Union for Reform Judaism Member Congregation

Brotherhood Book Discussion: Conan Doyle for the Defense

Sunday, October 28 | 10:00AM
Conan Doyle for the Defense
by Margalit Fox

In addition to being a great detective story writer—and a physician—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did some brilliant detective work of his own. This is the true story of how he used his detective skills on behalf of a man who had been wrongly convicted of murder.

Oscar Slater was a German Jewish immigrant in Scotland.  And he was probably a petty crook, but definitely not a murderer. But when a wealthy Glasgow woman was murdered, and her diamond brooch gone, the police and prosecutors focused on Slater. Racial profiling and a widespread dislike of immigrants are nothing new, after all. Slater was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life at hard labor in a Scottish prison.

It was clear to Doyle that this was a miscarriage of justice, but it took years of meticulous work to prove it. He studied the evidence, newspaper accounts, eyewitness statements and trial transcripts, discovering inconsistencies and even outright fabrications. Thanks to Doyle’s efforts and persistence, after nearly eighteen years in prison, Slater was freed. And more generally, a century ago, a criminal justice system that had relied too heavily on prejudice and intuition began to apply the forensic science and logical methods of Sherlock Holmes.

What was the true story? How did this miscarriage of justice occur, and how and why did Doyle do all that he did to right the wrong in the Slater case? Steve Segall will lead a discussion of the book, over bagels and coffee.

Even if you haven’t read the book, come for a bagel and a great story.