Sangerville, Maine: the Town of Two Knights

Subtitle: What do the inventor of the machine gun, a King of England, an America/Canadian/Bahamian multi-millionaire, a Nazi financier, and “Lucky” Luciano have in common with a tiny town in central Maine?

Introduction: This article is a radical departure from my usual writings. It concerns two men, both from the same small town, both of whom left as young men, both of whom became very wealthy, and both of whom were knighted by a King or Queen of England. There is very little information about genealogy here although there is a lot of history in this article.

I hope you enjoy these stories.

Dick Eastman

Knighthood cannot be granted to American citizens. Under the British system, citizens of countries that do not have the King or Queen as England’s head of state may have honors conferred upon them, in which case the awards are “honorary.” In the case of knighthoods, the holders are entitled to place initials behind their names but may not use the word “Sir” in front of their names. The only way for an American to become an officially recognized knight of the British Empire and to use the title of “Sir” is to renounce his American citizenship and to become a naturalized citizen of a country that considers the Queen as their head of state (I say “his” and “Sir” because the vast majority of knights are male; it’s been rare that a woman has received the title). Such countries would include Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and perhaps more.

Several Americans have done just that and have become knights. Strangely, one tiny town in central Maine has produced no less than two such knights. Even stranger, each of these knights has been surrounded by mystery and intrigue. One of them was even murdered while in bed, reportedly because he was involved in international intrigue in the midst of World War II. His murderer was never identified or apprehended.

How did the tiny town of Sangerville, Maine, produce two such mysterious sons who both left town to seek successfully their fortunes, both to later be knighted by the King or Queen of England? What caused them both to become embroiled in controversy? Perhaps it was the water. More likely, it was the chafing constraints of life in a small town in northern New England. Both men left to better themselves.

The stories of each of these men sound like mystery novels.

Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim

The first man of mystery is Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim. He was born in Brockway Mills, a neighborhood within the town of Sangerville, Maine, on February 5, 1840.

The town of Sangerville had a population of 1,270 souls in the most recent census and probably was never much bigger than that at any time in its history. It is a sleepy little town where nothing much ever happens.

The Maxim boys were the sons of Isaac Weston Maxim and Harriet (Boston) Maxim. Born in what has since been described as “a less than modest home,” local legend claims the young boys once stood atop a large boulder outside their home and, with raised arms, pledged to themselves that someday they would become famous. Indeed, both men did achieve fame and garnered themselves a place in the history books, although on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

Hiram’s only schooling was what he gleaned from five years of learning in a one-room Sangerville schoolhouse. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to Daniel Sweat, an East Corinth carriage maker who had recently returned to Sangerville. Hiram went to work for Mr. Sweat in the nearby town of Abbott, and it was there that he perfected his first invention: an automatic mousetrap that soon rid the Abbot grist mill of mice. That invention was soon followed by others, including a silicate blackboard.

Hiram Stevens Maxim eventually filed 271 patents, including a curling iron, an apparatus for demagnetizing watches, magno-electric machines, devices to prevent the rolling of ships, eyelet and riveting machines, aircraft artillery, a flying machine, smokeless gunpowder, an aerial torpedo gun, coffee substitutes, and various oil, steam, and gas engines. He also invented the first menthol inhaler (Maxim suffered from bronchitis most of his life and eventually died of bronchopneumonia), and he reportedly invented the incandescent light bulb. In fact, Maxim did exhibit a successful incandescent light bulb several years before Thomas Edison did so, but he neglected to patent it. Maxim and Edison soon became embroiled in bitter lawsuits against each other. Edison had the patents, soon became successful in the lawsuits, and nowadays receives credit for the invention.

Sir Hiram is best known as the inventor of the Maxim Gun in 1880, the first portable, fully automatic machine gun. After losing other legal battles, Maxim became familiar with the patent process and quickly patented his new machine gun and all of his later inventions. It was the machine gun that was his greatest commercial success. The lightweight machine was a huge improvement over the earlier Gatling Gun and other attempts at firearms capable of firing multiple bullets per second.

Maxim set up the Maxim Gun Company and offered the invention to the U.S. War Department, who surprisingly turned it down, calling it “unworthy”. The British Army, however, was more impressed and placed a large order for the firearms.

Maxim emigrated to England in 1881 (by which time he’d given up trying to sell his light bulb when it became clear Edison had won) and became a naturalized Briton in 1899. Queen Victoria knighted Maxim in 1901 for his inventions, many of which had military applications. Queen Victoria died shortly after, before the knighthood ceremony could be conducted. A short time later, the newly crowned Edward VII, by now a good friend and supporter of Maxim’s, conducted the ceremony.

Maxim founded an armaments company to produce his machine gun in Crayford, Kent, which was later bought out by the Vickers corporation in 1896, becoming “Vickers, Son & Maxim.” Their updated version of the design, referred to as the Vickers gun, was the standard British machine gun for many years.

Armies all over the world soon adopted the machine gun. During World War I both sides used variants of the Maxim gun extensively.

In the 1890s, well before the Wright brothers’ adventures in Kitty Hawk, Maxim invented several flying machines that succeeded in lifting men into the air. None of them turned out to be very reliable, and none of them succeeded financially.

On July 31, 1894, Maxim gave the first public demonstration of a flying machine at Baldwyn’s Park, improving the spectacle by extending the length of the guide rails and by “piloting” the machine himself. Both he and the crowd got more than they expected when the machine broke free of the rails and briefly achieved free flight. Despite the crew being thrown off their feet, Maxim was able to shut off the power, and the machine crashed back to the ground, causing substantial damage. Maxim was uninjured and now could now claim that he was the designer and pilot of the first powered heavier-than-air machine to take off unaided (i.e. without the use of ramps or other accessories), and achieve self-powered free flight – even if he hadn’t meant it to. He had many witnesses who could verify that he was the first man to fly an “aeroplane,” nine years before the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight, even though most of those witnesses were probably more interested in describing the subsequent crash.

The London County Council soon ordered Maxim to vacate Baldwyn’s Park as it had been chosen as the site of their new lunatic asylum.

The Wright Brothers’ later invention soon eclipsed any news of Maxim’s achievements. Indeed, it crashed less often. However, Maxim did invent “Captive Flying Machines,” amusement rides that were very popular all over England for many years.

While he was a brilliant man, Sir Hiram’s personal life was rather complex. He married his first wife, Jane Budden Maxim, in Boston in 1867, and the couple had three children, Hiram Percy Maxim in 1869, Florence Maxim in 1873, and Adelaide Maxim in 1875. Without benefit of divorce, he then married another woman, Sarah Haynes, in New York in 1880. Jane finally divorced him after the emergence of a third woman, Helen Leighton, who claimed that she had married Maxim in New York in 1878 and that he had deserted her the following year. The truth of Leighton’s claim was uncertain, but the revelation that he had been married to three women at once led to him becoming the subject of several unflattering articles in American newspapers.

With Jane’s divorce papers in hand and the uncertain status of the claimed marriage to Helen, Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim then remarried Sarah Haynes in London in 1890, and he stayed with her for the rest of his life. An article in a London periodical described her as follows: “Lady Maxim was described as a woman of unusual social gifts which were of great aid to her husband.” She died in 1946.

Sir Hiram was an eccentric genius, but he possessed a fine sense of humor. For example, he once suspected a colleague of stealing his hair oil, and so Maxim concocted his own oil using phosphorus, designed to make the user’s hair glow in the dark. Sure enough, the thief was caught when he helped himself to the oil while preparing to meet his girlfriend and found himself appearing in public with his head radiating a mysterious glow.

Perhaps Sir Hiram’s most eccentric behavior, however, occurred when his friends noted that he was mysteriously unavailable at certain times each week. One week they followed him to a room, waited until he had left, and went in, no doubt expecting to see some half-finished prototype invention. Instead, they found the room totally bare except for a chair by the window, a bag of beans, and a blowpipe. After some questioning, Sir Hiram admitted he had hired the room for the sole purpose of allowing him to sit at the window, firing beans at Salvation Army parades in the street below! He reluctantly agreed that this was probably not the sort of thing that a knight of the realm ought to be doing.

It also seems ironic that Maxim invented the original spring-loaded common mousetrap that has been popular for more than a century. Later inventors may have searched for “a better mousetrap,” but Sir Hiram invented the original trap that others have since tried to improve upon. In his autobiography, “My Life,” he recalls an incident in his later years when he went into a shop to buy a mousetrap, only for the sales clerk to show him a model identical to his own design, claiming it to be the finest of its kind. In his youth, Maxim had never thought to patent his invention, and it was the first of many instances throughout his life when his ignorance of the patenting system would cause him problems.

His brother Hudson Maxim also was a military inventor, specializing in explosives. In 1890, Hudson patented a new type of smokeless gunpowder under the name “H Maxim”. Hiram claimed the invention as his own and in 1914 wrote a lengthy letter to the New York Times in which he claimed the invention for himself. He even implied that Hudson, who was born “Isaac Maxim”, had changed his name specifically to bask in the reflected glory of being Mr. H. Maxim. Hudson bitterly refuted the letter and soon sent an even longer letter to the Times to argue his case. The brothers reportedly never had any further contact with each other for the rest of their lives.

Hiram Percy Maxim, the only son of Hiram and Jane Budden Maxim, also remained in America although his father did write to him in 1884, offering the 15-year-old a chance to work with him in England and attend “one of the finest colleges in England.” Hiram Percy did not accept his father’s invitation, probably on the advice of his mother, and the two never met again.

Sir Hiram Maxim died in his adopted homeland at Streathan on Nov. 24, 1916, at the age of 77.

A note to ham radio operators: One name in this article may sound strangely familiar. Hiram Percy Maxim, Sr. (September 2, 1869 – February 17, 1936), son of Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, was one of the world’s first amateur radio operators and became co-founder of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). The younger Maxim originally had the amateur call sign 1AW, and later W1AW, which is now the ARRL Headquarters club station call sign. His rotary spark gap transmitter, “Old Betsy,” has a place of honor at the ARRL Headquarters.

Hiram Percy Maxim followed in his father’s footsteps as an inventor. Before Marconi invented radios, the younger Maxim tinkered with internal combustion engines and eventually partnered with Albert Augustus Pope to build gasoline powered automobiles. Under Maxim’s leadership, the Pope Manufacturing Company manufactured many automobiles before Henry Ford’s first product was created. In fact, Henry Ford never claimed to invent the automobile; he only improved upon the manufacturing processes of Maxim, Pope, Olds, Daimler-Benz and others.

In 1899, with Hiram Percy Maxim at the controls, the Pope Columbia, a gasoline-powered automobile, won the first closed-circuit automobile race in the U.S. at Branford, Connecticut. Columbia later began manufacturing an electric automobile.

One ironic fact is that the elder Maxim invented the machine gun while his son was the inventor of the “Maxim Silencer” or Suppressor for firearms (patented in 1909), nowadays simply called a “silencer.” The son also invented the first muffler for gasoline engines.

Hiram Percy Maxim also experimented with gliders and with motion pictures and obtained several patents for each. Hiram Percy Maxim achieved much without any advice or guidance from his inventor father, Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim.

Hiram Percy Maxim wrote an amusing account of his youth in his book, “A Genius in the Family: Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim Through a Small Son’s Eyes.”

Sir Harry Oakes

Sir Harry Oakes also was a Sangerville, Maine, native who was knighted by the English Realm. Hence, Sangerville became known as the Town of Two Knights. Sir Harry was an even more eccentric knight and multi-millionaire than his predecessor from across town.

Harry Oakes was born December 23, 1874, to Edith and William-Pitt Oakes of Sangerville, the third of five children. He was born 34 years later than the other knight of Sangerville and only a short distance away. In the 1880s moved his family a few miles to the town of Foxcroft (now a part of the town of Dover-Foxcroft) so that his sons could attend Foxcroft Academy, reportedly the best high school in the country at that time. Harry graduated from the school and then attended Bowdoin College and Syracuse Medical School although he dropped out of school before becoming a doctor.

Harry was 23 years old when he set out on a 16-year journey that took him to Australia, Africa, the Yukon, California, Central America, and Canada. During his college years, Harry Oakes predicted to a classmate that he predicted to a classmate that he (Harry Oakes) would become a millionaire and die a violent death “with his boots on.” His prophesy was mostly fulfilled: he did become a multi-millionaire, and he also died a violent death, although without boots.

Oakes first went to the Yukon, where a gold rush was coming to a close. He chipped rock at temperatures that plunged to 60 degrees below zero, not all that much colder than the 40-below temperatures sometimes seen in his hometown in Maine.

Before finding gold, Oakes used his earlier medical training and his childhood knowledge of cold temperatures to support himself in the Yukon. He spent a year working as a medical assistant treating frostbite cases.

By 1906 he found himself shipwrecked off the coast of Alaska and was taken prisoner briefly by the Russians before being allowed to return to Alaska. Working as a deck hand, Oakes embarked for Australia, where he was once again disappointed in his search for gold. Further failures awaited him in New Zealand and then California, where he suffered and nearly died of heat stroke.

In June of 1911, Harry Oakes traveled to Ontario, where he received a new miner’s license. From Ontario, he ventured north to Swastika – a town in Ontario, Canada, where he met a woman named Roza Brown. Ms. Brown has been described as unusually ugly, malodorous, and accompanied by snarling dogs. (I am not sure of the truth of that claim but it makes a great story!)

Although Roza had a well-known contempt for prospectors, she ran a boarding house for miners, and it was she who put Oakes on the trail to Kirkland Lake and his eventual fortune.

Taking her advice, Oakes went to the claims office, leafed through the records, and learned of a claim that was going to fall open the next day. However, since he only had $2.65 in his pocket and couldn’t wait for money from home, he hurried back to Swastika. There he interested a family of three brothers in staking the claim with him. The four shook hands, agreeing to share in any proceeds from gold that was discovered. At midnight the Tough brothers (Tom Tough, George Tough, and Jack Tough), set out with Oakes by foot for the mine. It was 52 degrees below zero as they walked the seven miles through the snow. After driving in their stakes, they toasted what they called the Tough-Oakes Mine.

Moments later, the former owner of the mine, William Wright, walked into view. Wright saw what had happened, knew he’d lost his claim, and hurried to stake new ones adjoining the Tough-Oakes claim. Later, he and Oakes formed a partnership and made further claims at Kirkland Lakes. Within eight years Oakes was the richest man in Canada, where his Lake Shore Mine at Kirkland was second only in wealth to the Homestead Mine in the Black Hills of the Dakotas.

After years of struggling to survive, Oakes was now earning an estimated $60,000 a day. Keep in mind that this was in the 1920s when a dollar was still worth a dollar. Such a sum was a rather good income back when the national average was less than five dollars a day.

Harry Oakes became the richest man in Canada, but he never forgot his humble beginnings. As a sign of appreciation, he gave generous shares of his mining company to friends and family members who had supported him during his struggling years – all of whom became wealthy.

Oakes lived the life expected of a gold mining baron by taking a world cruise during which he met a shy, unassuming Australian woman named Eunice MacIntyre, the daughter of a government official. Eunice was twenty-four years old, six inches taller than Oakes, and 26 years younger. The couple married and returned to Ontario, where the following year Harry renounced his American citizenship for business reasons. He became a naturalized Canadian.

Oakes enjoyed his Canadian citizenship only for a short time before realizing that he would have to pay the Canadian government $17,500 per day in taxes for the entitlement to live in the country. Oakes and his young bride soon moved to Nassau in the Bahamas. Under Bahamian law, Oakes was not required to pay taxes. Once he became a resident, Oakes built a waterworks and a golf course and set up a bus service for the natives, an airplane service for emergency illnesses, a free milk program for children, and a fund for unwed mothers. To this he added a gift of $400,000 to St. George’s Hospital in London. That amount is equivalent to several million dollars today. In 1939 King George VI rewarded Oakes by bestowing upon him the title of Baron.

As you might expect, Sir Harry lived in a section of Nassau surrounded by wealthy neighbors who also lived in mansions. Oakes did not always fit well into the Bahamian society of the wealthy. He was seen as an uncultured gold miner. Once snubbed by a waiter in the exclusive British Colonial Hotel in Nassau, Oakes purchased the hotel the following day and immediately fired the waiter.

Before the days of television, the Internet, and DVD movies, the chief entertainment in the exclusive neighborhood of the very wealthy was dining at your neighbors’ homes or else inviting the neighbors in to dine at yours. It was a rather small neighborhood, and most of the wealthy residents were well acquainted with their neighbors. World War II soon descended on Great Britain and Europe. Before long, the United States, and Japan also joined the war. Tiny Bahamas seemed like an isolated, safe place to be while the rest of the world fought.

The Oakes family had some well-known and interesting neighbors. One of them was Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor. He was the former King Edward VIII, who had abdicated a few years earlier in order to marry his sweetheart, American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Earlier in World War II, Prince Edward had been stationed with the British Military Mission to France, but after private accusations that he was pro-Nazi, he was moved to the Bahamas as Governor and Commander-in-Chief, which he viewed as an imposed exile, forced by his younger brother and successor to the throne, King George VI. The assignment was a largely ceremonial post that apparently was used to keep Prince Edward out of the public eye and out of the affairs of World War II. After all, England did not need a high-ranking official and former king who was believed to be a Nazi sympathizer.

After the war, Prince Edward was never given another official appointment, and he spent the remainder of his life exiled to retirement at an early age and still out of the public eye.

Prince Edward and Sir Harry not only dined together frequently, but they were also frequent golfing companions.

Another neighbor was very mysterious and perhaps even more interesting. Axel Wenner-Gren was of Swedish descent but had been schooled in Berlin, Germany. He had been an employee of the Swedish company Electrolux, and he was the one who persuaded the company to purchase the patent for the newly-invented “vacuum cleaner.” For his role Wenner-Gren was paid in company stock. Eventually, he was able to purchase the entire company. Before the onset of World War II, Wenner-Gren bought up several other large scale companies based in Germany and reportedly had a personal wealth of $100 million dollars at the start of the war, making him one of the wealthiest men in the world at that time.

Wenner-Gren 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. He and his family then took up residence in an impressive mansion, which he named Shangri-La, on the island of Nassau. While there, he became well acquainted with 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 does seem interesting that a Nazi-friendly financier was a neighbor of the former King of England who had a reputation of being a Nazi sympathizer. Sir Harry Oakes was also in the midst of this circle of neighbors, friends, and business associates. The three had frequent business dealings, moving cash into and out of various countries, especially Mexico.

Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, July 7, 1943, Sir Harry Oakes was murdered at his Nassau estate in the Bahamas. He was 69 years old. His body was discovered by his overnight houseguest and long-time friend, real estate developer Harold Christie.

At the time of Sir Harry Oakes’ murder, his wife Eunice and their three sons were at the family residence in Bar Harbor, Maine. His eighteen-year–old, newly-married daughter, Nancy, was spending the summer in Vermont while her husband Alfred Fouquereaux de Marigny remained in Nassau.

Harry Oakes had been struck in the head with a triangular shaped object that had pierced his skull in four places. His body was then placed on a bed, soaked with gasoline and set ablaze. It appeared that the murderer had planned to burn the entire house. A severe storm ironically saved the Oakes estate home from being completed destroyed by the fire by putting it out before it could spread. Nobody discovered the fire until the following morning, several hours after rain had quenched it.

The killing of Sir Harry Oakes presented the governor of the Bahamas, the Duke of Windsor, with a considerable problem. He believed that the local police lacked the expertise to investigate the crime and, since it was wartime and thus difficult to bring detectives across the Atlantic from London, he turned instead to two U.S. policemen he knew in the Miami force. It was to prove a fateful decision.

The investigation by the two Miami detectives was questionable at best. In fact, bloody handprints were found on the wall near the body. Those handprints were soon washed into oblivion before anyone took fingerprints. Very few people were interviewed. Many eyewitnesses to various events later said that they were never contacted by any police authorities.

Police questioned Oakes’ son-in-law, Count Marie Alfred Fouquereaux de Marigny. He had been in the area of the estate that night and appeared to have singed hair on his arms.
Within two days of their arrival, Captain Melchen and Captain Barker arrested the Count. Following a police investigation, he was charged with the murder of Sir Harry Oakes.

A murder trial was held, and the shaky claims of the prosecution were shattered by the defense. Within two hours of being sent out, the jury returned their verdict – a sensational one that acquitted Alfred Fouquereaux de Marigny by a majority.

The uproar that greeted the decision drowned out a rider that the jury had added, which recommended that the Count Marie Alfred Fouquereaux de Marigny and a friend, the Marquis de Visdelou, should be deported from the Bahamas. De Marigny had alienated the colony’s officials and mercantile class with his contempt for their conventionality. Four days after the acquittal, the governor’s executive council approved his deportation. Freddie and his 19-year-old wife auctioned household goods to finance their exile in Cuba, where they stayed with Ernest Hemingway.

Although debatable, the person responsible for killing Sir Harry Oakes was never apprehended. Oakes’ death remains a mystery.

Sir Harry Oakes’ remains were taken to Maine and interred in a mausoleum built in a tiny cemetery in East Dover, Maine, only a few miles from his place of birth.

NOTE: Coincidentally, this author’s great-great-grandparents, great-great-great-grandparents, and several other relatives are buried in the same very small rural cemetery.

Sir Harry’s widow and children soon faded from public view. His great wealth also seems to have faded away.

In 1946 the value of Sir Harry Oakes estate was 3,600,000 pounds sterling (an equivalent of ten million dollars at the rate of exchange in 1954). This did not include the Lake Shore Gold Mine and any other real estate holdings. Income from the Lake Shore Gold Mine from 1924 to 1943 after taxes amounted to $34,713,500 dollars.

While his widow and children apparently lived comfortably, the disposition of many millions of dollars is not known.

Count Marie Alfred Fouquereaux de Marigny and Nancy separated in 1945. He moved to Montreal and enlisted in the Canadian Army. The war ended before he saw combat. In 1949 the New York Supreme Court ruled the count’s second divorce had not met statutory requirements at the time he married the heiress. Their marriage was annulled, freezing any possible future claims that de Marigny might have against her inherited wealth.

By 1954, Nancy had married Baron Lyssard von Hoyningen-Huene of Germany, making her a baroness. On February 18, 1955, Nancy gave birth to a son. Nancy later separated from her second husband. Nancy later inherited 2/15th of her father’s estate.

Harry Oakes’ family suffered many tragic losses, Oakes’ savage murder being only the best known. His sister drowned in the sinking of the liner S.S. Mohawk off the New Jersey coast in 1935; his son, William Pitt Oakes, died of a heart attack complicated by a liver ailment at age 27 in 1958; his son Sydney, who inherited Sir Harry’s title, was killed at the age of 39 in 1966 when his Sunbeam Alpine sports car failed to negotiate a curve. His daughter Shirley spent the final years of her life in a coma following an accident.

Raymond Schindler, a U.S. private detective once hired by Sir Harry’s daughter, Nancy Oakes de Marigny, has been asking questions ever since 1943:

  • Why did Harold Christie wait several hours after he found the body before reporting it?
  • When the Duke of Windsor, Governor of the islands in 1943, summoned a Miami police expert, why did he mislead him into bringing the wrong equipment by describing Sir Harry’s death as suicide?
  • Who told Sir Harry’s watchman he could have the night off?
  • Who washed the bloody handprints from around the window in Sir Harry’s bedroom?
  • Why was a pistol removed from Sir Harry’s bedside table?
  • How can a certain Bahamas native once employed at Oakes estate but later with no visible means of support buy himself a new car each year?
  • Was it a coincidence that the night guard who was on duty at the Oakes estate the night of the murder drowned under mysterious circumstances shortly before the trial of Freddie de Marigny?
  • What role did Harold Christie play, if any? He is the one who discovered the body. 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. He became a real estate developer who worked extensively with Harry Oakes on many development projects. At the time of Oakes’ death, Christie was working with American investors to introduce gambling casinos to the Bahamas. The American company involved was a front controlled by Mafia boss Charles “Lucky” Luciano, who apparently wanted to extend the Mafia’s gambling empire. It is known that both Sir Harry Oakes and the Duke of Windsor opposed Christie’s attempts to establish casinos. Rumors circulated for years that the Mafia was involved with Sir Harry’s death, but no credible evidence has ever surfaced.

Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason, called the baffling case “the greatest murder mystery of all time.” Sent by Time magazine to cover the trial, Gardner maintained Sir Harry was not killed in bed, but was moved there after death, as the burns on the bedding did not match those on the body. In addition, the dried blood across the bridge of the nose indicated the body had been rolled over after death. Erle Stanley Gardner also believed the baron had been tortured.

During a December 2006 television documentary called Murder in Paradise, James Owen, the presenter, stated that he had seen documents from the National Archives (UK) that weren’t 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 the murderer. The program noted that, as a possible motive, Oakes had uncovered corruption during the building of Nassau International Airport, and was due to fly out to Miami to make a statement to that effect to the authorities the day after his murder.

Count Marie Alfred Fouquereaux de Marigny, who died in Houston in 1998, wrote a book accusing Mr. Oakes’ best friend, Mr. Christie, later Sir Harold, of ordering the murder although perhaps he did not commit the act himself.

A later investigation found the primary murder suspect to be Oakes’ lawyer, Walter Foskett, then living in Miami but a frequent visitor to the Oakes’ home. Foskett also served as Prince Edward’s attorney at that time as well as the attorney for neighbor and house guest Harold Christie, who discovered the body.

Foskett’s connection reportedly had been hushed up in the days following the murder at the request of Prince Edward. In 1959 the FBI made an extensive investigation of the American citizens mentioned. Scotland Yard also investigated many details, most of which have never been made public. However, the chief of police in the Bahamas never reopened the murder inquiry. Foskett died in 1973.

Quoting from an obituary of daughter Nancy Oakes at “Sometimes she hinted darkly that family advisers had been behind her father’s murder, but since she drank more rum than was good for her, and could perhaps no longer distinguish between the truth and what she thought she remembered, such asides were of dubious value.”

The death of Sir Harry Oakes has been the subject of much speculation over the years. A number of books, a movie, and a mini series were made about his life and unsolved murder. Many unsubstantiated theories have been penned about Oakes murder, including a connection to organized crime. His mysterious death to this date still provokes much interest and debate.



Fascinating, Dick! Thanks so much for these stories!


Quote: (I say “his” and “Sir” because the vast majority of knights are male; it’s been rare that a woman has received the title)
In fact, *all* knights are male. The female equivalent is a Dame, and that award is quite common, perhaps not the equal with knights that it should be, but 44% of the top awards in this years “New Year’s Honours” list were to women.


Thank you, Dick. What fun stories!


Both of these we’re mini novels and very interesting. Thank you for a good read to start my day.


Very interesting! Thank you


The paper about Sir Hiram Maxim put together the many pieces that reside in my files. Sir Hiram was a several times removed cousin to my Grandmother. The families continued contact as Sir Hiram visited Grandmother at the farm home in Maine where I grew up. Thank you for putting this together ,
and publishing it for us all. Mary


Thank you for a wonderful story, so well told. I hope there will be more of them.


Great article; thanks, Dick.


Thank you for one of the more fascinating stories that I have read in a very long time.
I am compelled to point out that the story omitted Siegfried Marcus, the man who truly invented the first-ever automobile, and who did so long before Daimler and Benz. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers has the whole story:


Loved that story. I first heard of Sir Harry Oakes when I attended the races (motorsport) at Oakes Field way back in 1965. I believe the airfield was named after the man.


Great stories! Enjoyed them very much. Love a good mystery! Thank you for posting.


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