Read Certain Admissions: A Beach, a Body and a Lifetime of Secrets by Gideon Haigh Online


Certain Admissions is Australian true crime at its best, and 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.On a warm evening in December 1949, two young people met by chance unCertain Admissions is Australian true crime at its best, and 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.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 Albert Park Beach. When police arrested the other, Australia was 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, and 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 more than a decade 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?...

Title : Certain Admissions: A Beach, a Body and a Lifetime of Secrets
Author :
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ISBN : 9780670078318
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 320 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Certain Admissions: A Beach, a Body and a Lifetime of Secrets Reviews

  • Sharon Terry
    2019-05-17 06:10

    Certain AdmissionsI’ve also just finished Gideon Haigh’s Certain Admissions, about the trial(s) of popular and well-known radio personality John Bryan Kerr and his eventual imprisonment for the murder of a young woman he knew fairly casually – even innocently – whose body was found the day after a date with him on the beach at Albert Park. Kerr always maintained his innocence, despite police claiming to have obtained a confession and I recall my parents, who worked in radio, knowing about him a bit and saying he was just the sort of man who could have done it, but...At least, I think they made that comment about Kerr; perhaps it was about someone else. Anyway, there was a strong belief that he’d been wrongly convicted.Haigh seems to have researched this case very thoroughly, though he never finally reaches a conclusion. “Who done it” remains a mystery. Haigh casts serious doubt on the police investigation and the confession and suggests people at the time were somewhat intimidated by the police and loath to antagonise them by questioning their methods. There were three trials in all; the first two ended in hung juries, but the third did convict, “with a strong recommendation for mercy”. The death sentence was commuted to 20 years’ gaol; he served 14 before release.His life after that was uneventful. He changed his name, worked at quite a few ordinary sort of jobs (couldn’t have gone back into radio), usually until he was let go when they found out who he was. Eventually he managed to score an employer who wouldn’t believe the rumours, so he kept the job. He married, quite happily, it seems; Haigh interviewed the wife and their two kids.The interesting thing about the book, to me, was the actual research and what it uncovered. The murder victim, Beth Williams, was a harmless office clerk who liked a good time, but she wasn’t a “good-time girl”. She recognised Kerr when she saw him under the clocks at Flinders St station – she’d been stood up on a date she was to have had, with a sailor. She also said “Hi” to someone else she saw there, who remembered her talking to Kerr. Kerr suggested they go to dinner (to Mario’s, a well-known Melbourne restaurant of the day) then on to a party. They got a lift afterwards, which left them at Middle Park, I think. It was all, apparently, very innocent.However, delving into Kerr’s character, Haigh discovered that the debonair, Scotch College educated, Toorak-dwelling young man with the budding career in radio had a dark streak: several times he’d got into fights, due to a hair-trigger temper, helped by alcohol. After these outbursts, which were scary, he’d be unable to remember much about the incident. A “dissociative state”. So the suspicion would always be that he may have tried it on with Williams, at the beach, or in a beach hut and that she rebuffed him, sparking his temper. Williams was found strangled, with her clothing disarranged, but, strangely, no evidence of sexual contact.In later years, a woman heard a confession from an ageing man she was taking care of, that he’d killed three women: Beth Williams, Shirley Collins (a very famous murder victim) and Susan Oyston, who was the actress Sheila Florance’s daughter. Oyston jumped (or was pushed) off a building, which was believed to be suicide; Collins was discovered in a driveway in Mt Martha, in the same condition as Beth Williams. But this man’s “confession” has to be treated with great care, if not taken with a grain of salt; further investigation found he’d suffered from recurring bouts of schizophrenia!It’s one of those and yet...and yet...books.

  • Meg
    2019-05-18 00:57

    Utterly verbose romanticism of archives.

  • Karen
    2019-05-19 09:00

    In a leadup event to the 2016 Bendigo Writers Festival, Gideon Haigh came to Dunolly for a discussion with Rosemary Sorensen about CERTAIN ADMISSIONS. A true crime book that I'd been aware of for quite a while, this was the prefect opportunity to sit in the wonderful surrounds of the restored Court House, with a glass of wine and listen to a fascinating session about a case that I'd never heard of before this book.The research, including the employment of genealogists to investigate family trees and backgrounds, and the thought that has gone into this book is clear on every page. As Haigh discussed the genesis of the book, from the conversation that started it, through to the incredible levels of research and detail he looked into, it became clear that not only is this a most fascinating case, it's one that, at the end of the book, readers will most likely still be divided as to John Bryan Kerr's guilt or innocence.It's also a timely reminder of how badly victim's have, it seems, always been treated, particularly when they are female and, most especially, when they are young and pretty. Newspaper reports of the time are breathtaking in their disrespect, and the "celebrity" built up around the young, handsome and quite debonair chief suspect just flat out odd. There's also a circus aspect to the trials and a weird sort of celebrity bad-boy image built around Kerr - to be fair not all of his own making at that time - that might be put down to the lack of entertainment options in those day, but really seems like a sad indictment of the worst of voyeuristic human nature. There are also chilling reminders of the difference in policing styles - the idea that the police made up their minds of who was guilty and then a case was "built" to suit that decision - as opposed to current day investigation principles. Haigh digs through a wealth of materials about John Bryan Kerr - from the trial records to current day newspaper reports, and the recollections of people who knew him. He also does this with the full knowledge and support of the woman he married after having served his time, and their daughter. Haigh's respect and care of their feelings and sensibilities is palpable within the narrative - this is an author whose touch is respectful but thorough, careful and considerate of all sides of what is, after all, the story of the death of a young woman, and a man who lived his life protesting his innocence until the end.All of which makes CERTAIN ADMISSIONS an excellent true crime novel. It's beautifully constructed and written, engaging, involving, and never resorting to sensationalism. Respect for the subject, and the participants is palpable, as is the struggle that the author had in constructing the story in a fair and accurate manner. It's a considered and careful progression through the facts, always ensuring that the reader is aware when the author is extrapolating or drawing conclusions (done sparingly). It highlights the difficult position the author of this sort of work, without overtly inserting themselves into the narrative. It personalises everyone as much as possible - the victim, the convicted, the police investigator and the family, in particular, of John Bryan Kerr. It's also one of those books that comes to an ending which allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about what happened the night that Beth Williams died.

  • Pat K
    2019-05-24 02:57

    I found this book mind numbing. I thought it was going to be a novelised version of a true crime. Great research, but written like it was a police report. I got 1/4 way through and could not finish. Lots of reviews say the end is somewhat better than the rest of the book, so i will go back and read the last chapter.

  • Sandra Shannon
    2019-05-08 04:12

    I loved this book. I was born in Melbourne, four years after the murder of Beth Williams. Even though I was not aware of the notoriety of the accused killer, John Bryan Kerr, I was very familiar with places and names in the legal fraternity connected with the trials of John Bryan Kerr. The author, Gideon Haigh, has left no rock unturned to try to find out whether justice had been served. He kept burrowing for information right up until the present day. Have already borrowed another book by this author.

  • Lorraine Lipman
    2019-05-09 03:15

    This book was selected to be read by my book club. Haigh has done a brilliant job researching Kerr's life. However I found it a hard slog to read. I had little interest in the content. I ended up reading one chapter a day in order to get through it. The conclusion was a little more interesting but overall I did not enjoy reading it.

  • Cate
    2019-05-03 02:01

    Thorough. Like all good true crime we get back story, characters and social history/context. Gideon Haigh seems to have left no stone unturned to find out what happened to Beth Williams on the 27th of December 1949. Without the words of the two people there, Beth and her killer, we don't really know. John Bryan Kerr, Scotch College educated, Toorak residing, radio star on the rise was convicted on a third trial, two juries having failed to reach a verdict. The evidence was sparse, this being pre-forensics, pre-crime scene analysis, preservation and the raft of modern investigative techniques. The Crown case rested on an oddly worded confessional statement (again pre-tape/video recorded police interviews)and an inherent improbability of Beth Williams encountering another person after John Bryan Kerr & Beth were dropped by friends at Port Albert Beach after a party in Malvern. Her body was found the next morning. The trials attracted enormous interest in Melbourne and the case was revisited with continued appeals, pleas for clemency, abolition of the death penalty and prison reform. The ghosts fair crackled as I walked past the Supreme Court this morning, merging with the contradictions and mysteries in the narrative: what really happened?

  • ~*kath*~
    2019-05-05 01:24

    This is good true crime writing. This story is part of Australian lexicon, so it needed someone to take it really seriously and research it properly, which Gideon Haigh has done. Written without sensationalism, but still extremely engaging, I've powered through this book really quickly. Well worth a read.

  • Janine
    2019-05-02 06:07

    A skilled journalistic retelling of a murder, a trial and the aftermath. Well researched and compellingly told. See my review at

  • Andrew
    2019-04-30 04:58

    It is not often I put a book aside, or return it to a library unread... This was one case, it started with promise, an intricate detail of the lives of those this book was about, but I found it got bogged down on the detail, the intricate details of those who played a role and general wordiness. Don't get me wrong, this book was well written and the true crime topic interesting, just too detailed for me, can I say I ashamedly like the fast moving scandal and newspaper story writing rather than this indepth look at the crime (I sound very superficial, an perhaps I am). Well worth a look if you like a good historical true crime.

  • Steven Trewin
    2019-05-24 06:12

    Good read. Balanced view of the evidence at the time and the claimed admissions by "Bill" sixty years later. I think Kerr did it.....

  • Kevin Aston Hoey
    2019-05-08 07:24

    I suppose it is a true-crime story, although in other true-crime stories that I have read, the crimes, victims and culprits are all usually known. This story is one where there is still a certain level of doubt that has lingered for more than 50 years after the crime and the trials. The bones of the story is the crime where a young woman, Beth Williams was killed and dumped on St Kilda Beach, Melbourne in December 1949. Immediately suspicion fell on her date for the previous evening, John Bryan Kerr; he was subsequently arrested, charged and found guilty of her murder in the third trail, after 2 prior trails returned with hung-juries. Kerr never waivered in his claims of innocence during his trails and subsequent time in gaol. The author doesn't attempt to 're-try' the case, and refreshingly for true crime, stays resolutely impartial in relation to whether Kerr is innocent or not. This story is, as much as it is the recording of a controversial crime, about the nature of research and archival material as records of history and the 'truth'; it looks at how the same information can be seen by different groups of people and for them to come out with diametrically opposed views (the case split Melbourne as to Kerr's innocence or guilt; all his lifeKerr himself split people with his personality into groups who loved him or hated him); it is a view of police, court and prison procedure; and indeed, general life in 1950s/1960s Melbourne, Australia.

  • MargCal
    2019-04-23 05:26

    Did not finish … Certain Admissions: A Beach, a Body and a Lifetime of Secrets / Gideon Haigh … 27 Dec. 2016ISBN: 9780670078318I was well into ch.2 when the nagging feeling shaped into a question: Why was I reading this book? Oh yes, it's a Whodunits book group choice for 2017. And at that point I stopped reading.The book is about a true crime in Melbourne in 1949 (the year I was born!). I have no memory of the commission of the crime, of course, but neither do I remember it ever being mentioned years later when I would remember. There might be principles of justice involved but I simply wasn't interested enough to keep reading to find out.This is no criticism of the author. I read Haigh's Asbestos House and was rivetted. The difference is, that was something I was interested in. My 1 STAR rating indicates my lack of interest, not that it is a poor book - I didn't read enough to judge that.Borrowed from my local library.

  • Ilyhana Kennedy
    2019-05-14 06:57

    "Certain Admissions" is a documentary style investigation into the murder of Beth Williams in 1949 and the life of her convicted murderer John Bryan Kerr. It's also an in-depth exploration of the crimes, the politics and the investigations that intersected the murder, the trials, the prison and post-prison life of John Kerr, who always proclaimed his innocence.Whilst it's a totally engaging "whodunnit", it's a case of truth being stranger and more mysterious than fiction.What stood out for me were the statements that never reached the light of day, let alone justice.The work is well written, covering much comprehensive detail in very readable style. Haigh draws attention often to the existing gender-based prejudices of the time and how they may have impacted thinking, as well as the politics around the death penalty. Nothing is straightforward, everything has a counter story.

  • Jennie Diplock-Storer
    2019-05-06 03:06

    An interesting, albeit frustrating read about John Bryan Kerr - an enigmatic man found guilty of murder in the early 1950's. He claimed to be innocent persistently & consistently for his entire life. He was released from prison after 20+ years of incarceration. Fascinating due to the charismatic & mysterious nature of Kerr & frustrating due to the many unanswered questions surrounding the crime. The police resources of the time left huge gaps in Gideon's attempt to research this book & questions remain unanswered to the end. A good read. Haigh always entertains.

  • Amanda
    2019-04-25 02:16

    An interesting tale about a high profile murder case of the late 1940s. It provides a fascinating look at the social fabric and mores of Melbourne, a vastly different place from today. I had not heard of this case, being too young, but the questions raised, especially in relation to police procedures of the time, are pertinent. Was the conviction sound? Probably. Would the outcome have been different using today's police and forensic methods? Who knows.

  • Ian
    2019-05-18 05:07

    InterestingAn interesting read but, for me, it fell short in exploring the detailed forensics of Williams' murder - which may have shed more light on Kerr's guilt or innocence. Maybe, in the late 40's forensic evidence was in short supply. I believe there is one clue - that is alluded to but not explored - which might hold the possible answer. An open finding for me.

  • Peter Langston
    2019-05-11 05:06

    Haigh brings both his trademark detailed research and his grasp of human nature to bear on one of Melbourne's most notorious murders. His thorough analysis asks more questions than it answers and leaves us where we started - did John Kerr kill Beth Williams - but with so much more information into the conclusion we are invited to make on our own.

  • Benjamin
    2019-05-09 07:17

    A reviewer said "an endlessly verbose romanticization of archives" or something like that. Correct. Too much information bogged down a moderately interesting story. I don't know, maybe everything was included since the end was so inconclusive that the author wanted us to be able to draw our own conclusions based on the same evidence he had.

  • Leon Sammartino
    2019-05-14 07:00

    Gideon Haigh does his job brilliantly in this book, I swung back and forth from completely convinced of Kerr's innocence and then equally convinced of his guilt, and then completing unsure, and then convinced again, and so on a so forth - but through the whole thing I was enthralled.

  • Ann Tonks
    2019-05-07 08:23

    A fascinating portrait of Melbourne in the 1940s and 50s.

  • Sue
    2019-05-12 08:23

    Well written, conveying a palpable sense of time and place. Offers great insight into characters - not least the author's own.

  • Dani Gray
    2019-05-09 08:04

    Fascinating reading!

  • Nicola
    2019-05-09 09:17

    Interesting investigation that still can't provide a real solution.