Review by A. R. Muir
August 1934, a body was found in a culvert off a country road in Albury, a town on the border of NSW and Victoria. The body was that of a once voluptuous young woman. It was badly burnt and wrapped in a sackcloth. But the attempt at concealment had been unsuccessful, and the woman’s striking features were not erased by the fire. What followed was one of the largest murder investigation in New South Wales to date. The police and an avid media followed every available lead to identify their once beautiful victim. Yet surprisingly they were unable to match her to any missing women.
To aid in identification the NSW coroner took the unprecedented step of preserving the body entirely in a bath of formalin. Thus the mysterious Pyjama Girl (so named because of the oriental-style pyjama’s she wore) lay in state for the next ten years waiting for identification. Remarkably the case was re-opened in 1944 when new evidence and suspicions came to light. The Pyjama Girl’s body was so well preserved in the formalin that, after a liberal application of makeup, she was finally identified by those who once knew her as Linda Agostini. An Italian immigrant and hairdresser, Linda had been living with her husband in Sydney when she went missing in 1934. With these new revelations the police were able to track down her killer and pursue justice. Richard Evans’ book is excellently written, very much from the perspective of contemporary police investigators and the massive media response. The reader is invited to share the unfolding tale of mystery as police undertake a quest to put a name to the Pyjama Girl. It makes for addictive reading. Another advantage of the book is the astounding photographs of the preserved body (tastefully done but somewhat macabre). It would have helped to have some more explanations to go with the pictures to explain their context, or at least references in the text. However a quick search of the internet can quickly uncover extra detail and photographs.
This is a captivating read that is very hard to put down. 4 out of 5