Ned Kelly, the Irish Australian bush bandit, is one of the great characters from the nineteenth century. Now, researchers have identified the headless remains of Kelly, who was captured after one of the most spectacular shootouts in history.
Edward “Ned” Kelly became a symbol of resistance to British rule in the late 1800s though the British viewed him as nothing other than a murderer and thief. The son of a convict, Kelly was always on the wrong side of the police growing up. When police went searching for him in the bush in 1878 after he was accused of shooting Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick in his left wrist. Kelly killed three police officers searching for him. After a long and violent career as a bank robber, Kelly had his famous showdown in Glenrowan on June 28, 1880. Kelly had created a suit of armor with a helmet and fought it out with police. His three colleagues also made suits of armor though their legs were left unprotected. The unprotected legs (and a faulty bolt) proved his undoing. Each man’s armour weighed about 96 pounds. He was wounded in the extraordinary fight with Kelly walking toward the police and firing while bullets pinged off his armor. He was repeatedly wounded and eventually tried and convicted. He was hanged for murder at Old Melbourne Gaol in November 1880. The skeleton was found and identified from DNA in the Old Melbourne Gaol’s mass graveyard.
The skeleton is headless because (in an ironic twist for a bank robber) his head was stolen after it was first put on display in 1929. When officials showed the remains, a mob surged into the yard and stole some of the remains, including his skull. Went the skull was later recovered, it was put on display at the Old Melbourne Gaol. It was then stolen again. On Nov. 11, 2009, a farmer from Western Australia state named Tom Baxter came forward and gave the skull to the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine what he said was the stolen skull with the inscription “E. Kelly” on its side. It turned out that it was not the actual skull of Kelly, just some unfortunate now headless bloke.
In the ultimate elevation from bank robber to world-class criminal personality, Kelly was honored at the 2000 Sydney Olympics when actors on stilts dressed in similar armor were featured in the opening ceremony.
It appears that Kelly still draws some to the life of crime. Police are now investigating a suspicious fire at the home of Kelly’s judge – following the confirmation of the identity of Kelly’s remains.
I expect Kelly would have taken the theft of head in stride. Before he was hanged, his final words were reportedly “Such is life”