Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mystery Monday: Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes?

This past fall, I watched the outstanding HBO series, Boardwalk Empire. Last week, I saw the brilliant movie, The King's Speech. The two stories remind me of the unsolved murder of Sir Harry Oakes.

Let me explain.

The series, directed by Martin Scorcese, is based upon the 2002 book, Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City, by Nelson Johnson. Among the many characters portrayed in the Prohibition-era series is Lucky Luciano (photo below) who was instrumental in creating the American Mafia.
The King's Speech, starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, is the amazing story of King George VI (who took over after his brother, Edward, abdicated the throne in order to marry the twice-divorced Mrs. Wallis Simpson), and the difficulty he faced as a stutterer.
Harry Oakes was born in 1874 in Sangerville, Maine. He attended Syracuse Medical School, but gave it up to pursue a gold rush in the Klondike. At 23, he ventured to the Klondike; he was shipwrecked off the Alaskan coast, was taken prisoner by Russians, he sailed to Australia, New Zealand and California. He nearly froze to death in Alaska. When he made his way to Kirkland Lake, Ontario, he discovered gold underneath the lake. His Lake Shore Mines earned him about $60,000 a day.

He was soon the richest man in Canada. He married Eunice MacIntyre, and for tax reasons, they settled on the island of Nassau in the Bahamas. Oakes was named a baronet by King George VI in 1939.

When Oakes' family was vacationing in their summer house in Bar Harbor, Maine, in July 1943, Oakes was murdered in the Bahamas on July 7 in his bedroom. A fire had been set in the bedroom. His body was discovered by Sir Harold Christie, a close family friend.

Oakes' son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny, became a suspect. He was disliked by Oakes and the society members of Nassau. The other notable figures on the island included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Edward and Wallis).

The investigative work on the case was poor. Marigny's trial began in October 1943 and when the case went to the jury, he was acquitted in less than 2 hours. Marigny later accused Christie of the murder. There were rumors that Mob boss Meyer Lansky was behind the murder because of Oakes' opposition to build casinos. It was believed to be Lucky Luciano's idea to build casinos on the island, and figured between the connections with Christie and the Duke of Windsor, he'd have the means to do it; only Oakes wasn't interested.

The murder of Sir Harry Oakes remains unsolved.

Steve Buscemi, one of my favorite actors (and fellow Long Island native), won a Golden Globe for his performance in Boardwalk Empire. HBO recently began airing an encore presentation of the series. If you have HBO and missed it this fall, catch it now!


  1. From Russian preisoner to richest man in Canada. That sounds like a story for sure.

  2. Your reviews, make me want to have HBO--unfortunately I don't. But will keep them in mind for down the road when I can get a DVD.


  3. HI Charles,
    You read my mind ~ I thought exactly the same thing. I thought it was wild ~ and I was trying to picture the travel conditions back then. What an amazing life. No one backed him up when he said he wanted to check underneath the lake; he had to borrow money from his mother. He ended up finding the 2nd largest gold mine in North America!

    Hi Madeline,
    My husband and I love HBO, and we've had it for years. If/when Boardwalk Empire becomes available on DVD, definitely get it! In addition to Steve Buscemi, the cast is superb ~ especially Michael Pitt, Michael Shannon, Kelly MacDonald, and Gretchen Mol. It was an awesome season, and I look forward to many more.

  4. I became interested in the connection between Sir Harry Oakes and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor after watching "Any Human Heart" on Masterpiece. Interesting how all these things have a common thread. I'm waiting to read the book "A Conspiracy of Crowns" by Alfred De Marigny, the suspect who was acquitted of the murder

    1. While De Marigny's book is an interesting view (if a bit self serving), the book on the murder that is considered the best is "King's X: Common Law and the Death of Sir Harry Oakes" by Marshal Houts. It is considered the quintessential book on the case, which was studied by law students in the UK for decades later. My father-in-law was De Marigny's attorney in the case. He never spoke of the case, and ANY mention of it was strictly not allowed in his house or his presence. Whatever he may have known went with him when he died. However, we do know that he was convinced that De Marigny was innocent. De marigny paid him by giving him his beloved sailboat.

  5. Hi Helga,
    I'm sorry I didn't find your comment sooner! Thank you for writing. "Any Human Heart" sounds interesting, as does the DeMarigny book ~ thanks for letting me know about them!