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Sir Harry Oakes, 1st Baronet (23 December 1874 – 7 July 1943) was an American-born British Canadian gold mine owner, entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist. He earned his fortune in Canada and in the 1930s moved to the Bahamas for tax purposes, where he was murdered in 1943 in notorious circumstances. The cause of death and the details surrounding it have never been entirely determined, and have been the subject of several books and four films.
Oakes was born in Sangerville, Maine, one of five children of William Pitt Oakes and Edith Nancy Lewis. His father was a prosperous lawyer. He graduated from Foxcroft Academy and went on to Bowdoin College in 1896, and spent two years at the Syracuse University Medical School. One of his sisters, Getrude Oakes, died in the 1935 sinking of the ocean liner SS Mohawk off the New Jersey coast.
In 1898 he left medical school before graduation and made his way to Alaska at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush in hopes of making his fortune as a prospector. For 15 years, he sought gold around the world, including California, USA and Australia. In 1912 struck gold at Kirkland Lake in Northern Ontario, Canada. Oakes established Lake Shore Mine to develop his mine. 20 years later the mine was the most productive in the Western Hemisphere, and it ultimately proved to be the second-largest gold mine in the Americas. By 1920, Oakes was thought to be Canada's richest individual.
Oakes married Eunice Myrtle McIntyre on 30 June, 1923 in Sydney, Australia; they met aboard a cruise ship, and she was approximately half his age when they married. Their first child, Nancy, was born in 1924. They eventually had five children, each separated by two years.
Oakes became interested in golf and, in the late 1920s, hired top golf course architect Stanley Thompson to build a nine-hole course for him, the "Sir Harry Oakes Private Course" in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Completed in 1929, the course is now the Oak Hall Par 3 public course.
Oakes took British citizenship and for tax reasons lived in the Bahamas from 1935. He was invited to the British colony by Harold Christie, a prominent Bahamian real estate developer and legislator, who became a close business associate and friend. Oakes was created a baronet in 1939 as a reward for his philanthropic endeavours in the Bahamas, Canada and Britain. For example, he donated US$500,000 in two bequests to St George's Hospital in London and gave a million US dollars to charities in the Bahamas. He became a member of the colony's House of Assembly.
Oakes soon proved to be a dynamic investor, entrepreneur and developer in the Bahamas. He had a major role in expanding the airport, Oakes Field, in the capital Nassau; bought the British Colonial Hilton Nassau; built a golf course and country club; and developed farming and new housing. All of this activity greatly stimulated the struggling economy in what had been a sleepy backwater, with only about 70,000 inhabitants in the early 1940s. This activity took place mainly on the principal island of New Providence; it was estimated that Oakes owned about one-third of that island by the early 1940s. Oakes had become the colony's wealthiest, most powerful, and most important resident by the early 1940s.
On 8 July 1943, Oakes was found murdered in his mansion, Westbourne, in Nassau. He had been battered to death, his corpse partially burned and strewn with feathers.
The Bahamas’ Governor-General, the Duke of Windsor (formerly King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom), who had become a close friend of Oakes during the previous three years, took charge of the investigation from the outset. The Duke first attempted to enforce press censorship, but this was unsuccessful. Oakes' vast wealth, fame and British title, combined with the ghastly nature of the crime, generated worldwide interest in the case. Etienne Dupuch, the colony's foremost newspaper publisher and a friend of Oakes ensured constant coverage of the case for the several months. The Duke believed that the local police lacked the expertise to investigate the crime, and since World War II was raging, making it difficult to bring detectives from Scotland Yard in London, which was what normally would have been done, the Duke turned to two American policemen he knew in the Miami force. The Bahamas was a British Crown Colony at the time, and there were British Security personnel stationed in wartime in New York and Washington, D.C. who could potentially have travelled easily and quickly to Nassau for an investigation. Bringing in the Miami Captains Melchen and Barker (Melchen had earlier guarded the Duke in Miami) proved an unfortunate decision.
The two American detectives were, in theory, called upon to assist Bahamian law enforcement, but to the dismay of the local police they completely took over the investigation. By evening on the second day of the investigation, 36 hours after Oakes' body was discovered, they had arrested Oakes' son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny. De Marigny had eloped with and married Oakes' daughter Nancy in New York City (where she was studying), without her parents' knowledge, two days after her 18th birthday, in 1942. Once she had reached age 18, Nancy no longer needed her parents' permission to wed. De Marigny, 14 years older, had met Nancy at the Nassau Yacht Club, where he was a prominent competitive sailor. The two had been dating for a couple of years before their marriage, without her parents apparently fully realizing the seriousness of their relationship. De Marigny was thought to have been on bad terms with Oakes, due to de Marigny's playboy manners and lack of a meaningful career, the fact that he had been married twice before for short periods to wealthy women, and that he had not asked Oakes' permission to marry Nancy. Oakes and de Marigny had quarrelled on several occasions, witnessed by other people.
When Nancy was informed of her father's death and her husband's arrest, she was in Miami on her way for the summer to study dance with Martha Graham at Bennington, Vermont. It was her great friend Merce Cunningham who gave her the bad news. She then traveled to Bar Harbor, Maine, the family's summer home, to join her mother, at her husband's request. But Nancy soon returned to Nassau and began to organize her husband's defence. She was convinced that de Marigny was innocent and stood by him when many others, including her family, believed him guilty. The young Countess soon became a favourite with the press world wide for her auburn hair, deep-set eyes, fine figure and mild resemblance to Katharine Hepburn. The murder managed to knock the war off the front pages temporarily. Nancy spent heavily to hire a leading American private investigator, Raymond Schindler, to dig deeply into the case, and a prominent British-trained Bahamian lawyer, Godfrey W. Higgs, to defend her husband. They eventually found serious flaws in the prosecution's case.
He was committed for trial, and a rope was ordered for his hanging. However, he was acquitted in a trial that lasted several weeks, after the detectives were suspected of fabricating evidence against him. The chief piece of evidence was a fingerprint of his, which Captain Barker claimed had been found on a Chinese screen in Oakes' bedroom where the body had been found. Later, it was discovered that the print had been lifted from the water glass that de Marigny had used during his questioning by the Miami Police captains, and that de Marigny was being framed.
Immediately after Oakes' funeral had been held in Bar Harbor, Maine (the family's summer home), Captain Barker, visiting by invitation, told Nancy and Lady Eunice Oakes that he had already positively identified de Marigny's fingerprints on the Chinese screen, justifying de Marigny's status as the main suspect. Very detailed and thorough cross-examination at the trial, several months later, by de Marigny's lawyer showed that Barker had not in fact positively identified the single fingerprint as belonging to de Marigny until several days later than he had originally claimed - after he had returned to Miami - and that Barker had taken several dozen other fingerprints from Oakes' bedroom, many of which were still unprocessed weeks later. An American fingerprint expert witness, testifying for the defence, called into question the professionalism of the techniques used by Captain Barker in the investigation. The expert testified that the de Marigny print very likely could not have come from the Chinese screen, since none of the background pattern design from the screen appeared on the de Marigny print photograph, although other photos of fingerprints lifted from the screen showed this pattern. De Marigny testified that he had not visited Westbourne, Oakes' home and the murder site, for two years before Oakes' death, because of ongoing conflict with Oakes. Several of de Marigny's dinner party guests from the fateful night testified at the trial, and strengthened de Marigny's alibi that he was hosting the party, and later drove several guests to their homes, late at night, with a witness in the car, near the time when the murder was committed. The approximate time of the murder had been determined by two Bahamian medical examiners. Significantly, the Duke arranged to be away from the Bahamas while the murder trial was in progress, and so he was not available to be called as a witness.
Oakes' murderer has never been found, and there were no court proceedings in the case after de Marigny's acquittal. The case received worldwide press coverage at the time, with photos of the beautiful and charming Nancy in court. It has been the subject of continuous interest, including several books and films.
After the trial Nancy went with de Marigny to Cuba to stay with old friend Ernest Hemingway. De Marigny was deported to Cuba after a recommendation by the murder trial's jury, because of his supposedly unsavoury character and frequent advances towards young girls in the Bahamas. De Marigny and Nancy separated in 1945, and divorced in 1949. He moved to Canada in 1945 and served for a time in the Canadian Army, but was later deported from Canada. He married his fourth wife, settled in Central America, and died in 1998. De Marigny was a tall,  handsome man, a charming and bright conversationalist and an accomplished competitive sailor who won many regattas, and he later wrote two books.
Nancy had left Cuba by the late 1940s, and lived in Hollywood, California, where she had a long affair with 1950s Hollywood actor Richard Greene. She has a daughter, Patricia Oakes. She remained close friends with Greene until his death. In 1952 she married Baron Ernst Lyssardt von Hoyningen-Huene (adopted cousin of the artist George Hoyningen-Huene, the only son of Baron Barthold Theodor Hermann (Theodorovitch) von Hoyningen-Huene, a German nobleman who had estates in Estonia that were confiscated by the Soviets during World War II and was the Nazi Germany ambassador to Portugal during World War II,). They had a son, Baron Alexander von Hoyningen-Huene. The marriage lasted until 1956. Nancy died in 2005 and is survived by her two children and two grandchildren.
In 1959, English author and historian Geoffrey Bocca (1924–1983) wrote The Life and Death of Sir Harry Oakes, published in the United States by Doubleday and Company. Bocca, then working as a bartender in New York City, had met private detective Raymond Schindler, one of his customers, who had investigated the Oakes case for Nancy. Bocca used Schindler's notes, researched the case very thoroughly, and his book was a best-seller.
Marshall Houts (1914–1993) wrote the 1972 book Kings X, published in a second edition in 1976 as Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes?, in London by Robert Hale publishers. Houts was an American lawyer, and an FBI agent.
In the first and second editions of his book, Houts proposed the theory that American gangster boss Meyer Lansky was behind the killing of Oakes, due to Oakes' resistance to casino gambling in the Bahamas. Lansky had apparently already obtained the approval of the Duke for his plans to develop gambling on the islands, after meeting with the Duke in Miami. Lansky was working with Christie, a property developer and Bahamian legislator, and other notable Bahamians, including Stafford Sands (who was the jury foreman at the de Marigny murder trial), to bring this about, with significant new construction of hotels to house tourists as part of the plan. Houts wrote that Oakes had earlier apparently given his approval for the casino project, but then changed his mind by the time of his murder, strongly opposing it. Houts wrote that Lansky sent several henchmen to meet Oakes on the night of the murder. The henchmen were to intimidate, try to persuade, and rough up Oakes if necessary, but not kill him, during a late-night meeting with Christie held aboard a fast powerboat that had traveled from Miami to Nassau earlier that day. But Oakes, age 68, died, and this was covered up. Oakes' body was taken back to his home by Christie (who was spotted as a passenger in his own station wagon by a Nassau Police Captain late that night, a fact which came out at the trial of de Marigny, and which directly contradicted Christie's statement that he had not left Oakes' home overnight), and a fake killing was then staged at Oakes' home, 'Westbourne'. Oakes had earlier, in 1940, allowed the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to stay at Westbourne while their official residence, Government House, was being renovated, and the Duke had slept in the bed where Oakes' body was found.
It had troubled Bahamian legal authorities in the lead-up to the de Marigny trial that Oakes' body had apparently been moved, ascertained by examination of blood data, which showed blood flowing uphill, according to the case presented by prosecutors. Houts also wrote that Lansky later privately punished his henchmen who had been involved with the murder, but did not specify the punishment.
James Leasor was a very prolific British author, both in fiction and non-fiction. His book, also called Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes?, published in 1983 and reissued in 2001 and 2011, connects the Oakes murder with the 1942 sinking of the Normandie ocean liner in New York harbour and the Allied landings in Sicily. It was the basis of a TV movie, Passion in Paradise, starring Marlon Brando in 1989.
One theory, put forward by John Parker in his 1988 book King of Fools (a biography of the Duke of Windsor), expanding on the work done by Houts a decade earlier, is that Oakes was murdered by associates of mob boss Meyer Lansky, after Oakes resisted Lansky's plans to develop casinos on the Bahama Islands. Lansky, together with other major organized crime figures, already had extensive casino interests in neighbouring Cuba. Early in his career, Parker had worked as a journalist in the Bahamas for several years, and dug into the Oakes case quite deeply. The two Miami police detectives were suspected of being on Lansky's payroll, and the Duke was warned off instigating a more professional investigation. Parker goes so far as to draw potential business connections between Lansky and the Duke, who had earlier met in Cuba. Parker wrote that the Duke had tried unsuccessfully to impose press censorship of the case from the start. The Duke directed the murder investigation from the beginning, but he and the Duchess of Windsor contrived to be visiting the United States during the de Marigny trial, so the Duke was not called as a witness. The Duke kept silent about the murder for the rest of his life.
Canadian director Harvey Hart made a 1989 television movie about the case called Passion and Paradise, starring Armand Assante as de Marigny and Rod Steiger (with an inaccurate Maine accent) as Oakes.
Charles Higham wrote about the case in the first (1988) and second (2005) editions of his biography The Duchess of Windsor: The Secret Life, and carried out a thorough investigation with the assistance of modern experts in criminology. He also dug deeply into archival sources. His conclusion in the second edition is that Oakes was murdered by an African ritual specialist from South Florida, who had been hired and brought into Nassau by airplane on the day of the murder by Harold Christie, a Bahamian mulatto business associate of Oakes. Christie and Oakes, the much wealthier man, had been friends and business partners for many years, and Christie had facilitated Oakes' move to the Bahamas. The two had apparently fallen out shortly before Oakes' death, because of Christie's dealings over the sale of Bahamian property on the island of New Providence, which was scheduled to be used for a new airfield by the Royal Air Force, a project of which the Duke would certainly have been aware and involved with since it had important strategic and economic implications, and would involve large expenses. Christie, a member of the colony's House of Assembly, had been a dinner guest at Oakes' home on the evening the murder occurred, and had stayed overnight in Oakes' home on many precious occasions. Christie had slept in a bedroom only a few metres away from that of Oakes on the night of the murder, and claimed he had neither heard nor seen anything suspicious. Christie had to take the witness stand for an extended period during the de Marigny trial, and his testimony was not convincing to the jury. Christie was later knighted for his contributions to the Bahamas, and died a wealthy man in 1973. He had apparently told close friends several years afterwards that he was directly involved in Oakes' murder.
The murder was fictionalized in William Boyd's 2002 novel Any Human Heart, in which a British spy, sent to keep an eye on the Duke, refuses to help the US detectives frame de Marigny for the crime. In 2010 the novel was adapted as a British TV serial of the same name.
John Marquis' book, Blood and Fire: the Duke of Windsor and the Strange Murder of Sir Harry Oakes, was published to critical acclaim in 2005. It was described by American reviewer Art Paine as 'the best written of all the Oakes books to date' and by Sir Christopher Ondaatje in Canada's National Post as the most 'explicitly accusatory' of all the Oakes books. Marquis dismisses the Lansky theories, and claims the murder was strictly a local affair, with white Bahamian businessmen—including Sir Harold Christie—getting rid of Oakes to prevent movement of his vast fortune to Mexico, a move that would have undermined the Bahamian economy. Marquis, who was editor of Nassau's leading daily newspaper for ten years, also believes the Duke conspired to frame de Marigny by hiring two crooked Miami detectives to conduct the murder investigation. This, he maintains, was also to prevent inquiries by the FBI and Scotland Yard, who he feared would expose his own involvement in illegal money transfers to Mexico during wartime currency restrictions. Marquis makes two very revelations in support of his theories: one concerns a passport found amongst rubble in a Nassau street, the other a comment from the Bahamas police chief who was transferred to Trinidad and Tobago at the height of the Oakes inquiries (also used by other authors). He also cites the involvement of the Oakes' family lawyer, Walter Foskett, who he claims was robbing Oakes and was in dispute with him at the time of the killing.
The most recent (2006) book on the Oakes murder, A Serpent in Eden, by James Owen, claims that de Marigny was the murderer. In the December 2006 television documentary Murder in Paradise Owen, the presenter, stated that he had seen documents from the British National Archives that were not intended for public release. They contained details of a Scotland Yard investigation that took place four years after the trial, and which concluded that de Marigny was the murderer. The programme noted that as a possible motive, Oakes had uncovered corruption during the building of Nassau International Airport, and was scheduled to fly to Miami to make a statement to the authorities the day after he was murdered.
Oakes' former home in Kirkland Lake, Ontario is now the Museum of Northern History, dedicated to his life and to the region's mining history. Kirkland Lake is where he made his fortune as a prospector. He was inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.
During the Great Depression, Oakes donated a 16-acre (65,000 m2) land in what is now the central area of Niagara Falls, Ontario. He funded a make-work project and supplied tools to build a park at the location. Crews worked for $1 per day, switching every five days to permit as much employment as possible.
Oakes Park was opened on August 31, 1931. It is a multi-use, municipally owned and operated recreational complex. The main facilities are a baseball stadium used by the Greater Niagara Baseball Association and other elite youth and senior baseball clubs, two smaller baseball fields for younger divisions, a soccer pitch, and athletics facilities including a 400-metre track. The main baseball diamond has outfield dimensions of 318-402-322 ft, and has a press box, electronic scoreboard, and clubhouses.
A district in Nassau was named after Oakes, complete with a memorial.
Designed as an amphitheatre, Oakes Garden Theatre was opened in September 1937. Oakes, a member of the Niagara Parks Commission, donated the land at the foot of Clifton Hill and Niagara Parkway to the commission in 1936. The property was the site of the Clifton Hotel, which had been destroyed by fire on December 31, 1932. The landscape architecture was done by Howard and Lorrie Dunington-Grubb.
Oakes bought property just above Dufferin Islands in 1924 and constructed a 37-room Tudor- style mansion, where he and his wife lived from 1928 to 1935. Oakes moved to the Bahamas afterward, due to what he felt was excessive taxation by the Canadian government - the Bahamas were virtually tax-free. Oakes' son, Sir Sydney Oakes, later occupied the residence. Since 1982, Oak Hall has been the headquarters for the Niagara Parks Commission.
In 1938 Oakes and his family purchased a summer home called "The Willows" in Bar Harbor, Maine and designed by Andrews, Jacques, and Rantoul in 1913. Lady Eunice Oakes gave it to Bowdoin College in 1958 and operated it as the Oakes Center, a conference center, till the early 1970s when it was sold. It is now an inn called The Atlantic Oakes-by-the-Sea.
Oakes graduated from Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, founded in 1823, three years after statehood, one of the very few public high school "academies" left in Maine. The present campus is on the former Oakes farm on outer Main Street on the way to Sangerville, his birthplace. His siblings have contributed to Foxcroft Academy's endowment.
After the disastrous Florida Hurricane of 1928 and the Great Depression, Oakes bought 2,600 acres (11 km2) of partially developed land in northern Palm Beach County, Florida, from Harry Seymour Kelsey, who lacked the finances to rebuild his shattered development. Oakes spent a great deal of money on development of this property, which was later bought by John D. MacArthur, who completed its development. It includes most of North Palm Beach, Lake Park, Palm Beach Gardens and Palm Beach Shores. Oakes' castle-like home in North Palm Beach became the clubhouse for the village country club.
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of Nassau in the Bahama Islands
Sir Sydney Oakes