He had spent the evening with a small number of dinner guests including one of his closest friends, Harold Christie. Christie stayed in a spare room at the house. His family were all away at the time. At 7 o’clock the next morning, Christie went to rouse his friend and upon getting no answer, he entered his bedroom. Oakes was in his bed, dead, and very badly burnt. The mattress was badly charred and burn marks were apparent on parts of the carpet. It was obvious that someone had set fire to Oakes although the cause of death was a puncture wound to the side of this head. Christie, who had been in a nearby bedroom all night, claimed he had heard nothing.
The governor of the island, and personal friend of Oakes, was HRH the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII. The Duke made contact with the police in Florida and quickly two American detectives were despatched to take over the investigation. However, what followed was a desperately poor investigation which would be later riddled with accusations of corruption. This was heightened when the detectives claimed to have found a fingerprint in the bedroom, on a burnt piece of furniture, belonging to Oakes’ son-in-law, Alfred de Marigny. There had been a poor relationship between the two of them and de Marigny was arrested. He denied all knowledge of the attack although he had burn marks to his own body and admitted driving past Oakes’ house just about the time he was being murdered. De Marigny was acquitted and then rumours began to emerge that the mafia was responsible for the murder. The Duke of Windsor himself was rumoured to have covered up a proper investigation for fear of his Nazi sympathies being exposed. The case remains unsolved to this day.
Sir Harry Oakes was a self-made millionaire having been successful in the gold mining business. He was born in Maine but later moved to Canada. In 1934, he moved to the Bahamas and was knighted in 1939. His lifestyle of living in far-flung corners of the world in his pursuit for gold – literally on his hands and knees – had attracted some descriptions of him as being dehumanised and with rather poor table manners. His wife was Australian-born Eunice with whom he had five children: Nancy, Sydney, Shirley, William and Harry. Oakes had house in Britain, America and the Bahamas and had been responsible for numerous building projects on the island of New Providence including hotels and an airport. At the time of his death, he was 68 years of age.
No-one knows. There have been many conspiracy theories but none seem to stand up to close scrutiny. Freddie de Marigny had a loose motive and was effectively unalibied, but he was acquitted by a jury. Other rumours include a mafia plan to take over gambling on the island and a business deal which had gone horribly wrong, but in truth, we do not know.
Again, we cannot be sure, if he was at all. Historians have in recent years laboured the duke’s obvious connections with Nazi Germany (this was the reason why Winston Churchill gave him a job far away from the European theatre of war in the first place) and any thorough examination would have unearthed more evidence of his associations. Allegedly, he was involved in illegal financial transactions with axis allies, but how that is connected to a cover-up is not exactly clear.
It was a small, three-pronged instrument of some sort judging by the injuries to his head. It was never found and this is one of the criticisms levelled at the American detectives.
The forensic management of the scene was poorly handled. Many areas were not subject to fingerprint examination and those that were found could not be determined from where they were lifted. A theory at the time was that Oakes had been set on fire in another part of the bedroom before being killed with the three-pronged instrument. One conspiracy theory has Oakes being murdered on a boat a few miles away before being taken back to his house.
He eventually divorced Oakes’ daughter, Nancy, later re-married and settled in America.
The Harry Oakes Murder case is available as a presentation. Whether delivered on world-wide cruise ships or in a local village hall, it's absorbing, informative, and entertaining. Contact Paul Stickler for more information...