© Ella Ling

Wimbledon picture

Alice Marble: Wimbledon champion, lover, spy


Treat this column as an appeal for information about Alice Marble, the 1939 Wimbledon champion, who was shot in the back and left for dead while on an espionage mission during the Second World War. I hope, perhaps with your help, to fill in some of the blanks in one of tennis’s great stories.

The intelligence that Marble obtained in Switzerland, while spying on a lover and Swiss banker who was hiding gold and art for Nazi Germany, was used at the Nuremberg trials. Marble, a beautiful and openly bisexual Californian who was friends with Clark Gable, and who had been raped as a teenager in San Francisco, was recruited and trained by the United States military intelligence at a time in her life when she no longer cared whether she lived or died.

Marble’s husband, an American pilot, had recently been killed in action, she had miscarried a few days later when she drove her car off the road, and she had subsequently tried to commit suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills. After learning spycraft and how to fire a pistol during her training at a military facility in New York City, Marble flew to Switzerland in 1945 to play a series of exhibition matches in the hope that the banker, a former lover, would make contact again. Just as the American government had hoped would happen, Marble started sleeping with him again, and he invited her to live at his family’s castle outside Geneva.

Though Marble realised that she still had strong feelings for the banker, and felt remorse for her betrayal, she gathered herself and collected information about his activities by photographing the rolls of documents in the basement.

Unfortunately for Marble, and for the US government, her mission had been infiltrated by the Russians, as her lover was also of interest to Moscow. Marble’s contact was a Russian double agent, and when they met in woodlands outside Geneva, he shot her in the back and believed that he had killed her. Though Marble’s rolls of films were lost, she had a good memory, and so could recall most of the names, and that information was used to recover numerous works of art, and to prosecute bankers, collaborators and Nazi officials at Nuremberg.

Marble, who died in 1990, only admitted to being a spy in her posthumous autobiography Courting Danger, which was published a year after her death. In the book, Marble did not give a full account of her time as a spy. For example, she used fictional names for the Swiss banker (she called him Hans Steinmetz), and did not name the Nazis whose names appeared in the files.

I have made numerous freedom of information requests to American military intelligence, and other US government agencies, to gain background on how she was recruited, as well as any records concerning her training, how the mission was carried out, and how the information she gathered was used.

Aside from a few small bits and pieces, I have not received much from the States; the official response is that she does not have a file. She also does not appear on any flight lists on planes in and out of Switzerland during the Second World War. I know that some American intelligence files have been destroyed since the Second World War, so perhaps Marble’s file was one of those, or maybe it has been misplaced and is still in circulation somewhere. Interestingly, the head of American intelligence in Switzerland at that time was Allen Dulles, who would go on to help found the Central Intelligence Agency. Maybe there is something in that. I’m looking for documents which can confirm the name of the banker (I have strong suspicions of his identity), and also anything which links Marble’s intelligence to Nuremberg.

I have also made contact with Swiss intelligence, and yet they have been able to help much. If anyone has any more information about Alice Marble and her mission to Switzerland, or knows where I might be able to find it, I would be delighted to hear from you. Please email me at mark@thetennisspace.com

  • Scambers

    Absolutely incredible story. The spy mission sounds like something out of William Boyd’s “Restless”. Would love to know more