Sir A. Conan Doyle's Challenge to Oscar Slater

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Sir A. Conan Doyle's Challenge to Oscar Slater is an article published in the Daily Mail on 14 september 1929, including a part of an interview with Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sir A. Conan Doyle's Challenge to Oscar Slater

Daily Mail (14 september 1929, p. 7)




NOTICE will shortly be given in the rolls of the Edinburgh Court of Session of an action by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author, against Oscar Slater, the man who was sentenced to death at Glasgow in 1908 for the murder of a woman, and who served 18 years' imprisonment after being reprieved.

Sir Arthur seeks to recover £250, which he paid towards the cost of Slater's successful appeal last year. Slater was released preparatory to a special retrial, and given £6,000 compensation.

The conflicting views of Sir Arthur and Slater were published in The Daily Mail yesterday. Now each has made a further statement, given below. Neither minces words in speaking of the other.


"Slater's Story is a Tissue of Lies."

"Smoking a large cigar!" said Sir Arthur Conan Doyle contemptuously when he read in The Daily Mail now Slater is living at a Brighton hotel. "I dare say he was. It is easy to smoke quite large cigars if you receive thousands of pounds." It was the first sign of anger that escaped Sir Arthur. He went on:

Of course, he would sooner not talk of writs and suing. The present to me which he alludes to was a tribute which I much appreciated at the time. It was a cigar-cutter. A nice little thing it was — it may have been gold — inscribed "To my saviour."
But, of course, I could not keep it. The whole of Slater's story is a tissue of lies.

A climax was reached when Sir Arthur read the sentence: "My appeal was arranged by man who I thought were my friends."

"One earl only think he is mad — deranged, perhaps, by his experiences," Sir Arthur commented, and continued to read Slater's statement that "I would sooner pay for myself," and his declaration of the "sickening revolt" which he said that he felt at the idea of a fund being raised for his appeal.


"Pay for himself! Why, that is all that we are asking him to do," Sir Arthur exclaimed. "As for my rejecting his offer to pay £1,000, all that I said was, 'You had better wait a bit.'" Sir Arthur went on:

"If Slater claims that he does not know exactly how much money is owed he has only to subtract £700 from £1,000. I guaranteed £1,000. Seven hundred pounds was subscribed later among the Jews. Rothschild was a prominent name on the list; also the late Mr. Bernhard Baron. The remaining £300 I had to pay under my guarantee, and of this £300 I am seeking to recover £250 from Slater."

Sir Arthur was reminded that Oscar Slater accused him of making money out of him. "Making money," he exclaimed.

"For 18 years I worked for him. I wrote a book about him which was sold at 6d, and never brought one a penny. I wrote one or two articles for the London Press for which I received some small remuneration, but I never wrote in the Scottish papers, and certainly received no such remuneration as £400; nor did I write anything like eight articles.

"Here is another lie. Slater was never asked to pay for Park's psychic book. This book, written by a poor man on his behalf, was merely used in argument to show Slater what efforts had been made. I only hope that he will publish our correspondence, as long as he does an in full."

Sir Arthur concluded that it was a bitterly disappointing story; one not very encouraging to make a man take up the cudgels for the oppressed. "But one must do one's best in such circumstances," he said. "Fortunately there are not many Oscar Slaters in the world."


"Beneath My Dignity to Answer Abuse with Abuse."


Brighton, Friday.

Oscar Slater shook hands with me at his hotel here to-day, offered me a cigar from an expensive gold-bound case, and drank Italian Vermouth as an appetiser before an excellent luncheon. He is enjoying life. He bathes, golfs, dances and is a regular theatre-goer. His face is tanned a deep brown and health sparkles from his eyes.

He told me that he intends to live to celebrate his hundredth birthday. He admitted that Sir Arthur has issued a writ against him in connection with the expenses of his appeal, and continued:

Let him call me an ungrateful dog. The abuse he heaps on me now will only rebound on himself. It is beneath my dignity to answer abuse with abuse. I will not call him "dog"; I will not even call him a money-seeker or a hunter for notoriety.
I shall not answer him with words of insult, but with letters which he himself has written. I will tell you something of these letters now.
Here I have a note he wrote to me in August. He calls. me "Dear Sir" and he signs himself "A. C. D." In it he asks me to wire him money because the lawyers are pressing him for the costs of the appeal.

"Poor man!" said Slater, with a laugh, "the lawyers are pressing him! Did he not make hundreds of pounds by writing about me when I was in prison? The whole world applauded when he told how he had sent money to me. It was £3 he sent. I gave it to a poor comrade who worked in the prison kitchen."

Slater continued:

Then he wrote articles about me when I was released, and he was paid £50 for each one of them. It was good business for him. He raised a subscription for me, and people said, "How good he is." But I did not want a subscription. I had got £2,000 from newspapers, and I offered to pay my own expenses. They would not hear of it then, where there was fame to be won, but now when all the fame is gone they ask me to pay.
Then again he wrote to me: "I have raised £700 in round figures by my efforts. I will charge you nothing, but £30 I spent seeking Helen Lambie and £20 on advertisements, which should be refunded to me. On top of this the Psychic Book Publishing Company is £250 out of pocket. We advertised your book very largely, and distributed it in order to gain public sympathy. You may fairly put our expanses at £1,600.
I am astonished that a man like Conan Doyle should act like this. When I offered him money he refused it, and now he threatens me with the law. Why, I don't even know what money was spent. He did everything. I have had no bills; I have had no statements from the lawyers. I must take his word that he is out of pocket. And as a parting shot he says perhaps my brain is turned.
I am not going to settle this matter out of court, and when I fight him he will see if any brain is turned. I can still tell of the fame and the money he made from my suffering. And I will tell you this: Conan Doyle returned to a poor ex-convict the present that was the dearest thing to his heart. And yet I will not call him "ungrateful dog." I leave those words to him. They will rebound on him like a boomerang.