Washington Press Club Foundation
Jane Eads Bancroft:
Interview #5 (pp. 94-97)
June 6, 1988 in Naples, FL
Kathleen Currie, Interviewer

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[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

Currie: I know that one of the major stories you covered, at about 1943, was the Sir Harry Oakes murder trial. What can you tell me about that trial?

Eads: This was in Nassau, the Bahamas. Sir Harry Oakes was a very wealthy Canadian. He had lived down there, as several other prosperous Canadians had, and other places where they could evade their taxes. He had lived in the Bahamas for quite a while, and owned quite a large portion of property in Nassau and other smaller islands.

He was found murdered one morning in his home—a very beautiful home, overlooking all the waters around it. There was considerable difficulty in finding the culprit. Most of the suspicion was centered on his son-in-law, married to his daughter, Nancy. That was [Freddie] De Maurigny. He was held in custody; in fact, he was in jail.

They had his trial in British court. The judges wore the traditional white wigs, and they took down all the testimony of the trial—from witnesses and so on—with a quill pen, in ink. The Associated Press had a man there who had been there for several days. He had been in their Miami bureau. The New York papers had correspondents there. The man from Miami wasn't very cordial about having somebody move in—the competition, I mean.

Currie: So they had sent you as the second person?

Eads: Yes. And it wasn't all that difficult to cover, with the quill pen, because it was easier for us to take down the testimony. Anyway, I had to find my own way around because they had all been there before, except for a few other people. This man wasn't any help.

I did get some super help from the real sources. One was Earl Stanley Gardner, who was there seeking a plot, I guess, for another one of his mystery stories. And James Kilgallen, of the International News Service, was a very well-known reporter from New York. They were very good to me.

Currie: How did they help you?

Eads: You'd ask about who were some of the suspects, what they did, and how far they had come with the trail, and about various personalities that showed up in the courtroom. They didn't help me get my hotel accommodations; I did that myself. I did most of my own checking on things.

I got in touch with some of the authorities there and the detectives showed me around. They showed me the house that was the scene of the murder. He'd been murdered in his bed; they had tried to set it on fire. There were scorch marks on the railing leading to the bedroom. Somebody must have tried to set the fire before that.

It was altogether a very interesting story because of the people in Nassau at that time. It was a British Air Force base. It was during World War II and there were restrictions on

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journalists; coverage was highly restricted. They wouldn't let us send copy out without censorship, and this and that.

Currie: How did that work?

Eads: I wrote my stories and turned them in to Western Union. We didn't have any telephonic conversations.

Currie: But they got to look at your copy?

Eads: The censorship office for the British did, I'm sure.

Currie: How was this story different from other cases?

Eads: The locale, the personnel, and the mystery of it. It was really a fascinating story—all the details they uncovered. They first thought it was the man who managed Oakes' property. He was under suspicion for quite a while. Then one of his friends had been playing bridge with him that night, before. They questioned them extensively. The De Maurignys were quite an attractive couple. They lived in a beautiful home there. I think her father adored her, but I think there might have been a little friction—I'm pretty sure there was earlier—between De Maurigny and Sir Harry Oakes.

Currie: Were you there for the verdict?

Eads: Yes. There was a wild clamoring; everybody was happy, or mad. I remember coming out of the courthouse and they were taking pictures. Unfortunately they got a picture of me, too.

Currie: They did? Why do you say "unfortunately?"

Eads: I don't like to have my picture taken, as you know.

Currie: So whatever happened to De Maurigny?

Eads: He was sentenced to jail. I don't know whether he had a retrial, because after this I went back to Washington. De Maurigny, at one point, went to Canada. He showed up again in the news a couple of years later. I think they got a divorce, and she married again.

Currie: What is different about covering a trial, from covering another kind of story?

Eads: A trial goes on and on, sometimes for months. Haven't you ever covered a trial?

Currie: No.

Eads: Then even if I told you I think it would be different. There's the prosecutor and the defending attorney, and they have different people they present for evidence and testimony.

Currie: But is it different from covering another kind of story? What different things do you have to do to cover a trial?

Eads: You have to sit there and get all of the information, and it just goes on and on. If you're really apt at your job you go out and try to talk to some of the witnesses—outside of the courtroom. You ask them who they are, why they think the way they do, and you get all the side angles that you can.

Currie: Did you like covering trials?

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Eads: Yes. I didn't cover many; that was one of the very few. I don't remember covering more than one or two. It's very difficult, in a way, especially if you don't take shorthand. I found it difficult. A lot of people don't because they take shorthand, or they have some other way of getting the details of the trial.

Currie: Don't they call people who worked for Hearst, "Hearstlings?"

Eads: Some people did. I was never called a "Hearstling." It was just during a certain period that they were. Maybe they are still calling them "Hearstlings" even today.

Currie: And "Hearstitutes?"

Eads: No, I never heard that.

Currie: What did "Hearstling" mean?

Eads: Just like a yearling. [Tape interruption.]

Currie: You were saying one day—

Eads: The hearings were in a little old courthouse not very far from the hotel. We'd walk over there. Then afterwards, we would have many free hours if we weren't chasing down some angle which had already been done before, I guess, by most of us. We would get together and all have our dinner in the hotel. I wasn't married then. These couple of aviators took me out a couple of times.

One evening, a group of us got in some cars and drove what they called "over the hill." "Over the hill" meant that we went down into the native living area. I wouldn't call it a slum exactly, but there were Haitians and Trinidadians. I mean, all those nationalities, Bahamians. We got them to sing calypso, and that was, I thought, very interesting. We all felt that we were sort of going overboard, going down into this area.

Going there we were pretty crowded in the cars. One of the girls was laughing about how she sat on the lap of a fingerprint expert. [Laughter.] I don't think they had fingerprint experts there.

Currie: Crime scene specialists?

Eads: I'm thinking of where you give testimony. Lie detector; that's what I'm talking about.

Currie: Did the journalists stay in the same hotel?

Eads: Mostly. It was a small hotel. I think it was called the Roselda. It was quite attractive, small, intimate, fun. There was a huge hotel there, but it was used partly for the British Air Force. We went there for dinner a couple of times.

Currie: When you weren't covering the trial, did you all hang out together?

Eads: Mostly.

Currie: Did you ever try to get information that everyone else didn't have?

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Eads: Yes. I didn't know what all information they had, but I went out and, as I said, I talked to these investigators. I talked to this man who was a friend of Sir Harry Oakes, and I talked to various people who worked around the estate.

Currie: So people in the press corps would take off on their own.

Eads: I also interviewed Mrs. De Maurigny, and I don't know where that clipping is. You must have it.

Currie: Did you all share what you were writing?

Eads: No. The people I was around didn't.

Currie: Did you try to scoop each other?

Eads: I don't think that was the idea. I think we were just going to get our stories. I never thought, "I'm scooping so and so," when I got the interview with Mrs. De Maurigny.

Currie: You were just doing your job. It sounds like you had some fun while you were there.

Eads: I think it was one of the most interesting assignments I had because it was a different terrain. They were all different. Except for Jimmy Kilgallen and a couple of others, I didn't know anybody else.

Currie: But you seemed to get to know the press pretty well.

Eads: We always pretty much kept together.

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