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Sir Harry Oakes, 1st Baronet (December 23, 1874 – July 7, 1943) was an American-born British gold-mine owner, a philanthropist whose notorious murder became the basis of the 1984 Nicolas Roeg film Eureka.[1]

Contents

Career

Harry and Eunice Oakes in Toronto, some time in the 1930s

Oakes was born in Sangerville, Maine and trained as a doctor. However, in 1898 he made his way to Alaska at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, in hopes of making his fortune as a prospector. For the next 10 years he sought gold in California and Australia, before finally striking it at Kirkland Lake in Northern Ontario, Canada in 1912. Twenty years later, his mine was the most productive in the western hemisphere, and it ultimately proved the largest gold mine ever found in the Americas with the exception of the Homestake Mine, the basis of the Hearst fortune. By 1920, Oakes was thought to be Canada's richest individual.

Oakes took British citizenship and for tax reasons lived in the Bahamas from 1935. He was created a baronet in 1939 as a reward for his philanthropic endeavours there and in Britain.

Death

On July 8, 1943 Oakes was found murdered in his mansion in Nassau. He had been battered to death, his corpse partially incinerated and strewn with feathers.

The islands’ Governor, the Duke of Windsor, believed that the local police lacked the expertise to investigate the crime and, it being wartime and thus difficult to bring detectives from Scotland Yard across the Atlantic from London, which is what should have been done, he turned instead to two American policemen he knew in the Miami force. It was to prove a fateful decision.

By the second day of the investigation, Captains Melchen and Barker had arrested Oakes' son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny, who had eloped with Oakes' daughter Nancy on her eighteenth birthday, was accused of the crime. He was thought to have been on bad terms with Oakes due to his playboy manners and the fact that he had been married twice before and had not asked permission to marry Nancy.

When Nancy was informed of her father's death and that her husband had been arrested she was studying with Martha Graham at Bennington, Vermont and it was her great friend Merce Cunningham who gave her the bad news. She immediately returned to Nassau and began to help to organise his defence. She was convinced that Alfred 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.

Alfred was committed for trial, and a rope was ordered for his hanging. Alfred de Marigny was acquitted after the detectives were suspected of fabricating evidence against him. The chief piece of evidence against de Marigny at the trail was a fingerprint of his which Captain Barker claimed had been found on a screen in Oakes bedroom where the body had been found. Later it was discovered that the print had actually been lifted from the water glass that Alfred had used during his questioning with the Captains and that de Marigny was being framed.

Oakes' murderer was never identified. The case received worldwide press coverage at the time knocking World War II off the headlines with photos of the beautiful and charming Nancy Oakes in Court, and has been the subject of several books. Nancy, after the court case was over, went with Alfred to Cuba where he was deported to stay with old friend Ernest Hemingway. Alfred and Nancy separated in 1945 and were later divorced in 1949.

She had left Cuba by this point and was living in Hollywood where she had a long lover affair with 1950's Hollywood actor Richard Greene and has a daughter Patricia Oakes. She remained close friends with Richard until his death. In 1952 she married Baron Hoyningen-Huene and had a son Baron Alexander Von Hoyningen-Huene. Nancy died in 2005 and is survived by her two children, Patricia and Alexandre, and her two grand children John Alexander Roosevelt and Shirley Leigh-Wood Oakes.

The most recent book, A Serpent in Eden[2] claims that de Marigny was, in fact, the murderer after all. Another theory, put forth by John Parker in his book 1988 King of Fools, is that Oakes was murdered by associates of mob boss Meyer Lansky, after Oakes resisted plans to develop casinos on the island. Early in his career, Parker worked as a journalist in the Bahamas for several years, and dug into the Oakes case quite deeply. The botched investigation was undertaken by two Miami police detectives who were suspected of being on Lansky's payroll, and the governor of the island was warned off instigating a more professional investigation into the murder. Parker goes so far as to draw potential business connections between Lansky and the Duke of Windsor.

Author Charles Higham wrote about the case in both the first and second editions of his book The Duchess of Windsor: The Secret Life, and carried out a thorough investigation with the assistance of modern experts in criminology. Higham also dug deeply into archival sources. Higham's conclusion in the second edition of his book, published in 2005, is that Oakes was murdered by an African ritual specialist from South Florida, who had been hired and brought into Nassau by Harold Christie, a business associate of Oakes. Christie and Oakes, the wealthier man, had been business partners for many years, but the two had fallen out shortly before Oakes' death, because of Christie's dealings over the sale of Bahamian property which was slated to be used for a new airfield by the Royal Air Force.[3]. The murder was fictionalised in William Boyd's 2002 novel "Any Human Heart" in which a British spy, sent to keep an eye on the Duke of Windsor, refuses to help the US detectives frame de Marigny for the crime.

Oakes' former house in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, is now a museum 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 December 2006 television documentary Murder in Paradise[4] James Owen, the presenter, stated that he had seen documents from the 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 indeed 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 his murder.

The Willows

Sir Harry Oakes and his family kept a summer place called "The Willows" at Bar Harbor, Maine. It is now an inn, The Atlantic Oakes.

Niagara Falls: Investments and Philanthropy

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Oakes Park

During the Great Depression, Harry Oakes donated a 16 acre parcel of land, formerly a farmer's field, in what is now the central area of Niagara Falls, Ontario at the intersection of Stanley Avenue and Morrison Street. Oakes also funded a make-work project and supplied tools[5] to build a park at the location. Crews worked for $1 per day, switching every five days to permit as much employment as possible.[6]

Oakes Park officially opened on August 31, 1931. Today, 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 and is equipped with a press box, electronic scoreboard, and clubhouses.

Oakes Garden Theatre

Designed as an amphitheater, 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 had formerly been the site of the Clifton Hotel, which had been destroyed by fire on December 31, 1932.

Oak Hall

Oakes bought property just above Dufferin Islands in 1924 and constructed a 37-room Tudor style mansion, where he and his wife, Lady Oakes, took up residence from 1928 to 1935. Oakes ended up moving to the Bahamas afterward due to what he felt was excessive taxation by the Canadian government. The Bahamas, on the other hand, was virtually tax-free. Oakes' son, Sidney Oakes, later occupied the residence.

Since 1982, Oak Hall has been the headquarters for the Niagara Parks Commission.

Foxcroft Academy

Oakes graduated from Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, founded in 1823, three years after statehood and one of the very few public high school "academies" still 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.

Real estate investment in Florida

After the disastrous Florida Hurricane of 1928, and the soon-to-follow 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. Before his untimely death, Kelsey had 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 today's North Palm Beach as well as 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.[7]

References

  1. ^ NICHOLAS ROEG – INTERVIEWED BY HARLAN KENNEDY at americancinemapapers.homestead.com
  2. ^ Owen, James. A Serpent in Eden (Abacus, 2006) ISBN 0-349-11541-9
  3. ^ The Duchess of Windsor: The Secret Life, second edition, by Charles Higham, 2005; chapter 'Death in Nassau', pp. 381-404.
  4. ^ Lion Television, Murder in Paradise [1]
  5. ^ GNBA History
  6. ^ Dakin, Dan (2006-01-17). "History touches ’em all: GNBA, Oakes Park rounding bases with momentum after 75 years". Niagara Falls Review. http://www.gnba.org/html/75th_anniversary.htm. Retrieved 2006-05-23. 
  7. ^ McGoun, William E., Southeast Florida Pioneers: The Palm and Treasure Coasts, 1998, Sarasota: Pineapple Press, pp. 111 and 167

Further reading

External links

Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New title Oakes Baronets
of Nassau in the Bahama Islands
Succeeded by
Sir Sydney Oakes

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