a pimple on the arse of the empire

Sir Harry Oakes (1874-1943) was a wealthy goldmine owner who earned his fortune in Canada and moved to the Bahamas for tax purposes.

Sir Harry and the Duke of Windsor found here

On the night of 7 July 1943, Sir Harry Oakes went to bed in his magnificent home in Cable Beach. The next morning one of his house guests found the millionaire had been battered to death and his partly burnt body strewn with white feathers.

bearded white tit found here

The case that followed resulted in one of the most famous trials – and acquittals – of the day. His death is one of the great unsolved murders. It had everything: the involvement of the Duke of Windsor, who was governor of the Bahamas at the time; the Mafia; crooked lawyers; corrupt police; fake aristocrats and greedy playboys. There was even a walk-on role for the novelist Ernest Hemingway, and one of the American journalists sent to Nassau to cover the case was Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason.

Ernest Hemingway found here

Suspicion fell on Sir Harry’s son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny, a French Mauritian. The “Count” was not popular among the Bahamian set. He was considered a cad, a fake aristocrat, and a gold-digger. Married twice before, he had eloped with Sir Harry’s teenage daughter, Nancy, the day she became old enough to inherit her father’s fortune. The Duke of Windsor despised De Marigny, describing him as “an unscrupulous adventurer with an evil reputation for immoral conduct with young girls”. De Marigny was equally rude about the Duke, dismissing him as “a pimple on the arse of the Empire”.

Count Alfred De Marigny found here

Sir Harry had been struck twice on the skull with a sharp instrument. There had also been an attempt to set his bedroom on fire, using inflammable insecticide. The case against De Marigny centred on discovery of his fingerprints on a screen in Sir Harry’s bedroom. But the defence proved the fingerprint had been lifted and placed in the bedroom, almost certainly by the Miami detectives. Despite being acquitted, De Marigny was deported. He fled with his bride to stay with their friend Ernest Hemingway in Cuba.

1940s Cuban postcard found here

The lack of a conviction led to speculation, including talk of a Mafia hit in revenge for Sir Harry’s opposition to the legalisation of gambling on the islands. His friend Harold Christie, a former rum smuggler as well as a property speculator, was also a suspect. Others named the tycoon’s lawyer, Walter Foskett, as the man responsible for the killing. Further evidence suggests the Duke may have stifled the murder inquiry, possibly to save his reputation and to protect two of his friends who fell under suspicion.

Duke and Duchess and friend found here

Oakes’s murderer was never identified by official investigation, and there were no subsequent court proceedings after de Marigny’s acquittal. The case received worldwide press coverage at the time, with photos of the beautiful and charming Nancy de Marigny in court. It has been the subject of continuous interest ever since, with several books and films, even into the 21st century.

Nancy Oakes found here

De Marigny and Nancy separated in 1945, and were divorced in 1949. Nancy left Cuba in the late 1940s, and lived in Hollywood, where she had a long love affair with 1950s actor Richard Greene. They remained close friends until his death.

Richard Greene found here

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43 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. How intriguing. (I knew a real life run smuggler years ago.)

  2. Old Ernest looks like a real peach doesn’t he?

    As always we miss you here at The Castle!

    The King

  3. So… do you find a story about someone whose body was strewn with white feathers, and then look for a picture of a bearded white tit to go with it, or do you find a picture of a bearded white tit and then look for a story to match?

    The feathers are the weirdest part of this case. I can’t help but wonder whether they were part of the plan from the beginning (“okay, I’ll set the bedroom on fire, wait for it to burn completely, and then toss in these feathers”) or whether they were an afterthought (“I can’t get this room to burn! And the body’s only partially burnt! This is so frustrating! I’m just going to toss some feathers on it and call it a day”).

    • There are no words to describe how much I love this comment.

      • I think the feathers emerged from a pillow. Whetehr through battering or spontaneous combustion is up for question.

  4. I had never seen a picture of the young Hemingway. Quite a good looking dashing fellow. I visited his home and drinking haunts in Key West and the bar at Brown’s place in Bimini.His home in Key West has a salt water pool and several dozen of the famous six-toed cats still roam the compound.

    • I always assumed Carl’s gravatar was Hemingway.

      • So did I!

      • That’s me. Self portrait. I’ll be 62 in June.

  5. On the evidence, the Count was probably innocent. Had he murdered the father so his wife Nancy could inherit, it is unlikely he would allow her to divorce him and take all the filthy lucre with her.

    A much more plausible case can be made for an accident. Sir Harry had a secret fetish for chorus girls wearing little but feathers while the Duke had been a noted grouse shooter in his youth. Visiting Sir Harry late on the “Night in Question” he became confused by all the feathers and in a flashback to his aristocratic roots he shot at the chorus girl, causing feathers to fly. The startled chorus girl jumped violently, causing Sir Harry to strike the bed head with his cranium, twice as the shocked girl threw herself out of the bed and fled the room. Stunned by this unexpected course of events, the Duke withdrew in a silence he never broke.

    • I like your style Archie

  6. Did anyone think to question the alibis of the six toed cats? Given the white feathers strewn about the corpse, I would have thought they’d be the first suspects.

    And I’d be looking at Mrs Simpson about the burn thing. I’m sure I’ve seen pictures of her smoking.

    Wonderful post Nursie.

    • Yes, I have my suspicions about the cats too. Even though they were in Key West at the time

  7. How often will you get to tag a blog entry with “arse pimples”?

    • Let me count the ways…..

  8. It’s a pretty good description of the Duke of Windsor from young Count Alfred, and I agree with the comment from ‘The King’ – I’d never realised that Ernest Hemingway was once handsome. Which proves that men can also lose their looks (next time I gaze forlornly in the mirror, I shall comfort myself with that).

    • One only needs to look at before and after photos of Marlon Brando to reach that conclusion 😦

  9. The image of a bearded white tit [without your excellent image] is quite mind-boggling.

  10. the photo of Adolph is freaky… being gracious, smiling? that’s just creepy!

  11. I have a pair of white tits.

    • If you were to say that here in Oz, you’d get all the boys yelling “Show us yer tits”

  12. Colonel Mustard, in the library, with the lead pipe. The tits are a red herring. Well, not a REAL red herring…..

  13. Splendid. Absolutely splendid. Nothing like an unsolved murder mystery with lots of colourful characters. Feeling sorry for the man that played the centre role though.

  14. I wouldn’t mind eloping with mr. Hemingway one bit!

  15. That is a very cool photo of Hemingway…
    but then you always have awesome images, N.M.! 🙂

  16. Ernest Hemingway looks remarkably like Richard Greene. Are they by any chance related? I remember the Adventures of Robin Hood very well from my childhood.

    As for the murder, I suspect the Mafia, they’re utterly ruthless, and they wouldn’t have stood for Sir Harry’s ban on gambling. To them he was just a pimple on the arse of the black economy.

  17. it was clearly a CIA/MOSSAD black op designed to besmirch the name of the Duke of Windsor.

    THe ICA didn’t exist at the time? There was no Israel let alone a MOSSAD? Ah well back to the conspiracy drawing board for me then

    • You’ve just topped Archie’s theory

  18. Lots of people have the same reaction I did. I had NO IDEA Hemingway was such a very handsome man in his youth. Wow.

    Very intriguing story, reinforcing the statement: Truth is stranger than fiction. Several amazing novels could be crafted using your posts as inspiration or a jumping off place.

  19. Sir Harry would be sad to know that gambling is a full blown industry in the Bahamas. I’ve rolled the dice there myself. The Mafia won. The Mafia always wins.

  20. Damned dirty business, what? Well, soon enough there wouldn’t be much of an empire to be a pimple on the arse of at all. Now there’s a career move: Unscrupulous Adventurer. Tally-ho!

  21. Maybe someone was just really cheesed off with him

  22. What an engaging tale. It really does have everything. Even arse pimples!

    I’ve been called an arse pimple before. I thought it was a very hurtful insult. And I was sorely irritated. But I learned a deep lesson. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s dungheap. All I said was “god damn that is a FINE dungheap. I WISH I had as nice a dungheap as that one. Or maybe an even nicer one would be better … ” You get the idea. Really I just like saying arse pimple and dungheap. And reading about them too.

    • Left this out, my bad: IMPERIAL arse pimple! That phrase should be an honorary palindrome, don’t you think?

  23. Black feathers are always my signature calling card at an assassination. But white? That’s so gauche.

  24. Hemmingway was hot! I’m going to have nice dreams tonight.

  25. That’s the 3rd time the Duke has popped up of late- 2 murders and once for sexual deviancy. Obviously a very dangerous man to know.

    • Coincidence? I think not…..

  26. Sounds a bit clumsy for a Mafia hit. Opportunistic burglary gone wrong is my rather dull theory.

  27. “If a customer was ‘ill-shaped, ugly or ill-dressed,’ he was known to snub them and to charge them an added fee.”

    The nicer the place, the likelier this is to happen.

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