29 year old Colin Campbell Ross was convicted of the murder of 12 year old Alma Tirtschke.
In the afternoon of December 30, 1921, Alma left her house in Melbourne, Australia to run a quick errand for her grandmother. She never came home. Her disappearance was reported to the police who, along with her family, spent the night looking for her. Alma’s body was found raped and strangled in an alley near Colin’s bar the next morning. Witnesses last saw Alma between 2:30 and 3pm. Some stated that she was being followed by a strange man. It was determined that her death occurred at approximately 6pm.
Colin was a bar owner known to police. He had been arrested in October on suspicion that he had colluded with a patron to rob and kill a man in the bathroom of his bar. Colin was acquitted of all charges.
Police came to interview Colin who willingly cooperated. Several people told police that they had seen Colin tending bar all afternoon.
He was arrested on January 12, 1922 for murder.
John Harding testified at trial that Colin had confessed to him about the murder. He was a prisoner who received a reduced sentence in exchange for his testimony. Ivy Matthews, who Colin had accused of being involved in the murder of the man in the bar bathroom and whom he later fired, also testified against him.
The prosecution stated that Colin raped and murdered Alma after she had decided to spend the afternoon drinking wine in Colin’s bar instead of running the errand she was asked. This went against everything that her family and friends said about her. She was known to be shy and responsible.
This was the first trial in Australian history to use hair analysis as evidence. Hairs found on a pillow in Colin’s house were tested against hairs known to have been Alma’s. On the stand, Charles Pride testified that he had compared the hairs and that they were different colors and thicknesses. The prosecution continued to press him on the matter until they were able to convince him to contradict himself and say that the hairs came from the same person.
Colin was found guilty and sentenced to death.
He was executed on April 24, 1922 by hanging. A new kind of rope was used and the execution went awry when Colin’s neck didn’t break and he struggled to breathe for several minutes before suffocating to death. That style of rope was never used again.
Colin’s defense attorney, Thomas Brennan, went on to write a book called The Gun Alley Tragedy in which he attempted to clear Colin’s name. Kevin Morgan, a former teacher, took an interest in the case in 1993. He was able to compile a collection of documents that included notes written by Colin in his bible during his prison stay and interviews that were not submitted during the trial that proved that people had come forward to say that Colin couldn’t have done it.
A DNA test done on the hairs found in Colin’s house was done in 1998. It determined that the hairs had not come from Alma.
A pardon was granted on May 27, 2008.
This posthumous pardon is the first, and only, in the history of Australia.
A video summary of this week’s post can be found at