CSI: Melbourne. Bones of Legendary Australian Outlaw Ned Kelly Identified

Australian outlaw immortalized in Mick Jagger film.

ByABC News
September 1, 2011, 12:42 PM

Sept. 1, 2011— -- A 131-year-old mystery -– what happened to one of the world's most famous outlaws -- has been solved.

Ned Kelly is something of a folk hero in Australia, that nation's Jesse James, his notoriety built on a two-year spree of daring bank robberies and blazing police shootouts.

He was captured, convicted and hanged in 1880, but over the years a question bedeviled historians: What happened to his body?

The answer could be an episode of CSI: Melbourne.

Using X-rays, CT scans and DNA testing, researchers spent nearly two years trying to determine whether headless remains found in a wooden box in 2009 were Kelly's. A lab in Argentina with expertise in obtaining DNA from war-crime victims was brought in to assist.

Confirmation came when a DNA sample taken from a Melbourne schoolteacher, who is a great grandson of one of Kelly's sister, proved to be a match.

Ned Kelly Was a Bank Robber and a Folk Hero in Australia

"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 Robert Clark, attorney general of Victoria state in Australia.

The Ned Kelly story has become celebrated in Australia and around the world, retold in books, musical and movies, including a 1970 film starring Mick Jagger. Buses take tourists to the sites of Kelly's notorious shootings in Victoria.

Kelly was a son of an Irishman shipped to Australia by British authorities for the crime of stealing two pigs. After his dad's death, Ned Kelly became a petty criminal himself, but his real troubles began after shooting a policeman, allegedly for harassing his sister.

Kelly and his gang were on the run for two years, robbing the banks and the rich. Although the gang killed a number of policemen, Kelly was celebrated as a champion of Australia's rural Irish, who felt oppressed by the British colonial authorities.

Police eventually cornered Kelly in a hotel. After a nine-hour siege, he emerged in a suit of armor, but was shot in the leg and elbow, and captured. The other members of his gang were killed.

After his conviction, Kelly was hanged, uttering the famous last words, "Such is life."

His body was buried in an unmarked grave at a prison. When the facility closed in 1929, officials exhumed Kelly's body along with the remains of other executed convicts to move them to a nearby prison. But a mob of onlookers descended on the site and stole some of the bones.

For years, Australians wondered what had become of Kelly's remains. Two years ago, a farmer stepped forward to say he had the skull. To determine if it was Kelly's, scientists exhumed and tested the tangle of skeletons at that second Melbourne prison. The bones of Kelly were identified -- but the skull was not a match.

The whereabouts of Kelly's skull remain a mystery.

The Associated Press contributed to this report