April 24

This Day in History

Crime

Apr 24, 1922:

Forensic evidence is introduced in Australia

Colin Ross is hanged to death in Australia for the rape and murder of 13-year-old Alma Tirtschke. Ross was one of the first criminals in Australia to be convicted based on forensic evidence. On December 30, 1921, Tirtschke was reported missing in Melbourne. The next day, a constable patrolling Gun Alley, a well-known area for prostitutes, found the young schoolgirl's body bundled up in a blanket. Strangely, despite evidence of a brutal rape, there was no trace of blood found on her body.

Given the scarcity of cars in Melbourne at the time, the police surmised that the perpetrator had to live nearby. Prostitutes' eyewitness accounts led authorities to Colin Ross, who owned a nearby bar. Pretending to be helpful, Ross volunteered that Tirtschke had been at the bar on the day she was killed.

Police soon learned that Ross had previously indicated a predilection for young girls. He had reportedly told someone, "I prefer them without feathers." Although this was enough to convince law enforcement officials of Ross' guilt, additional evidence would be needed for a conviction. Since no evidence would be forthcoming from the obviously cleaned body, police turned their attention to Ross' house.

There they found a blanket that had long red hairs on it. The color and length matched Tirtschke's hair, and new experts in the field identified it as human. Some of the hairs had been pulled out at the roots, suggesting a struggle. At the trial, the defense challenged the forensics expert to distinguish and identify several hair samples. The strategy backfired when the expert did just that, and Ross was convicted. It is now believed, however, that Ross was almost certainly innocent. Recent forensic research has demonstrated that the hair samples were misidentified, either accidentally or at the behest of the police investigator in charge of the case.

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