Her mum, Shirley Finn, was murdered 44 years ago, but for Bridget Shewring the pain remains raw.
“I hope I don’t cry,” Bridget, 58, told a packed audience at Cottesloe’s Grove Library last week.
She then proceeded to read us a letter she’d written to Legal Aid, asking for assistance at the then-pending inquest into her mother’s murder (currently underway.)
There were gasps in the audience when Ms Shewring said Legal Aid promptly turned her down.
The police force, on the other hand, is well represented, with top lawyers, funded by the taxpayer, at the inquest, which began in 2017, more than four decades after Ms Finn was shot to death.
Ms Shewring made her surprise appearance during a talk given by journalist Juliet Wills on the life of WA’s best-known madam.
On June 22, 1975, Ms Finn, 33, was found slumped behind the wheel of her Dodge Phoenix. She had been shot four times at point blank range. WA police never managed to arrest or charge anybody with her murder, prompting many to question police involvement in her death.
The audience listened avidly as author Juliet Wills enlightened us about Shirley Finn’s childhood.
“She’d been an A grade student, top of her class,” revealed the author of Dirty Girl, The State Sanctioned Murder of Brothel Madam Shirley Finn.
Then at 14, police caught Shirley having sex with an older man. He wasn’t disciplined, but her punishment was to be sent to the dreaded Home Of The Good Shepherd (“For Destitute Women And Girls”) in Leederville.
“The police said she was out of control, and though her parents said, ‘she’s good’, the magistrate said no, she was a dirty girl, so she was delivered to the convent laundry at the Home Of The Good Shepherd, now the site of the Catholic Education Office,” said Juliet.
“Her education was over and instead she got to clean sheets.”
Reports showed young Shirley, made to feel “bad, dirty and contaminated” in the hands of the nuns, became clinically depressed.
When she finally managed to break away, the troubled teenager began working at a dress shop. She then met airforce mechanic Des Finn, 22, the man with whom she would marry and have three children: Steven, Shane and Bridget.
When Des later became injured and couldn’t work, Shirley was left to bring home the bacon.
And thus her career evolved.
She eventually became prosperous, the State’s top madam, and knew men at the top of business, government, and the police force.
One can only question why somebody wanted her silenced so badly, they were prepared to kill her.
Ms Wills, though having to word herself carefully as the inquest is underway, made it clear that police enquiries had let down Bridget – and by extension, the community – every step of the way for decades.
“The available accounts indicate corruption at every level and complicity within the government departments that administer justice in WA,’ says Ms Wills.
“The crime has left an indelible stain on the reputation of the WA police force and the politicians that oversight them.”
“I take my hat off to your mother for surviving the Home Of The Good Shepherd and being able to support her family,” one woman in the audience told Bridget Shewring, her voice trembling with emotion, after the talk ended. “It was a terrible, terrible place.”
“Could our police force really have been that corrupt? Surely not?” The Starfish heard one elderly man mutter, shaking his head at the talk’s end.
On April 1, the inquest resumes into the death of Ms Finn.
As for Bridget, the sole survivor of Shirley’s three children, “I never stop thinking about how mum died. It’s ruined all our lives. I’ll never stop asking questions.”