The murder of Sir Harry Oakes
Sir Harry Oakes - murder mystery in the Bahamas
I first heard about this murder mystery when I was in the Bahamas (the location of the murder) for a weekend vacation and I've been puzzled by it ever since.
This murder took place in 1943. Over seventy years ago, in the beautiful Bahamas, the millionaire Sir Harry Oates was brutally killed as he lay in his bed.
This was a horrific murder that has remained unsolved to this day, but it's not just the mystery that makes this tale of crime such an interesting story.
This was a high-profile case that involved a beautiful socialite, her gold-digging husband, an exiled member of the British Royal Family, a suspected Nazi spy and a famous mobster with high connections.
The murdered man was incredibly wealthy and had made his fortune from discovering and mining gold. He had married a woman half his age after a whirlwind shipboard romance.
Gold, royalty, millions, the mob, a tropical island ... all the ingredients for this dramatic story were firmly in place...
The players - Some of the people involvedClick thumbnail to view full-size
The fateful night of the murder
On the night he was murdered, all Harry Oakes' family members were away from home. He had one guest staying overnight with him. This was Harry Christie.
Christie had been a friend of Oakes' for many years. In fact, it was thanks to Christie that Oakes and his family had moved to the Bahamas. Oakes was Canadian but had taken British citizenship - the Bahamas at that time were under British Rule.
There had been a small gathering at Oakes' home that evening and after the guests had left, Christie said goodnight to his host and retired to his room. He said afterwards that he had heard nothing in the night, apart from a violent storm which had awoken him briefly.
In the morning, he went to Oakes' room - at about 7am - to inquire, he said, about breakfast. He found that his host had been brutally murdered in the night. The millionaire had been bludgeoned and attempts had been made to burn the body.
Christie was a well-known and respectable property developer and was therefore not under suspicion of being the murderer.
The governor, the Duke of Windsor, believed that the local police were incapable of investigating such a high-profile killing. He wanted investigators from Scotland Yard in London. But the Second World War was still raging and the logistics would have been impossible.
The Duke was responsible for making sure that the news about the crime wasn't reported and, because he couldn't get detectives from Scotland Yard, sent for two detectives from nearby Miami.
But these men were not spectacularly successful. Their suspicions immediately fell onto one man, Freddie de Marigny. Freddy was Oakes' son-in-law and had married Nancy Oakes when the couple had eloped when she was just eighteen. Freddie called himself Count Marigny, although he had no legal claim to the title as the name was actually from his mother's side of the family.
Nancy supported her husband throughout the trial; refusing to believe that he had anything to do with the death of her father.
There was a revelation when one of the Miami detectives said that he had found de Marigny's fingerprints on a screen in Oakes' room. There was equal incredulity when fingerprint experts refuted this and the Miami men couldn't prove the existence of the evidence.
The men from MIami lost all credibility. de Marigny admitted that he had drive past Oakes' home on the night of the murder; he said that he had been at a party and had run one of the other guests home, passing the Oakes residence.
He also explained that his relationship with his in-laws had always been difficult, as they strongly disapproved of his marriage. His wife Nancy took the stand and stood up for her husband, getting the sympathies of the court.
To her profound relief, de Marigny was acquitted.
So who did murder Harry Oakes?
Nancy and Freddie fled from the Bahamas, going straight to the home of her friend, Ernest Hemingway, in Cuba. But everyone still wondered - who committed the crime? There were several possible solutions but the truth isn't known to this day.
Many believe that it was the proposed casino in the Bahamas, or rather, Oakes' opposition to the proposal, that had been the cause of the this mysterious death.
- Wenner-Gren was a good friend of Oates'. But there was a very strong suspicion, borne out by his friendship with high-level members of the Nazi party, that he had been a spying for them during the war. Wenner-Gren was an enormously rich man. There were those who suggested that Oates had found evidence that Wenner-Gren had in fact spied for the Germans. As a Canadian by birth, and British by choice, was he going to make this evidence public? Did Wenner-Gren dispose of him for this reason?
- Meyer Lansky was a known gangster and had gambling connections just across the water in South Florida. He wanted to open a gambling operation in the Bahamas. Some people said that it would have been the work of a moment for a known gangster to arrange to have Oakes disposed of.
- Stafford Sands reportedly was encouraging the idea of a gambling operation in the area. As a local dignitary, he realized that this would bring extra tourism to the area. This would mean more hotels, more restaurants and more jobs. Was he part of a gang who arranged for the Oakes killing?
- Questions were asked about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Duke had hushed up the murder immediately afterwards and he had insisted on bringing in the inept detectives from Miami. Like Sands, he had a vested interest in bringing gambling - and hence money - to the islands. Although he had proclaimed that he would be willing to give evidence at the trial, he and the Duchess had contrived to be away at the time. Was he involved? Was the Duchess?
- There was a theory put forward that Oakes was planning to leave the island to live in Mexico and this was the reason for the murder. If Oakes' huge fortune had been taken elsewhere, it would have an effect on the economy of the islands. Did a consortium of locals conspire to do the killing?
- It was later put forward that in fact, de Marigny WAS the murderer. There was a theory that Oakes had discovered evidence of financial misdeeds by his son-in-law and was planning to expose these.
- It's said that in later life, Harold Christie claimed to his friends that he had been responsible for the murder. There were several people who testified that they had seen him out and about at the time of the murder, when he had claimed to have tucked up safely in bed. Oakes' opposition to the casino operation would prevent him from making a great deal of money as he owned a great deal of land on the islands. Many people found it hard to believe that a violent killing could have taken place in the next room without waking Christie. But my reasons for suspecting him are much more domestic and prosaic - who on earth goes into their host's bedroom at seven in the morning to inquire about breakfast?
Discover more about this intriguing story. Form your own theories about who committed the murder. Was there a conspiracy? Was there a cover-up?
© 2013 Jackie Jackson