Safe as Houses: 589 Swanston Street, Carlton
One of Australia’s most famous murders, and its location, remain shrouded in mystery more than 80 years later.
- WARNING: The following articles contain descriptions of violent crimes some may find disturbing
Some murder victims remain anonymous, the anguish caused by their passing known only to their family and friends. Some, on the other hand, gain fame they never could have imagined in life. With this fame often comes a terrible intrusion into every aspect of their private lives. For few people has that intrusion been so complete and ignoble as for the woman dubbed "Pyjama Girl".
In September of 1934, a farmer in Albury, NSW, made a terrifying discovery. Along a dirt road, Tom Griffiths came across a woman’s badly burned body. The body, partly dressed in pyjamas, had been stuffed into a hessian sack, lit ablaze and left in a stormwater culvert. Griffiths couldn’t have known at the time that his discovery would set off a media firestorm that would last a decade.
The cause of the woman’s death was fairly simple to ascertain. An X-ray showed she had been shot with a .25 calibre bullet. What police couldn’t figure out, though, was her identity. She had been burnt beyond recognition, carried no identifying possessions and even the pyjamas she wore were incredibly common. Dental impressions didn’t help, and though there were a number of missing persons whose description she might have fit, none seemed definitive. Police were baffled.
It’s here that the woman’s story took a turn for the degrading. Unable to identify the woman, police turned to the public for help. They employed what at the time was state-of-the-art facial reconstruction to produce artists’ likenesses of the deceased, and circulated them to the public. But this wasn’t what made the Pyjama Girl’s case truly macabre. With no-one to claim her, the mystery woman’s body was preserved and put on display at the Sydney University Medical School where members of the public could come view it on the slim chance one of them might recognise her. It was to remain there for nearly a decade, and thousands of people came to see, whether out of a desire to help or merely grim fascination.
While the Pyjama Girl’s case has become one of the most famous in Australian criminal history, the address associated with the case has remained nearly as anonymous as the luckless woman remained for so many years. Today, 589 Swanston Street in Carlton is an empty lot. In 1934, however, it was a townhouse, and its residents would eventually shed light on the country’s most high profile mystery.
Antonio Agostini was an Italian immigrant who settled in Melbourne, and worked for an Italian language newspaper. While living in Sydney, he’d met the beautiful and vivacious Linda Platt. Linda in every way epitomised the spirit of the Roaring Twenties. She was a strong, independent woman who lived in Kings Cross, even then the nexus of Sydney’s party life. Linda was described as a heavy drinker who shunned the idea of being tied down. So it was somewhat surprising when she and Agostini were married in 1930. He quickly whisked her away from Sydney’s party scene to a more domestic life in Melbourne.
The two settled in a townhouse on Swanston Street, but Linda was restless. Her relationship with Tony was turbulent, and she would sometimes leave for days at a time to go on drinking binges. For a man immersed in a very traditional Italian community, this was supremely embarrassing.
Linda disappeared in 1934. It seemed entirely plausible that she had had enough of domesticity and had simply decided to return to her life of freedom and whimsy. Antonio, meanwhile, would be interred with other Italian nationals from 1940 to 1944, while Australia fought their countrymen in Europe.
It was the year of his release that a breakthrough came in the long-cold case of the Pyjama Girl. Police had faced embarrassment over their inability even to determine the victim’s identity, much less identify a suspect. But a reexamination of the case showed there had been a mistake in comparing the victim’s dental records. A new search showed a match for Linda Agostini.
Upon questioning, a remorseful Tony Agostini claimed that he and his wife had been in their home at 589 Swanston Street, and that he had accidentally shot her. What with their tumultuous relationship, Agostini said he feared being accused of murder. He said he took his wife’s pyjama-clad body, wrapped her in a sack and then drove across the NSW border where he dumped her, doused her in petrol and tried to burn her remains.
Linda's remains are buried. Source: Trove
A jury convicted Agostini of manslaughter, and he was sentenced to six years imprisonment. After serving four, he was released and deported to Italy, where he eventually remarried. He died in 1969.
Linda Agostini, meanwhile, was finally laid to rest in 1944 after being a public spectacle for 10 years. That is, of course, if the body on display at Sydney University was Linda. Some doubt remains that Pyjama Girl ever was truly positively identified. Some historians believe Antonio Agostini was coerced into a confession for a crime he didn’t commit. Also, there is the troubling fact that Pyjama Girl’s eyes were brown, while Linda’s were blue.
The site of 589 Swanston St, Carlton in 2014. Source: Google Maps.
Nevertheless, 589 Swanston Street was far from a happy home in 1934, whether or not Linda Agostini died there by her husband’s hand. The anonymous address that enjoys a connection to one of Australia’s most famous cases would be easy to bypass for any visitors to Carlton. The spot is now occupied by a park. The median house price in Carlton these days is $1,057,000. How much the Agostinis’ townhouse would be worth were it still standing is a mystery, though perhaps not one so perplexing as the case of Pyjama Girl.