The name Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren (1881-1961) was synonymous with wealth in the 1930s. The Swedish entrepreneur was one of the world's richest men, and all because of the humble vacuum cleaner.
Wenner-Gren did not in fact found Electrolux. He was employed by the lighting company, and after WW1 he saw the opportunity to adapt the vacuum from industrial to domestic use, making his fortune. Soon he owned the company. Not content with cleaners however, Wenner-Gren also dabbled in newspapers, banking and arms manufacture.
It was believed by some that Wenner-Gren was a friend of the Nazi Hermann Göring, although this was disputed. But the rumour, along with Wenner-Gren's friendship with the Duke of Windsor in the Bahamas, led to him being economically blacklisted. It didn't do the Duke's reputation any good either...
The Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) was used during WW2 and was a small British motor vessel.
The bustling port of Nassau is located in New Providence, the most densely populated island in the Bahamas of which it is the capital.
Christopher Columbus brought New Providence under Spanish control during his journeys of discovery, but the tropical islands seemingly held little allure for the Spaniards and they relinquished their control.
Of the words which could be used to describe Sir Harry Oakes, 1st Baronet (December 23, 1874-July 7, 1943), ‘rich’ and ‘generous’ sit, if reports are to be believed, just as easily alongside ‘demanding’ and ‘arrogant’ – a man with perhaps equally as many enemies as friends…
Indeed, something of this entrepreneur’s character or way of life seemingly did not sit well with everyone, as he met his end in 1943 - murdered in the dead of the night by a person who still remains unidentified all these years later. Other words subsequently now synonymous with Sir Harry Oakes are of course ‘unsolved murder’.
The life of Harry Oakes began in Sangerville, Maine (USA), where young Harry was born and bred. He always held dreams and ambitions of becoming a rich man and was suitably distracted from the medical career he had studied for when news of the goldrush emerged in the Klondike.
At the age of just 23, Harry followed the promise of wealth to Alaska, spending the next 15 years on a worldwide hunt for golden success… He found it at Kirkland Lake, Northern Ontario in Canada, where he established what would become the most successful gold mine in the West and secure Oakes as Canada’s richest man by 1920.
This long-awaited weath however, Oakes did not keep to himself – he shared his success with family and friends, letting them live the life of luxury with him. Such a life it was too – Oakes has his own private golf course built and a chateau overlooking the Lake Shore. He continued too to travel and met his future wife, Australian woman, Eunice MacInityre, on board a cruise ship. They married in 1923 and had five children together.
With wealth however, comes copious tax payments and in a bid to evade the taxman, Oakes upped sticks and moved to Nassau in the Bahamas, upon the invitation of one Harold Christie – an established Bahamian real estate developer and legislator, who would become a close business associate and friend to Oakes.
Durning his time in the Bahamas, Oakes made multiple friends through his generosity to the area – he built up the economy through his involvement in housing, farming and in helping out the hospital. Indeed, he was subsequently made a baronet in 1939 in thanks to his efforts and by the early 1940s was the richest and most important person in the colony – he did in fact own more than half of the main island of New providence.
With all this in his favour, it was with shock that the community awoke to news of Sir Harry Oakes’ murder on the day following July 7, 1943.
He and part of his mansion had been partially burned, there were four indented marks on the left side of his skull – there was blood, smudged fingerprints and feathers at the scene. The question was - just who had committed such an act…and why?
Grand Bahama is located to the north of the Bahama islands and is the fifth largest.
Andros Island is the largest island found in the Bahamas, whilst the Abaco Islands, which lie to the north of the Bahamas, include the Great Abaco and Little Abaco islands.
More than 360 islands make up the Exuma district, the biggest being the Great Exuma, which is linked to Little Exuma by bridge. The Tropic of Caner runs nearby.
The date was July 8, 1943 - Sir Harry Oakes, multi-millionaire, gold miner, philanthropist and quite frankly, akin to a king in the Bahamas where he lived, was found murdered at his mansion.
He had been alone that night at home - his family vacationing elsewhere - his friend Harold Christie the only other in residence at the time. Indeed, he allegedly slept soundly in the nextdoor guest room during the fatal attack...there was of course a summer thunderstorm in full flow on that particular night.
Sir Harry's body was found partly burnt, with four indentations on the side of his head - feathers from his pillow strewn around the scene of the crime - perhaps indicative of the struggle which surely must have taken place.
Areas of his home had also been set on fire and in Sir Harry's room, a Chinese screen near his bed, also partially burnt, showed blood and smudged prints...
Harold Christie was Sir Harry's close friend and business associate - he worked as a prominent estate agent in the Bahamas. On the night of Sir Harry's murder, Christie claimed he heard nothing that night except the thunderstorm. Indeed, this woke him up for a short time, but not, seemingly, the last breaths of his friend... How so, when he was only in the next room, many asked?
Christie became a key witness in the subsequent murder trial. He kept to his story and told the court on the night of Sir Harry's death, a group which had gathered for a soiree at the house had left by 11pm and he had subsequently gone to sleep. He found Sir Harry's body the next morning when he went to ask him about breakfast. The story goes that he actually didn't realise at first that his friend was dead and tried to give him some water to drink as well as wiping some of the blood from his face.
Many mismatched accounts however, emerged throughout the trial, including claims that Christie had been seen out and about on the night of Sir Harry's murder - around midnight a police officer said he had seen Christie driving a truck. His car was parked quite some way away from Sir Harry's house. Why?
Another witness said they had seen Christie with another man at Nassau harbour that night. True or a case of mistaken identity? The confusion reigned.
A more sinister side to Christie also revealed itself in his apparent association with the Mafia... He was allegedly acquainted with a mobster called Frank Marshall, who had a direct link to the Mafia boss - Charles 'Lucky' Luciano. Did Sir Harry's death come on his command? Christie wanted to turn the Bahamas into a lucrative tourism empire, with golf course and hotels and Marshall wanted to use Christie's links with Sir Harry and the Duke of Windsor to get around the legislation prohibiting the construction of casinos on the islands, something that Sir Harry was apparently, not in favour of...
Alfred (Freddie) de Marigny was the son-in-law of Sir Harry Oakes, married to Sir Harry's daughter Nancy. He was not much liked by his father-in-law, for myriad reasons - Sir Harry did not believe that de Marigny, a competitive sailor and Count through family associations, had a serious career.
de Marigny had also eloped with Sir Harry's daughter when she was just 18 (he was 14 years her senior) and had been married twice before, which did not impress his father-in-law.
Just 36 hours after Sir Harry's death, de Marigny was arrested, on the basis that his fingerprint had been found on the Chinese screen beside Sir Harry's bed. Later court claims said this print had in fact been placed there by the two US detectives on the case - who made multiple errors during the investigation, including cleaning the print from the screen before private investigators hired by Nancy de Marigny could examine it and allowing photos of the print to be irreparably sun-damaged.
Freddie de Marigny's trial began on October 18, 1943 at the Bahamas Supreme Court and was covered extensively by the international press, more even than the war raging in the rest of the world.
During the trial it was heard how de Marigny actually walked into the police station the morning after Sir Harry's death asking officers to examine his vehicle. The question was - why?
Freddie de Marigny actually later published a book (in 1990) entitled 'A Conspiracy of Crowns: The True Story of the Duke of Windsor and the Murder of Sir Harry Oakes' - an autobiographical account of the trial. It has been described a s being far-fetched and ludicrous in its account.
Sir Harry Oakes was found with a cracked skull, caused, according to the post mortem report, by being hit repeatedly on the head. With what exactly, remains another mystery. An unidentified blunt instrument? A boat's winch lever? A conch shell?
Bullets were even suggested by some, along with conspiracy theories about this being covered up.
There are also reports of four indentations on Sir Harry's skull, which does not support the gunshot wound theory...
Meanwhile, despite the fire which had been started in the mansion, the burns on Sir Harry's body were thought not to have come from this. Another mystery.
The case did indeed collapse - due mainly to the fact that two detectives brought in to solve the case by the duke of Windsor, failed abysmally in their task and created much controversy with their questionable investigation...
Captain James Barker andCaptain Edward Melchen came from Miami at the Duke's request, as the former King of England did not think the local force up to the job.
The problems arose as follows: They forgot to bring a fingerprint camera with them to the Bahamas.
They allowed locals onto the crime scene, who subsequently handled objects in the room. Vital evidence was lost as a result.
Barker was accused by de Marigny's defence at having planted the fingerprint on the Chinese screen - Barker was unsure where exactly it had been located on the screen. He also admitted to having lied about taking fingerprints from everyone who had entered the crime scene. He didn't.
With so many holes in the investigation and with multiple suspects, including also the businessman Axel Wenner-Gren, (he had alleged links with the Nazis and could have had Sir Harry killed if he had unearthed information about this) and the Duke of Windsor (for the same reasons...), the jury had no option but to throw the case out of court. There was no evidence to prove any theory and many seemed implausible anyway.
On November 12, 1943, de Marigny walked away a free man.
The Duke of Windsor made matters suspicious by bringing in two detectives from Miami to investigate the murder of his friend Sir Harry Oakes, rather than allowing the local force to deal with the case. He also delayed the release of the news of Sir Harry's death for a few days afterwards.
Theories abounded about how the Duke had de Marigny set up in order to keep his friend Harold Christie in the clear.
As for William Boyd...he believes his account reveals the truth...