BOOKS: by Anthony CappelloNews Weekly
THE PYJAMA GIRL MYSTERY, by Richard Evans
, November 20, 2004
Unsolved murderTHE PYJAMA GIRL MYSTERY
By Richard Evans
Available from News Weekly Books, RRP $30.00On September 1, 1934, a young Albury farmer found a partially burned body of a young woman. The body was dumped in a culvert five miles from Albury along the Howlong Road.
The discovery became knows as the Pyjama Girl mystery and for the next 10 years the police struggled to identify the victim, let alone the murderer.
It was in March 1944 that the New South Wales Police Commissioner, William John Mackay, claimed to have solved the murder after he got the Italian journalist Antonio Agostini to confess to the murder of his wife, Linda Platt.
Yet it wasn't a simple and clear case of a good cop solving a bad crime. Richard Evans, author of the newly released book The Pyjama Girl Mystery
, demonstrates that it was a bad crime, with corrupt cops and a murder mystery that remains as unresolved as it did before the confession of Antonio Agostini in March 1944.
Evans remarks: "Who was the Pyjama Girl? Who killed her? I don't know."Unresolved
Evans does not attempt to answer these questions, but rather, as an excellent historian, he attempts to show why the body found was not that of Linda Platt, wife of Antonio Agostini.
Evans' assessment of the evidence is first-rate. His understanding of the Italian community is precise, which demonstrates the extent of his research.
Antonio Agostini, at the time of the murder, worked for Il Giornale Italiano
- the authoritative journal for the Italian migrant community in Melbourne before its forced closure in 1940.
Both its publisher, Fillipo Maria Bianchi, and its editor, Franco Battistessa, were excellent journalists who had come to Australia from Bombay, India.Il Giornale Italiano
employed Agostino as a journalist and it included non-Italians on its board, such as Percy John Portus, advertising manager for O'Brien's Publishing, and Melbourne solicitor Val Adami, who was a close friend of B.A. Santamaria.
When Italy entered the war in June 1940, the authorities closed Il Giornale
, and interned most of its employees including Agostini. When released in February, 1944, Agostini was to enjoy only 33 days of freedom before his arrest for allegedly murdering his wife Linda Platt.
Agostini had found work at a Sydney restaurant, Romano's - a place where Police Commissioner Mackay "ate frequently" and "on the house". Evans also points out that the proprietor Romano "became friends with Mackay, and looked after him well."Nervous state
Mackay contacted Agostini at Romano's, invited him to come to police headquarters, and, in the words of the commissioner, put the following to Agostini:
"What has come over you, Tony. You are not the old Tony I used to know ... I have been down there having lunch recently and I have watched you and you seem to be in a nervous state."
Agostini replied, according once again to Mackay: "What do you mean, Mr Mac - making me like this is the death of Linda. I have been through hell for the past 10 years. I hid away when I should have gone straight to the police and told them the facts."
It was here that Agostini made the confession to the murder of his wife, which put an apparent end to a 10-year mystery.
The unsolved crime had undermined Mackay's authority, with some Melbourne tabloids questioning the commissioner's credibility.
Commissioner Mackay charged Agostini with murder. The ensuing trial eventually saw Agostini convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to a mere six years with hard labour.
Towards the end of his time in prison, Agostini wrote to Melbourne's Archbishop Daniel Mannix; Fr Modotti, the Italian chaplain in Melbourne; and even Angelina Santospirito, chairwoman of the agency started by Mannix to support interned Italians and their families. Santospirito, along with Fr Modotti, took up his case, but the then Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell, had him repatriated. Agostini returned to Italy in 1948.
Remarkably, nothing more ever came from Agostini - no diaries, no autobiography and no exclusive crime-stopper interview. He died in 1969.
Agostini had admitted to killing his wife, but argued that the Pyjama Girl was not his wife.Mystery remains
The mystery remains and the woman found in Albury in September 1934 remains nameless. Evans in this well-researched book successfully debunks the case against Agostini and the myth that surrounded the Pyjama Girl.
The Pyjama Girl may have been one of the "125 women the police had listed as uneliminated and untraced. Or she might have been someone else altogether."
Whoever she was, may she rest in peace.