Harry Oakes

Harry Oakes

Sir Harry Oakes, 1st Baronet (December 23 1874July 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. [ [http://americancinemapapers.homestead.com/files/EUREKA.htm NICHOLAS ROEG – INTERVIEWED BY HARLAN KENNEDY ] at americancinemapapers.homestead.com]


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.


On July 8 1943 Oakes was found murdered in his mansion in Nassau. His son-in-law Count Alfred de Marigny, who had eloped with Oakes's daughter Nancy on her eighteenth birthday and was on bad terms with Oakes, was accused of the crime. Two American detectives were brought in by the islands' governor, the Duke of Windsor, to investigate the killing, but de Marigny was acquitted after the detectives were suspected of fabricating evidence against him.

Oakes's murderer was never identified. The case received worldwide press coverage at the time, and has been the subject of several books. The most recent, "A Serpent in Eden" [Owen, James. "A Serpent in Eden" (Abacus, 2006) ISBN 0-349-11541-9] claims that de Marigny was, in fact, the murderer after all. Another unsupported theory is that Oakes was murdered by associates of mob boss Meyer Lansky after he resisted plans to develop casinos on the island. 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.

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 air base by the Royal Air Force. ["The Duchess of Windsor: The Secret Life", second edition, by Charles Higham, 2005; chapter 'Death in Nassau', pp. 381-404.]

Oakes's 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 a December 2006 television documentary "Murder in Paradise" [Lion Television, "Murder in Paradise" [http://www.liontv.co.uk/_london/productions/documentaries/murder_paradise.html] ] 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, [http://www.barharbor.com/willows.html The Atlantic Oakes] .

Niagara Falls: Investments and Philanthropy

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 [ [http://www.gnba.org/html/history_home.htm GNBA History] ] to build a park at the location. Crews worked for $1 per day, switching every five days to permit as much employment as possible. [

cite news
last = Dakin
first = Dan
title = History touches ’em all: GNBA, Oakes Park rounding bases with momentum after 75 years
publisher = Niagara Falls Review
date = 2006-01-17
url = http://www.gnba.org/html/75th_anniversary.htm
accessdate = 2006-05-23

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 Theater

Designed as an amphitheater, Oakes Garden Theater 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.

Real estate investment in Florida

After the disastrous Florida Hurricane of 1928, and the soon-to-follow Great Depression, Oakes bought convert|2600|acre|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. [McGoun, William E., Southeast Florida Pioneers: The Palm and Treasure Coasts, 1998, Sarasota: Pineapple Press, pp. 111 and 167]

External links

* [http://www.thegrapevine.ca/people/Sir_Harry_Oakes Harry Oakes Murder] thegrapevine.ca (Canada)
* [http://www.nflibrary.ca/nfplindex/results.asp?action=browse&q=295&key=213 Images of Oakes Garden Theatre Niagara Falls] Niagara Falls Public Library (Ont.)
* [http://www.nflibrary.ca/nfplindex/search.asp?search=1&db=5&idx=ti&query=oak+hall Images of Oak Hall] Niagara Falls Public Library (Ont.)
* [http://www.barharbor.com Atlantic Oakes By-the-Sea Hotel] Bar Harbor, Maine

Further reading

* "The Duchess of Windsor: The Secret Life", 2nd edition, by Charles Higham, 2004.



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