| 13.3°C Belfast

Great unsolved crimes: The ex-King, the conman and a millionaire's murder

On the night of 7 July 1943, Sir Harry Oakes went to bed at his magnificent home in Cable Beach in the Bahamas as a tropical storm hit the islands. By morning the tempest had passed, but another furore was about to engulf this colonial paradise. When one of his house-guests went to wake the host, he found the millionaire had been battered to death. His body had been partly burnt and strewn with white feathers.

The case that followed resulted in one of the most famous trials - and acquittals - of the day. The 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, capital of the Bahamas, to cover the case was Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason.

Now, 62 years after Sir Harry's murder sent shock waves through the tight-knit community in Nassau and made headlines around the world, a new suspect for the crime - orginally blamed on his son-in-law - has emerged. Other fresh evidence points to a cover-up, involving corrupt police, politicians and the former king.

Harold Oakes was born in Maine in 1874 and joined the Klondike gold-rush in the 1890s, eventually making his millions from mining gold in Canada. By the time of his death he had $45m (about $500m today). He was knighted in 1939.

But in 1935, he had moved to the Bahamas, whose tax-haven status had turned Nassau into a playground for the idle rich. In 1940, the Duke of Windsor arrived as governor, sent to the colony four years after his abdication partly to keep him out of the public eye because of his suspected Nazi sympathies. The two men became golfing acquaintances. When Sir Harry's body was discovered at his home (by Harold Christie, a property speculator, who had been staying in the next room), the Duke, as governor, was quickly informed. No doubt concerned that the scandal might further tarnish his reputation, instead of calling on the local CID, or sending for officers from Scotland Yard in London, he had two detectives named Melchen and Barker, from the Miami homicide division, take over.

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".)

Sir Harry had been struck twice on the skull with a sharp, pointed 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 and went to stay with their friend Ernest Hemingway in Cuba.

Then the murder hunt appears to have halted. 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. But nothing was proved and the case appeared destined to remain a mystery. Until now. Previously secret files kept by Scotland Yard have shed new light on the case. The material is in a newly released confidential Yard report, a copy of which has been obtained by The Independent. It includes an interview by the FBI and sent to Scotland Yard in which a friend of Sir Harry names the tycoon's lawyer, Walter Foskett, as the man responsible for the killing.

Foskett was, the friend said, a con-man who tricked Sir Harry. On hearing of the double-dealing, the tycoon had threatened to "straighten him out", the FBI report says. Days later he was murdered. 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.

The file of about 40 letters and reports, entitled Murder of Sir Henry Oakes at Nassau. Pressure to reopen the case, and was put together by the then Colonial Office in London in 1959. Released at the National Archives in London, it contains correspondence from Yard detectives, the governor, the attorney general of the Bahamas, the Home Office, Nancy Oakes, the FBI, and a New York private investigator, Raymond Schindler.

The main aim of the report was to consider whether the Yard should open a new inquiry, but the details from the various correspondences provide a fresh insight into the murder and the possible identity of the killer. In the file is a letter from Schindler, who was hired by Nancy Oakes. He wrote to the attorney general in the Bahamas on 8 June 1959 saying he had written to the Duke in early 1944 suggesting he contact the Yard and get them to "assign competent men to undertake the investigation", with FBI agents.

He said that when he arrived in the Bahamas shortly afterwards, his hotel phone was tapped and he was followed. He met a friend and was having a round of golf when his companion was called into the clubhouse. He wrote: "When he rejoined me, he said the call was from the Government House and they wanted him to advise them instantly if I discussed the Oakes case. They told him that if I did, I would immediately be deported from the island."

The detective said he was warned several times and concluded: "There was power emanating from Government House which stopped the reopening of the investigation." Undeterred, he made inquiries, and reported in the same letter: "During my investigation in Nassau, I found that finger and palm prints, which could have been identified, were found on the walls of the room in which Sir Harry was murdered; they were short, stubby fingers and De Marigny has long slender fingers, so they were washed off and never identified. In other rooms of the house, on pages in the telephone book, were other prints and smudges that had been rubbed so they could not be identified. The authorities told me that was done 'so as not to confuse the issue'."

And there is a letter from the then governor's office to the Home Office on 12 June 1959. The governor asked if the British Government had any objection to the release of a statement saying no new information had come to light in the murder investigation and that that case was not being reopened. The letter states: "The governor is anxious to make his reply as soon as possible. Moreover, HRH the Duke of Windsor is in some degree concerned in that he was the governor of the Bahamas at the time." The Home Office quickly agreed.

The files further reveal that Nancy Oakes tried to get the case reopened. Remarried and with a new title of Baroness Nancy Von Hoyningen Huene, she wrote on 25 May 1959 to the attorney general in the Bahamas stating: "At the time of my father's death, it would appear that no investigation was in fact made, except around the personality of Alfred F de Marigny."

Further correspondence reveals that two officers from the Metropolitan Police CID interviewed Lady Huene on 8 July 1959. Chief Insp S Shepherd reported that she said "she possessed evidence indicating a line of inquiry which had never been investigated and that persons other than her ex-husband, had the opportunity and motive for committing the crime". In a later letter the chief inspector added that "she implied that in view of the contents of her father's will, one or more of the beneficiaries might have been responsible for the death of her father". Frustratingly, Lady Huene later refused to hand over any papers.

But the most potentially explosive material is in a document sent to the Yard by Charles Bates, the legal attaché at the American embassy in London, on 10 June 1959. It contained a copy of an FBI report of an interview with Fred Maloof, an art dealer from Maryland, who names Foskett as the man who probably arranged the murder. Foskett was a former railway clerk from Indiana who graduated from law school in 1907. He set up a law firm in Miami in 1922, and quickly found favour with the city's high society. In 1934, he was hired by Sir Harry to help keep his fortune out of the clutches of the taxman.

Mr Maloof told FBI agents he became a friend of Sir Harry's in the 1930s. He said Foskett, Sir Harry's lawyer, was responsible for collecting money from the sale of a hotel in Miami. Mr Maloof, who was buying the property, paid partly with a Rembrandt painting, and with a painting of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. He said during the negotiations a fight started and Foskett threatened the art dealer with a gun.

He added that later a woman visited him in Miami and warned him that Foskett was plotting his murder. A short time afterwards a neighbour who looked like the art dealer was shot dead. The FBI report states that Mr Maloof heard nothing more until 1941 when he met Sir Harry in New York and asked the millionaire about the Stuart painting. "Oakes disclaimed any knowledge of the painting and became enraged at the idea that Foskett, acting as his representative, had swindled not only Maloof, but also himself," the report says. "He advised Maloof he was going to see Foskett in Miami or Nassau and 'straighten him out'." Days later, Sir Harry was murdered.

The FBI report said: "Maloof contends that Foskett was probably swindling Oakes through legal 'shenanigans' and that when he was confronted by Oakes, Foskett made arrangements to have Oakes killed." Maloof told the FBI he suspected Harold Christie may have been a fellow plotter. The report concluded: "Maloof described Foskett as an unscrupulous man who would stop short of nothing to achieve his goals."

The FBI report was sent to the chief of police in the Bahamas, but the murder inquiry was never reopened.