The Victorian government will today posthumously pardon a man hanged 86 years ago for the rape and strangulation of a 12-year-old girl.
In a move that will create legal history, Victorian governor David de Kretser has signed a pardon for accused killer Colin Campbell Ross which Attorney-General Rob Hulls will announce during question time in the Victorian parliament, The Age newspaper reported.
Ross, 28, who ran a wine saloon in the Eastern Arcade in Bourke Street, Melbourne, was alleged by the Crown to have given Alma Tirtschke alcohol before raping and strangling her in Gun Alley, off Little Collins Street, on New Year's Eve, 1921.
He went to the gallows the following year protesting his innocence.
The only physical connection between him and the crime was hairs on a blanket at his Maidstone home that the jury was told came from the scalp of the victim, The Age reports.
Witnesses had sworn to seeing Ross at work or on a tram at the time of the murder.
Ross was one of many people routinely interviewed, arrested and remanded by police over the 12-year-old girl's murder, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
His saloon had an unsavoury reputation as a haunt for criminals and prostitutes, and Ross had previously been accused — and acquitted — over the robbing and shooting of a customer.
Police, pressured by the press and the public to arrest the culprit, relied on information from dubious characters including to the fortune-teller 'Madame Ghurka' to claim that Ross had confessed to raping and strangling the girl, the Dictionary of Biography reports.
However, modern testing of the hairs found in Ross' home has since found the hairs did not belong to the girl, it said.
The pardon follows an inquiry into the case by Supreme Court judges Bernard Teague, Phil Cummins and John Coldrey, which found Ross was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
The inquiry came about after descendents of Tirtschke and Ross signed a petition of mercy after learning of the re-testing of the hair samples.
"This is a tragic case where a miscarriage of justice resulted in a man being hanged," Mr Hulls told The Age.
Miss Tirtschke's niece, Bettye Arthur, said Alma's murder deeply affected her mother, two years younger than Alma.
"It is a tragedy for everybody that the actual perpetrator was not caught and an innocent man lost his life.
Ross's niece, Betty Everett, said her parents did not tell her of the case but she found out when she noticed a striking resemblance between Ross and her father in a magazine article years later.
"I have lived with this fear and doubt for most of my life, the more as I began to have children, that perhaps I carried the genes of a murderer. That shadow has gone," she said.