The remains of Australia’s most legendary criminal, Ned Kelly, have been identified – after decades of speculation regarding the final resting place of the man many now see as a folk hero.
Forensic scientists confirmed on Thursday that the skeleton, missing most of its skull, found at Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison was that of Kelly.
Scientists used the DNA from one of Kelly’s descendants to identify the bandit’s bones from the others found in the mass prison grave.
"To think a group of scientists could identify the body of a man who was executed more than 130 years ago, moved and buried in a haphazard fashion among 33 other prisoners, most of whom are not identified, is amazing," said Victoria Attorney General Robert Clark in a statement.
Ned Kelly was one of the 19th century’s most notorious outlaws. He was known for riding through police shootouts wearing nothing more than homemade armor and a helmet that resembled a tin can and leading bold bank raids.
Australia’s rural poor looked to Kelly as a hero for his battles against authority. Kelly and his gang were a symbol of the social tensions, especially that between poor Irish settlers and the established wealthy of the time.
Kelly was captured and hanged for murder over his gang’s killing of three police officers in 1880 at the Old Melbourne Gaol.
Ned Kelly’s body was buried in the grounds of the Melbourne Gaol, but when it closed in 1929 Kelly’s remains along with those of the other prisoners were exhumed and thought to be re-buried in a mass grave at Pentridge Prison.
During the exhumation a mob of onlookers raided the site and it was believed that Kelly’s skull was stolen. That skull was later recovered and put on display at the Old Melbourne Gaol, now a historic site, the Associated Press reported.
Kelly’s “death mask”, a plaster cast of his face made after his execution, was also displayed there.
The skull was stolen a second time in 1978 and after a number of false leads – the search is still on for Kelly’s skull.
Ned Kelly’s story lives on in popular culture through books and movies, including the 1970’s film, “Ned Kelly,” starring Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger and the more recent 2003 re-make featuring late actor Heath Ledger.