Arthur Conan Doyle and the case of the Scottish Dreyfus Affair // The creator of Sherlock Holmes fought for justice when a Jew was accused of murder.

Oscar Joseph Leschziner (aka Otto Slater) was born to observant Jewish parents, but he spurned religious life from an early age on. Although his father was a kosher baker from the German town of Oppeln, Oscar (b. 1872) disdained the “provincialism” of his birthplace, and abandoned his village, family and religion by the age of 16. He weaved his way through the cosmopolitan labyrinths of the “big cities” (London, New York, Paris and Glasgow, which beckoned him with their glitter and “enlightenment” values), donning a variety of generic aliases along the way. So it was particularly ironic that when he was ultimately hounded, hunted, arrested by police and damned to execution for a crime he did not commit (dubbed by criminologists as the “greatest miscarriage of justice in Scottish history”), it was precisely because he was a Jew that he was chosen to “take the fall.” When Scottish police pursued him across the Atlantic to the port of New York and arrested him as he disembarked from the Lusitania, they cuffed him as they formally announced: “We are arresting you for the murder of Miss Marion Gilchrist,” a declaration to which a dazed and dumbfounded Slater could only respond in unfeigned innocence, “Who is Marion Gilchrist? I don’t know anyone by that name.”

Marion Gilchrist, an elderly spinster of 83, was a wealthy recluse who, according to the accounts of her relatives, spurned almost all social contact with them and lived in “elegant solitude” at her north-central Glasgow home, a genteel part of town. A young maid by the name of Helen Lambie ministered to Miss Gilchrist’s needs, cooking, cleaning, shopping, running errands and accompanying her to the occasional doctors’ or bankers’ appointments. Although she had acquired the bulk of her parents’ considerable estate (much to the dismay of her disinherited siblings who strongly believed that the unfair bequest was a result of their sister’s cunning machinations), Miss Gilchrist, for the most part, did not flaunt her wealth. Her one flamboyant indulgence was a sizable collection of valuable jewels—diamonds, rubies, emeralds, gold, silver and pearls—which she kept secreted in a box hidden away in a locked closet in her spare bedroom. From the outset of the crime’s discovery, police officials were certain that this jewelry collection clearly provided the motive underlying the heinous murder, a brutal affair in which Miss Gilchrist’s face was viciously clubbed—nearly beyond recognition.

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