The Boy in the Dress
Investigating a tragic unsolved murder
in wartime Australia that echoes through the ages
Sydney, NSW: Affirm Press, 2022
Paperback 288pp RRP $32.99
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, September 2022
As a young boy Jonathan Butler was fascinated by the photograph on his mother’s bedroom wall. It was of his maternal grandmother and her young cousin Warwick playing ‘Mother and Father dress ups’ with gender roles reversed. Warwick Neale saw service in New Guinea in 1943-4. Back in Australia, he spent two week’s leave with his family in Sydney before re-joining his unit in Townsville. Two weeks later he was brutally murdered on the night of 15/16 August 1944.
Butler, as a young boy, had urges to dress in female attire, and Warwick’s photograph encouraged him to feel that it was acceptable and OK. He eventually ‘outed’ himself to his mother at seventeen years of age, the year the two of them commenced their ten-year cold-case investigation into Warwick’s unsolved murder.
At the time of Warwick’s murder, numerous overlooked protocols and procedures, and the inability to question potentially involved, saw a third Coroner’s Inquest four months later unable to shed any light on Warwick’s death. Butler was able to access hundreds of pages of interviews pertaining to Warwick’s case, and he also pursued two other war-time murders of gay soldiers - looking for similarities in the crimes and the manner in which the Defence Force and the civilian police investigated them. He has made considerable comment on how difficult it had been for gays during the War and in the decades following it. At no stage was he able to determine whether or not Warwick was gay.
Sensitively well-written in a free-flowing style, this is a worthwhile contribution to the literature now emerging on gender difference in the Australian armed services and it highlights the agonising slow acceptance across all areas of our society that humans are not all the same.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for providing this copy for review.