Would you rather be the first of your country to make a Wimbledon Final, or would you prefer to be the first – and only – convicted murderer of a Wimbledon Final?
The answer is obvious, but for Vere Thomas “St Leger” Goold, he is the infamous record-holder of both accolades: the first Irishman to set foot on the gorgeous lawn as a finalist and also the first – and hopefully the last – murderer.
Goold came into the 1879 Wimbledon Final as favourite, off the back of his 1879 Irish Open win – pockets stuffed with the prize money of £20 – and many tipped Goold’s backhand to guide him to success in the third ever Wimbledon tournament.
Sport doesn’t follow the suggested scripts, though, and tennis in particular often serves up the regular curveball. Goold was defeated in the final, and in a surprisingly routine manner, with John Thorneycroft Hartley emerging victorious in three sets (6-2, 6-4, 6-2). The upset was so unexpected that Hartley had to exit SW19 immediately after going into the history books; he hadn’t organised cover for his Sunday service at church due to expectations he wouldn’t make it that far in the tournament.
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Reports suggest that Goold lost that final because of a hangover – imagine Rafa Nadal or Andy Murray doing such a thing in the current day; those kind of athletes probably don’t even drink, let alone a night before a game. And how the Irishman must regret his poor preparation.
Failure to defend his Irish Open crown followed in 1880, and just four years after losing that historic final, Goold would no longer pick up his tennis racket in a professional capacity, as a downward spiral of drink and opium engulfed his world.
In 1891, Goold’s decision to marry the twice-widowed Madame Marie Giraudin would end up being his downfall; rarely is a combination of a raging alcoholic and a woman with expensive tastes a good combination.
A string of debts built up for the couple, and in 1907 the pair made one final attempt to pay off the money they owed, by travelling to Monte Carlo to hopefully strike it lucky on the casino tables. However, it will be no surprise to learn that very quickly, Mr and Mrs Goolds had failed miserably at roulette and had nothing to their name.
That was until a rare piece of camaraderie amongst gamblers, with Danish widower, Emma Levin, lending the couple £40. But there was to be no success, and the generosity from Mrs Levin was quickly lost. Naturally, the Dane wanted her money back, so visited the Goolds at their villa.
This is where the story takes a gory twist: upon a friend notifying the police of Mrs Levin’s absence, Monte Carlo’s finest boys in blue entered the Goold’s apartment to a scene that wouldn’t look out of place in Texas Chainsaw Massacre; blood stains all over the walls and furniture, with a dagger and a butcher’s knife, soaked in blood, left on clear display.
Clearly not the sharpest murdering double-act, the Goolds took a train from Monte Carlo to Marseille, leaving behind a trunk and a handbag at the station, with instructions for it to be forwarded to London.
It didn’t take too long for a member of staff to notice the smell of rotting flesh and seeping blood coming from the two items. And upon inspection the brutally dismembered body of Emma Levin was found.
The trial of the Goolds was OJ Simpson before OJ Simpson. And even though Vere Goold confessed to the murder, the jury actually felt that his wife, Marie, was more to blame; fuelled with the knowledge that her two previous husbands had died in suspicious circumstances, Mrs Goolds was viewed as the coaxer of the murder.
Three days the trial lasted, with both being sentenced to life imprisonment – although Mrs Goolds was only spared being sentenced to death due to the Monaco government not owning the required equipment to carry out the execution.
Tennis’ most infamous double-act, and it has nothing to do with what happened on the court.
You could bascially make a movie out of this story, and we bet it would top the 10 highest-grossing sports films of all-time..