Certain Admissions is Australian true crime at its best, and stranger than any crime fiction. It is real-life police procedural, courtroom drama, family saga, investigative journalism, social history, archival treasure hunt - a meditation, too, on how the past shapes the present, and the present the past.
On a warm evening in December 1949, two young people met by chance under the clocks at Flinders Street railway station. They decided to have a night on the town. The next morning, one of them, twenty-year-old typist Beth Williams, was found dead on Albert Park Beach. When police arrested the other, Australia was transfixed: twenty-four-year-old John Bryan Kerr was a son of the establishment, a suave and handsome commercial radio star educated at Scotch College, and Harold Holt's next-door neighbour in Toorak.
Police said he had confessed. Kerr denied it steadfastly. There were three dramatic trials attended by enormous crowds, a relentless public campaign proclaiming his innocence involving the first editorials against capital punishment in Australia. For more than a decade Kerr was a Pentridge celebrity, a poster boy for rehabilitation – a fame that burdened him the rest of his life. Then, shortly after his death, another man confessed to having murdered Williams. But could he be believed?
In the hands of a more literally-minded crime writer, this book might have focused on the issue of the guilt or innocence of handsome and well-bred radio announcer John Bryan Kerr, charged with a 1949 murder. But that’s only the beginning of Haigh’s detective story. He has the investigator’s gift for finding hidden gems in dusty police files and court testimonies. He is also the researcher’s researcher, meaning that this crime narrative also doubles as an entertaining social history of Melbourne in the pre-television early 1950s.