Sir Harry Oakes

Crime Files

The colourful life story of multi-millionaire Harry Oakes is ultimately a tragic one. It is a tale of determination, perseverance and final triumph in the face of adversity. Yet despite Oakes’ endeavours to realise his dreams, his eventful life was brought to an abrupt and violent end. His grisly murder has to this date remained unsolved. The young Harry Oakes was brought up in Sangerville, Maine, USA where he dreamed of becoming a rich man. During his early twenties he attended Syracuse Medical School, but despite his studies he became enthralled with stories about a gold strike in the Klondike. He finally decided to abandon a medical career and fulfil his obsession with gold. Oakes was twenty three when he departed on an eventful journey that would see him first venture to the Klondike, be shipwrecked off the Alaskan coast, find himself taken prisoner by the Russians, sail to Australia, New Zealand and California and also face death twice from nearly freezing to death in Alaska. Finally, after he made his way to Kirkland Lake, Ontario, he managed to realise his elusive dream of finding gold. In 1918, Oakes took the daring decision to mine beneath Kirkland Lake, which was scoffed at by others. However, with the financial support of his mother, the risk paid off handsomely when he discovered more gold than he could have dreamed of. Oakes' Lake Shore Mines at Kirkland Lake soon became one of the largest producers of gold in the Western Hemisphere, earning the determined prospector around $60,000 a day. Soon Oakes was the richest man in Canada, but was also a man who was generous with his newfound wealth. Having neither forgotten his humble beginnings or the help he had received, he gave shares of his mining to friends and family members making them very rich in the process. He lived a life of luxury, building a golf course and his own chateau with magnificent views of Lake Shore. But forever restless, Oakes set sail on a world cruise where he met Eunice MacIntyre, an Australian who was twenty years his junior. On 30th June 1923 the couple were married in Sydney, Australia. The union was to bring about five children. Eventually the couple settled on the island of Nassau in the Bahamas for tax purposes. Oakes’ arrival was to precipitate an economic boom for the small island as the millionaire set about building mansions, a gold course, hotel and country club. Despite having a reputation for being a tough negotiator and having a brusque tongue, Oakes was also known for his generosity and philanthropic ways. He not only initiated schemes to tackle poverty on the island, but employed many people as part of his building empire. He even provided a hospital wing and transport for the locals, many of whom worked for him. For these reasons Oakes shocking and brutal death was to be a major blow to many islanders and people who benefited from him. On 8th July 1943, a rainstorm raged on the small island of Nassau in the Bahamas. It was a night when Oakes was alone, his family having gone away on vacation. During the night Harry Oakes was brutally slain in his bedroom in a manner that suggested either sadistic ritualism or efforts to conceal any evidence of the murderer or murderers’ activity. Harold Christie, a close friend of Oakes, who had been sleeping in a guest room next door, was the first to discover the half-charred remains. The corpse had been saturated with gasoline, along with areas of Oakes’ home and set alight. A partially-burned lacquered Chinese screen near the bed was covered in blood and smudged handprints, while feathers from Oakes' pillow partially concealed his blackened, heat-blistered body. However, hidden within the congealed blood covering Oakes’ face and head, were four small indentations on the left side of his skull.

Timeline

23 December 1874 - Sir Harry Oakes born in Sangerville, Maine 1918 - Oakes discovers gold at Lake Shore, Canada 30 June 1923 - Oakes marries Eunice MacIntyre 8 July 1943 - Oakes murdered at his Nassau home 18 October 1943 - Trial of Freddie de Marigny begins in Bahamas 12 November 1943 - Jury deliver not guilty verdict

Key Figures

Harold Christie - wealthy estate broker and close friend of Sir Harry Oakes Freddie de Marigny - son-in-law of the victim who became the prime suspect Nancy de Marigny - Freddie’s wife who hired private detectives Miami detectives Captain James Barker and Captain Edward Melchen - responsible for serious flaws during investigation The Duke of Windsor - formerly King Edward VIII and resident on Nassau Island Axel Wenner-Gren - rich businessman associated with the Nazi party Frank Marshall - mobster and criminal linked to the Mafia

The Investigation

In addition to Sir Harry Oakes, who was knighted by King George in 1939 in recognition of his achievements, there were also other notable characters living on the island. The most famous being the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The couple had been exiled to the island by the British government after the Duke’s abdication. They lived a privileged and indulgent life on the island while Europe was in the throes of war. It was the Duke who made sure that any news of Oakes’ death was held back for several days while investigations proceeded. The Duke also enlisted the services of the Miami police rather than the local Nassau police force. It was to prove to be one of the most botched crime investigations of all time. Miami detectives Captain James Barker and Captain Edward Melchen were assigned the task of leading the investigation into the murder. Despite the fact that the two detectives were supposed to be fingerprint experts they were responsible for incredibly inept actions that ruined potential vital evidence. The most glaring oversight was when they forgot to pack an important piece of equipment, a latent-fingerprint camera, en route to Nassau. They also allowed prominent local residents into the Oakes’ house to see where the body had been found. No attempts were made to stop the visitors from handling objects and artefacts at the scene of the crime. What was found at the scene of the crime that revealed that this was a murder case and not a suicide. Investigators found a single bloody handprint on the wall next to Oakes’ bed and there were also several muddy footprints leading up the stairs from the main floor and to the bedroom.

The Trial

On 18th October 1943, the trial of Freddie de Marigny began at the Bahamas Supreme Court. It was a major newsworthy story that received more column inches than the war itself. Freddie had wanted revered barrister Sir Alfred Adderley to represent him in court, but he was quickly snatched by the prosecution side instead. Freddie finally chose Godfrey Higgs to lead the defence team. Chief witness was Harold Christie, good friend of the victim who had slept in the guestroom on the night of the murder. Christie revealed how a group of people, including his own niece and Oakes’ neighbours had visited the house for a soiree, but had all left by 11 pm. Apart from waking up due to the raging storm, Christie had heard nothing else during the night to arouse suspicion. Christie told the court that in the morning he had discovered the grisly scene of Oakes’ charred body when he knocked on the door enquiring about breakfast. Not realising that Oakes was dead he tried to give him some water and also wiped his bloody head with a towel. The court proceedings threw up a great deal of conflicting hearsay and speculation. The defence believed that Christie was holding back information and questioned why he parked his car some distance from Oakes’ house. It was also noted that Christie had been seen by a Bahamas police officer, riding in a station truck around midnight. Another witness, a night watchman who had mysteriously drowned before the trial, alleged that he had seen Christie and another man hanging around an unfamiliar boat docked in Nassau’s harbour the night before the murder. If this wasn’t intriguing enough, a member of the police force testified that prime suspect Freddie de Marigny walked into the police station on the morning of the murder at 7.30 am, looking distressed and asking if his vehicle could be inspected. Another witness claimed that they had overheard Freddie and victim Oakes having a conversation where Oakes had asked the suspect not to send letters to his wife and accusing Freddie of being a ‘sex maniac’. What did become clear during proceedings was how poorly the investigation had been carried out with vital evidence lost due to inexplicable actions committed soon after the murder was discovered. More contradictions surfaced when detective James Barker claimed that he had identified the fingerprint on the Chinese screen, as belonging to Freddie, on 9th July while his colleague, Edward Melchen, disclosed that he was unaware of this finding until around the 19th or 20th July. Coronary details revealed that Oakes had sustained blows to the head resulting in his skull having been cracked like a walnut. Blisters, unconnected with the fire were also discovered on his body and their cause unaccounted for. It was believed the murder took place between 2 am and 5 am. The fingerprint from the Chinese screen became a major piece of contention for it was discovered that Barker had used an inappropriate technique and as a consequence destroyed the print entirely. Higgs, for the defence, accused Barker of lifting the print from a glass that the suspect had been drinking from during interrogation. Barker vehemently denied this, but could not pinpoint where the print had been on the screen. Barker was found on the stand not only to be inept at his job but also a liar as he had originally claimed to have taken the fingerprints of all the people allowed into the room only later to admit to the court that this was a lie. Freddie himself took the witness stand and gave a personal account of how he had never truly been accepted by the Oakes since marrying their daughter. By his own admission he had a difficult relationship with his in-laws. He also revealed how he had been questioned by Barker and Melchen and found to have singed hairs on his hands, which he claimed he received from lighting cigars and cooking. On 12th November 1943, the jury went away to consider its verdict. It probably was not all that surprising that due to the incompetent procedures of the investigators, the admission of lies made by Barker himself and the lack of any sound forensic evidence, that a ‘not guilty’ outcome was delivered. THEORIES Several prominent people living on the island or connected to Sir Harry Oakes in some way all appeared to have motives of one kind or another for disposing of the man. Many of the theories are plausible, but improbable. More importantly they have never been proved. The prime suspects range from a German born millionaire with links to the Nazi party, to figures from America’s gangland to the British Royal family itself in the guise of the Duke of Windsor. The core of all the theories share one main common denominator, which was the potential lucrative business of casinos and hotels that were proposed to be built in Nassau prior to Oakes’ murder. FIRST SUSPECT: WENNER-GREN Oakes had become friendly with the rich Swedish born businessman Wenner-Gren who lived on the island with his American wife and had acquired the largest yacht in the world as part of his millionaire lifestyle. Gren was an astute and wily businessman who had made a fortune through selling light bulbs and household electrical equipment. More disturbingly he was known to be a close friend of key Nazi figure, Hermann Goering as well as many other infamous tyrants. One theory is that Gren killed or had Oakes murdered because the victim had unearthed several secrets about him including information that he may have been a spy for the Germans. SECOND SUSPECT: HAROLD CHRISTIE Oakes good friend also came under suspicion due to his association with mobster Frank Marshall who himself was linked with the notorious Mafia boss Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano. Christie, who had become a wealthy man in his own rights by purchasing land in Nassau and becoming a real estate broker, had big plans for the island and the Bahamas. He envisaged a lucrative tourist trade that encompassed golf courses and hotels. Christie became involved with Frank Marshall who wanted to build casinos on the island despite the prohibitive laws preventing such developments. However, Marshall had reckoned with the influence of Christie’s prominent friends such as Oakes and the Duke of Windsor, they would be able to circumvent restrictions. But Oakes was said to be displeased with the idea and his refusal to co-operate angered Christie who saw his old friend as an obstacle to making millions. THIRD SUSPECT: FRANK MARSHALL AND THE MOB Marshall himself was known to have had a great deal of pressure put on him by his American business partners, who were more than likely Mafia figures. It was believed to be Mafia mobster Lucky Luciano’s idea to build casinos on the island and who realised that with Christie and the Duke of Windsor’s influence and help he had the means to do it. Therefore it may not be too difficult to imagine Luciano’s frustration and anger with Oakes who refused to take part in the scheme. Oakes violent and bloody death seems to fit the kind of grisly end metered out to victims by mobsters of the day. FOURTH SUSPECT: THE DUKE OF WINDSOR The former King of England himself did not escape suspicion when one theory arose that Oakes may have discovered possible evidence of the Duke’s dealings with the Nazi party and Wenner-Gren that threatened to expose the Duke as a traitor and spy. None of the above theories, no matter how convincing they may sound, have provided concrete evidence to back them up. To date the murder of Sir Harry Oakes remains a mystery that has yet to be solved.

The Arrest

Thirty-six hours after the discovery of the body a suspect was found in the form of one Freddie de Marigny, an enigmatic and rich, middle-aged Count, who was also Oakes’ son-in-law. A fingerprint found on the Chinese screen was believed to be his and Marigny was arrested and imprisoned in the local jailhouse. His wife, Nancy, the eldest daughter of the Oakes, refused to believe her husband had anything to do with her father’s murder and enlisted the help of private detectives. They requested that Freddie be subject to a lie detector test. When the fingerprint and lie detector experts arrived at Nassau they were shocked to find police officers scrubbing away the handprint and other miscellaneous forensic evidence. Also photographic plates taken of the bloody handprint were ruined by daylight contamination so that the identity of the print would never be known.