Australia Today: New clues in the 'Pyjama Girl' mystery

Australia Today: New clues in the 'Pyjama Girl' mystery
Enterprise Film Co.
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This newsreel reconstructs the coronial inquest into the Pyjama Girl mystery, one of the most baffling unsolved murder cases in Australian criminal history.

The clip opens with the discovery of new evidence in 1939. Believing that the lake near Albury where the woman was found might hold the key to the mystery, the local fire brigade, on direction of Superintendent Matthews, drain the lake in search of clues.

Local detectives find gumboots, shoes, slippers, a blouse and parts of a silk dress. From these items, police construct an outfit similar to what they believe the woman was wearing at the time of her disappearance.

A ₤1,000 reward is posted for information leading to the arrest of her murderer, and a direct plea to the public is made, asking them to help identify the woman. Summary by Poppy De Souza.

Again, the reconstruction of the facts is slightly misleading. The replica of the dress made from the fabric pulled out of the lake is modelled in this newsreel by Alma Brooks, one of the filmmakers. This calls into question whether the dress modelled in the newsreel looks anything like that which was found in the lake.

Despite a ₤1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of her murderer, the Pyjama Girl’s identity remained unsolved for another five years. In 1944, the Pyjama Girl was identified as Linda Agostini and her husband, Antonio, was tried for her murder. On 13 July 1944, the Pyjama Girl’s body was finally buried. New evidence recently uncovered by Richard Evans, a Melbourne historian, casts doubt on the conclusion of the case; however, his findings are inconclusive.

Australia Today – The ‘Pyjama Girl’ Murder Case Synopsis

This Australia Today newsreel, produced in the 1930s by Rupert Kathner, investigates the famous ‘Pyjama Girl’ murder case.

On 1 September 1934, the body of an unidentified woman was found on the side of a road outside of Albury, NSW, dressed only in silk pyjamas. Because of the brutality of the crime, the young age of the victim, and the unusual clothing she was wearing when found, her case captured the imagination of the Australian public.

The newsreel uses reconstruction, re-enactment and voice-over narration to sensationally dramatise the events surrounding the Pyjama Girl’s disappearance.

Australia Today – The ‘Pyjama Girl’ Murder Case Curator's Notes

Between 1934 and 1944, the Pyjama Girl mystery was considered one of the most baffling unsolved murder cases in Australian criminal history. This Australia Today newsreel special reconstructs the events surrounding the 1938 Coronial Inquest into the Pyjama Girl’s murder, and the emergence of fresh evidence found a year later.

The newsreel makes use of re-enactments, reconstruction and voice-over narration and puts it together as a crime thriller. At the time, it was unusual for newsreels to use this format, although reconstructed true crime is now the staple of contemporary television programs like Australia’s Most Wanted and most commercial current affairs. The blurring of fact and fiction within the narrative makes it difficult to sort out myth from reality. According to Richard Evans, who wrote a book about the Pyjama Girl mystery in 2004, Kathner’s film did much to enshrine the case into urban folklore.

Australia Today was set up in the late 1930s by Kathner as an alternative news source to established newsreels Cinesound and Movietone. In various issues it addressed crime, poverty and contemporary social problems in Depression-era Australia. The Pyjama Girl newsreel originally screened in August 1939 at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney. It was screened again briefly in 1944 at the time of the inquest into the murder of Linda Agostini (finally identified as the Pyjama Girl) until the Coroner ordered it to be pulled (Evans, 2004).

Rupert Kathner made several films for his Australia Today newsreel with his filmmaking partner, Alma Brooks, through their production company Enterprise Film Co, including the feature films Wings of Destiny (1940) and The Glenrowan Affair (1951).

Notes by Poppy De Souza