A murder mystery revisited

1 December 2006

In the 1930s, Sydney University played a part in one of the biggest murder mysteries of the decade.

The 'Pyjama Girl' murder investigation began after the discovery outside Albury of a woman's body. Dressed in silk pyjamas, the victim had been bashed and brutalised and her body partially burnt.

After failing to identify her, the police took the body to the University's Anderson Stuart Building where it was placed inside a zinc-lined formalin bath. For years she remained on public display in the hope that someone might come forward and identify her.

The story of the Pyjama Girl - including an extraordinary incident in which two filmmakers broke into the University to film the body - is told in a new Australian Film, Hunt Angels.

Alec Morgan, the film's director and writer, explained: "Rupert Kathner and Alma Brooks, two filmmakers in the 1930s, needed to find a big news story they could sell world-wide. They found that story at the Sydney University Medical Faculty."

Kathner and Brooks made the first Australian true crime movie, recreating the murder and the dumping of the body. According to Morgan, Kathner and Brooks attempted to film the naked body of the Pyjama Girl and broke into the Anderson Stuart Building armed with their movie camera, a roll of film and a borrowed light.

"Unfortunately they only had one lighting bulb and that broke, so they mocked up the scene in a public bath house and Alma played the corpse," he said. The film, which included footage of the University, was released in Sydney cinemas in 1939.

Almost 70 years later, Morgan has retraced the steps of Kathner and Brooks in Hunt Angels, which stars Ben Mendelsohn as Kathner and Victoria Hill as Brooks. It is now on release, and like the 1939 original, features locations from the University.

As for the Pyjama Girl, she was identified in 1944 as Linda Agostini, and her husband confessed to her murder - although recent evidence uncovered by a Melbourne historian has cast doubt about the Pyjama Girl's true identity.

Contact: Richard North

Phone: 02 9351 3720