This article is the second in a short series exploring the history of the College Houses. Information for these columns was collected through online research and interviews with Secretary of Development and College Relations John Cross.

Despite its popularity among college house applications, few students know that Ladd House is worthy of a stop on the Haunted Bowdoin Tour.

The fraternity Zeta Psi occupied what is now Ladd House from 1927 until the 1990s.
In 1927, a new Zeta Psi chapter house was erected at 14 College Street—directly in front of the place where the previous house once stood for 24 years. Sir Harry Oakes of the Class of 1896 donated over half of the $40,000 necessary to build the new house.

Oakes later became a successful entrepreneur in the United States and New Zealand, making his fortune from a Canadian gold mine. King George VI of the United Kingdom made him a baronet in 1939 for his philanthropic work. 

After acquiring his wealth, Oakes wanted to give back to the fraternity that shaped his youth.
When the house was dedicated to Samuel Ladd in 2002, many Zeta Psi alumni felt the house should have been named for Oakes. The College disregarded their complaints since Oakes was not a very pleasant person and was thus rather unpopular.

Due to his business endeavors, Oakes acquired various enemies throughout his life.

In 1943, Oakes was brutally murdered on his estate in Nassau, Bahamas. He was found bludgeoned to death in his bed with his body set on fire and partially covered in feathers. Due to Oakes’ considerable wealth and his apparent ties to the then governor of the Bahamas—the Duke of Windsor (formerly known as King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom)—his murder became an international sensation.

Upon discovering his body, investigators on the island reported Oakes’ death to the Duke of Windsor. The Duke, knowing full well that the murder of such a wealthy man would cause a scandal, called in detectives from Miami to investigate, even though local Bahamian investigators, Captains Melchen and Barker, were capable of handling the investigation.
Oakes had company on the night he was killed: his friend and property developer Harold Christie. Christie told investigators that he was completely unaware anything had happened—he had slept through the murder. 

He was never suspected because most people on the island were convinced the murderer was Oakes’ son-in-law Alfred de Marigny, husband of Oakes’ daughter Nancy.

De Marigny certainly had a motive: upon her father’s death, Nancy would receive quite an inheritance. Since there was a gap of approximately 30-minutes in his alibi, de Marigny was arrested.

While de Marigny was being interrogated, the Duke of Windsor arrived. He had a private conversation with the investigators and left. Citing a perfect fingerprint found on a screen in Oakes’ bedroom, police formally charged de Marigny with murder two hours after the Duke left.

During the trial it was revealed that Melchen and Barker had taken the fingerprint off of a box of de Marigny’s cigarettes and planted it on the screen. When this came to light, de Marigny was acquitted.

Even today, nobody knows why de Marigny was framed. One possibility is that the Duke wanted the case closed as quickly as possible. If locals handled the investigation, it might have gone on much longer and the Duke might not have wanted an international spotlight on the island for an extended period of time.

Oakes’ murder remains unsolved, but several books and films have been made about his strange story, each supporting a different theory about what transpired at Oakes’ home on the night of his death.

Author William Boyd tells a version of events in his novel “Any Human Heart,” which was adapted for TV.

As Boyd tells it, according to an article in “The Guardian,” the fire that burned Oakes’ body did not destroy all of the evidence. 

Boyd suspects Christie as a potential killer since Christie allegedly owed Oakes a good deal of money.

It appears that the Duke of Windsor conspired with investigators to incriminate an innocent man for the murder of the man who provided more than half the money to build what is now Ladd House.

Over half a century later, after Zeta Psi became Chi Delta Phi in 1991, the misfortunes tied to Ladd House continued.

Tragedy struck on March 15, 1996, when 20-year-old University of Maine-Orono student Cameron Brett fell off the roof of the chi Delta Phi house during a party and died. This was the final straw for the College when it came to dealing with fraternities. Administrators decided to begin the process of phasing out the fraternities and establish a new residential life system—the College Houses we know today.