Opening Sentence:It is New Year’s Eve, 1921, the city of Melbourne, early morning.
Synopsis:Gun Alley strips away the myths surrounding Australia’s infamous “schoolgirl murder” in the 1920s – not only exposing the travesty of justice that sent an innocent man to the gallows, but revealing the likely killer.
In the early morning of New Year’s Eve 1921, the naked body of twelve-year-old Alma Tirtschke was found in Gun Alley, a dead-end lane off Melbourne’s Little Collins Street. She had been raped and strangled. In an atmosphere of public frenzy, the police were pushed to find a culprit; thirteen days later, saloonkeeper Colin Campbell Ross was charged with her murder. Rapidly convicted, and with his appeals to higher courts rejected, Ross was hanged at Melbourne Gaol on 24 April 1922, protesting his innocence to the end.
While researching the case in 1995, author Kevin Morgan stumbled upon a faded blue envelope containing critical evidence: hair samples. During the trial the prosecution had claimed that hairs found on Ross’s blanket matched a sample of Alma’s hair. This was the first time such forensic evidence had led to a conviction in Australia. Re-examination by modern-day experts has proven the hairs do not match…
Gun Alley is the riveting story of how botched police work, trial by media and lynch-law hysteria spawned a staggering conspiracy to convict and hang an innocent man, and reveals for the first time the vital clues – missed in the original investigation – that point, more than 80 years on, to the true killer.
Comments:Gun Alley was a very interesting read, if a little back and forth in the telling. The way it jumped from this person to that and back again and from this time to that and back made it a little confusing. However, the inclusion of real court transcripts helped to clarify some matters.
It is always easy to criticise from hindsight, with modern knowledge and procedure behind us, but it seems to me that, even by contemporary standards, this case was ineptly handled. There are gaping holes in evidence, witnesses changing stories (or outright ignored) and sloppy police work. It’s almost as though the police had a suspect in mind and tailored the case to fit. I am a supporter of the death penalty, but this case highlights why it should never be used on a first offence. It is a shame that the first time forensic matching of hair was used to gain a conviction in Australia, it led to a grave miscarriage of justice.
Despite the sometimes confusing format, Gun Alley is definitely worth reading.
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