Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Fortune's End: The Mysterious Murder of Sir Harry Oakes

Nassau's Prominent Citizens

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Duke and Duchess of Windsor
Duke and Duchess of Windsor
(Associated Press)

In December 1936, Edward VIII of England forfeited his kingdom and title to marry the divorced American woman he loved, Wallis Simpson. The romantic gesture, spurned by the royal family, caused a worldwide sensation. Following Edward's abdication, he was granted the title Duke of Windsor by his brother and successor to the throne, King George VI. Three years later, the Duke of Windsor and his beloved American wife were sent to live on the island of Nassau to escape Hitler's tyranny during the war. The Duke was given the position of first Royal Governor and commander-in-chief of the Bahamas.

Life on Nassau was far different for the royal couple than they had expected and not necessarily for the better. The Duchess considered their stay on the island as a kind of exile. She was unaccustomed to the oppressive heat and found the social life on the island to be drab. She had further difficulty with the government house that they were to live in and demanded renovations be made before they settled in. To her dismay, the British government allowed them limited funds to refurbish the house, due to the huge expense of the ongoing war.

The British government attempted to further regulate the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's financial activities, however, the couple continued to live luxuriously. They would often throw opulent dinner parties and entertain foreign nationals, wealthy businessmen and the like. They would also take elaborate vacations lasting weeks, sometimes months, to visit friends in Mexico, the United States and Europe. The royal couple's tastes had far exceeded their budget and enormous bills mounted while on the island.

It was believed that the Duke earned money from other sources apart from his government. According to James Leasor, the Duke received over $2 million from a man named Axel Wenner-Gren, another wealthy islander with a more dubious past. Wenner-Gren befriended the Duke and Duchess during his stay on the island. However, the friendship proved to be problematic, especially with the British government, because Wenner-Gren had alleged ties with the Nazis.

Axel Wenner-Gren

Axel Wenner-Gren sitting at desk
Axel Wenner-Gren sitting at desk (Corbis)

Axel Wenner-Gren was of Swedish decent and schooled in Berlin, Germany. As a young man, Wenner-Gren had aspirations of one day becoming a wealthy man and realized his prospects of success would be higher in the United States. He moved to New York and worked for a Swedish light bulb company, where he discovered his natural business talent in sales. Wenner-Gren converted his sales commissions from dollars to company shares, which quickly accumulated over time. Following the success of a large contract in Panama, where he supplied those working on the canal with light bulbs, his shares in the company sky-rocketed. Eventually, he gained full financial control and bought out the company. He attained his dream of becoming wealthy and went on to form another company selling household electrical equipment.

Before the onset of World War II, Wenner-Gren bought up several other large scale companies based in Germany and, according to Leasor, accumulated an estimated $100 million dollars in personal wealth. He bought one of the world's largest yachts, once owned by Howard Hughes and set sail to the Bahamas with his American wife and children in 1939. Wenner-Gren and his family took up residence in an impressive mansion, which he named Shangri-La, on the island of Nassau. While there, he became acquainted with some of the island's socially prominent citizens, including Sir Harry Oakes and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Wenner-Gren was also known to have developed a close friendship with one of Nazi Germany's key figures, Hermann Goering. In fact, it was believed that his friendship with Goering facilitated Sweden's good standing with Germany, which allowed the country to maintain its neutrality during the war. Wenner-Gren would often brag about having friendships with other unsavory political figures, such as Mussolini and Mexico's pro-Fascist General Maximino Camacho.

It was not long before Wenner-Gren showed up on the "radar screens" of the U.S. and British governments. Wilson reports that the two countries monitored Wenner-Gren's movements closely, believing him to be a spy. Wenner-Gren had established a bank in Mexico, which allied intelligence believed was being used for Nazi petroleum and arms deals. Intelligence sources also believed Wenner-Gren was accumulating large sums of money in order to control the Mexican economy.

Within a short period of time, allied intelligence froze the banks accounts, pending further investigation and Wenner-Gren was blacklisted. He was forced to stay in Mexico, where he was vacationing at the time, or risk being extradited and arrested. During an investigation into the bank's transactions, it was discovered that some of the bank's customers included, Sir Harry Oakes, the Duke of Windsor and Nassau's most prominent real estate broker, Harold Christie.        

Sir Harold Christie

Harold G. Christie
Harold G. Christie (H.G. Christie)

Harold Christie was born and raised on the island of Nassau. He was brought up in poverty and during his youth worked hard at a series of jobs to survive. One of Christie's jobs was selling property on the island. Leasor says that Christie asked his employers to pay his commission in plots of land, instead of money. Over time, the value of the plots he owned significantly increased in value and Christie used the profit to buy larger parcels of land. Before long, Christie had become a wealthy man and one of the islands most successful real estate brokers.

Christie's fortune had doubled along with the islands pre-war economy, when he met Harry Oakes. He sold the millionaire more than half of the property on the island, from which he greatly profited. The two men had a lot in common. Both shared similar backgrounds and had overcome great obstacles to achieve their dreams. It wasn't long before Oakes and Christie became friends.

Christie had great visions for the Bahamas. He was hoping to increase year-round tourist traffic to the islands from the United States to boost the economy, which was suffering from the war. He believed that opening up air transportation routes from Miami to Nassau and building more hotels on the island would enable his dream to become a reality. Ironically, there were other American businessmen who shared a similar goal, yet who lacked Christie's good intensions.  

In the early 1940s, Christie met a man named Frank Marshall, who represented a group of American businessmen with an interest in developing the island. Marshall tried to convince Christie to help back his business plan of opening up several gambling casinos on the island. Marshall knew that the laws at the time prohibited casinos on the island and that Christie had connections with the people who could change those laws, namely Sir Harry Oakes and the Duke of Windsor.

Charles 'Lucky' Luciano
Charles 'Lucky' Luciano (Corbis)

Christie believed that such a venture could be profitable; however, it would be unlikely that a law allowing casinos would be passed. Furthermore, Christie slowly began to learn that the American investors that backed Marshall allegedly were connected with the Mafia boss Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, a fact that disturbed him greatly. Nevertheless, Marshall was finally able to convince Christie to talk with Oakes and the Duke about his business proposition.

Frank Marshall sensed Christie's growing disinterest in the proposed project and took it upon himself to meet alone with the Duke and Oakes, shortly thereafter. To Marshall's disappointment, Christie had reached the men first and had dissuaded them against the idea. It wasn't a difficult job to do, since both Oakes and the Duke were initially opposed to the idea anyway. Marshall's irritation grew with the men's disinterest, even though he continued to try to convince them it was a lucrative proposal. According to Leasor, Marshall began to experience great pressure from his "business" associates to close the deal, pressure that could have escalated and led to the horrific events that took place in the early morning hours of July 8, 1943.

Count Marie Alfred Fouquereaux de Marigny

The Count, originally from the island of Mauritius, moved to Nassau shortly before World War II. Although he was from a rich ancestral heritage, he preferred to disassociate himself from the titles and prestige that accompanied men of his status. He liked to be referred to as simply Freddie de Marigny and, like Oakes, he shared a passion for adventure.

During the mid-1930s, the 33-year-old Freddie, already once divorced, had separated from his second wife and acquired the reputation as Nassau's most eligible playboy. The handsome six-foot-five Count turned heads with his stature, sophistication, charm and alluring French-Mauritian accent. He was both despised and adored for these very characteristics that distinguished him from Nassau's other prominent residents.

Freddie was an ambitious man who prospered from his productive chicken farm, located on the island. He had a talent for business matters and also bought up several apartment buildings and a store, which he sold at a profit. Freddie invested the earnings into the expansion of his farm, which greatly increased his net worth. Although Freddie acquired a reputation for being a hard worker, he also acquired a reputation for playing hard.

Yacht racing was a favorite past time of Freddie's and like his business, it was something that he excelled at. Wilson says that he was one of the most valuable racers of the Nassau Yacht Club and won almost every race he entered. It was a feat for which he gained enormous popularity, as well as enemies.

Following his divorce from his second wife, Freddie would enjoy spending his nights out on the town, often with a different woman on his arm each time. He had an exuberant social life and frequented parties and balls in Europe, the U.S. and on the islands. One evening he attended Nassau's British Colonial Ball, where he met and danced with a beautiful, red-haired 17-year-old named Nancy. She was the oldest daughter of Sir Harry Oakes.

It wasn't long before a relationship developed between Nancy and Freddie. Nancy would often take a break from her studies to spend time with Freddie, attending his numerous races or dining out. Over the year, they grew increasingly fond of one another, unbeknownst to Nancy's parents. Eventually, the love-struck Freddie asked Nancy to marry him. Soon after Nancy's 18th birthday, the two flew to New York and were secretly married.

Following the brief wedding ceremony, the new Mrs. de Marigny called her parents to tell them the good news. Their response was one of shock and displeasure. They could not understand why they were not informed before hand of their intentions. Nevertheless, the Oakes had no choice but to accept that their daughter was now married to a man twice divorced. They decided to make the best of the situation and accept him, as best they could, into the family.

The Oakes had a difficult time accepting Freddie, although they tried. He was not the kind of man they hoped for as a son-in-law. The fact that Freddie was twice divorced and had a reputation for womanizing was something that especially irritated Harry Oakes. According to Leasor, he made no attempt at hiding his displeasure at his son-in-law and would often spout out to others his feelings. There were several occasions where he and Freddie were even seen arguing in public with one another. Before long, the entire island was aware of the rift that had developed between Sir Harry Oakes and Freddie de Marigny. The disharmonious relationship later proved to have disastrous consequences.

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