By Debi Marshall
Publisher/Year: Vintage Books, 2021
Shortlisted for Best True Crime in the 2022 Ned Kelly Awards
In this definitive expose, Walkley-award winning journalist Debi Marshall turns her investigative blowtorch to the shocking Adelaide Family murders and to secrets long hidden in the City of Corpses.
This chilling account begins with the liberalisation of South Australia under the premiership of Don Dunstan and demands answers to decades-old questions. Who were the Family killers? Why are suppression orders still protecting suspects four decades later? Why do some of these serial killings remain unsolved? Only one suspect, Bevan Spencer Von Einem, has been charged and convicted.
With her combination of investigative skills and sensitivity, Marshall treads a harrowing path to find the truth, including confronting Von Einem in prison, pursuing sexual predators in Australia and overseas, taking a deep-dive into the murky world of paedophiles, challenging police and judiciary, and talking to victims and their families. The outcome is shocking and tragic.
Following broadcast of the Foxtel television and podcast series Debi Marshall Investigates Frozen Lies, numerous people came forward to courageously share new information with Marshall. Their stories are here. Banquet takes aim at the public service, wealthy professionals and the judiciary and for the first time reveals hitherto unpublished details of the Family. And it demands a Royal Commission to break the silence that keeps the truth hidden.
Reviewer: Rachel Nightingale
As someone with an interest in true crime, the further I ventured into Marshall’s detailed, chilling exposé of a series of horrific murders in 1970s Adelaide, the more I wondered why this aspect of Australia’s dark past is not far better known. Marshall makes a convincing case that the answer is that some of those who played a role in the murders are still active in the Adelaide community and that it is time the veil of secrecy over these deaths is torn away. The book grew out of Marshall’s investigation of 5 serial murders of teenage boys – known as the Family Murders – for a tv series and podcast. Her research led her to uncover some of the darkest secrets beneath Adelaide’s beauty.
There’s no doubt Banquet is a disturbing read, but it is also comprehensively researched and told from the perspective of someone with a unique and compassionate understanding of what it’s like for those left behind when someone dies through violent crime. Marshall is a Walkley-award winning investigative crime journalist whose own partner was murdered in 1992, and who had to wait many years for the crime to be solved. She describes herself as a caretaker of the stories of those who lost loved ones in similar circumstances, and she knows intimately the pain of waiting and lack of resolution that lie at the heart of the horrific murders in this book.
The first half of the book transports the reader back to 1970s/80s Adelaide, encompassing history, politics, geography and sociology as it paints a detailed vision of Adelaide from its origins as a designed, model city to the changes in the 1970s that saw South Australia become the first state to decriminalise homosexuality. Adelaide emerged as a gay party town, but the shadow side to this involved drugs, crime, and illegal gay beats that became targets for anti-homosexual sentiment and violence. The brutal deaths of five young men over a number of years, the youngest just 14, and subsequent media coverage, fuelled this because of the nature of the deaths, but Marshall is careful to discuss the impacts of these on the gay community whilst avoiding anti-gay narratives and clearly laying responsibility at the door of a specific group of depraved individuals, the ‘Family’, as they came to be known, several of whom were well connected and powerful.
The second half of the book encompasses Marshall’s investigation as she tried to uncover the truth behind the murders through interviews with key players and witnesses. She is clearly an excellent investigator and writer. Her extensive research includes numerous interviews with those who lived through these events, and she adds stories and colourful details that present places, incidents and times through brief, well-worded descriptions. She carefully names all the hardworking detectives and scientists who worked the cases, bringing them to life with a little relevant history and their own words.
Banquet is harrowing reading. It doesn’t resile from graphic details, not only in the deaths of the known victims, but also in its discussion of the extensive institutionalised abuse of young boys in Adelaide’s state care system and whether this was part of the Family’s activities. Marshall explores whether the five recorded deaths are the tip of a very large iceberg and concludes that there might have been many other abductions, with up to 150 young men with a similar profile to those who died drugged and abused, then released with little or no memory of what occurred. The enormous toll on those who’ve survived (abductees, investigators and families) is also presented with unflinching rawness that can be hard to read.
Startlingly, only one person was ever convicted, for one of the five deaths. To this day a mist of silence hovers over the Family murders. Whether that silence is due to cover ups, or lack of concern for a segment of society, the gay community, that even today are still often victimised and disbelieved, Marshall presents a thorough, incisive and brave argument that more should be done.