I'd never heard of this notorious 1949 Melbourne murder case, but when I picked up the book from the library, my mum immediately said, 'I remember this,' and started flicking through it. She would have been a young teen at the time of the crime, but since it sprawled over three trials and the convicted man continued to attract media attention long into his sentence, she would have been aware of him for a long time.
Beth Williams was brutally killed on a beach one summer's night and suspicion immediately fell on John Bryan Kerr, with whom she had spent the previous evening. He vehemently protested his innocence, the police were heavy-handed, and two juries were unable to reach a verdict; he was finally convicted, but released after a decade in jail. He was known as the 'Prince of Pentridge' -- a debating star and radio personality. The fact that he was young, handsome, and well-educated no doubt swayed public opinion; but the notoriety he so carefully cultivated followed him around long after his release from prison. But did Kerr do it?
It's always a bit of a thrill to read a book set in your own hometown and I'm very familiar with the streets and suburbs featured in Certain Admissions. (One letter of protest was sent from a street metres from where I live.) I also visit Pentridge pretty often -- it's my local shopping centre and cinema these days, though when this book was written, it hadn't yet been redeveloped and Haigh was able to wander through the cells occupied by men like Kerr. I must admit I don't think I could live in a house built inside the grounds of Pentridge -- too many ghosts! Certain Admissions was a fascinating story in its own right, grippingly written by Haigh, but the fact that it's set in Melbourne did add an extra frisson.