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Dublin: 0 °C Tuesday 19 November, 2019
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Remembering the Irish murderer who made it to the Wimbledon final

It is a tale of love, money, murder and tennis.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

VERE THOMAS ‘ST Leger’ Goold shares two distinctive titles: He was the first Irishman to make it to the finals of Wimbledon. He is also the only Wimbledon finalist ever to be convicted of murder.

Goold was the son of a baron. He became interested in lawn tennis and quickly ascended the ranks of the Irish Tennis League, winning the Irish Open in 1879 at the age of 25. The first prize was £20, a hefty sum back then.

Goold then went on to compete in the third ever Wimbledon tournament. He was the favourite to win because of his splendid backhand. Goold dispatched his opponents handily, leading him to his place in the finals that year. However he was beaten by the Reverend John Thorneycroft Hartley, who had to rush back from giving a church sermon to reach the grounds on time.

Tennis - Wimbledon Championships Rev John Thorneycroft Hartley, winner of Wimbledon in 1879 Source: EMPICS Sport/Press Association

Historians suggest that part of the reason for Goold’s loss was that he was suffering from a “roaring” hangover.

Failure

Goold’s star faded after that. He reached the final of the first open tournament held in Cheltenham and lost in a closely fought match. He then failed to defend his Irish title in 1880, losing out in the challenge round.

Goold continued to play until 1883. His only other noteworthy win was in 1881 in an unofficial Irish–English international doubles game.

As Goold’s career went downhill, he became a degenerate, wasting his money on drink and opium.

Debts

He later moved to London where he met a Madame Marie Giraudin. She had already been widowed twice and had sold all her jewellery. They were married in 1891 and she became Mrs Goold.

They emigrated to Canada before returning to London. Mrs Goold had expensive tastes and it wasn’t long before they were both deeply in debt. They couldn’t pay their rent and sold all of the furniture from the apartment before vanishing.

In a last ditch attempt to increase their finances, the couple travelled to Monte Carlo in 1907 to try and win some money at the casino. Mrs Goold thought she had a method for gaming the system.

High society

The Irishman and his French wife introduced themselves as ‘Sir’ and ‘Lady’, despite the fact that the baronetcy had not passed to him but to his older brother who was living in Australia.

Monte Carlo Casino Terraces 1956 Monte Carlo Casino Source: Levy/Press Association

While they lost all of their money at the roulette tables, the Goolds found their meal ticket – the Danish Emma Levin. She was the widow of a Stockholm broker and already had a hanger-on named Madame Castellazi. The Goolds borrowed £40 from Mrs Levin. They soon lost all of that money too.

After the couple got into a public fight with Madame Castellazi, Madame Levin decided to leave Monte Carlo to avoid the publicity. She came to see the Goolds’ villa to ask them for the money that they owed.

Murder most foul

It appears a fight ensued. When the police later came to the villa, after Madame Castellazi reported Mrs Levin missing, there were blood stains all over the walls, the ceiling and the furniture. There was also a dagger and a butcher’s knife with blood on them.

However the Goolds and Mrs Levin were nowhere to be found. The Goolds had caught the train from Monte Carlo to Marseilles. They left a large suitcase and handbag at the station, with instructions that they be forwarded to London.

Source: AP/Press Association Images

A porter noticed the nasty smell and blood seeping from the luggage. When he opened the suitcase was horrified to discover the remains of Mrs Levin. The head was found in Mrs Goold’s hat-box and the legs in the other bag.

The police were called and Mr and Mrs Goold were arrested before they could catch their train to London. The two were tried for murder.

Trial of the century

The trial in Monte Carlo lasted three days and there were 30 witnesses. It was dubbed ‘The Trunk Murder’.

Although Vere Goold confessed, the jury thought it more likely that Marie Goold was guilty. It came out in the trial that her two previous husbands had died in suspicious circumstances. They also felt that Marie had Vere so henpecked that he would not have murdered someone without her order. The papers labelled her “Lady MacBeth Reborn”.

A criminal profiler showed Goold’s flawed character. He argued that because his mother died when he was 17 and his father had died the year of the Wimbledon final, he had been without moral guidance. He was also a degenerate and morally incapable of making decisions due to his alcoholism and drug abuse.

The advocate general viewed Mr Goold as a “contemptuous pity, as a drink and drug-debauched creature”.

A bitter ending

Mrs Goold was sentenced to death but this was eventually reduced to life imprisonment because the Monegasque government didn’t have a guillotine or an executioner. She died of typhoid fever in jail in 1914.

Vere Goold was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island in French Guinea. According to reports he had nightmares of his own legs being cut off and suffered severe withdrawal from whisky and opium. He died by suicide in 1909, aged 55.

You can read more about Vere’s story in the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish biography.

Read: The disappearance of ‘The Ghost’, the first Irish winner of the Wimbledon men’s single title

Read: Hunt for the burglar behind decade-long London crime spree worth €12 million

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About the author:

Elizabeth O'Malley

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