THE CONFESSION (199 words)
GENRE: HISTORICAL FICTION
By Neel Anil Panicker
“Doc, I murdered Oakes.”
Dr Johnson looked at the ECG monitor. The patient’s vital parameters had plummeted.
The man was dying.
He looked at him and his heart plunged into sadness. Harold Christie was not just another wealthy patient; over the years he had donned other roles as well_ best friend, philanthropist, humanist et al.
He was such a wonderful human being. The nurses loved him; he was ever smiling and kindness personified.
He was always bubbly, exuding a charm and effervescence that belied his advanced years, Andrew, the X-ray technician said.
They saw him, walking the corridors, sharing laughter and joy, dropping a joke here, a laugh there, his face perennially plastered in a beatific smile that was a beacon of hope for all.
The words hit him like a ten tonne brick. Of course, he had heard the rumours.
I mean, who hadn’t., The murder of the richest man in Bahamas, the owner of innumerable gold mines, Sir Henry Oakes, was headline stuff, it remained till date the most discussed thing in all of Nassau. The case remained unsolved.
The ECG monitor sounded the final beep.
He looked at Christie whose last words were, ‘Forgive me, Oakes…”
©neelanilpanicker2017 # fiction # shortstory #whatpegmansaw #nassau #199words
SIR HENRY OAKES
On 18th October 1943, the trial of Freddie de Marigny began at the Bahamas Supreme Court. It was a major newsworthy story that received more column inches than the war itself. Freddie had wanted revered barrister Sir Alfred Adderley to represent him in court, but he was quickly snatched by the prosecution side instead. Freddie finally chose Godfrey Higgs to lead the defence team.
Chief witness was Harold Christie, good friend of the victim who had slept in the guestroom on the night of the murder. Christie revealed how a group of people, including his own niece and Oakes’ neighbours had visited the house for a soiree, but had all left by 11 pm. Apart from waking up due to the raging storm, Christie had heard nothing else during the night to arouse suspicion.
Christie told the court that in the morning he had discovered the grisly scene of Oakes’ charred body when he knocked on the door enquiring about breakfast. Not realising that Oakes was dead he tried to give him some water and also wiped his bloody head with a towel.
The court proceedings threw up a great deal of conflicting hearsay and speculation. The defence believed that Christie was holding back information and questioned why he parked his car some distance from Oakes’ house. It was also noted that Christie had been seen by a Bahamas police officer, riding in a station truck around midnight. Another witness, a night watchman who had mysteriously drowned before the trial, alleged that he had seen Christie and another man hanging around an unfamiliar boat docked in Nassau’s harbour the night before the murder.
If this wasn’t intriguing enough, a member of the police force testified that prime suspect Freddie de Marigny walked into the police station on the morning of the murder at 7.30 am, looking distressed and asking if his vehicle could be inspected. Another witness claimed that they had overheard Freddie and victim Oakes having a conversation where Oakes had asked the suspect not to send letters to his wife and accusing Freddie of being a ‘sex maniac’.
What did become clear during proceedings was how poorly the investigation had been carried out with vital evidence lost due to inexplicable actions committed soon after the murder was discovered.
More contradictions surfaced when detective James Barker claimed that he had identified the fingerprint on the Chinese screen, as belonging to Freddie, on 9th July while his colleague, Edward Melchen, disclosed that he was unaware of this finding until around the 19th or 20th July.
Coronary details revealed that Oakes had sustained blows to the head resulting in his skull having been cracked like a walnut. Blisters, unconnected with the fire were also discovered on his body and their cause unaccounted for. It was believed the murder took place between 2 am and 5 am.
The fingerprint from the Chinese screen became a major piece of contention for it was discovered that Barker had used an inappropriate technique and as a consequence destroyed the print entirely. Higgs, for the defence, accused Barker of lifting the print from a glass that the suspect had been drinking from during interrogation. Barker vehemently denied this, but could not pinpoint where the print had been on the screen.
Barker was found on the stand not only to be inept at his job but also a liar as he had originally claimed to have taken the fingerprints of all the people allowed into the room only later to admit to the court that this was a lie.
Freddie himself took the witness stand and gave a personal account of how he had never truly been accepted by the Oakes since marrying their daughter. By his own admission he had a difficult relationship with his in-laws. He also revealed how he had been questioned by Barker and Melchen and found to have singed hairs on his hands, which he claimed he received from lighting cigars and cooking.
On 12th November 1943, the jury went away to consider its verdict. It probably was not all that surprising that due to the incompetent procedures of the investigators, the admission of lies made by Barker himself and the lack of any sound forensic evidence, that a ‘not guilty’ outcome was delivered.
Several prominent people living on the island or connected to Sir Harry Oakes in some way all appeared to have motives of one kind or another for disposing of the man. Many of the theories are plausible, but improbable. More importantly they have never been proved.
The prime suspects range from a German born millionaire with links to the Nazi party, to figures from America’s gangland to the British Royal family itself in the guise of the Duke of Windsor.
The core of all the theories share one main common denominator, which was the potential lucrative business of casinos and hotels that were proposed to be built in Nassau prior to Oakes’ murder.
FIRST SUSPECT: WENNER-GREN
Oakes had become friendly with the rich Swedish born businessman Wenner-Gren who lived on the island with his American wife and had acquired the largest yacht in the world as part of his millionaire lifestyle. Gren was an astute and wily businessman who had made a fortune through selling light bulbs and household electrical equipment. More disturbingly he was known to be a close friend of key Nazi figure, Hermann Goering as well as many other infamous tyrants.
One theory is that Gren killed or had Oakes murdered because the victim had unearthed several secrets about him including information that he may have been a spy for the Germans.
SECOND SUSPECT: HAROLD CHRISTIE
Oakes good friend also came under suspicion due to his association with mobster Frank Marshall who himself was linked with the notorious Mafia boss Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano.
Christie, who had become a wealthy man in his own rights by purchasing land in Nassau and becoming a real estate broker, had big plans for the island and the Bahamas. He envisaged a lucrative tourist trade that encompassed golf courses and hotels.
Christie became involved with Frank Marshall who wanted to build casinos on the island despite the prohibitive laws preventing such developments. However, Marshall had reckoned with the influence of Christie’s prominent friends such as Oakes and the Duke of Windsor, they would be able to circumvent restrictions. But Oakes was said to be displeased with the idea and his refusal to co-operate angered Christie who saw his old friend as an obstacle to making millions.
THIRD SUSPECT: FRANK MARSHALL AND THE MOB
Marshall himself was known to have had a great deal of pressure put on him by his American business partners, who were more than likely Mafia figures. It was believed to be Mafia mobster Lucky Luciano’s idea to build casinos on the island and who realised that with Christie and the Duke of Windsor’s influence and help he had the means to do it. Therefore it may not be too difficult to imagine Luciano’s frustration and anger with Oakes who refused to take part in the scheme. Oakes violent and bloody death seems to fit the kind of grisly end metered out to victims by mobsters of the day.
FOURTH SUSPECT: THE DUKE OF WINDSOR
The former King of England himself did not escape suspicion when one theory arose that Oakes may have discovered possible evidence of the Duke’s dealings with the Nazi party and Wenner-Gren that threatened to expose the Duke as a traitor and spy.
None of the above theories, no matter how convincing they may sound, have provided concrete evidence to back them up. To date the murder of Sir Harry Oakes remains a mystery that has yet to be solved.
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