2005-01-21 10:57:40 UTC
Nancy Oakes von Hoyningen-Huene, heiress, daughter of Sir Harry Oakes,
1st baronet, died 16 January, 2005. She was 80.
Nancy Oakes was born 17 May, 1924, daughter of the millionaire Sir
Harry Oakes a member of the Bahamas Legislative Council (d.
She married firstly, 1942 (marriage annulled 1949), Alfred de Marigny;
married secondly, 1952 (divorced 1956), Baron Ernst Lyssardt von
Hoyingen-Huene; married thirdly, 1962, , Patrick Claude Henry Tritton.
She had a son from her second marriage, Baron Alexander George
Lyssardt, b. 1955.
From The Times, 21 Jan, 2005:-<<Nancy Oakes von Hoyningen-Huene>>
<<Wilful heiress catapulted into a colourful life of glamorous
celebrity by the mysterious murder of her plutocratic father>>
IF EVER proof were wanted that money cannot guarantee happiness, it
could be found in abundance in the life of Nancy Oakes von
Hoyningen-Huene, who, as a 19-year-old heiress, was a central figure in
what Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason, called "the
greatest murder mystery of all time".
The whirlwind of publicity, gossip, mental torment and tragedy in which
she found herself caught up began on July 8, 1943, with the discovery
of the body of her father, Sir Harry Oakes, Bt, in his beachfront house
outside Nassau, in the Bahamas. Oakes, the owner of the largest
goldmine in the Western hemisphere, had been battered to death, his
corpse partially incinerated and strewn with feathers.
The killing of its most prominent private citizen presented the
islands' Governor, the Duke of Windsor, with a considerable problem.
He believed that the local police lacked the expertise to investigate
the crime and, it being wartime and thus difficult to bring detectives
across the Atlantic from London, he turned instead to two American
policemen he knew in the Miami force. It was to prove a fateful
Within a day and a half of their arrival, Captains Melchen and Barker
had arrested Oakes's son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny, a tall,
amusing Mauritian. Already twice divorced, he had eloped with Oakes's
eldest child, Nancy, some 14 years his junior, in May the previous year
and had married her - without previously informing her parents -
the day after she attained her majority. De Marigny, who had admitted
to being near Oakes's house on the night of the murder, was known to
be on bad terms with the multimillionaire and was said to be short of
money. All Nassau was convinced of his guilt. He was committed for
trial, and a rope was ordered for his hanging.
When her husband was arrested, Nancy de Marigny was in Vermont. She
returned to Nassau and began to help to organise his defence and to
sustain his morale while he remained on remand in prison. With her
auburn hair, deep-set eyes, fine figure and mild resemblance to
Katharine Hepburn, the young countess soon became a favourite of the
dozens of reporters sent to cover the case. Newspapers in Europe and
America vied to break fresh developments in the story, which provided
exciting headlines for readers weary of the war.
At the trial itself, the chief piece of evidence against de Marigny was
a fingerprint of his which Barker claimed to have found on a screen
near the bed where Oakes had been killed. Since de Marigny had not been
to the house for many months, and prints deteriorated quickly in
Nassau's humidity, this promised to be conclusive evidence against
him. But in cross-examination, de Marigny's counsel, Godfrey Higgs,
gradually prised apart the Crown's case that his client had killed to
get his hands on Nancy's vast inheritance.
In particular, it transpired that the print produced in court had,
claimed Barker, been lifted clean off the screen by him so that no
trace of the powdered original remained. Nor could he show convincingly
where on the screen it might have been. This lent force to the
defence's suggestion that Barker had framed de Marigny with a print
of his taken from a glass.
Though de Marigny's alibi and witnesses also proved shaky, his wife
Nancy did not, braving a fever and the opprobrium of her mother (who
believed de Marigny guilty) to testify for him. As the last person to
be called, she made a considerable impact on the jury (as had her
well-chosen selection of dresses throughout the trial). With a finely
honed sense of the dramatic, she appeared almost to faint while giving
evidence, and later walked out during the Attorney- General's closing
speech, claiming she could not bear to hear "such filthy things"
said against her husband.
Within two hours of being sent out, the jury returned their verdict -
a sensational one that acquitted de Marigny by a majority. There were
wild celebrations outside the courthouse, and he was chaired aloft by
the largely black crowd.
The uproar that greeted the decision had drowned out a rider added by
the all-white jury which recommended that 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 - less than tactfully he described
the Duke as "a pimple on the arse of the Empire" - and four days
after his acquittal the Governor's executive council (with doubtful
legitimacy) approved his deportation. Nancy de Marigny followed him
into exile, their first stop being the Cuban home of his friend Ernest
The murder of Sir Harry Oakes has never been solved, although it has
given rise to theories embracing Mafia hitmen, black magic and Nazi
gold. The crime inevitably remained the dominant event of the life of
Oakes's daughter, which, even after de Marigny's acquittal,
continued to be a troubled one.
Nancy Oakes was born in Toronto in 1924, the eldest of five children,
three of whom would meet untimely deaths. Her oldest brother, Sydney,
who inherited the baronetcy after their father's murder, was killed
in a car accident aged 39. Another brother, Pitt, died of an overdose
at the age of 28 after several years of mental instability. Nancy's
only sister, Shirley, was also involved in a crash in middle age that
left her in an irreversible coma.
Only Nancy's youngest brother, Harry, was not the victim of such a
fate, although because of disagreements about the administration of the
family's assets the pair were barely on speaking terms for much of
their later lives.
Nancy spent her first years at The Chateau, Oakes's log cabin at
Kirkland Lake, northern Ontario, where the US-born prospector had
struck gold in the years before the First World War. By the late 1920s,
he had become the largest contributor to the Canadian revenue, and by
his death had taken some $45 million (around $500 million today) in
profit from the mine. Such wealth made him one of the richest people in
the Empire of which he became a citizen, and of which he was created a
baronet in 1939, principally for his gifts to charity.
In 1935, for tax reasons, he had moved to Nassau, then a backwater and
whose infrastructure and economy he did much to enhance. Nancy,
meanwhile, was schooled in England, Switzerland and New York, and also
travelled to South America, Australia (her mother's country) and
Indonesia with her parents. Nonetheless, she was not close to them -
both were rather domineering - and perhaps in de Marigny she saw her
chance to escape. Their bond was strengthened when he nursed her
through several life-threatening operations after she had contracted
trench mouth (acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis) on honeymoon in
The gilt of their marriage, however, had begun to tarnish even before
her father's murder. Though she believed him innocent, and stood
loyally by him, it was already apparent that each wanted different
things. Somewhat surprisingly, he craved stability, while Nancy - who
rather had her head turned by her press coverage during the trial -
did not want to be fettered. They separated in 1945, and were divorced
in 1949, with her insisting on an annulment.
By then she was living in Hollywood, where she enjoyed romances with a
string of actors, most notably Richard Greene, the television star of
Robin Hood. Her wealth and temperament always made it easy for her to
attract admirers, rarely to her advantage. In 1952, she married Baron
Ernst von Hoyningen-Huene, but they were divorced in 1956. Six years
later she married Patrick Tritton and moved to Mexico, though when that
union was also dissolved she reverted to the von Hoyningen name and
style. Thereafter, "the Baroness", as she liked to be known,
divided her time between London and the Bahamas, where she still
retained considerable holdings.
Reckless, selfish and not a little vindictive, she consoled herself in
an old age increasingly blighted by frailty and blindness with an
occasional lawsuit. 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. They were always delivered with charm, however,
especially if the recipient was a young man.
She is survived by a son and a daughter.
(Debrett doesn't mention a daughter)