Another Look at a Bahamian Mystery: The Murder of Sir Harry Oakes

Cathleen LeGrand


Stop me if you've heard this one:

The richest man in the Bahamas, no, the richest man in the British empire, is murdered in his bed. He has suffered a fatal head wound caused by a boat's winch lever. Or by bullets from a small-caliber gun. No, by a conch shell. Or by some blunt object close at hand, still unidentified.

The rich man's body is set afire in order to burn down his house and conceal the details of the crime. Or as a diversionary tactic, to confuse the authorities. No, in a voodoo ritual.

The killer is his son-in-law. Or his houseguest. Or a mafia hitman.

The reason for the murder: to eliminate a powerful opponent of casino gambling. Or to prevent this rich man from leaving the Bahamas with his businesses and wealth. Or to avenge the rich man's resentment of his daughter's choice of husband. Or to steal the enormous horde of gold reported to be hidden in his house.

The richest man in the Bahamas (if not the whole Empire) was Sir Harry Oakes, who earned his fortune from gold prospecting and spent the rest of his life avoiding the tax man. He was found murdered in the morning of 8 July 1943, having been killed sometime after midnight during a summer thunderstorm. His body, bearing four lethal head wounds and burns from the fire, was discovered the next morning by his close friend and houseguest, Harold Christie, an influential Bahamian estate agent.

Add to this cast of characters a smooth-operating Mauritian (Alfred de Marigny) married to Oakes' young daughter; a former King of England (the Duke of Windsor), now forced to serve this tiny colonial outpost; and the Duke's scandalous wife (the Duchess of Windsor), for whom he renounced his crown.

Also, factor in the war raging around the globe. France had recently fallen to the Nazis; German U-boats patrolled the Atlantic; and the shortages and other exigencies of wartime were the rule.

The trial of Alfred deMarigny, Oakes' son-in-law, made international news and his eventual acquittal left the case unsolved -- it remains unsolved today. Let us not forget the recurring legend of all the “unexplained killings of people directly, or indirectly, involved” with the Harry Oakes murder. (Marquis 6)

This may sound too good to be true. It may sound like the plot to a best-selling pot-boiler. And it all serves to explain the continuing interest in the murder of Sir Harry Oakes, often referred to, hyperbolically (and hyperbole is in no short supply in the coverage of the murder), as "the crime of the century." (deMarigny 41)


Murder; Oakes Murder

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