The Wimbledon Tennis Killer

Jul 7, 2015 - by Siobhan Patricia Mulcahy

Happier days - the ghost of tennis past: Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club, Dublin, Ireland in 1883. Seated (with racket) HF Lawford and EH Browne. Standing (from left) E Renshaw (with racket), E Chatterton, Vere St Leger Goold and MJ Carpendale

Other tennis  players have been convicted of theft, tax evasion, embezzlement, and drug offenses but only one Wimbledon player has ever been convicted of murder. Vere St. Leger Goold had money, style and good looks and his adoring fans expected him to win the Wimbledon final.  He had battled so hard to get there. Instead, the “wild Irishman” with a razor sharp volley and magnificent backhand lost the match – which should have been his finest hour. He would never recover from the defeat. 

 By Siobhan Pat Mulcahy 

Vere St. Leger Goold was born in in 1853, the son of a well-respected magistrate in County Waterford in Ireland. As his family was “upper class Irish toffs,” Goold was not obliged to find regular employment. Instead, he enjoyed the social life his family's money provided and joined all the right clubs to broaden his circle of friends.  

In Dublin, he worked part time in the civil service (a job his father had organized for him) which afforded him social “respectability” but allowed him time to enjoy his two passions – playing tennis and the pursuit of certain night time pleasures. 

Goold was blessed with natural grass court talent, and in 1878, he became Ireland's first national tennis champion beating tournament favorite, C.D. Barry in Dublin's Fitzwilliam final 8-6, 8-6.

Wimbledon Final 

The following year, Goold battled his way past four consecutive opponents to earn his place in the men's singles final at Wimbledon. 

Instead of enjoying a “rest day“ to save his energy for the most important day of his life, Goold went off to drink and gamble to kill the time. 

Reverend Hartley
Rev. Hartley broke Goold's heart and his spirit when he defeated him in the Wimbledon final

He arrived for the match looking dishevelled and feeling hung over -- in no fit state to compete – and not surprisingly -- he was trounced in three straight sets by his feisty Yorkshire opponent, the Reverend John Thorneycroft Hartley, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2. 

It was a psychological and physical battering from which the Irishman would never recover. 

He failed to hold on to his Irish tennis title the following year, losing in the first round in straight sets to future Wimbledon champion, William Renshaw 6-1, 6-4, 6-3. 

For a few years, Goold continued to play doubles and worked for the committee at Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club in Dublin, but he already knew his career was over and he disappeared from the tennis scene around 1883. 

By that time, he had become a hopeless alcoholic and was addicted to the upper class drug of the time – opium.  

He would not appear in the headlines again until almost 20 years later, when he was arrested in Marseilles during what became known as the “Body in the Trunk” murder. 

In the meantime, Goold met and married a French dressmaker called Marie Violet Giraudin in 1891. And if his troubles were many before he met her, they multiplied when they began their new life together.  

marie goold
Marie Goold

Marie (already twice married and divorced) was a woman with expensive tastes and a bad temper and it didn't matter to her how she got her hands on money so long as she could feed her gambling addiction. 

When Marie's London dress shop went bankrupt, the newlyweds set up a laundry which also failed (apparently Marie liked to borrow money from customers and never pay them back) and they were obliged to flee from both the authorities and their unhappy clients. 

Eventually, the duo moved to Canada, and then to continental Europe where they began to work as “grifters” -- mainly in casinos -- conning people out of their money and valuables before moving on to their next target or location. 

Monte Carlo 

Vere Thomas St. Leger Goold
Alcoholic and drug addict, but Vere St Leger Goold always presented himself to the world as “a gentleman”

By 1907, having lived on their wits for more than a decade, Marie Goold persuaded her husband to go to Monte Carlo where all the richest gamblers and the best grifters spent their time. Like so many gamblers before and since, Marie believed she had a “winning formula” for making money at the tables. Monte Carlo was the place “they would finally make their fortune” she said. 

As a cover of respectability, they took Marie's niece, Isabelle Giraudin, with them and they used the titles “Sir” and “Lady” Goold when they introduced themselves in society. 

When Marie's winning formula failed to bring the expected rewards, the Goolds found themselves completely destitute and unable to pay their mounting hotel bills and other costs. 

The desperate couple fled to Marseilles (abandoning Marie's niece) where they were arrested at a train station in possession of two trunks containing the dismembered remains of a wealthy Danish widow. 

Freshly slaughtered poultry 

A station porter had noticed “a terrible stench” coming from one of the cases as blood seeped from its underside. The murder trial would later reveal that “borrowing had led to stealing and stealing to murder”. 

The woman in the two trunks, Mrs. Emma Levin, had been bludgeoned to death with a hammer and her body dismembered using a “builder's saw." 

At first, Vere Goold told police that the bloody mess was “freshly slaughtered poultry” and nothing to be alarmed about. Then after their arrest for the murder, the couple claimed that they had merely been “innocent bystanders" -- and to avoid being implicated, they decided to dismember the body and dispose of it. 

LePetit Journal Cover
Le Petit Journal in France reproduced graphic images of the crime

When a trial date was set, their explanation for the murder changed yet again. 

Apparently, Goold loved his wife Marie very deeply so he confessed that “he alone was the murderer and that he alone had dismembered the body.” 

Meanwhile, she feigned complete innocence of the crime.  

However, during the course of the trial, the relative strengths of character of the two were exposed. 

The story became a worldwide sensation with gruesome headlines splashed across front pages.  

One report from a Paris cablegram sent to the New York Times dated August 17, 1907 appeared as follows: 

French Police Find Flaws in Man's Confession of the Killing of Emma Levin – Goold Assaults his Lawyer 

Dramatic stories of the Monte Carlo trunk murder have been told to the examining Magistrate at Marseilles by Vere St. Leger Goold and his wife. Withdrawing his assertion that the murder was committed by a third person, Goold confessed that Emma Levin died by his hand alone." 

Goold claimed that the victim Mrs. Levin asked for a loan of $100 to accommodate a young man she had taken a fancy to. When he refused to give her the money, Goold said she started to abuse him. He lost his temper, seized a dagger and killed her in a fit of fury. 

French police found Goold's version of events unconvincing.  

And they did not believe Mrs. Goold version of events either. She claimed she was insensible when she saw the victim's body, but the neighbors said she appeared calm on the balcony "a few minutes after the Levin woman's voice was heard for the last time." 

The cablegram concluded: 

"Late last night, Goold suddenly jumped out of bed, hammered frantically at the door, and clamored for help against imaginary enemies, who, he said, were trying to cut off his legs and put them in a sack. This morning, when he was allowed to see his lawyer, he was seized with another fit of fury and attacked his visitor with his fists. The lawyer now declines to see his client again. 

"Goold's condition will be used in his trial in support of a plea that he is a madman.” 

Cat fight 

During the trial, the prosecution produced sufficient evidence to prove that the crime could not have been committed by one person working alone and the murder, instigated by Mrs. Goold, was committed by the couple so they could acquire money to feed their gambling addiction. The prosecution also proved that Mrs. Goold was the "dominant force in the marriage" and therefore she was more culpable for the crime than her husband. 

The facts of the case were revealed as follows: 

The Goolds met the wealthy Danish woman, Emma Levin, the widow of a Jewish stockbroker, at a casino and hoped to swindle her out of both her money and jewellery. Mrs. Levin already had one parasitical “friend” named Madame Castellazi but soon the widow had Mrs. Goold as well. 

The two “hangers-on” detested each other and finally had a “cat fight” over Mrs. Levin's affections late one night in a casino.  

The public display made it into the local gossip columns and Mrs. Levin decided she would have to leave the city because of the scandal. 

But the Goolds had already borrowed £40 from Mrs. Levin, and she wanted the money repaid..  

On August 4, 1907 Mrs. Levin went to their hotel suite to collect the debt before she left Monte Carlo for good. She was never seen alive again. Madame Castellazi was waiting at Mrs. Levin's hotel, and when her friend did not return by midnight, she contacted the police. They went to the Goold's hotel but they had already flown the coop. 

Dismembered body 

Vere and Marie had departed for Marseilles, leaving Marie's niece Isabelle behind with the excuse that “M. Goold had to see a doctor urgently.” 

Blood stains were found in their suite, as well as blood splattered items such as a saw and a hammer. Also Madame Castellazi recognized Emma Levin's parasol in the Goold's bedroom. 

Meanwhile, the Goolds were in Marseilles in a hotel room with tickets for passage to London. They had left a large trunk at the railway station in Marseilles, and one of the clerks at the station nicknamed “Pons” was disturbed by the stench of decaying flesh and the sight of blood leaking out of its bottom end. 

The trunk was traced to the Goolds, and Pons apparently confronted them. Some accounts in French newspapers reported that Pons sought (and received) a small bribe to keep his mouth shut. But either Pons told his superiors and the police of his suspicions in spite of the bribe or he talked too much and the story of the trunk got out. 

In any event, before the Goolds could leave Marseilles they were questioned by French police. Two trunks were found and opened and the dismembered remains of Mrs. Levin revealed. Some newspapers reported that when arrested, Vere Goold was carrying Mrs. Levin's severed head in a hat box though this fact was never confirmed during the trial. 

Daily Globe Cover
The Daily Globe called for Marie Goold's execution by Guillotine

In the end, the precise details are of little consequence given the outcome of the case. 

Even though Vere Goold said that “he alone had committed the crime,” the court found the opposite to be true – it was Marie who had murdered Mrs. Levin using a hammer and her husband had merely helped her to dismember and dispose of the body. 

Devil's Island 

Marie Goold was condemned to death but her sentence was later commuted to life in prison without parole. Vere Goold was sentenced to life imprisonment to be served on the disease-infested Devil's Island in French Guiana. 

Most prisoners sent to the harsh conditions of Devil's Island were never seen again and Vere Goold was no exception. Smallpox, typhoid, malaria, yellow fever and other tropical diseases killed most convicts long before they had served their sentences. Starvation, overwork, exposure to the elements and execution took care of the rest. 

As an island, the only way out was through crocodile infested waters.  

Over several centuries, only two convicts had ever managed to escape: Clement Duval, a French anarchist escaped in 1901 and lived out the rest of his life in New York; Henri Charriere, a convicted murderer, escaped after nine attempts in 1944 -- and his autobiography Papillon, describing the horrors of the penal settlement, became an international bestseller. 

Vere St. Leger Goold – the “wild Irishman” was not so fortunate. He died among the rats on Devil's Island from the effects of typhoid on September 8, 1909. He was 55 years old. 

His wife, Marie served out her sentence in a Paris prison where she died of natural causes in 1914. 

How ironic that Hartley, the only clergyman to win a Wimbledon title, and Goold, the only tennis player convicted of murder, should face each other in a grand slam decider. 

But in tennis, the difference between winning and losing is often measured in centimeters or by the “luck of the net.”  

Who knows? If Goold had won that final years earlier, his life might not have turned out such a mess. 

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