Who killed Beth Williams?
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 Middle Park Beach. When police arrested the other, Australians were 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, 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 a decade and more, 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?
Certain Admissions is 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.
'The trial of John Bryan Kerr was the first murder trial that I read about in detail. Without my parents' knowing, I followed the account in the Argus as a boy of eleven. I longed, even then, to know the whole story. I had to wait for more than sixty years, but Gideon Haigh's book has made the wait worthwhile.' Gerald Murnane