It was late winter in 1930s Albury, New South Wales, Australia, and local farmer Tom Griffith was walking the outskirts of the city. Suddenly, the Australian spotted something sinister and sickening in a tunnel running under the road. It was a dead female body – clad in exotic sleepwear and burnt almost beyond recognition. The anonymous corpse became known by the public as the Pyjama Girl due to its atypical apparel. Years later, the dead woman is finally identified through forensic methods, and her husband is subsequently found guilty of murder. But was there more to the Pyjama Girl case then met the eye?
Florence Linda Platt was born on September 12, 1905, in Forest Hill, a district in south-east London, England. After school, the petite teenager took up a job just south of the city, at a confectionary store in Surrey. If reports are correct she met a sweetheart there and fell in love. But when the relationship went bad, the heartbroken girl is thought to have emigrated halfway around the world in dismay.
Going by her middle name of Linda, the now 19-year-old fetched up in New Zealand and remained there for three years before relocating to Sydney, Australia. Once in the capital of New South Wales, Linda found work in a picture theater and took a room at a boarding house in the city’s Kings Cross. As it turned out, this bohemian area with its transient air and dens of ill repute suited the flighty young woman just fine.
Indeed, Linda enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle that was typical of the then current Jazz Age. A heavy drinker, she is said to have spent her time in the company of many men. However, stability was not her strong point, and when she met 25-year-old Italian Antonio “Tony” Agostini in 1928, their relationship was destined to be a tempestuous one.
Nevertheless, in April 1930 Linda and Tony were made Mr. and Mrs. Agostini in a Sydney registrar’s office. But even though the newlyweds were apparently a popular and attractive couple, trouble lurked. Tony later claimed that his wife’s heavy drinking and attendant absences attracted criticism from within his traditional Italian community. Subsequently, he felt that the situation had driven a wedge through the marital relationship.
Regardless, the young couple seemed to have made an effort with each other. Keen to flee the pressures and pain caused by Linda’s party lifestyle, the Agostinis relocated almost 900 miles south in 1933. Tony took a journalism job at an Italian-language newspaper in Melbourne, Victoria, while Linda began working at a city hairdressing salon. However, their new life and sense of fresh resolve did not remain stable for long, and towards the end of August 1934 the now 28-year-old Linda disappeared.
And it was only about a week after Linda was reported missing that Tom Griffith made his dread discovery outside Albury, on the border of New South Wales and Victoria. The body had been stuffed into a sack and then secreted in a culvert which carried Splitter’s Creek under the road. It was immediately apparent that the corpse had then been doused in gasoline and set alight. But when the authorities took a closer look, they discovered several gruesome details that would transform the unfortunate victim into a mini-celebrity of the day.
Most significantly, it was revealed that the dead woman had been dressed in pyjamas made from yellow silk and embossed with a Chinese-style motif. At the time, the Great Depression was at its height in Australia, and clothing such as this was seen as an outlandish luxury. Although not thought to be the cause of death, a small-gauge bullet was found in the throat of the victim. Moreover, the corpse had a towel wrapped around its head, which just about held in the contents of its caved-in skull.
According to the medical examiner, the deceased female had been between 20 and 30 years of age, of slim build, with blue-grey eyes and brown hair. It was determined that she had died as the result of a severe beating before her body had been placed inside a hessian bag. But who was this mystery woman, and how did she come to meet such a terrible fate?
Although Victoria state police attempted to investigate the homicide, they found very little to go on. Apparently, a witness had spotted a fire in the Splitter’s Creek area on August 29, but other than that no-one seemed to have seen a thing. Eventually, without a means of identifying the body, the dead woman – now dubbed Pyjama Girl by the press – was put on ice and made available for public viewing at Albury’s morgue.
While Australian newspapers speculated about the victim’s identity, detectives appeared to leave no stone unturned in their attempts to uncover the truth. Apparently, the lawmen even went so far as to contact all of the women under the age of 40 who had not voted in a recent compulsory federal election. Nonetheless, this move brought them no closer to solving the Pyjama Girl mystery.
Eventually, the victim’s corpse was taken to the University of Sydney, where it was preserved in a solution of formaldehyde and kept accessible for display. Investigators hoped that someone might recognize the dead woman, but thousands of viewers in the next few years failed to do so. Meanwhile, World War II had broken out, and the combination of Tony Agostini’s Italian identity and his fascist sympathies landed him in an internment camp.
In 1944, a politically rehabilitated Tony was released and gained employment as a waiter at an Italian restaurant in Sydney. One day shortly after starting the job, he found himself serving William MacKay, the police commissioner of New South Wales. Reportedly, MacKay recognized Tony from before his internment and noticed that the Italian was behaving in an oddly anxious manner.
Consequently, MacKay claimed that he had asked the waiter to accompany him to police headquarters. Reportedly, once there, Tony soon confessed to having murdered his wife ten years previously. According to the prisoner, the couple had argued and in an ensuing struggle Linda had been accidentally shot. Terrified of the repercussions, Tony admitted that he had disposed of his wife’s body under the Splitter’s Creek bridge just outside Albury.
Once news of the confession got out, the widely followed story became a sensation. Dental records appeared to confirm the identity of the Pyjama Girl as being Linda Agostini, and her alleged killer was now awaiting trial. However, a Sydney doctor was convinced that the unknown victim was actually one Philomena Morgan, another missing female. Nevertheless, the authorities ruled that it was indeed Linda who had met such an unfortunate fate.
On the strength of his confession, Tony was tried for the murder of his wife. However, the jury found that the defendant was only guilty of manslaughter and so he got just six years behind bars. In 1948, Tony was released early and deported back to Italy, where he eventually settled in Sardinia. But even though the widower died in 1969, his story was still not quite over.
Some 35 years later, in 2004, Melbourne historian Richard Evans published The Pyjama Girl Mystery – A True Story of Murder, Obsession and Lies. In his book, Evans raises several doubts over Tony Agostini’s guilt, suggesting that MacKay and others involved had been under intense pressure to close the Pyjama Girl case. Moreover, Evans presented a theory that Tony may have been coerced into making his damning confession.
Although Linda’s name had been on investigators’ lists as a possible identity for the mystery victim, Evans noted that she had been ruled out on a number of occasions. Apparently, her brown eyes did not match those of the dead woman. Not only that, but Linda and the corpse both had a different bust size. And while there had been some witnesses who agreed that the Pyjama Girl corpse was that of Linda, there were many who did not. Furthermore, the dubious dental records that had been used to identify her as the homicide victim appeared unconvincing at best under close examination.
Additionally, Evans highlighted interesting elements of Tony’s confession which did not quite add up. For example, the accused failed to mention the victim’s extensive head injuries at first, eventually saying that they must have occurred when he dropped her body down some stairs. However, experts agreed that they must have been the result of any number of violent blows. Also, Tony’s version of events did not match several other key facts about the case, such as the type of gun used and where and when the body was disposed of.
In conclusion, Evans put forward an alarming scenario. He alleged that MacKay, desperate to make a breakthrough in a challenging case, zeroed in on Tony, a man whose fascist connections would not endear him to the public. Could the police commissioner have falsely identified the dead woman as his waiter’s missing wife, and coerced the frightened Italian into making a confession? And, if MacKay was guilty of this miscarriage of justice, then who was the Pyjama Girl in reality? At more than 70 years remove, it is highly unlikely that the truth will ever be laid to rest.