITIVE ARCHIVE OF THE SLATER CASE
The most dramatic article in the collection is Slater's letter to his fellow-prisoner, William Gordon ['Gordan'], which Gordon smuggled out of prison under his dentures: 'Gordan, my boy, I wish you in every way the best of luck. Please do what you can for me. Give to the English public your opinion regarding me. Please don't forget to write or see Conan D.' (the forwarding letter from Gordon also survives in the collection). Slater's letters in general show his sketchy command of English, and show his impulsive and occasionally impenetrable character. A letter of 17 November , two days after his release from prison, is an outpouring of gratitude: 'Sir Conan Doyle, you breaker of shackles, you lover of truth for justice sake', offering thanks to all those who 'have helped me, me an outcast'. On 7 December 1927 he writes with reference to the Jewish Chronicle fund for his appeal, 'it makes me sick absolutely sick' to think of the reluctance to support him. On 17 June 1928, referring to allegations about the style in which he had been living since his release, Slater describes himself as 'an animal ... who is free, yet lying bleeding and wounded'; on 21 July, in a hysterical outburst, he declares 'they went too far in throwing muck at me in open Court', affirming his desire to 'fight and expose them All, All them who I know have taken my confidence and have betrayed me'. Later letters show the cooling of relations between Slater and Conan Doyle, as Slater's acerbic personality and louche lifestyle, as well as the growing quarrel of the expenses of the appeal fund, have their effect. Two letters concern the gift of a pipe by Conan Doyle to Slater: in the earliest, he has made his first attempts at pipe smoking, and 'except a little burning at the tip of my tongue, I have enjoyed it immensely'; in the second, however, the tone is somewhat sneering: 'Your pipe, Sir, is dear to me, as a Gift to look upon it, but to use it, it is a failure ... any attempt to fill the pipe makes my stomach heave up and down'.
The small collection of Conan Doyle's own letters show the two sides of his involvement in the case: in an undated letter, he expresses the sense of disgust at the circumstances of Slater's conviction which animated his campaign: 'I was up against a ring of political lawyers who could not give away the police without also giving away themselves. There is no doubt that Mr Ure went far too far in his speech for the prosecution ... Oscar Slater never knew that Miss Gilchrist existed ... The faked police persecution of their own honest Inspector [Detective Trench] ... was a shocking business'. In a postcard to J. Cuming Walters on 2 November 1927, Conan Doyle discusses the confession by the key witness, Nellie Lambie, that her evidence had been manipulated: 'What a story! What a scandal! She says that the police made her say it was Slater. Third degree! What a cess pool it all is!'; in a letter possibly to Stanley Baldwin on 13 November 1927 (two days before Slater's release), he insists that the case 'will surely develop into a big political issue unless there is some enquiry'. But his remaining letters concern the distasteful argument that developed after Slater's release over the reimbursement of Conan Doyle's contribution to his appeal costs: a retained typescript of 2 August 1928 to Slater urges that 'you will get no compensation, not a penny, if you do not apply for it', and itemises payments due to lawyers and other contributors to the campaign for Slater's release; an undated postcard, presumably to Slater, insists 'these bills have to be met now ... I beg ... you will send me a cheque by return for [£300]'; a letter of 10 October 1929, apparently to Slater's solicitors, accepts explanations for the delay in payment of £250 on the basis of Slater's ill health.
The core of the remaining papers is the very extensive series of letters by the Glasgow journalist William Park, a fellow leader of the campaign to clear Slater. Park's letters, often eight or more pages long, go over in the minutest detail the progress and developments of the case, and chronicle virtually the whole course of the Slater case from 1914 until its conclusion. A number of letters are from significant actors in the case: among the earliest is one of 28 May 1914 from Slater's advocate in his extradition proceedings in New York, 'I am personally of the opinion that Slater is another Dreyfus'; Ramsay MacDonald writes in September 1927, in response to Conan Doyle's political agitation, 'I have written a private letter to [Secretary for Scotland] Sir John Gilmour, asking him, if he is quite happy about the case ... [I] am quite convinced that this man has received a most horrible injustice ... Everybody must be exceedingly grateful to you for the magnificent way you have stuck to the case'.; Gilmour himself writes on 28 September 1927, intimating briefly that he is considering the matter. A considerable number of letters offer circumstantial evidence and hearsay relating to the original trial: one offers the on-dit that the Lord Advocate's mother was 'terribly upset & rendered ill by his Oscar Slater speech'; a letter from George Ritchie, 'Master Mariner' in 1925 reports alleged remarks by Lord Guthrie to the effect that he believed Slater to be innocent; a number write with suggestions for alternative suspects including John Munroe, in a witness statement of February 1925, explaining his suspicions of the murder victim's nephew.
A considerable group of papers, however, relate to the disagreeable coda to the Slater case, the argument, culminating in a court action, over the money owed to Conan Doyle from his contribution to Slater's appeal fund. The majority of the £1,000 in the fund was raised through contributions sent to the Jewish Chroncile (an early list of contributors shows £100 sent by James A. de Rothschild, and three guineas by the crime writer Dorothy L. Sayers). The controversy over the remaining £300 contributed personally by Conan Doyle is played out to a great extent in the newspaper cuttings which accompany the lot, with dismissive assertions by Slater that Conan Doyle had claimed the expenses of a book published by the Psychic Press, and that the writer had made £400 by writing articles about him ('I made not a penny by writing for the Scottish press', countered Conan Doyle). A letter from one P.E. Baker (13 September 1929) suggests that public opinion was on Conan Doyle's side ('in using the term "Ungrateful Dog", you really flatter Slater. As the owner of a well-bred dog, I cannot conceive how, even a mongrel dog, would be as undeserving as this'); but a letter from the Jewish Chronicle (16 September 1929) deplores the legal action on which Conan Doyle had by then embarked, and indicates that the Chronicle was even then still attempting to raise the remaining funds by subscription; and one L.I. Reade writes on 23 October 1929 questioning Conan Doyle's account of the matter. The conclusion of the case however is indicated by a letter to Conan Doyle from his Edinburgh solicitors on 14 October 1929, enclosing a 'somewhat extraordinary' letter from Slater's solicitors, agreeing to pay the money, but threatening an action for slander.
The wealthy spinster Marion Gilchrist was murdered in Glasgow in 1908. Suspicion fell on the German Jewish gambler Oscar Slater [born Joseph Leschziner], initially on the basis of a spurious clue offered by a pawned diamond brooch. He was nevertheless extradited from New York, and stood trial in Edinburgh in 1909. His conviction, chiefly on the basis of his character and lifestyle, was accompanied by flawed identifications and suppressed evidence, but sufficient doubt remained for the death sentence to be commuted to hard labour. Conan Doyle's 16-year campaign to free Slater began in 1912 with the publication of a booklet, The Case of Oscar Slater, and even after Slater's release (ostensibly for good behaviour) in 1927, the writer backed successful appeals for a pardon and for compensation.
The account by Pierre Nordon of the Slater case (Conan Doyle, pp.128-138) draws to some extent upon the present documentation, but with some notable distortions - in particular, he implies that William Park's involvement dated only to the last stages of the case, from 1927; and he summarises the concluding financial wrangles in the single sentence 'Incidentally it may be noted that Slater never repaid the £1,000 lent to him'. The present papers therefore offer the first opportunity for a definitive account of 'surely [Conan Doyle's] most glorious victory for a just and humane cause', righting an injustice that a number of observers, including the writer himself, compared to the Dreyfus case.