The reverend and the murderer: a Wimbledon story

Tennis - John Hartley and Vere St. Leger Goold. The strange ending of 1879

by Lorenzo Ciotti
The reverend and the murderer: a Wimbledon story

Wimbledon is like the collection and display of legends, traditions, emotions and matches. The third edition, that of 1879, has one of the strangest stories in the entire history of the tournament. The final was played between the Anglican Reverend John Hartley, vicar of Burneston, in North Yorkshire and the (future and alleged) murderer Vere St.

Leger Goold. The reverend defeated his Irish opponent in three sets with the final score of 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 in what was then called the Lawn Tennis Championships. Hartley also won the title in 1880 against Herbert Lawford. He was defeated in 1881 by William Renshaw with the score of 6-0, 6-1, 6-1, in what still remains the shortest final in the history of Wimbledon.

The story of Vere St. Leger Goold is even more complex. He became the first Irish tennis champion in early June 1979. He defeated in two sets C.D. Barry, with the final score of 8-6, 8-6 in the final. Goold failed to defend the Irish title in 1880, losing in the Challenging Round against William Renshaw.

Goold's life after 1883 was a mix of alcohol and drugs. Historical accounts (though not all of them coincide) tell that he was seduced by the charming French Lady Marie Giraudin whom he married. It is said that she had already been married twice, and she was a woman of expensive tastes.

The couple went into debt. In 1907, Mrs. Goold persuaded Vere to go to the Monte Carlo casino. The first week was lucky, but soon the two lost all the money. They met a rich Swedish woman, Emma Levin, the widow of a Stockholm broker, already in Monte Carlo accompanied by a friend named Madame Castellazi.

The sources vary, but the most accepted is the following: Marie Goold or her husband Vere borrowed £40 from Madame Levin, and the widow wanted the debt repaid. On August 4th 1907, Mrs. Levin went to the hotel to collect the debt before leaving Monte Carlo.

Mrs. Castellazi was waiting for her at the hotel, and when she did not come, at midnight, she went to the police. Vere and Marie Goold had left for Marseille. Blood stains were found in the suite as well as some objects, such as a saw and hammer, with blood on them.

Madame Castellazi also recognized Madame Levin's parasol. The Goolds were in Marseille in a hotel (they were going to London). They had left a large trunk at the train station in Marseilles, and one of the station employees, named Pons, noticed that blood was pouring out of its bottom.

Sources are a lot, but it is said that before the Goolds could leave Marseille, they had to face the French police. The trunk was opened and the remains of Madame Levin were found. Vere Goold apparently loved Marie Goold, deeply, and confessed to being the murderer.

Marie Goold was sentenced to death and Vere Goold was sentenced to life imprisonment on the Devil's Island. However, Mrs. Goold's sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. Vere Goold committed suicide on September 8th 1909, within a year of his arrival at Devil's Island. Marie Goold died of typhoid fever in a Montpellier jail in 1914.