Daughters of Death is a popular collection of true crime stories concerning women and murder, published in 1973 as a special issue of the Great Australian Crimes series. Sold at 50c through newsagents, it contains a collection of 13 historical stories written by the veteran journalist Hugh Buggy, enclosed by a wraparound contemporary feature, ‘Babysitters Turn Killers!’, by a younger journalist, Ian Moffitt. Both titles appear on the cover: the main coverline Daughters of Death is placed above a grainy, enlarged black and white image of the faces of two girls, identified as the babysitter killers in a minor coverline slashed across the bottom right-hand corner of the image. The collection follows a tradition of mid-century true crime miscellanies that use women as an organising category, such as James Holledge’s 1963 Australia’s Wicked Women. However, in its idiosyncratic bundling of two types of true crime journalism, historical and contemporary, the magazine links this interest in women and criminality to shifts in technologies of the popular media and in the genre of true crime itself. The juxtapositions of the collection mark a shift in true crime writing in Australia, from a tradition centred on individual crimes, criminals and the authoritative narrator, to a form of journalism informed by contemporary developments in criminology which deflects criminal responsibility to society and its media representations. These twin strands of true crime writing still exist in the genre: historical accounts of significant Australian crimes continue to be published beside accounts of individual crimes, often unresolved, which bring a sociological focus to their amateur criminology. In this magazine, however, the sociological new journalism of ‘Babysitters Turn Killers’ is literally wrapped around the older collection of historical accounts of women and true crime contained within Daughters of Death, juxtaposing in stark contrast the old and new forms of the genre. This article examines how this apparently teleological shift towards an increased self-referentiality might be understood, in a genre which has been read as pointing to, in all its forms, the ‘media apriori [sic] in modern society’. Using media self-referentiality as the starting point of analysis, I use the juxtapositions of this text to open up new ways of thinking about how the forms through which the genre’s media a priori are expressed differ according to local historical contexts and their attendant media technologies. Beneath the opposing rhetorics of certainty and incoherence that characterise the two forms of the genre are surprising continuities, particularly in the troping of women as figures of blame. Yet at the same time, differing technologies of media alter the ways in which such tropes are made explicit or disguised, and their curious juxtaposition in this hybrid form denaturalises the genre’s functioning in its different modes. Despite the cover image identifying the faces of the babysitter killers as, simultaneously, daughters of death, this elision is never fully effected in the text of the magazine. It is in the space created by their imperfect identifications - where the babysitter killers and the daughters of death diverge - that specific generic histories and their constructions of gender might be examined.
Australian Feminist Studies Vol. 25, Issue 65, p. 325-336