Flamboyant Canadian gold-mining millionaire, Sir Harry Oakes, was found brutally murdered on 8 July 1943 at his home in the Bahamas. This mystery remains unsolved today.
Oakes’ family had left for their summer holiday in America but he entertained some guests, including personal friend Harold Christie, the night before, until the others left around 11.00 pm. Christie stayed overnight as a tropical thunderstorm raged outside and he did not want to drive home in the rain!
He was the first to discover the half-charred remains as Oakes was saturated with petrol and set alight. Congealed blood hid four small indentations on his skull. Unexplained blisters were also found on the corpse. (The Coroner believed the murder occurred between 2.00 am and 5.00 am.)
Yet Christie, as the chief witness, later testified he hadn’t heard anything suspicious or unusual that night.
However, the defence later believed Christie was withholding information. Edward Sears, Nassau’s chief of police, spotted him in a station wagon with an unknown driver around midnight.
Police Incompetence or Cover-up?
The Duke of Windsor, as Governor of the Bahamas, with his Duchess stayed at the Oakes’ home, Westborne, when they first arrived in Nassau. The Windsors were also personal friends of the Oakes’ family, but the Duke disliked Nancy’s husband, Alfred de Marigny. The Duke relied on Oakes’ support in his economic and social reforms.
Christie phoned Government House to inform the Windsors of Oakes’ brutal murder.
The Duke’s first reaction (and mistake) was calling Sir Etienne Dupuch, the Nassau Tribune’s publisher, to suppress the story. He was too late as Christie had already notified Dupuch and the local radio station. The news had already reached the American mainland, as journalists, crime writers and private investigators arrived in droves.
Later that morning, the crime scene was soon filled with people moving and tampering with vital evidence. The Commissioner of Police, Lieutenant-Colonel R A Erskine-Lindop and his colleague, Charles Pemberton, did not seal the room and order everyone out.
None of Oakes’ personal doctors were summoned to examine the body.
Neither Scotland Yard nor the FBI were not consulted due to the war. Flights were often irregular, hazardous, and it could take weeks for detectives to arrive.
The Duke insisted the detectives came immediately due to his concerns the Bahamian heat would quickly destroy the evidence.
However, the Duke’s lack of faith in the local constabulary led him to call in two senior criminal detectives from Miami. (The Acting Governor, Leslie Heape, had warned the local detectives were unable to deal with possible assassination attempts. Heape’s opinion hadn’t changed when he informed the Colonial Office in November 1943 that such a complex murder was “beyond the capacity of any small police establishment such as we have here.”)
Captain James Barker and Captain Edward Melchen were assigned to lead the investigation but they proved incredibly inept. (Their previous experience involved providing personal security for the Duke.)
The Duke’s dislike of de Marigny clouded his judgement instead of remaining impartial.
The detectives manufactured evidence against de Marigny to secure a conviction. De Marigny often quarrelled with his father-in-law as Oakes strongly disapproved of his daughter’s marriage.
Nancy Oakes hired private detectives to prove her husband’s innocence. De Marigny even took a lie detector test.
De Marigny had little difficulty proving his innocence, due to lack of evidence, but Barker was exposed as incompetent and dishonest.
Erskine-Lindop was quickly posted to Trinidad before he could testify. The Duke claimed the transfer was already official news when the murder occurred. The Bahamian police was kept out the investigation so Erskine-Lindop had very little to contribute.
The Duke was absent as the trial progressed. He and Wallis visited America as Wallis’ Aunt Bessie was recuperating in hospital from a broken hip.
Nancy asked the Duke to reopen the case on 26 June 1944 as private investigator Raymond Schindler discovered new evidence. Her request was refused.
Leonard Keeler, the lie detector’s inventor, and distinguished former US Attorney General Homer S Cummings also appealed to the Duke but he sent a memorandum saying “the matter is closed.”
Several theories were put forward regarding Sir Harry Oakes’ killer, as many prominent people had motives.
Some believe Oakes knew of the Duke of Windsor’s dealings with Swedish millionaire Axel Wenner-Gren and Germany’s Nazi Party. Did Oakes know too much about Wenner-Gren’s murky past as a spy?
Harold Christie and mafia mobsters, Frank Marshall and Charles “Lucky” Luciano, planned making millions by building casinos in Nassau but Oakes opposed these proposals.
However, no concrete evidence supports any of these theories.
Bloch, Michael, The Duchess of Windsor, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1996
Bloch, Michael, The Secret File of the Duke of Windsor, Bantam Press [Transworld Publishers Ltd], London, 1988
Higham, Charles, Wallis: Secret Lives of the Duchess of Windsor, Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1988
Ziegler, Philip, King Edward VIII: The Official Biography, William Collins Sons & Co Ltd, London, 1990
Crime & Investigation Network UK, Sir Harry Oakes: The Bahamas Murder Mystery
© 2009 Carolyn Cash
This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 19 June 2009.