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Friday 25 July 2014

A gloriously gruesome tale

THE drama-documentary Dha Chuirt (Second Court) began with a shot of a well-dressed couple walking along a railway station platform in slow motion, small gobbets of blood dripping from their suitcases.

If this seemed like a lurid way to open the life story of Ireland's first -- and to date only -- Wimbledon finalist, it was a mere taster of the gloriously gruesome and twisted Grand Guignol tale that was about to unfold.

The year was 1908.

The couple were former Irish Open tennis champion Vere Goold and his French wife Marie, who were in the process of fleeing Monte Carlo for London, via Paris, having committed a brutal murder.

Their escape was halted when a porter aboard the train noticed a revolting stench coming from one of their suitcases and decided to take a look inside.

What he found was part of the dismembered body of their victim, a socialite called Emma Liven, who they had murdered for her chunkily expensive jewellery.

Desperate for money, the Goolds had lured Liven, a high-roller at the gambling tables of Monte Carlo, to their apartment, where they bludgeoned and stabbed her to death, before dismembering her in the bathroom.

The morning after, in a moment of grotesquery worthy of Alfred Hitchcock at his blackly comic best, the Goolds sat down to a hearty fried breakfast, while the chopped-up remains of their victim sat in a suitcase near their feet.

Shane Tobin's outstanding film combined fascinating archive footage with well-judged dramatised sequences to tell a (literally) ripping yarn.

Vere Goold was born into money in Clonmel, Co Tipperary in 1853.

Horseracing might be the sport of kings but tennis, which had mushroomed in popularity in Britain and Ireland in the 1870s (Elvery's in Dublin sold 1,400 racquets in a single year), was the pastime of the true toff. Goold, ambitious and flamboyant, wanted a piece of the action.

He saw the elite Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club, opened in 1877, as a way into high society.

Goold proved a tennis natural; he had a ferocious backhand and played close to the net. He was also popular with spectators.

He won the first Irish Open in 1879 and that same year reached the final of Wimbledon, then into its third year.

Had Goold won, he would have been the No. 1 player in the world -- although at the time "the world", in tennis terms, consisted of Britain and Ireland, the game not having yet spread to Australia or America.

In something of a shock result, he lost in straight sets to the Reverend John Hartley. Goold was off form, most likely as a result of sitting up all night drinking (tennis was as much a social as a sporting pastime).

When he lost the following year's Irish Open final to William Henshaw, who would win Wimbledon seven times, a record equalled only by Pete Sampras, he quit tennis and moved to London.

He met and married Marie Giraudin, who'd advertised for a husband.

She'd already been widowed twice and was running a successful, high-end dressmaking business. Goold had found the perfect soulmate: like him, Marie was a greedy, social-climbing fantasist with delusions of grandeur. Even though things were going well with the business, they moved first to Canada, which was in the middle of an economic boom, and then on to Monte Carlo, where Goold fancied himself as a big wheel at roulette.

With the money running out and the bills piling up, they hit on the idea of robbing their victim of her jewellery.

Though Marie was the first to wield the knife, at the trial she tried to lay all the blame on Goold.

She was sentenced to death but, in a final, comical twist, no guillotine could be found in Monte Carlo, so the sentence was commuted to life in prison.

Goold was sent to Devil's Island, where, according to various accounts, he either committed suicide or contracted a fatal disease.

A gripping story, told with plenty of gusto -- and no small amount of glee.



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