Inside Black Hands: Revisiting one of New Zealand’s most notorious murders

Senior investigations reporter for The Press Martin van Beynen was drawn into the case at Bain’s 2009 retrial and he decided the Bain story needed to be told one last time. He secured a book deal and spent two years writing and researching before the publisher pulled the plug. From van Beynen’s point of view it seemed there was no appetite for the Bain Family Murders. 

The book was destined for the bottom drawer, until it caught the attention of The Press editor, Joanna Norris, who says, “It was a compelling and beautifully told story with powerful new detail.”

Black Hands captured the public’s attention reaching number one in New Zealand, Australia and the UK on the iTunes podcasts charts, resulting in more than 2 million episode downloads *. 

*As of Friday 11 August

The murders
20 June 1994

David Bain’s family is murdered in their family home on a cold Monday morning in Dunedin. David is the only survivor and he tells police he finds the bodies when he returns from his morning paper run. For almost a year the public watches the Bain case unfold. A debate rages: was the murderer David or his elderly father Robin Bain who died at the scene? 

The first trial
May 1995

David Bain is found guilty of murdering his family. He’s sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 16 years. David maintains his innocence and in December 1995, he and his advocates begin the appeals process.

The retrial
August 2009

Martin van Beynen, senior investigations reporter for The Press, covers the retrial of David Bain. He raises questions about the jury’s competence and impartiality in an article published after the trial.

The trial sparked an idea for a book. Van Beynen says, “The idea was more of a historical account of this family and the tragedy that befell it, as well as the way the system handled the whole investigation and the various prosecutions.” 

The investigation for Black Hands begins
2014 to 2015

The book took two years to write. Van Beynen poured over old evidence and sourced new material as he tried to connect the dots.

“I suppose I thought I might be able to solve this crime,” he says.

Almost over before it began
Early 2016 

Van Beynen’s publisher drops out and suddenly, to van Beynen, there seems to be no appetite for the Bain murders. The manuscript is destined for the bottom drawer. 

The story needs to be told
Mid 2016

Joanna Norris, editor of The Press, championed adapting the manuscript into a podcast. “It was immediately apparent that it would lend itself to a podcast because of the volume of material Martin had gathered.”

“It’s very important that we live in a society where we’ve got organisations – even a commercial one – that are prepared to take things on as a public duty,” van Beynen says.

A script is born
Late 2016

The 100,000-word book is transformed into episodic scripts for the 10 part series.

“You boil it down to its essentials, then you keep boiling it down.” Says Martin: “It was a determined effort to make sure the full story got told.” 

Black Hands: A Family Mass Murder is released
July 2017

Black Hands reaches 1.1 million downloads in nine days. It reaches number one on iTunes charts across Australia and New Zealand, and number two in the United Kingdom.

“Investigative stories show we’re a credible organisation with some really good goals,” van Beynen says. “If advertisers see that, then that’s something they may want to be a part of. We certainly don’t do this to get advertising, but it’s certainly not clickbait, that’s for sure.” 

Black Hands reaches two million downloads
August 2017

The podcast reaches number one in the UK iTunes chart and clocks more than 2 million episode downloads* worldwide.

“Good stories told well will always get a quality audience – people that will stay with it.” Says van Beynen: “Advertisers need to think about the benefits of that. One side is that it shows they’re supporting a credible organisation that’s doing a good job in society – they’re performing a watchdog role by telling stories that question things and shine a light into dark corners.” 

  • Contact: Nimesh Amin, Head of Business Marketing & Insights, 027 275 7341, [email protected] 

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