Since the tennis season is at full swing at the moment I thought it only appropriate to have a story about a Wimbledon semi finalist.
Vere Thomas “St. Leger” Goold (2 October 1853– 8 September 1909) was an Irish tennis player. He quickly faded from the game and ended his life in prison convicted of murder and premature death, by suicide.
He shares two distinctive titles: He was the first Irishman to make it to the semi finals of Wimbledon. He is also the only Wimbledon finalist ever to be convicted of murder.
Goold was the fifth son of a magistrate in Co Waterford, his grandfather was a baronet and his grandmother was a daughter of the Earl of Kenmare. 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.
Historians suggest that part of the reason for Goold’s loss was that he was suffering from a “roaring” hangover.
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.
He moved to London, where a local journalist would later write of him: “Those who knew him described him as a man of perfect breeding and of courtly, charming manner, cultured and generous. He was wont when coming home late from the club or the theatre to collect stray cats and to bring them to share his supper.
He married a French dressmaker, Marie Giraudin, who, according to the London Times, had wed a man against her parents’ wishes but then left him and fled to England. There she met and married a captain in the English army — her first husband having died in the meantime — but was made a widow for a second time when the captain died and, sinking into penury, she was forced to sell her jewels. It was around this time, in London, that she met Goold. After marrying, the couple were reported to have taken a large and furnished house in London’s West End where they held lavish parties and “lived extravagantly”.
Early in 1902 the pair ran into serious financial problems. They fell into arrears on the rent and when the landlord called to the house he found it had been cleaned out, but not in a good way — the furniture had been sold.
From London, the Goolds fled to Canada, where Marie resumed her business in Montreal. The shop prospered but the profits were squandered on gambling , a foreshadow of the troubles to come — and on poor investments. They then shuttled between Montreal and Liverpool ,where Goold set up a laundry business. By then, the couple had re-invented themselves as “Sir Vere and Lady Goold”.
Vere, meanwhile, plotted a scheme to break the bank of the casino in Monte Carlo.
It had been done only a very few times in the past,once by an English actress who was said to have entranced Oscar Wilde,and Goold was determined that he would turn his fortunes around. A friend had advised him of a secret system of winning, which, he said, was “infallible”.
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.
According to the Irish Times, “They mixed with the best society and were frequently seen at the tables in the casino.” Goold himself was “quiet, unassuming and soft spoken” while his wife was invariably depicted as a domineering battleaxe. They were “on visiting terms with people of note in the resort and were always well dressed and paid their bills regularly”. Their niece, Isabelle, who stayed with them, was “one of the belles of the season” and had English doctors pursuing her across ballrooms.
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.
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.
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 Goolds were promptly arrested and clapped in separate prison cells. Vere was heard to morosely remark that he regretted that he hadn’t already committed suicide. He would later write incomprehensible notes to Isabelle, who now had to make her way in life alone, her marriageability tainted by association.
News of the crimes spread like cholera across Europe, there were frequent reports in the Irish Times and to the United States.
The feverish press interest brought a world of pressure on the investigating police force. “The Monte Carlo Trunk Murder”, as it became known, provided fresh morsels of intrigue on an almost daily basis. When interrogated, the Goolds seem to first have claimed that a man named Burker (or possibly Barker) had killed Ms Levin in their suite while they were absent, and they had merely dismembered her body to prevent a scandal taking place in their temporary home.
Their accounts didn’t match, however. The French police decided to let the prisoners stew or “cook” for a few more days. Vere was by then suffering from “profound depression” and had attacked a guard, while his wife had come under intensified suspicion as it was noticed that she had bruises on her arms and legs ,possibly caused in a physical struggle.
Worn down by inquisition, Vere now seemed prepared to take the blame. He confessed that Emma Levin had visited the suite to borrow money from him and, when he refused, they had a bitter argument and, addled by drink and rage, he stabbed her.
Marie, who was thought to keep both her husband and niece on the shortest of leashes, said that she had witnessed part of this altercation but ” … naturally I thought it better to leave them alone while they discussed the transaction. Suddenly I heard piercing cries and the sounds of a struggle”. When she had returned to the room she said she fainted but quickly recovered consciousness and came up with the idea that the body should be cut up. Vere was too drunk to do any such thing so they dumped their dead widow in the bath until the next morning at which point he took a saw to the dowager’s neck and limbs.
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.
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.
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