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Murdered Midas: A Millionaire, His Gold Mine, and a Strange Death on an Island Paradise

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A gold mine. A millionaire. An island paradise. An unsolved murder. A missing fortune. The story of the infamous Sir Harry Oakes as only Charlotte Gray can tell it On an island paradise in 1943, Sir Harry Oakes, gold mining tycoon, philanthropist and "richest man in the Empire," was murdered. The news of his death surged across the English-speaking world, from London, the A gold mine. A millionaire. An island paradise. An unsolved murder. A missing fortune. The story of the infamous Sir Harry Oakes as only Charlotte Gray can tell it On an island paradise in 1943, Sir Harry Oakes, gold mining tycoon, philanthropist and "richest man in the Empire," was murdered. The news of his death surged across the English-speaking world, from London, the Imperial centre, to the remote Canadian mining town of Kirkland Lake, in the Northern Ontario bush. The murder became celebrated as "the crime of the century."               The layers of mystery deepened as the involvement of Oakes' son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny, came quickly to be questioned, as did the odd machinations of the Governor of the Bahamas, the former King Edward VIII. Despite a sensational trial, no murderer was ever convicted. Rumours were unrelenting about Oakes' missing fortune, and fascination with the Oakes story has persisted for decades.                 Award-winning biographer and popular historian Charlotte Gray explores, for the first time, the life of the man behind the scandal, a man who was both reviled and admired - from his early, hardscrabble days of mining exploration, to his explosion of wealth, to his grandiose gestures of philanthropy. And Gray brings fresh eyes to the bungled investigation and shocking trial in the remote colonial island streets, proposing an overlooked suspect in this long cold case. Murdered Midas is the story of the man behind the newspaper headlines, who, despite his wealth and position, was never able to have justice.


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A gold mine. A millionaire. An island paradise. An unsolved murder. A missing fortune. The story of the infamous Sir Harry Oakes as only Charlotte Gray can tell it On an island paradise in 1943, Sir Harry Oakes, gold mining tycoon, philanthropist and "richest man in the Empire," was murdered. The news of his death surged across the English-speaking world, from London, the A gold mine. A millionaire. An island paradise. An unsolved murder. A missing fortune. The story of the infamous Sir Harry Oakes as only Charlotte Gray can tell it On an island paradise in 1943, Sir Harry Oakes, gold mining tycoon, philanthropist and "richest man in the Empire," was murdered. The news of his death surged across the English-speaking world, from London, the Imperial centre, to the remote Canadian mining town of Kirkland Lake, in the Northern Ontario bush. The murder became celebrated as "the crime of the century."               The layers of mystery deepened as the involvement of Oakes' son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny, came quickly to be questioned, as did the odd machinations of the Governor of the Bahamas, the former King Edward VIII. Despite a sensational trial, no murderer was ever convicted. Rumours were unrelenting about Oakes' missing fortune, and fascination with the Oakes story has persisted for decades.                 Award-winning biographer and popular historian Charlotte Gray explores, for the first time, the life of the man behind the scandal, a man who was both reviled and admired - from his early, hardscrabble days of mining exploration, to his explosion of wealth, to his grandiose gestures of philanthropy. And Gray brings fresh eyes to the bungled investigation and shocking trial in the remote colonial island streets, proposing an overlooked suspect in this long cold case. Murdered Midas is the story of the man behind the newspaper headlines, who, despite his wealth and position, was never able to have justice.

30 review for Murdered Midas: A Millionaire, His Gold Mine, and a Strange Death on an Island Paradise

  1. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    I feel like I need to preface this with the fact that I would never have read this book, were it not for a work assignment (I read a pre-release uncorrected proof, to be clear). But I'm really glad I was "forced" to, as I found it a very interesting overview of a few points in history I'd never thought about before -- Northern Ontario's gold rush in particular -- as well as a thoughtfully constructed think-piece about the actions of the very rich, WWII, and racial tensions in British colonies, I feel like I need to preface this with the fact that I would never have read this book, were it not for a work assignment (I read a pre-release uncorrected proof, to be clear). But I'm really glad I was "forced" to, as I found it a very interesting overview of a few points in history I'd never thought about before -- Northern Ontario's gold rush in particular -- as well as a thoughtfully constructed think-piece about the actions of the very rich, WWII, and racial tensions in British colonies, all told through the profile of one man who got lucky and struck gold. Part of the reason why I'd never have selected the book myself is that it is the biography of a rich white man from history, and I think North American history in general is made up of a lot of those. The perspective doesn't interest me anymore. But Gray successfully argues through this book that the man, Harry Oakes, is worth getting to know better outside of the sensationalized story of his murder. And after finishing this book, I'd agree. And that's less because of the man himself -- he was actually rather unpleasant -- but because he crossed paths with so many interesting points in history. He worked like crazy until the boom in gold mining in the Kirkland Lake area made him a millionaire. He developed Niagara Falls. He escaped tax paying by going to the Bahamas, and perhaps inadvertently took the side of the colonized black Bahamians by giving them work and paying them slightly more than the normal salary. He rubbed shoulders with the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson at a time they were exiled from Britain. His best friend essentially made the Bahamas the destination it became. There are a lot of interesting touch points here -- and then there's the murder. I wouldn't necessarily recommend the book for the murder mystery, though Gray certainly spends a lot of time on that. She makes it very clear that her real purpose is to contextualize Oakes in a way no one has never really done before. And I'm glad she did, because I learned a lot while breezing through her incredibly thorough and yet very easy-reading style.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dean Jobb

    Murdered Midas immerses readers in the mining boom that transformed Canada in the early twentieth century, a world of hardscrabble towns and shady promoters. Enter American-born Harry Oakes, a crusty prospector who struck gold and became fabulously wealthy. The backdrop then switches to the sun-drenched Bahamas; Oakes decamped to the tax haven in the 1930s to keep his fortune beyond the reach of the Canadian government, and was murdered there in 1943. Charlotte Gray's deeply researched, Murdered Midas immerses readers in the mining boom that transformed Canada in the early twentieth century, a world of hardscrabble towns and shady promoters. Enter American-born Harry Oakes, a crusty prospector who struck gold and became fabulously wealthy. The backdrop then switches to the sun-drenched Bahamas; Oakes decamped to the tax haven in the 1930s to keep his fortune beyond the reach of the Canadian government, and was murdered there in 1943. Charlotte Gray's deeply researched, brilliantly told account of this Caribbean cold case - with its motley cast of characters, exotic locale, and layers of speculation and rumour - is an engrossing read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Paul Filteau

    Murdered Midas: A Millionaire, His Gold Mine, and a Strange Death on an Island Paradise by Charlotte Gray | Sep 24 2019 HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. 319 pages Both Kirkland Lake and the Bahamas have been in the news in 2019. Kirkland Lake for the celebration of its 100th anniversary and the Bahamas due to Hurricane Dorian that caused catastrophic damage to the island and its residents. However historically, the most famous event involving both communities was the murder of Sir Harry Oakes. Murdered Midas: A Millionaire, His Gold Mine, and a Strange Death on an Island Paradise by Charlotte Gray | Sep 24 2019 HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. 319 pages Both Kirkland Lake and the Bahamas have been in the news in 2019. Kirkland Lake for the celebration of its 100th anniversary and the Bahamas due to Hurricane Dorian that caused catastrophic damage to the island and its residents. However historically, the most famous event involving both communities was the murder of Sir Harry Oakes. Indeed, it was the crime of the last century. The mystery surrounding the death of the mining tycoon has attracted numerous writers. “A gold mine. A millionaire. An island paradise. An unsolved murder. A missing fortune” ... British Royalty, Nazi connections. The list of intrigues goes on. A story often written but now as only Charlotte Gray can tell it. Her formidable curiosity, research and story telling have resulted in a balanced consideration of the tragedy and the life of Sir Harry.... In the book overview by HarperCollins: “on an island paradise in 1943, Sir Harry Oakes, gold mining tycoon, philanthropist and richest man in the Empire, was murdered. The news of his death surged across the English-speaking world, from London, the Imperial centre, to the remote Canadian mining town of Kirkland Lake, in the Northern Ontario bush. The layers of mystery deepened as the involvement of Oakes' son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny, came quickly to be questioned, as did the odd machinations of the Governor of the Bahamas, the former King Edward VIII. Despite a sensational trial, no murderer was ever convicted. Rumours were unrelenting about Oakes' missing fortune, and fascination with the Oakes story has persisted for decades. Award-winning biographer and popular historian Charlotte Gray explores, for the first time, the life of the man behind the scandal, a man who was both reviled and admired - from his early, hardscrabble days of mining exploration, to his explosion of wealth, to his grandiose gestures of philanthropy. Gray brings fresh eyes to the bungled investigation and shocking trial in the remote colonial island streets, proposing an overlooked suspect in this long cold case. Murdered Midas is the story of the man behind the newspaper headlines, who, despite his wealth and position, was never able to have justice.” Some of the golden historical tidbits include: in 1576, Martin Frobisher while looking for the Northwest Passage sent a ship load of rocks back to England. It turned out to be iron pyrites or fools gold. In 1686, the Chevalier de Troyes leading a military expedition to James Bay, sent rocks from Lake Temiskaming back to Quebec City, where they went unnoticed. By the late 1880's the Wright silver-lead mine had been established on the site. In 1883, while the CPR was being constructed, nickel was discovered in Sudbury. However it wasn't until the Temiskaming and Northern Railway began pushing north, the silver and then gold mining camps began. The Cobalt rush in 1903, Larder Lake in 1906, followed by Porcupine in 1909 and Kirkland Lake, east of Swastika where in 1911, the year an impoverished American prospector, Harry Oakes stakes his first claims. Most writers, including Charlotte Gray deal with Harrys abrasive character and mercurial temperament as the psychology of a lonely prospector gone bushed. Another explanation might be the exposure to dry mineral dust. Although he didn't work underground until driving his first shaft, Oakes put in long hours over many years chiseling for surface samples, hand steeling to get further down and eventually machine drilling to get the Toburn and Lake Shore Mines going. Miners often display early symptoms of dementia and this might have also affected the later Sir Harry. Certainly he had difficulties relating to women but he did get along well with the shrewd, tough minded Rosa Brown. Rosa was a Jewish Hungarian emigre who ran a boarding house, bakery and laundry. She enrobed herself in all all that was British Royalty including the Union Jack and walked, followed by her pack of loyal dogs. Another character was the British socialite Unity Valkyrie Mitford. A rabid anti-Semite and the daughter of Baron David Freeman-Mitford Redesdale who had a mining claim between Swastika and Kirkland Lake where he spent many summers and Unity would visit. Unity had a relationship with Adolf Hitler and was rumoured to be the mother of his love child. There was speculation that NAZI swastika was symbolized after a good luck cross charm that she would wear. The greater story of the women of Kirkland Lake has largely gone untold. High enlistment rates of miners during two world wars and the death and maiming underground along with the indiscriminate firing of men placed a huge burden on the women, some sexually exploited when they begged support for their families. The outrage culminated in the bitter miners strike of 1941-42 where two thousands women, supported the miners by marching in the dead cold of winter for union recognition, the right to collectively bargain and better working conditions. Jennifer Wynn Weber in her dramatic play published as a book in 2019 about the “Kirkland Lake gals” who helped organize and supported the strike. With Glowing hearts is the story of how ordinary women worked together to change the world (and did). One story not in this book is about Harrys order to his men. Coming off shift from underground they were lined up and humiliated by having to pee in buckets. Harry Oakes had installed a copper roof on the “Chateau”, the giant log building that is now the Kirkland Lake Museum of Northern History. To turn the copper green, the acidic miners' urine was poured over the copper. Remember, this was at a time when work horse stables were nearby. While Grey is balanced in her treatment of the character of Sir Harry Oakes, to fully understand the broader enmity of the miners towards the mine operators, a good reference is a book entitled, Remember Kirkland Lake, The Gold Miners Strike of 1941-42 by Laurel Seton McDowell,1983. Unsafe working conditions, especially underground where there was considerable death and injury, low pay, insecure tenure and rising living costs needed addressing. The average miner in the camp was forced to live “too close to the line” and was frequently in default of unpaid bills resulting in court actions for debt. Dissatisfaction was rampant. “On the evening of 18th November, 1941, the night shift in eight of the mines failed to report for work....the (Toronto) Star reported that 3850 of 4300 workers had struck”. Unable to find a smoking gun pointing to who killed Sir Harry, suspicion returns to those who had a motive. His son-in-law Alfred de Marigny was tried and found not guilty. Harold Christie, the real estate agent who transformed the shabby colony into a mecca for the super rich had the most to lose if Oakes abandoned the Bahamas. Also, Sir Harry had a lot of enemies from the past who might have made him a final visit of retribution. Unfortunately, the botched investigation and the careless destruction of the crime scene ruined the chances of finding the real culprit. While Charlotte Gray has left no leaf upturned who knows what a future writer might uncover. Likely, the last word on the murder of Sir Harry Oakes is yet to come. The author, in the spirit of a true detective, follows the money. “There was a complicated web of connections between the Duke of Windsor, Wenner-Grenn (A Swedish-German financier), Christie (Bahamian real estate promoter), and Oakes, plus General Camacho, (brother of the President of Mexico) would lead to speculation about illicit transfers of currency and gold designed to put them beyond reach of the British Government.” What happened to Oakes fortune, a considerable amount had disappeared. Did it go into a bank set up in Mexico? Did it continue to finance the NAZI network after the war? If Charlotte Gray visits Kirkland Lake again she will be surprised to see a new head-frame by the highway on the west side of town. She was a little premature in predicting the demise of the community. At the 100th Anniversary parade young families lined the Government Road. New “shacks” (homes) have been built and some of the miners are beginning to stay in town rather than the long travel from larger communities. Like Harry Oakes going against conventional wisdom mining out under the lake, Kirkland Lake Gold is mining to the south of the town (south complex). The company has large proven reserves and is acquiring new properties. It has gone from being a junior to mid sized mining company with production nearing 1,000,000 ounces yearly, between their Canadian and Australian mines. The old gold town ain't dead yet. Gray is scrupulous in her research and has included precise end notes and references to newspaper articles, not as footnotes at the bottom of the book pages but separately on her website (Charlottetown Gray) The book is a great read and of appeal to an international audience. The reviewer, Paul Filteau is a native of Kirkland Lake who now lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He writes on history and current issues relating to Northern Ontario. He was a regular contributor to the unfortunately defunct, High grader Magazine. He authored 2019 articles on Sir Harry Oakes, as well as, Children of the Slimes, for the 100th Centennial Edition, Celebrating Kirkland Lake, As Good As Gold

  4. 5 out of 5

    Darryl Bortolot

    I was quite familiar with the story of Sir Harry Oakes before reading this book, so there weren’t too many details I found to be new. If, however, I hadn’t an inkling as to who he was, I would have found this to be a fascinating insight into a forgotten story. Oakes was a legendary character in the Canadian north, and Gray does a wonderful job in outlining the whole story. Rather than simply focusing upon the murder, she breaks the story into three parts - the early life of Oakes, his life as a I was quite familiar with the story of Sir Harry Oakes before reading this book, so there weren’t too many details I found to be new. If, however, I hadn’t an inkling as to who he was, I would have found this to be a fascinating insight into a forgotten story. Oakes was a legendary character in the Canadian north, and Gray does a wonderful job in outlining the whole story. Rather than simply focusing upon the murder, she breaks the story into three parts - the early life of Oakes, his life as a millionaire, and his murder and the aftermath. As a historian myself ( a conceit I allow myself by virtue of my degree), I admire the fact that Gray doesn’t allow herself to overreach the evidence. Suspicions are laid out, but conclusions aren’t drawn where she deems the evidence lacking. Of course, this could frustrate a reader in some areas, but it works. One area that I wish the author had been able to dig into more deeply was the state of the current Oakes estate and/or the modern legacy. All in all though, a good overview of the Oakes story.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Molly Dunbar

    Fine, not as impressive as her other works

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ivy Mathison

    What a wonderful read! Charlotte you are an excellent story teller of history. I felt compelled to keep turning the pages. The way the book unfolds in an unbiased story of real events was truly a pleasure to read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia Laurel

    Charlotte Gray delivers a vivid portrait of Harry Oakes, who was an early 20th century Canadian millionaire who was brutally murdered in the Bahamas. I enjoyed the whole book, in particular, the first third which describes Oakes and his relentless pursuit of finding the motherlode and therefore giving colour and detail to an important part of Canadian history which centres on how we discovered and developed our resource-based industries. Mining towns are a thing of the past so it is fascinating Charlotte Gray delivers a vivid portrait of Harry Oakes, who was an early 20th century Canadian millionaire who was brutally murdered in the Bahamas. I enjoyed the whole book, in particular, the first third which describes Oakes and his relentless pursuit of finding the motherlode and therefore giving colour and detail to an important part of Canadian history which centres on how we discovered and developed our resource-based industries. Mining towns are a thing of the past so it is fascinating to read about the early days of their development. I also enjoyed reading about his family. Harry eventually found himself in the Bahamas and once again we are treated to a brilliant depiction of life there during WWII, including his interaction with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and their interesting story. Charlotte's storytelling talents, buoyed by her ability to thoroughly research a subject result in a very interesting and compelling book. This is a creative writing bonanza, not just a listing of evidence and facts, peppered with wry and entertaining observations, resting on a foundation of sensitivity and truth. The murder of HO is still unsolved but this book goes a long way to illuminate many aspects of HO and the world around him.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gwen Harris

    I'll read anything Charlotte Gray writes. She is a superb social historian. Although, as a friend said to me - she's no Pierre Berton - and he meant there isn't the same power for storytelling. I, however, admire and enjoy the degree of research, the detailed and clear reporting, and the recreation of scene. The case of Sir Harry Oakes' murder seems an odd subject to take on but it may be more contemporary than first meets the eye: the gold rush in Northern Ontario - much bigger than the I'll read anything Charlotte Gray writes. She is a superb social historian. Although, as a friend said to me - she's no Pierre Berton - and he meant there isn't the same power for storytelling. I, however, admire and enjoy the degree of research, the detailed and clear reporting, and the recreation of scene. The case of Sir Harry Oakes' murder seems an odd subject to take on but it may be more contemporary than first meets the eye: the gold rush in Northern Ontario - much bigger than the Klondike, fierce determination of Oakes to find and develop the gold mine in Kirkland Lake, the emerging tax evasion practices, and the idiosyncrasies of the wealthy to spend their wealth in overblown lifestyle (overwrought mansions - and many of them) and, sometimes, philanthropy. Most surprising to me was that the Oakes descendants still own property in the Bahamas and Niagara Falls, On.. Duke of Windsor, who was the Governor at the time, doesn't come off well in this book - what was he hiding? Margaret Cannon of the Globe and Mail wrote of the book that "This is superior true-crime writing and if you've got a Canadian history buff on your list, this is the perfect gift." (Dec 14, 2019(

  9. 5 out of 5

    Evelyn Horsky

    It was a mediocre read. There is still speculation on how Sir Harry Oakes was murdered. Nothing concrete or new is covered in this book. Certain the author interviewed a great many people in the Bahamas, in Kirkland Lake and distant family members but it just does not come together. Dry and boring and it left me wondering why this story was repeated again.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    It's as well-researched & well-written as you expect from the pen of Charlotte Gray, but I must say that I wasn't terribly enamored with the subject matter. In fact, many of the surrounding characters and events were far more interesting, as was the peek at life in the booming early days of mineral-rich Northern Ontario. Ultimately, there was more than enough here to keep me interested.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jacques Decarie

    I devoured this. A whodunnit. Police procedural. With Canadiana tones early. The rise of Kirkland Lake and birth of the TSX. Contribution to Niagara Falls. Investments in the Bahamas. Connections with royalty. And an unsolved murder. Excellent read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joanne Harris

    Charlotte Gray has an impeccable reputation for writing a well researched biography. This story of Harry Oakes and his unsolved murder I. The Bahamas did not disappoint.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    AWESOME BOOK.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Virginia Van

    Sir Harry Oakes was born into a middle class family in Maine but made a vast fortune as a prospector when he struck gold in Kirkland Lake, Ontario. Fearing a tax grab by the Canadian government during World War II, he moved to the Bahamas where, in 1943, he was found brutally murdered in his home. His son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny was accused of the murder but it became clear in his trial that the investigation was badly bungled and he was being set up in a series of odd machinations Sir Harry Oakes was born into a middle class family in Maine but made a vast fortune as a prospector when he struck gold in Kirkland Lake, Ontario. Fearing a tax grab by the Canadian government during World War II, he moved to the Bahamas where, in 1943, he was found brutally murdered in his home. His son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny was accused of the murder but it became clear in his trial that the investigation was badly bungled and he was being set up in a series of odd machinations reaching as high as the Governor of the Bahamas, the former King Edward VIII. No one was ever convicted in teh death leaving a trail of rumours and gossip that intrigues to this day. As always, biographer and popular historian Charlotte Gray presents a well researched book that presents a balanced portrait of a self-made man both reviled and admired. The book is only unsatisfactory as the case is unsatisfactory with the killer and cause of the murder unknown.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Hilary

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rick Brick

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sara

  19. 4 out of 5

    Clarke Bellinger

  20. 5 out of 5

    Larissa

  21. 5 out of 5

    Arlene Kuntz

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alice Pellar

  23. 4 out of 5

    Warren Lovely

  24. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  25. 5 out of 5

    Shawna Corner

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jmca

  28. 4 out of 5

    Claire

  29. 5 out of 5

    Adarah

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ann G

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