Sydney Morning Herald

Accused child killer pardoned 86 years after hanging

by Kelly Ryan

May 28, 2008

(Melbourne, Victoria, AUSTRALIA) ALMOST a century after he went to the gallows protesting his innocence, a man convicted of one of Victoria's most heinous child murders is set to be given a decent burial.

Colin Campbell Ross is the first Victorian to be posthumously pardoned after an examination of facts found he was wrongly convicted of killing a schoolgirl in the infamous Gun Alley murder.

In a case of many firsts, Ross's family united with victim Alma Tirtschke's relatives to sign a petition of mercy to have Ross's conviction overturned and his name cleared.

State Attorney-General Rob Hulls said yesterday the unprecedented pardon had been signed by Governor David de Kretser, 86 years after Ross was hanged.

It follows an inquiry by three judges of the Trial Division of the Supreme Court, who found there had been a miscarriage of justice in the case.

Most pertinent was their finding that strands of hair found at Ross's home, said to match the victim's, weren't from the same head. The case had been Victoria's first forensic comparison in a trial.

Betty Everett with pardon
Decent burial: Colin Ross's niece, Betty Everett, with the pardon. Picture: Paul Trezise
Ross was 28 and running a city wine bar in 1922 when the naked body of Alma Tirtschke, 12, was found in a seedy laneway off Bourke St.

She had disappeared near Ross's saloon while running messages for her aunt.

In a climate in which Melbourne was baying for the blood of the girl's killer, Ross was charged with her murder, convicted, and hanged, all within four months.

Clearly relieved after believing for decades she may have been related to a child murderer, his niece, Betty Everett, yesterday promised her late uncle a family burial at last.

"My dearest wish is that we will be able to lay his ashes with his family and let him rest in peace now his innocence has been proven," Ms Everett said.

She said her family had spent decades trying to live down Ross's reputation.

"It was something I kept inside," Ms Everett said.

"I never told anybody about it. It was something that I just carried myself and I didn't want anyone to know about it, did I?"

On the subject of capital punishment, she said: "Let us be an example. Let's hope it never happens again."

Ms Everett joined Bettye Arthur, niece of Alma Tirtschke, who also revealed deep family anguish over the killing and conviction.

"My mother had kept this as a secret for 75 years and didn't want anyone to know about it," Ms Arthur said.

"She had even changed her name. She'd dropped the Tirtschke name."

The petition follows publication of the book Gun Alley (Murder, Lies and Failure of Justice) by Kevin Morgan, which raised real doubts about the Ross conviction.

It revealed the Ross case was extraordinary for many reasons, not least its being the first in which forensic comparison was made of hair to gain a conviction.

It was also the first capital case to go on appeal to the High Court, and led to anonymity for Australia's jurors.

After he was hanged and buried at the old Melbourne Gaol, Ross's remains were transferred to the grounds of Pentridge Prison.

When the Coburg penitentiary was redeveloped, the bodies of 31 executed inmates were transferred to the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine.

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