When journalist Martin van Beynen started writing Black Hands, a book about the fatal Bain family shootings in 1994, he wondered if he could finally nail who did it.
The veteran reporter, who covered David Bain’s second trial in 2009 and started his journalism career in Dunedin in 1989, said starting on the book was delayed by the Christchurch earthquakes and a bout with cancer.
“I procrastinated for a long time but it wouldn’t leave me alone,” said Beynen, adding that after the trial and the compensation hearing, he thought a book written by someone other than a David Bain advocate was really needed.
“I finally settled down to the job in 2014. I have a pretty full-on job as a senior reporter for The Press and Stuff so I had to fit it into my spare time.”
Van Beynen, 62, said he wrote the book mainly as a personal project and to remove a tiger from his back.
“It had to be either Robin or David and I guess I was driven by a feeling that this was a story that needed to be told fully to be fair to everyone and I also wondered if I could solve the case once and for all, that buried in all the material was the vital clue and I just needed to do the work. I also wanted to test my own initial conclusions from covering the second trial.
“This is just an incredible if terrible New Zealand story that won’t go away. It was a horrendous crime, but it has so many elements that make it such an enduring story. It doesn’t look as if it will ever be resolved. Without disrespecting the continuing pain for the families, it remains a classic whodunnit.
“I’ve tried to come to some sort of verdict. Some won’t agree but readers can see my reasons and come to their own conclusion.”
Penguin head of publishing Claire Murdoch said she did not expect the book to be the last word on the case, but it certainly brought people up to date with every development and most of the arguments.
“Even 26 years after this terrible crime, it still fascinates New Zealand,” noted Murdoch.
“We’re proud to have published this book. We think it’s a strong new addition to all the material already available and readers will be left with a full appreciation of the case.”
The book starts with the finding of the bodies of Robin and Margaret Bain along with three of their four children Arawa, Laniet and Stephen at 65 Every St, Dunedin on June 20, 1994.
The only survivor was their eldest son David, aged 22, who would later be convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murder. A successful appeal to the Privy Council saw David released in 2007 and after the subsequent retrial in 2009 he was acquitted on all charges.
All this was achieved through the support of former All Black Joe Karam who campaigned tirelessly on David’s behalf, insisting that police had botched the investigation and prosecuted an innocent man.
The unpublished manuscript of Black Hands formed the basis of a podcast in 2017 that has been downloaded more than five million times. Its popularity motivated Warner Bros to adapt part of the manuscript into a five-part TV series that began screening on TV1 this month.
View the trailer for the mini-series here.